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In remembrance of a visionary and pragmatic leader: General Murtala Ramat Muhammed

It has been five years since the last time I wrote you an open letter, in which I bothered you with briefs on the situation…

It has been five years since the last time I wrote you an open letter, in which I bothered you with briefs on the situation of our beloved country. The country you so dearly loved and eventually paid the supreme sacrifice of losing your life. My prayers for Allah’s Mercy for Jannatul Firdausi to be your final abode shall never seize until I join you to part no more, In Shaa Allahu.

As I write this peace in your remembrance, on 13th February, 2023, exactly 47 years since your departure, in exactly 12 days from today, the people of Nigeria will be going to the polls to elect leaders for another four-year term, the seventh election of its kind since the return to civil rule in 1999. Not your 1979 transition to civil rule oh! Ahhh! That one has since been scuttled with military coups, deceitful transition programme, stepping aside, transitional government and eventually culminated into divine interventions and political opportunism that kept producing leaders, yesterday was better than today.

Sir, perhaps the good news is that Nigeria has remained a single political entity, but the binding forces keeping it together is getting weaker and weaker by the day. Too many challenges have overwhelmed your beloved nation, Nigeria. From the IPOB in the South-East, Boko Haram in the North-East, to banditry and kidnapping in the North-East and North-Central, yahoo-yahoo boys in the South-West, etc. Don’t bother yourself about some of the terminologies because they were not in existence when you were in Nigeria, they are part of the emerging trends.

As we remember you and your style of leadership, your courage, fearlessness, determination, focus, the strength of your will, fairness, absence of bloodshed, and firmed principled flexibility, especially towards the down trodden of the society, have virtually gone with you. Perhaps, you were the poorest Head of State Nigeria ever had, with about N75 in your bank account as at the time you were assassinated on Friday, 13th February 1976.

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In remembrance of a visionary and pragmatic leader: General Murtala Ramat Muhammed

To describe you better, let me take a leave into the narration of your primary school teacher, and our father, the late Alhaji Yusufu Maitama Sule (Dan Masanin Kano), who described you, your qualities in your true colour over the BBC Hausa Service, “filin Matambayi ba ya bata.” He used to say that whenever he attended your memorial lecture, he was paying the debt he owed you. And one listener of the Hausa Service wrote to ask, what kind of debt was between Dan Masani and late General Murtala Muhammed? Dan Masanin Kano described General Murtala as someone who propelled his image as a trust worthy and honest gentleman who can be trusted.

Dan Masanin Kano narrated that, ‘ai bashin kudi, shi kake gama biya, ba na mutunci da girmamawa ba’. He (Dan Masani) stated his relationship with General Murtala Muhammed as that of teacher-pupil because Dan Masani taught him in primary school. And in terms of residential neighbourhood, Dan Masani was from Yolawa (Gidan Madaki), while Murtala was from the neighbouring Kurawa quarters both in the ancient city of Kano.

After the 1966 coup that truncated the First Republic under Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, in which Dan Masanin Kano was a junior minister, any time Dan Masani and General Murtala met, after exchanging pleasantries, General Murtala used to tease Dan Masani, “Mal. Mundai koreku” and Dan Masani used to respond by saying, “Haba! Ai da saurayin kare (referring to the military junta) gara tsohon zaki (referring to the ousted civilian regime) and both will laugh over it.

In 1975, Dan Masanin Kano was invited to Lagos to be inaugurated as the National Chairman for Arts and Culture, when General Murtala Muhammed took over as the Head of State after the July 29th, 1975 coup d’état. General Murtala requested Dan Masani to see him in Dodan Barracks, Lagos. Dan Masani went, as usual, General Murtala started with their usual jokes, he said, “Da saurayin kare….” expecting Dan Masani to complete the statement, but Dan Masani refused. General Murtala repeated the joke again and insisted that Dan Masani should complete it as they used to. Dan Masani exclaimed, toh! Dama abin da ka kirani ka fada mini kenan (is that what you invited me to tell me?). General Murtala persisted, then Dan Masani responded, “toh! ko a karnukan ma, kai na Assahabil Ka’afi ne.” They laughed over it and went into business.

