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Murtala R. Muhammed at times like this

Precisely On July 30, 1975, Brigadier (later General) Muhammed was made head of state, when General Gowon was overthrown while at an Organization of African…

Precisely On July 30, 1975, Brigadier (later General) Muhammed was made head of state, when General Gowon was overthrown while at an Organization of African Unity (OAU) summit in Kampala, Uganda. 1975 coup started the likes of Brigadiers Obasanjo (later Lt. General) and Danjuma (later Lt. General) appointed as Chief of Staff, Supreme HQ and Chief of Army Staff, respectively.  Murtala’s profiling  before the coup include his controversial roles in the counter coup against Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi which took power after a coup d’état on January 15, 1966 as well as during the Nigerian Civil War, when Muhammed was General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Nigerian Army’s 2nd Division.
Remembering essen-tial qualities of Murtala Muhammed at times like this remind us of his governance style. Could General Murtala Muhammed have for whatever reason, (as we are doing today!) postponed national general elections? That would certainly have been unthinkable. Murtala’s commitment to return to democratic rule was unmistakable clear and unambiguous. In fact one of the reasons for the overthrow of Gowon junta was because the latter was indecisive on the return to civil rule in 1974.
His historic Indepen-dence Day broadcast in October 1975 spelt out a comprehensive programme of demilitari-zation and return to civil rule which as faithfully implemented. The then Supreme Military Council approved a five-stage programme designed to ensure a smooth transition to civil rule by those elected by the people of this country that included creation of new states, setting up of Constitution drafting committee, local government reforms, reversal of the 1973 census, convocation of the constituent assembly and eventual lifting of the ban on politics and elections that led to return to civil rule in 1979.  In times like this General Murtala would eye-ball-to-eye- ball inspire the nation by example to face up to the security challenges.
History has it that he was the first Head of State to introduce the phrases “Fellow Nigerians” and “with immediate effect” to the national lexicon.
In a short time, Murtala Muhammed’s policies won him broad popular support, and his decisiveness elevated him to the status of a folk hero. In fullest of time Murtala Muhammed fought corruption frontally. In times like this there is no academic difference between stealing and corruption.  Witness his record: “he removed top federal and state officials to break links with the Gowon regime and to restore public confidence in the federal government. More than 10,000 public officials and employees were dismissed without benefits, on account of age, health, incompetence, or malpractice. The purge affected the civil service, judiciary, police and armed forces, diplomatic service, public corporations, and universities. Some officials were brought to trial on charges of corruption. He also began the demobilization of 100,000 troops from the swollen ranks of the armed forces.
Twelve of the 25 ministerial posts on the new Federal Executive Council went to civilians, but the cabinet was secondary to the executive Supreme Military Council. Muhammed imposed the authority of the federal government in areas formerly reserved for the states, restricting the latitude exercised by state governments and their governors in determining and executing policy. Newly appointed military governors of the states were not given seats on the Supreme Military Council, but instead were expected to administer federal policies handed down by Muhammed through the military council. The federal government took over the operation of the country’s two largest newspapers, made broadcasting a federal monopoly, and brought remaining state-run universities under federal control.
Murtala Muhammed initiated a comprehensive review of the Third National Development Plan. Singling out inflation as the greatest danger to the economy, he was determined to reduce the money supply that had been swollen by government expenditures on public works. Muhammed also announced that his government would encourage the rapid expansion of the private sector into areas dominated by public corporations.
He reappraised foreign policy, stressing a “Nigeria first” orientation in line with OPEC price guidelines that was to the disadvantage of other African countries. Nigeria became “neutral” rather than “nonaligned” in international affairs. The shift in orientation became apparent with respect to Angola. Nigeria had worked with the OAU to bring about a negotiated reconciliation of the warring factions in the former Portuguese colony, but late in 1975 Murtala Muhammed announced Nigeria’s support for the Soviet-backed Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, citing South Africa’s armed intervention on the side of the rival National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA).
The realignment strained relations with the United States, which argued for the withdrawal of Cuban troops and Soviet advisers from Angola. In October the Nigerian Air Force took delivery of Soviet-built aircraft that had been ordered under Gowon. May his soul rest in peace.

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