Forty-five years ago, a former Head of State, General Murtala Ramat Muhammad, was assassinated in cold blood, writes Yinka Kolawole
“For too long we have paid lip service to issues of remoulding our society; for too often we have talked glibly of the birth of a new nation. Now is the time to rethink, to reflect and to act”, wrote the late Murtala Ramat Muhammad.
That was one of the numerous dreams, hopes and expectations he had for his beloved country Nigeria. However, the quest for power with cutthroat ambition, complex and ego-centrism by a few disgruntled dissident soldiers did not allow him realise his laudable objective of cleansing Nigeria.
It was exactly 45 years on February 13, 2021, when the nation lost this icon. He was Nigeria’s Head of State from 30th July 1975, until his assassination. He was killed in Lagos at the Age of 37 years, although born in Kano on November 8,1938.
He was gruesomely assassinated. But for student of politics, who went through the rudiments and teachings of prominent revolutionaries, it would practically impossible for anyone to deny the fact that Murtala was indeed a leader par excellence!
He was a detribalised Fulani and courageous soldier, with an impeccable character, who throughout his 38 years of existence in this world scorned injustice, indiscipline, indolence, dishonesty, economic aggrandizement, greediness and above all, corruption.
Coupled with his patriotic and nationalistic disposition, in his just 200 Days reign, General Murtala easily became one of the greatest men that ever ruled Nigeria.
No wonder that since his assassination, the 13th day of February every year had been set aside in his memory by Institutions of Government, International Bodies, Elder-statesmen, Student Unions and other Non-Governmental Organisations through lectures and seminars dwelling on some of his key unfinished policies and programmes with a view to highlighting areas of commonality and divergence in the overall interest of the country.
General Murtala indeed came, saw, conquered and laid a concrete foundation upon which the post Sardauna Political Institution that saw the emergence of Alhaji Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari in 1979 was built.
It was during his era that the political awareness among the citizenry became solidified as provided for by the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC).
He singularly set up the body that paved the way for the ‘Nigerianisation’ of the nation’s politics back in the days. Nigerians from all shades of leaning participated and contributed in no mean measure, culminating in the emergence of the 1979 Constitution rated as one of the best in Pre and Post Independence Nigeria.
No doubt that even after he was assassinated, his immediate successor, then General Olusegun Obasanjo, guardedly pursued the Late Murtala Muhammed’s programmes and policies to their logical conclusions.
Latest accounts from respected writer Nowa Omogui in his well researched account of how Murtala was eliminated remarked that ‘Obasanjo executed an escape maneuver, spent most of the day at the house of a civilian friend in Ikoyi (Chief S.B Bakare) monitoring the situation by telephone but later emerged to become the Head of State’.
General Obasanjo and his lieutenants in the then Supreme Military Council (Yar’adua, TY Danjuma, IBB and Domkat Bali) had to ensure that the late Murtala’s hopes were not shattered, but his dreams realised and expectations achieved.
Interestingly, as if a response to Nowa’s diatribe against him, sometime in 2006 at a State Banquet organised in his honour while on a 3-Day state visit to Ogun State, former President Obasanjo emphatically described his predecessor thus: “…General Murtala was a dynamic, committed, dedicated leader who believed strongly in what was best for Nigeria.
As Thomas Jefferson would also say, “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom….”, General Murtala while proffering panacea to the multifaceted political hiccups of that time had to clamp down on all the erring Civil Servants with the then Head of the Federal Civil Service Commission, who was seen as the most powerful, influential and untouchable Public Servant topping in the list.
Also, since, ‘charity begins at home’, the general immediately shifted his rationalisation drive to his Military Constituency, wherein he dismissed the then military governors that served under the Gowon Regime with their assets confiscated and transferred to the federal government and accounts frozen.
However, all these principles and ideals that General Murtala stood for have over the years been eroded, while corruption had become the bane of the nation, although institutions like WAI, EFCC, ICPC, NEITI, PTF and NASS have over the years shown some semblance of courage akin to the beliefs and dreams of General Murtala.
Of all his dreams, the one, which considered relocating the Nigerian Federal Capital Territory to Abuja, was courageously realised through General Babangida in 1991 and subsequent consolidation of the same by the late General Sani Abatcha. Both Generals contributed in making Abuja a reality.
Finally as Nigerians all over remembered the late Muhammad on his 45th anniversary with series of encomiums showered on him for his dynamic and selfless leadership provided within just six months of his rule, perhaps, the Nigerian political class would seize the reason of the remembrance to eschew all sorts of political brigandage and Socio-cultural bigotry by respecting the Constitution of the land they all swore to uphold.
With the plethora of problems pervading the country today especially, in the area of insurgency, kidnapping and banditry, which have forced leadership at the regional levels to establish alternative security outfits, the need to build a strong, united and virile country is not negotiable.
Like the late Claude Ake once enthused, ‘Democracy cannot solve all the problems but none of the major problems can be solved without it’, the need for a lasting peace in Nigeria cannot be over-emphasised.