General Murtala Ramat Muhammed, Nigeria’s Most Popular Leader Who Ruled With An Iron Fist
Friday the 13th of February is a day before Valentine’s Day. So also in the year was 1976, lovers across the world were perfecting plans on how to surprise their mates. Some were considering yellow roses while others settled for a day lapping up the tropical sun on Bar Beach. The morning started out like any other.
Lagosians were getting ready for the daily hustle and in no time, traffic started building up. The Lagos deity was awake and the nation’s capital responded to the crows of the cock.
Ever dutiful, the 37-year-old Nigerian Head of State summoned his driver, orderly and aide-de-camp. It was time for work.
Without the slightest hint of anything sinister waiting for them despite many labelling a 13th February an evil omen, Nigeria’s 4th Head of State and the unwavering commander of the Federal Military Government (FMG) hopped into his official car, a black Mercedes Benz limousine. The driver “shanasenjin-ed” (started the engine), proceeded along their normal George Street route. The unassuming group headed for the center of power of the black world’s most populous nation -Dodan Barracks.
Ever since the assassination of Murtala, Nigerian leaders took their personal security extremely serious. While president, Goodluck Jonathan used an armoured Mercedes-Benz E-Guard 600.
Meanwhile, all over Lagos, humanity poured out onto the streets and the traffic slowly gained momentum. In little time, the Head of State was caught in the Friday traffic. A simple leader with populist ideas, he had no speeding convoys, refused heavily-armed security details and preferred to stay in the traffic with his ‘Fellow Nigerians’ until it eased. They were all calm while some other drivers kept glancing at their much-loved and admired leader.
Some shouted out at him with joy and excitement while some others waved like their limbs would fly off the torso. Like a Hugo Chavez, Murtala felt a deep connection with the people and he must have been surveying the area full of his loyal and smiling compatriots, many peering at him through their cars when all of a sudden…
BIRTH AND EARLY DAYS
Born on a Tuesday, the 8th of November, 1938 in the Kurawa Quarters of Kano State to Risqua Muhammed and Uwani Ramatu, he had 7 siblings (one girl and seven boys) and he was the second child. The Alkalin Kano and Chief Kadi of the State, (Chief Judge) was his grandfather (same with his great-grandfather, Salihu Dattuwa) and he would also later get infused in Quranic education.
A Hausa by tribe, he was initially referred to as Murtala Kurawa after their quarters but later took up the name we all know him by today. Murtala’s father was schooled and literate. He was trained as a veterinary inspector and served the Kano State Government in the Hides and Skin Department but later on left to start his own cattle-rearing enterprise.
EDUCATION AND SCHOOLING
-Cikin Gida Primary School -Gidan Makama Primary School
-Barewa College, Zaria (formerly Government College) – On the 26th January, 1952, he was admitted as student number 941 as the school itself was founded in 1909.
He was one of the ten students from Kano and finished in 1957. One of his classmates was the late General Mohammed Shuwa shot dead at his home by gunmen in Maiduguri in November 2012. Shuwa was one of the prominent figures during the Nigerian Civil War and later a leading figure in Murtala’s government. Gowon also attended the same college.
-Regular Officers Special Training School , ROSTS (Teshie, Ghana), now Ghana Military Academy where he was taught as a 2nd Lieutenant infantry tactics and military laws by the late Odumegwu Ojukwu, a man of uncommon brilliance, in 1958.
Another student of Ojukwu in Ghana was Benjamin Adekunle also known as The Black Scorpion. Both Murtala and Adekunle would later face their teacher in a bloody duel in the Nigerian Civil War. Obasanjo and Gowon also attended ROSTS. Cadets from all over West Africa then attended ROSTS for six months military training before proceeding to Sandhurst for course completion and commissioning.
LOVE, ROMANCE, MARRIAGE & FAMILY
Murtala might be a strong-headed soldier but he was an amazing family man. In 2006, his wife recollects the fond memories:
His Yoruba wife (with partly Fulani roots), Mrs. Hafsat Ajoke Muhammed said they met in 1961 while she was studying at the School of Dental Hygiene in Lagos, then he was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army. Both of them were introduced to each other by his cousin. They fell in love, hit it off, and when they met in Kaduna later, he proposed to her and they got married in Kaduna in 1963 after her studies, the same year he became a Captain. Their marriage was a blissful and peaceful one. In 1965, the marriage was blessed with a cheeky baby girl who later attended the Queen’s College, Yaba, Lagos.
On the 22nd of January, 1966, they had their first son, Zakari whom he named after the slain Brigadier Zakari Maimalari, seen as a hero by many northern officers. When Murtala had a hectic schedule and had to be away on official duty, she put up with him and took care of the homefront.
When he was made the Head of State, Ajoke would stay awake for days, weep out of fear and anxiety, remembering the bloody coups and countercoups, knowing fully how unpredictable life in the military could be. All she could do was to pray. She resigned her job as a dental therapist and became a full-time housewife catering for their kids who were actually very young then. As at the time he was killed, his daughter, Zalihatu was just two years old.
