General Murtala Mohammed: Forty Years On – Femi Fani-Kayode Writes


If there was one man that had a profound effect on our history, perhaps more than any other, it was Gen. Murtala Ramat Mohammed. Sadly he was assassinated 40 years ago, on February 13th 1976. In a clime and a nation in which there are few true heroes, he was certainly one of them.

I could write a whole book on this man. It is a pity that the younger generation of Nigerians don’t know much about him or about what he did and achieved for our nation both before and after he became Head of State in 1975. Forty years after his murder his name still brings joy and admiration to his associates, friends and loved ones and terror and trepidation to his detractors and foes.

Of all the former Heads of State and leaders in our country I admire him the most. His courage, focus, brazenness, righteous anger, strength of character, bellicose nature, passion and ability to take the bull by the horns and do what needed to be done, no matter whose ox was gored and no matter what the consequences were, was exemplary and outstanding.
In these days of cowardice, guile, deceit, doublespeak, subterfuge and political correctness, Mohammed would not have found much pleasure or joy and neither would he have been fully appreciated. He was blunt, fearless and irrepressible and, as they say, he was ”as tough as nails”. He was all that a real warrior ought to be. Most important of all he was inspirational: he scorned death and he had no fear of it.

What a man this was: truly the first among equals. He was a living example of the veracity of the adage that says “who dares wins”. His life was a manifestation of the fact that truly “fortune favors the bold”. Our domestic policy under his watch brought positive and monumental changes to the fortunes of our country and the character of our people. Our foreign policy under him, throughout the six months that he was Head of State, was a sight to be seen. It was Nigeria at her proudest and her best.

In those days we were rich, loud and boisterous. We could boast of having Africa’s strongest army and her most outstanding and best- educated middle class. We were big, strong and powerful and when Nigeria spoke the world listened. When we sneezed Africa literally caught a cold. When we roared, the world shook. We wielded this great power and influence on the world stage with immense dazzle and razzmatazz. Yet we were also cautious, restrained and deemed as being highly responsible. That is when Nigeria was regarded as the Giant of Africa and rightly so.

Without General Murtala Mohammed the eventual liberation of Angola, Zimbabwe and South Africa would not have been achieved when it was. Though he did not live to see it, he set the ball rolling and he threw down the gauntlet to the western powers and all those that supported racial tyranny and apartheid in the nations of southern Africa.

Some historians have even argued that that is precisely why he was eventually murdered. Yet if that was the motivation for organizing his assassination it did not stop anything because the cat was already out of the bag and his legacy had already been established and taken root.

This is confirmed by the fact that his extraordinary and dynamic foreign policy vis a vis the total liberation of our brother African nations and his unrelenting opposition and resistance to white minority rule in South Africa and Rhodesia (as it then was) continued under the able leadership of his second in command, General Olusegun Obasanjo, after he took over as Head of State on Feb. 14th 1976. The rest is history.

May General Murtala Ramat Mohammed’s courageous soul continue to rest in peace and may those that are in power today resurrect his spirit and build on his great legacy.

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