UPDATE: See below how the US govt described then new HOS Murtala Mohammed
General Murtala Ramat Muhammed (November 8, 1938 – February 13, 1976) was the military ruler (Head of the Federal Military Government) of Nigeria from 1975 until his assassination in 1976.
As we remember Murtala Mohammed, let’s remember he was a ruthless dictator that nearly destroyed the country with his reckless approach to governance. He destroyed the civil service in his haste to cut the super perm secs to size.
Some say he meant well.
In his book, Just Before Dawn, Professor Kole Omotosho tells the story of how Alhaji Adamu Ciroma was, in 1975, appointed the Governor of Central Bank and Alhaji Aliko Mohammed, the Managing Director of Daily Times. On that fateful day, according to the story, Ciroma, respected editor of the then very influential New Nigeria newspaper was actually supposed to be sworn-in as Daily Times Managing Director while Mohammed, an accountant, was to be the CBN Governor. But while the ritual was on, then Head of State, the late General Murtala Mohammed, mistakenly gave Ciroma the paper assigning him the apex bank Governorship and Mohammed, the Daily Times MD job. When told of what he had done after the ceremony, Mohammed, rather than correcting the error, reportedly said a General does not change his words and that the duo should go and learn on their respective jobs. With that, Ciroma, a journalist by profession, became the CBN Governor while an accountant became the Daily Times MD!
Muhammed was killed, aged 37, along with his Aide-De-Camp (ADC), Lieutenant Akintunde Akinsehinwa in his black Mercedes Benz saloon car on, February 13, 1976 in an abortive coup attempt led by Lt. Col Buka Suka Dimka, when his car was ambushed while en route his office at Dodan Barracks, Lagos. The only visible sign of protection was a pistol carried by his orderly, therefore making his assassination an easy task.
He was succeeded by the Chief of Staff, Supreme HQ Olusegun Obasanjo, who completed his plan of an orderly transfer to civilian rule by handing power to Shehu Shagari on October 1, 1979. Today, his portrait adorns the 20 Naira note and Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos is named in his honor.
Mohammed is also the only combatant in the Nigeria civil war internationally recognized as a war criminal, for the atrocities he committed in Asaba.
After the bloodless coup that toppled the increasingly rudderless regime of General Yakubu Gowon. The colonels asked the triumvirate of Murtala Mohammed, Olusegun Obasanjo and Theophilus Danjuma to assume power. Murtala, Obasanjo and Danjuma pledged to transfer power to an elected civilian government by 1979.
According to the American Diplomatic Cables of July 30, 1975, published by Wikileaks:
NIGERIA’S NEW RULERS MAY HAVE DELETERIOUS EFFECT ON INTERNAL NIGERIAN STABILITY AND US-NIGERIAN RELATIONS. CHIEF PROBLEM IS NEW HEAD OF STATE, BRIGADIER MURTALA MOHAMMED, AND IMPETUOUS, RUTHLESS MAN INDELIBLY IDENTIFIED WITH THE NIGERIAN NORTH, WHO EARNED THE FEAR OF NIGERIA’S IBOS DURING CIVIL WAR.
POTENTIALLY TROUBLING INFLUENCE IS THE NEW NUMBER ONE, HEAD OS STATE BRIGADIER MURTALA MOHAMMED. OVER THE PAST NINE YEARS BRIGADIER MOHAMMED HAS PROVED HIMSELF RUTHLESS, ARROGANT, AND CORRUPT. INDELIBLY IDENTIFIED WITH NORTHERN HEGEMONY, HIS BECOMING HEAD OF STATE MAY WELL FRIGHTEN IBOS WHO REMEMBER THE BEHAVIOR OF HIS TROOPS DURING THE CIVIL WAR. MOHAMMED HAS ARGUED RATHER WILDLY FOR IMMEDIATE, UNILATERAL NIGERIAN MILITARY INTERVENTION IN SOUTH AFRICA (REF. C).
2. MOHAMMED’S CAREER DURING THE PERIOD OF THE FIRST TWO COUPS AND THE CIVIL WAR IS WORTH RECALLING. WHEN NORTHERN TROOPS OVERTHREW AND KILLED MAJOR GENERAL JOHN AGUIYI IRONSI EXACTLY NINE YEARS AGO YESTERDAY, A CONFRONTATION TOOK PLACE BETWEEN MOHAMMED AND YAKUBU GOWON, THEN BOTH LIEUTENANT COLONELS.
