Nigeria has had eight military rulers since the first time the military took over power January 15, 1966, but only one has his face on any of the currencies in the country, that man is Murtala Muhammed, Nigeria’s head of state between 30 July 1975 – 13 February 1976.
Muhammed was assassinated when coup plotter attacked his convoy on his way to work on Friday, February, 13 , 1976 bringing to an end his tenure.
Who is the man Murtala Muhammed?
Born November 8, 1938, Murtala Muhammed was one of 11 children of Muhammed Risqua and Uwani Rahamat in Kurama quarters of Kano, Nigeria. He was born to a Fulani family of the Genawa Clan with a history of Islamic jurisprudence as both his great-grand father and grand father held the title of Chief Alkali of Kano.
He had his primary education at Cikin Gida Elementary School which was within the grounds of the emir’s palace, before being transferred to Gidan Makama primary school in Kano which was just outside the palace. He then proceeded to Kano Middle School (now Rumfa College) in 1949 before attending the famous Government College (now Barewa College) in Zaria, where he obtained his school certificate in 1957. At Barewa College, Mohammed was a member of the Cadet Corps and was captain of shooting in his final year. He obtained his school leaving certificate in 1957.
Muhammed joined the Nigerian Army in 1958, proceeding on a short course in Nigeria and Ghana. He received further military training as an officer cadet at Sandhurst Royal Military Academy in England, and also took specialised signals course in the tenth arm specialty of Signal at Carrerick Garrison. After his training, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1961 and assigned to the Nigerian Army Signals that same year, later spending a short stint with the No. 3 Brigade Signals Troop in Congo.
Murtala Muhammed military career
After his commissioning, Muhammed was appointed aide-de-camp (ADC) to the Western Region Administrator, M. A. Majekodunmi in 1962. He became the officer-in-charge of the First Brigade Signal Troop in Kaduna, in 1963. He then traveled that same year to the Royal Corps of Signals at Catterick Garrison, England for a course on advanced telecommunications techniques.
On his return to Nigeria in 1964, he was promoted to major and appointed officer-commanding, 1st Signal Squadron in Apapa, Lagos. Muhammed was made acting Chief of Signals of the Army November 1965.
After the first military coup in January 15, 1966, killing top politicians and soldiers in the country, Mohammed was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in April, and was the inspector of signals posted to Army Headquarters, Lagos in a move that was partly to pacify Northerners weary about the new military regime. Mohammed was also appointed member of a Post and Telecommunications management committee.
Muhammed played a prominent role after the first military coup, leading the soldiers from northern extraction who were unhappy with the coup, where majorly people from the north were killed by soldiers who had most of them from the east.
Muhammed opposed the regime of Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, which took power after a coup d’etat on 15 January 1966. Aguiyi-Ironsi, brought normality back to the nation by imprisoning the coup makers and intimidating the federal cabinet into handing over the helms of government to him. However, many northerners saw this and the reluctance of Ironsi to prosecute the coup leaders, and the fact that the army was purportedly giving exceptional privileges to the coupist as an indication of Ironsi’s support for the killings. Consequently, northern politicians and civil servants mounted pressure upon northern officers such as Muhammed to avenge the coup. The promulgation of Decree No. 34 restructuring Nigeria from a federal constitutional structure to a unitary structure also raised suspicions among many Northern officers and Mohammed and a few others began to contemplate separation of the Northern region from the country.
Muhammed and other northern soldiers masterminded a counter coup which started as a mutiny in Abeokuta. The coup plotter killed Ironsi and the Governor of the Western Region, Col. Adekunle Fajuyi in Ibadan July 29, 1966. The coup plotter then installed Lt. Col. Yakubu Gowon as head of state.
Involvement in Civil war
Murtala Muhammed was involved in the civil war in the country between July 6, 1967 and January 15, 1970. At the start of the Nigerian Civil War, Mohammed led the newly established 2nd Infantry Division. The first major act of the division was to stop the march of Biafran troops that had overran the Mid-West region and were marching towards the Western region. The division repelled the Biafran forces at Ore, Ondo State and later pushed back the rebels, driving them out of the Mid-West. The actions of the division during this period, mostly in Asaba became a subject of speculation.
The 2nd division was responsible for the beating back of the Biafran Army from the Mid-western region, as well as crossing the River Niger and linking up with the 1st Division, which was marching down from Nsukka and Enugu. However, this was only achieved after several failed river crossings in which thousands of troops were killed by drowning or enemy fire. During his time as Division Commander, Murtala Muhammed was implicated in several violations of appropriate conduct; Lieutenant Ishola Williams, an officer who served under then Colonel Muhammed alleged that Muhammed ordered the summary execution of Biafran prisoners of war.
In June 1968, he relinquished his commanding position and was posted to Lagos and appointed Inspector of Signals. In April 1968 he was promoted to colonel.