When Murtala was killed and the news was relayed to her, she broke down and wept for her dear husband. Her shock doubled when she heard of Bisalla’s involvement and kept asking ‘Oh, even you?!‘ There was an incident after his death: She asked an ambassador as to how Murtala would be buried, and she was stunned by his response: ‘Oh, he has been buried’. She was stunned and stung at the same time that her own husband was interred in her absence.
Today, Mrs. Ajoke Muhammed is ageing gracefully, is widely respected for her charitable activities and calm demeanour (and yes, her beautiful garden at her Cooper Road residence in Ikoyi!) She does not joke with her botanical garden and she salvages plants going into extinction and plants them. Even as a First Lady, she was not unnecessarily flamboyant.
Her marriage produced six children shown here with their ages when their dad died:
-AISHAT (12 years, now Mrs. Aishat Oyebode): Now a graduate of law from the Kings College, University of London. She runs an asset management company and also bagged a masters degree in Business Administration from the Imperial College, University of London. She is also the Executive Secretary of the Murtala Muhammed Foundation (MMF).
-ZAKARI (1o): He later died in a shooting incident in 1994 in circumstances that are still very unclear.
-FATIMAH (Fatimo, 9): She trained as a horticulturist and is also a qualified accountant.
-RISQUA ABBA (8): The only surviving son. Got a business administration degree from the University of Lagos and later did his postgraduate programme at the University of Cardiff, United Kingdom. He was a Special Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo on Privatization.
-ZELIHA (Zalihatu, 2): Based in Lagos where she works for a real estate surveying company. Economics graduate from Nottingham University, United Kingdom.
-JUMAI (she was just a baby, less than a year old when her father was killed). The daughters are now married.
Trained as a regular combatant at Sandhurst (see picture above), he later took courses in Army Signals. He was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Nigerian Army in 1961 and became a lieutenant seven months later. In 1962, he was drafted to Congo as part of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force.
Upon returning to Nigeria, he served as the aide-de-camp (ADC) to Dr. Koyejo Majekodunmi, the Western Region Administrator put in place following the declaration of a State of Emergency.
He was later appointed the Officer-in-Chief, First Brigade Signal Troops, Kaduna after which he proceeded again to Catterick School of Signals for an advanced course in telecommunications.
Twenty eight months after he was commissioned, he was promoted and became a captain and appointed to oversee a signals unit at the Brigade Headquarters, Kaduna. By the end of 1964, Murtala was already a temporary Major (known as a T/Major).
Thereafter, he was transferred to Apapa as the Commanding Officer, 1 Signal Squadron .Lagos then was the nation’s capital where his uncle, Alhaji Inuwa Wada later became the Minister of Defence in 1965. When the first coup was carried out in January 1966, Murtala was still in Lagos. He was stung by the coup with the loss of prominent northerners. With IBB, Abacha and the rest, he would carefully plan and launch a devastating countercoup in July of the same year which cost Aguiyi-Ironsi and many others their dear lives.
When the crisis between the Northern and Eastern regions kept ballooning, Gowon attempted diplomatic solutions but Murtala was already single-handedly amassing weapons and preparing for war which had not even started. Some were thinking the weapons were even to overthrow Gowon. He was later made the General Officer Commanding of the 2 Division to take over the Mid West, controlled by Biafran forces.
In Murtala’s division was also Sani Abacha, later to become Head of State. They entered the Mid West and inflicted devastating losses on the Biafran forces but they overdid the whole thing by mercilessly massacring innocent civilians on a truly murderous and atrocious scale.
According to one of those who served under him, Lieutenant Ishola Williams, Murtala ordered for the summary execution of Biafran prisoners of war. Gowon later had to apologize for the bloody counteroffensive after the Civil War had ended. But one interesting thing here is that Murtala ensured that the mother of Kaduna Nzeogwu who launched the coup that killed northerners dear to Murtala’s heart was unharmed.
After he overran the Mid West, he made Major Samuel Ogbemudia the military governor without hinting Gowon or even waiting for his approval. Ogbemudia was in the post for eight years before Murtala himself removed him.
ROLE IN THE CIVIL WAR
The Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) lasted for thirty blood-soaked months and one of the principal actors of that sad phase of Nigerian history was Murtala. During the war, he was the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Nigerian Army 2nd Division. Although he flouted rules from the top and brushed aside orders from the Army Headquarters, Murtala took no atom of nonsense or disobedience from his juniors.
He commanded his division with the ruthlessness and determination of an Alexander the Great and they had some spectacular victories -and some unforgettably stinging defeats in the hands of the Biafran soldiers.
It was his division that routed forces of the Biafran Army and expelled them from the Midwest Region (discussed above), and from there he moved up to cross the River Niger to join the 1st Division which was on its way to Enugu City and Nsukka. At a point during the war, 28-year-old Murtala and his men reportedly stormed Asaba, Delta State and supervised an orgy of killing of innocent civilians.