Late General Murtala dismissed his earlier appointment as Chairman of Arts and culture, and told him, you are too much for that kind of assignment. He requested him to investigate and make his findings on secret societies and cults groups that were using people for sacrifice that have started terrorizing the country. Dan Masani accepted this first assignment without any hesitation, and General Murtala was amused and gladly remarked, “yauwa nawa, shi ya sa nake sonka” that’s why I like you. General Muhammed confided in Dan Masani that he had approached a number of people but they lacked the courage to accept such responsibility, and therefore declined. And General Murtala swore to deal decisively with anybody found to be involved in such secret societies. Dan Masani remarked, “aikin banza, mu da ke da Allah, su ko matsafan banza.”

The second assignment that General Murtala gave Dan Masani was to establish the Public Complain Commission, with him (Maitama Sule) as its first Chairman. General Murtala told him, God has blessed every part of this country with honest and dedicated people with unalloyed commitment that can handle such job, and further directed him to open offices in all the states of the federation and identify such calibre of people and bring them to be appointed as the State Commissioners of Public Complaints Commission. These assignments though overwhelming, Dan Masani was able to accomplish successfully.

The third assignment he assigned to Dan Masanin Kano was on the massive sack in the Public Service (tankade da rairaya) that was conducted by his government. General Murtala confided in Dan Masanin Kano that he has received reports of some public servants who were sacked on vendetta but were innocent. He set up a committee and requested Dan Masani to head the committee, assisted by one Reverend Father, and bring to his notice all such cases for him to take action and reinstate them. As Allah would have it, General Murtala was assassinated before the committee could complete its assignment. We pray that Allah (S.W) list you among the martyrs and make the Jannatul Firdausi your final aboard, you and your teacher, Dan Masanin Kano.

In this same interview with the BBC, the Dan Masanin Kano summarized General Murtala as extremely courageous, very determined, fearless, but with the fear of God. He led an action-packed regime with absolute humility and high sense of discipline as required by the military of those days, his respected constituency.

The good tidings about your efforts in the liberation struggle of some African countries has finally yielded positive results, all the countries are now independent and even grow to accommodate some leaders that wanted to perpetuate themselves in power but had to give way against their wish. In the home front, we have grown fast in some economic lane, like the GSM but still without basic infrastructure of development.

As at now, we cannot claim to have successfully defeated the basics infrastructures that pave way for development, like potable drinking water, electricity – with the national grid fluctuating like a sine wave, roads with many uncompleted for several years, from one government to the other. Agriculture that was the main provider of labour and leading contributor of our GDP has suffered a major setback, as farmers are no longer safe or have access to their farms for fear of bandits and kidnappers. Slavery has virtually returned, perhaps in its worst form. Continued on www.dailytrust.com

In those days, slaves were never killed just like that. In fact, a slave was allowed to undertake any labour of his/her choice to pay for their freedom, or someone else sets them free, particularly expiation (Kaffara) in Islam. But today, relations have the burden of freeing their brothers, sisters, parents or sons and daughters in the custody of kidnappers or be killed.

Recently, we have attained the level that almost breaks the camel’s back, with the present political challenges, sporadic killings, change of currency with insufficient new naira notes and limited withdrawal limits; it is our sincere prayers for Allah’s intervention on the affairs of our country. We pray for peaceful and credible elections and smooth transition. However, we are still considering and suggesting a mental check-up for Nigerians given position of authority due to the level of theft and mismanagement of Nigeria’s resources.

I cannot conclude by not informing you of the disaster that engulfed my constituency, the academia. For the first time, we registered the longest ASUU strike of 8 months, with public universities reduced to deteriorating structures, some occupied by reptiles and layers of dust. Academic activities resumed last October with seriously demoralizing, economically malnourished and psychologically imbalanced academic staff carrying the anthem of “no-work, no-pay” in their ears. What kind of graduates do you expect from now? And all these happened under the leadership of two ministers who feel they could write their names in charcoal and go scott free, without being judged by posterity and God, taking advantage of the short memory of Nigerians for granted.

The commander–in- charge who criticized previous governments of wrong doings happening under their watch, is now doing the same under his watch and with sealed mouth. In fact, I have never seen a government that brings unpopular policies that will over stretch the unlimited capacity of Nigerians to endure hardship, good as they may be, on the eve of elections.

May your soul continue to rest in perfect peace, my hero and my model!

Abduljalal Danbaba PhD is of the Dept of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, KASU, Nigeria, and can be reached on [email protected]


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