Family kills Murtala Muhammed again, By Garba Shehu

Garba Shehu

Wednesday February 13th was yet another “Murtala Day”, being the 37th anniversary of the gruesome killing of the foremost Nigerian leader, General Murtala Ramat Mohammed. In stark contrast to established tradition, the day passed with barely a whimper. The family, which runs a foundation in his name, kept mute. Not a single event held in his memory. No messages or newspaper pull-outs, no speeches, no essays, no editorials, no lectures, no symposia to remind the younger generations of the greatness of this leader who, in the view of many, is only next to the legendary Nelson Mandela on the continent.On that day, all I saw was a tail piece in the back page of The Nation, a full page in the new, vibrant Hausa Newspaper, Rariya, published by Dr. Aliyu Modibbo Umar and a short commemorative statement from the State House, Abuja.

Was this an indication that the relevance of Murtala Mohammed has completely ebbed?

If you reflect on this, you will notice that in the last couple of years, Murtala Day was no longer marked with seminars held across the country, books published on the occasion; scholars revising his insights, thoughts and actions to determine what had flawed and what endured. Also missing are those personal or intimate accounts of associates, family and relatives, rendering compelling narratives of Murtala from his native Kano; testimonials from mates in school, college, the Army and at the pinnacle of his career where he held sway as Head of State and Commander-in-Chief.

What went wrong?

In contrast with  Murtala, Nigerian leaders of more, equal or even far lesser pedigree are celebrated year-in-year-out. You don’t have to look far to see and feel what veteran journalists in Western Nigeria make of Adekunle Fajuyi or of ObafemiAwolowo by the Awolowo foundation. Surely, the reader must be familiar with the Anyiam-Osigwe annual lecture series and the Nnamdi Azikiwe lecture and awards. In the North, we celebrate the Sardauna, Sir Ahmadu Bello, General Yakubu Gowon, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and many others.

Murtala rises above many or all of these celebrities especially in the light of his epic struggle for the decolonization of Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and the Saharawi Arab Republic. Murtala’s leadership of Africa’s biggest and richest country in his time was marked by genuine advocacy for the dignity and honour of the African. That was why it was supported by all freedom-loving people all over the world. At home in Nigeria, Murtala taught citizens to place national integrity and national interest above self.

The fact that Africans still don’t have equal rights in the global economic and political systems suggests that Murtala’s thoughts and struggle are as relevant today as they were in the 70s.

As students of tertiary education at that time, Murtala inspired our generation to go out for freedom and social justice and to seek a society that did not discriminate on any basis including religion, region, ethnicity or gender. He not only mouthed the rhetoric against corruption but his was the first serious attempt to curb its menace.

This writer is not equipped to pass judgment on why Murtala Mohammed’s memory has died in Nigeria and the larger continent. I myself feel a sense of guilt, along with my generation for not doing enough to sustain the high aspirations Murtala left behind. By way of explanation, there are many who believe that the rot in Nigeria, where corruption is the largest industry is in sharp disagreement with Murtala’s rigid anti-corruption stance. I believe strongly, however, that the core villain is the family of the late General that has reduced this pan-African giant to a family possession locked up in their closet.

These problems started early when the family snubbed the enormous gesture of the Government  and people of Kano State, the general’s home state. Kano used to harbour the most committed people who idolised Murtala in Nigeria. A fine bungalow, stately if you might call it, was built for them to resettle in at a prime location in the northern city but there was no one to hand the keys to. The family chose Lagos as their home and we must all respect their right in making that decision.

No one can however deny that this was the first thing to create a chasm between the family and his passionate supporters in Kano.

The house became home to rodents and reptiles before it was targeted by vandals who removed every removable item. It now lies a sorry, despoiled and desolated premises.

The surface calm of Kano people over this snub did not find expression until Abba, Murtala’s likeable young son sought to represent a portion of the city at the Federal House of Representatives in an election. He failed woefully.

The family did not help matters by holding onto the  Murtala Mohammed Foundation, MMF, set up to perpetuate his legacy but which has, unfortunately, been run with shut minds that hardly find anything right in anything done by others. They have not made it all-inclusive.

I recall a major outing at the Bayero University, B.U.K Kano, which until then had celebrated Murtala Day with speeches, marches and pomp every year. A few years ago, the Executive Secretary of the foundation, who is family member published an embarrassing disclaimer of an event at the B.U.K. at which Mr. Sam Nujoma, the former Namibian President had been called to speak. The MMF said the Kano event was unauthorized and that the only recognized event was the one organized by the family-led foundation. The Kano event still went very well but it was the last of such to be called there.

To arrest and roll back the diminishing status and stature of Murtala Mohammed in Nigeria and the continent, it is incumbent on the MMF and his lovers in Nigeria to take a number of dramatic steps. One of these is of course that they should start a rebuilding process. They need to open up the foundation to other stakeholders and embark on a serious process of reconciliation with the people of Kano,  Nigeria and the entire continent. Murtala’s idealism had in the past served as the rallying cry of student union activism, university staff unions and the labour movement. How can they be reengaged? The MMF must also reach out to this country’s political leaders as well as others on the continent because they can’t achieve much without political support.

