MOHAMMED Murtala (1938-1976)

Reformer in Uniform by(Ademola Adegbamigbe). Among those who have ruled Ni geria, none has had a greater impact within a short time than the late General Murtala Mohammed. During his tenure as head ofstate between 29 July 1975 and 13 Febru ary 1976, he pursued vigorous policies of return to civil rule, reorganization ofthe federal government structure, accountability in public service, discipline, state creation, vibrant econom ic plans and a dynamic diplomacy. General Mohammed was born on 8 Novem ber 1938 in Kano. He had his early education at the CikinGida and Gidan primaryschools inthe ancient city.Mohammed proceeded toGovernment College, Zaria for his secondary school education before en listing in the Nigerian Army. After his training at theSandhurst Royal Academy in England, he worked brieflyin the Army SignalsCorps inthat country. General Mohammedwas part ofthe Nigerian contingent to the United Nations Peace Keeping Force in the Congo, when civil war threatened that country. He was later to command the First Brigade Signal Troop, (Kaduna) in 1963, but travelled out to England for further military training. When he re turned to Nigeria he was the commanding officer, One Signal Squadron and in November I965, acting chief signal officer. After his promotion as lieutenant-colonel, he became the inspector of signals in Lagos. A civil war hero, General Mohammed com manded the Second Infantry Division and fought to put the Biafran forces under check. After that tragic episode in Nigerian history, he attended the Joint Services Staff College, England.As a brigadier-general, Mohammed was made the federal commissioner for Communications from August 1974 to 29 July 1975 when he and his colleagues overthrew General Yakubu Gowon, the then head of state. Murtala's removal ofGowon came at a point when he(the latter) reneged on hispromise to hand over power to civilians in January 1976. The civil ian populace was baying for Gowon's blood. Be sides, Gowon and his governors were accused of 'graft, misuse of public funds and widespread disaffection with their personal conduct'. So when he took over, Mohammed cleared the debris of the past by sacking all the governors. As a matter of fact, only two were not found guilty of corruption by the new regime. They were BrigadierGenerals Oluwole Rotimi and Mobolaji Johnson of Western and Lagos states, respectively. Clearly his investigation revealed that all the administrators and militarygovernors (with the exception ofRotimi and Johnson) serving under Gowon had betrayed the trust and confidence reposed in them by the nation. In the words of Mohammed: "Those of them who wore uni forms betrayed the ethics of their professions and theyare a disgrace to their professions.They should be ashamed of themselves". The security chiefs were not left out in the re organization. Brigadier Julius Akinrinade tookover as commanding officer, First Division, Brigadier Martins Adamu, the Second; Brigadier Emmanuel Abisoye, the Third; and Brigadier John Obada was appointed commander of the LagosGarrison. Next in line was the restructuring ofthe Fed eral government's decision-making process to pre vent asingle-man show asexhibited byMohammed's predecessor. TheSupreme Military Council (SMC), the National Council of States and the Federal Ex ecutiveCouncilnowtook active part in major policy decisions. General Mohammed's next targets of that great purge were the civil service, thejudiciary and the police. Dr. Darnley Alexander became the new chiefjusticeofthefederation; over 110 topofficers of the police force wereshown the wayout in Au gust 1975. The Nigerian Ports Authority, teaching hospitals, immigration and customs, the universities and others were not left out. Mohammed, however, was sharply criti cized for the purge which apart from becoming a tool for witch-hunting, robbed the civil service of continuity. The process was suspended on 21 No vember 1975. Theexerciseisappraisedin TheMili tary in Politics from Aguiyi-Ironsi and Ibrahim Babangida, edited by Dickson Agegha: "As it turned out to be, the great purge has perhaps remained till date,the mostimpact-making purification evercar ried out by any Nigerian government on the coun try's civil service and leadership. The BuhariIdiagbon purge was perhaps something near it". Intheeconomic sphere, Mohammed fashioned out a 30-billion naira investmentplan which would span the years from 1975 to 1980. The transport, communications, education and agriculture sectors witnessed an increase m their rate of growth as a result of 'the anti-inflationary measures adopted by the government in that period". General Mohammed, in response to the yearnings of Nigerians for more states, instituted the Justice Ayo Irikefe panel. The number of states was increased from 12 to 19. The Benue-Plateau and the East Central state were split to produce three additional states, while the west and north-east states produced four additional states. The 19 states included: Anambra, Bauchi, Bendel, Benue, Cross River, Ogoun, Ondo, Oyo, Pleateau, Rivers and and Sokoto, The process to create a new Federal Capiltal Territory in Abuja was initiated by Mohammed's regime. Under general Mohammed, Nigeria witnessed unprecedented prestige because because of its dynamic foreign policy. Apart from the protection of the countries sovereignty and the defense of its territorial integrity. Africa became the centre-piece of Nigeria's foreign policy. By extension, this led to the promotion of equality and self-reliance in the developing world as a whole. Mohammed's commitment to the liberation of oppressed people(s) was legendary as he actively supported the anti-apartheid movements in South Africa. His hand of fellowship was also extended to fighters against neo-colonialism in Mozambique and Angola. These actions put Nigeria's foreign policy in conflict with Britain, the United States and Saudi Arabia. Dr. Patric Wilmot, a West-Indian academic who once taught in Ahmadu Bello University in zaria said that one could assess the significance of Muritala Mohammed to Africa if one read his speech on 11 January1976, delivered in Addis Ababa, at the Organisation of African Unit(OAU)summit. Wilmot suggest that Mohammed "recognize the stragic importance of the South African Struggle for the rest of the continent. He saw the attempt of South African to avert the struggle and he saw Angola as a test case of the struggle. When the Portuguese were defeated, the South Africans, and the Americans , using UNITA, tried to forestall the victory by declearing war against MPLA. The Nigerian leader defeated the fallacy of Africa leaders calling for a national government. Murtala recognized that the FNLA and UNITA were not true liberation movement and that they were being promoted by South Africa. Having realized this, he supported the MPLA." According to Wilmot, General Mohammed made it clear that African's interest could not be compromised. "He told (Henry) Kissinger to get lost." Kissinger was the US secretary of State. Mohammed's tenure was , however, shortlived. He was assassinated in a coup carried out on 13 February 1976, by Colonel Buka Dimka. Nevertheless, Mihammed's policies were continued by his successor, General Olusegun Obasanjo, who handed over to the democratically elected civilian government of Shehu Shagari. Commenting on Mohammed's death, Alhaji Yusuf Miatama Sule said that the reformer was like a shooting star which "illuminated the firmament brilliantly and disappeared as suddenly as he appeared. The likes of Mohammed can only be found once in a century". Prof. Akin Oyebode of the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos suggests that the tragic flaw of Mohammed was that "he was a reformist, but he didn't have a holistic programme to attack the neo-colonial State. But i think he was moving nearer that when the right wing stopped him... He embacked on doses of shock therapy, shaking Nigerians out of their complacency. He showed in six months that things could be done, change was possible... Ten years after, one can say he was the spirit of age, he launched Nigeria alone the path of nationalism and patriotism.'
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