After the civil war
Head of state, Yakubu Gowon, promoted Muhammed to the rank of a brigadier-general, thereafter appointing him Federal Commissioner for Communications, which he combined with his military duties as Inspector of Signals at the Army Signals Headquarters in Apapa, Lagos.
He however started having issues with Gowon and some of his policies.
Becomes Nigeria’s third head of state
Yakubu Gowon was overthrown on July 30, 1975 while in Kampala, Uganda for the meeting of the Organisation of African Union, OAU meeting. Mohammed emerged head of state after the coup, with Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo emerging Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters.
After emerging head of state, one of the first things Muhammad
did was to create seven additional states February, 1976. He also commenced plans for the handing over of power to civilians.
Muhammed also put in place plans to build a new Federal Capital Territory due to Lagos being overcrowded. He set up a panel headed by Justice Akinola Aguda, which chose the Abuja area as the new capital ahead of other proposed locations. On 3 February 1976, Muhammed announced that the Federal Capital would in the future move to a federal territory location of about 8,000 square kilometres in the central part of the country.
Killed in coup
While Muhammed was on his way to work on Friday, February 13, 1976, some soldiers attacked the head of state’s car, killing three out of the four occupants, including Murtala Muhammed.
The coup was led by Lieutenant Colonel Bukar Dimka. Also involved in the assassination were: Major I.B. Rabo, Captain M. Parwang and Lieutenant William Seri.
The only survivor, Staff Sergeant Michael Otuwu who was Muhammed’s orderly gave an account of what happened in an interview with Daily Authority.
Otuwu said: “I was his orderly throughout to his last day during the Dimka coup. I was inside the car with him when he was killed. On the morning of that February 13, we were going to the office. Sergeant Adamu Michika was the driver; Sergeant Akintunde Akinterinwa, his ADC, sat behind the driver. As an orderly, I was in front with the driver.
“While the head of state sat behind me – I was the one who opens the door for him. That fateful day I came up in the morning to carry him to the office in Dodan barracks. We got to the former secretariat, now at Ikoyi, which was under construction.
“Before the place they call Alagbon junction, near the labour office. The official car was a Mercedes Benz 600. It is still at the national museum. There were about four or five vehicles in front of us. You know at that junction there was traffic. We didn’t go with sirens. During his time we didn’t go with escorts with the accompanying out-riders, road-closed signs and all that.
“So when we got to the Alagbon junction, the traffic warden stopped the vehicle and we were in the queue. We were the fifth or sixth vehicle behind the forward vehicles that were stopped. That secretariat was under construction.
“They put zincs around the compound behind that secretariat. Then some soldiers came in Agbada carrying AK-47 rifles. They wore uniforms but covered them with Agbada. They had their Kalashnikovs with Agbada cover-up in form of camouflage. We never knew they were even waiting for us. Then one soldier from Golf road shot and got our driver, Sergeant Michika. Our motor was neutralized.
“Between me and the driver was an arm-rest. On that arm-rest was Oga’s brief case. In this brief case he puts civil dress he could use as needed. When he wants to go to Mosque, he does not like going back to Ikoyi to change.
“Then some other soldiers converged on us. I can’t recall their number. They began to spray us from the back. All of us took cover. I fell on top of the driver; the blood of the driver covered my head. They thought the bullet got my head.
“After the first shooting and without return of fire they must have assumed that we were all dead. The shooting was actually in two phases. They ran to the NBC to announce the assassination. They shared themselves into three.
“There was a group waiting for Obasanjo when he was about to go to the office. Also another group was waiting for TY Danjuma at Bourdillon – our own was at Ikoyi Road. It happened we were the first target that moved early from the house to the office.
Before Obasanjo and TY Danjuma moved to their offices they have already heard the radio announcement. By the time of the first shooting, we being the target and their running to NBC to go and announce that they have already finished their assignment, the ADC who was still alive, thinking they were gone, opened the door of the Benz.
“In the first spraying of the car, except the driver who was killed, the three of us were injured but not dead. On observing the car door opening, one of the attackers, still within range, a major, called to the others: ‘he never die, he never die’. He was calling his group to return.
“This time around when they came back they finished their entire magazines. That was what happened. They carried everybody to the mortuary at Igbosere hospital, not far from Kam Salem police headquarters. Because of the extreme cold of the mortuary, my left hand started shaking and one of the attendants saw it and called the nurses or doctors and said somebody was still alive.
From there they checked and confirmed that I was still breathing. So they had to look for a vehicle to carry me to Dodan barracks. From Dodan barracks they looked for an ambulance and carried me to a hospital, Awolowo road hospital, a military hospital.”
The coupists were eventually arrested by the government of Olusegun Obasanjo which succeeded Muhammad. While majority of them were sentenced to death by firing squad and killed, many were sentenced to various jail terms.