President Obasanjo who was Murtala’s deputy in their time and has done a lot to keep Murtala alive in the memory of the world is no longer in power and I can’t see him making any impact. Right now, there is nobody with that kind of relationship with Murtala to serve as a driving force except perhaps General T.Y.Danjuma, who is their Vice Chairman or industry leaders like Aliko Dangote. There is need for all-round engagement.

The MMF may thereafter need to hand the foundation to credible others while the family shed their overarching role.



Now available on

  Premium Times Android mobile applicationPremium Times iOS mobile applicationPremium Times blackberry mobile applicationPremium Times windows mobile application


All rights reserved. This material and any other material on this platform may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, written or distributed in full or in part, without written permission from PREMIUM TIMES.

  • Eurofighter

    Signs of a country in deep trouble!

  • Eddy

    Was this man not a military dictator?

    • Mpitikwelu_na_Ugwu_Awusa

      no mind them. they make statesmen of villains. bunch of ethnic bigots

  • Sima Ena Jr.

    Murtala? “…next to the legendary Nelson Mandela on the continent.” Are you mad, Shehu Garba? Are you okay?

    • amazing2012

      Our problem of hat and ethnicity is what the country is facing as a problem. What do you lose if any Nigeria become a legend? Must it be from your tribe ?

      • Mike

        Heroes are ppl like Imoudu and Wahab goodluck of the labor unions. Aminu Kano, Sa’ad Zungur etc. Not Murtala. He was a murderous insubordinate lunatic that cost us too many men in the civil war and pretty much disregarded the entire high command. His death was reflective of the way he chose to live; rash and a tendency to worsen situations with careless discharge of bullets. guess karma never sleeps.

        • amazing2012

          ….and what do you call Ojukwu, a hero? Tell me one military officer in Nigeria history that did not kill?
          Bush, and Obama, killed millions and are cherished as heroes, you have to believe me that black race has a problem of self recognition.

          • Mike

            The problem of self recognition is evident in the insistence on murtala being recognized as a hero lol. Okay ket us forget he killed all those ppl he did ( thousands of fellow blacks) aimlessly for the most part.
            That aside, he in fact disrespected and undermined the authority of our military chiefs. Abandoning the war for his exile(face it, it was a holiday) in 1968. Any other soldier without the backing of the NCOs he had would have been tossed aside. But no, Mr Murtala and his big bad gang of mutineers might just have torn up the whole place. Hmmm.. holding ur country and ppl to ransom… very heroic ? lol. Please stop

            Nobody talks about the real heroes like Gowon as frequent, Hassan Katsina was more of a hero for crying out loud. But when it comes down to it I would never call coup plotters heroes. Incompetent bunch. Look at the management of oil funds and the development programs of the 70s. Dumbass soldiers pumped so much into white elephant projects and spent without direction ( esp. the education expansion programs that did nothing more but add class room square space).
            It is a gross indictment of the feebleness of our political culture as a democracy that ppl could call a murderous haughty dictator a hero. Cut the ‘black race’ talk. You make it sound as if we are talking about Frantz Fanon or Mandela. Truth is truth, if the man was any good his exploits and deeds would have spoken for him. It has already been 41 years since he passed. He should RIP and I hope he has had to answer to the masses he killed.
            His daughter is a madam tho. Elegant woman, she gives me goose bumps lol.

          • amazing2012

            tell me why did Murtala struck?

          • Mike

            why did he strike whom ? If you’re going to justify the counter coup on ethnic gibberish fine. To kill the officers in a tit for tat ,oh well what can I say ? However I will not accept the encouragement and aiding of mass murder of non-northern civilians in the north, Araba this and that talk. All nonsense after all. To freely kill civilians in captured territory is another major piece of BS. Esp when they’re Nigerian citizens. Excuse the massacres in Aba and co if you will, but those that took place in the midwest ( asaba and what not) cannot be forgiven.
            -And okay let us say it was never his fault, he was a passionate patriot lol. Oh so I guess patriots disobery their superiors and intentionally make decisions that kill Nigerian servicemen, with no regard.
            Murtala and Nzeogwu more than any other servicemen alive or dead contributed the most the disintegration of professionalism and cohesion in the Army. That’s why the institution is the way it is today. An assemblage of armed men who would willingly or grudgingly obey thier superiors based on irrelevant standards of ethnicity, political alignment and what have you.
            Murtala is a disgrace to this country. Please do more to show this zeal you got for a Nigerian sourced Black leader by promoting the likes of Soyinka, Achebe, Balewa, Ekwensi, Obasanjo( on the low end , but even more fitting than murtala) etc. Maybe even me some day ? or you ? im a minority but it is worth the shot :p.

            Btw what the story about Abba Risqua spending cash on harlots lol. AMG petro has gotten a lot of political favor on the backs of their dad’s pedigree. He cant possibly spend all that ….

  • amazing2012

    His bastard son was busy spending on prostitutes and thugs for his campaign to become a governor.