MOHAMMED ATTEMPTING TO LEAD THE NORTHERN TROOPS IN SECESSION, GOWON STRIVING TO WIN THEIR SUPPORT FOR NIGERIAN UNITY. MOHAMMED BACKED DOWN AND AGREED TO SUPPORT GOWON, BUT SEEMS TO HAVE TRIED TO SUPPLANT GOWON IN NOVEMBER 1966. THAT EFFORT FAILED. SINCE THEN MOHAMMED’S NAME HAS BEEN FREQUENTLY LINKED WITH COUP PLOTTERS.
MOHAMMED HAS DONE LITTLE TO DISGUISE HIS CONTEMPT FOR GOWON, WHOM HE ACCUSES OF FAILURE TO PROVIDE STRONG LEADERSHIP. HE IS REPUTED TO HAVE ONCE SAID, “I PUT GOWON IN OFFICE…”.
THE OTHER HALF OF HIS BOAST WOULD NOW SEEM TO HAVE COME TRUE:
“… AND I CAN TAKE HIM OUT.”
AFTER WAR BROKE OUT MOHAMMED EARNED A SHORT-LIVED REPUTATION AS THE “MONTY OF THE MID-WEST”, DRIVING THE BIAFRAN INVADERS OUT OF THE STATE AND CAPTURING ASABA ON THE NIGER. THOUGH THERE IS NO INDICATION THAT MOHAMMED WAS DIRECTLY RESPONSIBLE, THE CAPTURE OF ASABA WAS ACCOMPANIED BY THE WORST MASSACRE OF THE CIVIL WAR–800 IBO MEN AND BOYS LINED UP AND MACHINEGUNNED. THREE TIMES IN LATE 1967 MOHAMMED LAUNCHED AMPHIBIOUS ASSAULTS ACROSS THE NIGER WITH THE OBJECTIVE OF CAPTURING ONITSHA, AND THREE TIMES HE WAS REPULSED, WITH THE HEAVIEST NIGERIAN LOSSES OF THE WAR: APPROXIMATELY 2,000 KILLED.
IN LATE MARCH, 1968 MOHAMMED’S 2D DIVISION FINALLY CAPTURED ONITSHA FROM THE LANDWARD SIDE, AGAIN WITH HEAVY LOSSES. IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE FIGHTING MOHAMMED’S SOLDIERS MASSACRED APPROXIMATELY 300 IBO INHABITANTS. MOHAMMED IS THUS AS CLOSELY-LINKED AS ANY SINGLE PERSON WITH THE IBO MYTH AND FEAR OF GENOCIDE.
3. RELIEVED OF HIS COMMANDE IN JUNE 1968 FOLLOWING A SERIES OF INSUBORDINATE ACTS, MOHAMMED RETURNED TO HIS PRE-WAR POST AS INSPECTOR (CHIEF) OF ARMY SIGNALS. IN THE YEARS SINCE HE HAS RUN THE NIGERIAN SIGNALS VERY EFFECTIVELY; DATT DESCRIBES THE SIGNAL CORPS AS THE MOST PROFESSIONAL IN NIGERIAN ARMY.
BRITISH SOURCES ACCUSE MOHAMMED OF TAKING HEAVY BRIBES FROM AMERICAN COMPANIES IN CONNECTION WITH SIGNALS PROCUREMENT, AND IT DOES APPEAR THAT HE HAS SET DEALS UP QUICKLY AND THEN PRESENTED THE MINISTRY OF DEFENSE WITH FIATS ACCOMPLIS. FOR EXAMPLE, THE ALACRITY WITH WHICH HE HAS APPROVED AND TOUTED THE AMERICAN TCOM TETHERED-BALLON SYSTEM OF TELECOMMUNICATIONS (REF. D) HAS SURPRISED SOME OBSERVERS. WHETHER THIS SOMEWHAT GRANDIOSE PROJECT ROUSES CHARGES OF CORRUPTION FROM NIGERIANS WHEN IT GETS UNDERWAY REMAINS TO BE SEEN. CORRUPT HIMSELF OR NOT, MOHAMMED SPEAKS SCATHINGLY OF THE PREVALENT CORRUPTION IN NIGERIA AND TIES IT TO GOWON’S ALLEGED INEFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP. WHAT CREDENTIALS THIS WILL GIVE HIM IN A REGIME
Murtala was also the first Nigerian Hijacker, he went to the Lagos International airport and Murdered civilians, igbos plus Those who Looked like igbos, also murdered over 30 of his Fellow soldiers sent to rescue the airport From his Blood bath. He was nothing but a looter of Central bank, Benin City and a war criminal who should have been tried and convicted.
However, he stood to British-American Imperialism in Angola and South Africa, which many suspected probably led to his death.
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