Murtala took part in the bloody countercoup of July 29, 1966 which led to the ouster and death of Aguiyi-Ironsi, bringing Yakubu Gowon to power as the Head of State and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Exactly nine years after, Murtala would turn against Gowon and he became the fourth Head of State and Nigeria’s 3rd military ruler even though he wanted the post that went to Gowon in 1966.
The removal of Gowon was planned alongside Lt. Colonel Shehu Musa Yar’adua (a major player in Gowon’s overthrow, officers secretly met at his house to plan Gowon’s removal under the guise of playing draught or chess), Lt. Col. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and Colonel Joe Garba (Gowon’s head of Brigade of Guards responsible for protecting him). Gowon had promised in October 1974 to replace the State Governors by April 1975 to assuage feelings but when he failed to do so, the coup plotters were gingered to step up their plan and prepare for the final onslaught against him.
With Yar’adua and Garba being the major planners, they settled for Brigadier Murtala Muhammed, the Inspector of Army Signals and the Federal Commissioner for Communications as the new Head of State.
Subsequently, Yar’adua was the main ‘actor and boss’ of the coup which was efficiently carried out with minimal bloodshed. After nine years, Gowon was removed the same way he was installed -via a coup. However, Yar’adua did not entirely trust Garba, and without his knowledge, placed him under secret surveillance until the coup was finished.
It was the same Garba who announced his Oga’s removal to the whole world and was compensated with future appointments. While the coup to remove Gowon was in place, all airports were closed and the only flight allowed in was the commercial plane conveying Murtala from London. He landed at the Aminu Kano International Airport.
After the successful overthrow by the putschists, a meeting was called by Colonel MI Wushishi of senior military officers at Dodan Barracks and it was decided that the trio of Murtala, Obasanjo and Danjuma would head the new government. Although Brigadier Obasanjo was Murtala’s senior in the army, political arrangements and the situation at hand dictated the post of Head of State went to Murtala, a core northerner from Kano State.
Danjuma was to be made the Chief of Staff (Army), but for the first time, the title of the post was changed to the Chief of Army Staff , COAS (which remains so till date). Colonel John Yisa Doko of the Military Airlift Command was made the Chief of Air Staff while Commodore Michael Ayinde Adelanwa of the Western Naval Command headed the Nigerian Navy while Gowon’s Chief Security Officer, MD Yusufu was made the Police Inspector-General.
However, Murtala was not okay with Yusufu’s nomination but later calmed down. But he later made something very clear: He would accept the present arrangement but when he becomes the Head of State, no one would dictate to him and he would govern the nation in whatever way he deemed fit. He launched into a fiery outburst when others suggested that power be shared and that two-thirds majority of the Supreme Military Council (SMC) should be able to overrule the Head of State.
Garba called Murtala back into the room and demanded to know if he had softened his heart. Murtala repeated his earlier stance. It was absolute power or nothing. At that point, Garba, who had not slept in the last 48 hours, was both exasperated and furious. That was when the Director of Military Intelligence, Colonel Abdullahi Mohammed stepped in.
Murtala was clearly the most popular candidate and he was also acutely aware of his huge followership in the Nigerian Army, and selecting someone else to lead the country could have been an unmitigated disaster.
He later calmed down, agreed to their proposal to share power and also form the National Council of States with Governors as members but still complained that they should have at least explained all the terms and conditions to him earlier on. Danjuma and Obasanjo then chipped in some words to calm down his ferocious anger. The meeting then lasted till 4 am. That was how Murtala Ramat Muhammed became Head of State.
When he came to power, he constituted the Federal Executive Council with 25 ministerial posts, 12 of which were held by civilians even though the real power was vested in the Supreme Military Council (SMC) of which he was the Chairman. The 19 state governors were not members of the SMC, thus giving him more power to operate from the federal center. Governors did not formulate their own policies but implemented the ones Murtala sent down from the federal level.
This way, Murtala’s impact was directly felt across the nation. The federal government also took over the running of state universities and broadcasting, taking charge of the two largest newspapers published in the country. He also set up a 50-man committee to see to a new draft constitution and make plans on handing over to the civilians by October 1979. The Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) was headed by the late Justice Rotimi Williams.
Shortly before the evening of the 30th of July 1975, Murtala made his maiden speech to the nation as the Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, part of the speech went thus:
Events of the past few years have indicated that despite our great human and material resources, the Government has not been able to fulfill the legitimate expectations of our people. Nigeria has been left to drift. This situation, if not arrested, would inevitably have resulted in chaos and even bloodshed. In the endeavour to build a strong, united and virile nation, Nigerians have shed much blood. The thought of further bloodshed, for whatever reasons must, I am sure, be revolting to our people.
The Armed Forces, having examined the situation, came to the conclusion that certain changes were inevitable. After the civil war, the affairs of state, hitherto a collective responsibility became characterized by lack of consultation, indecision, indiscipline and even neglect. Indeed, the public at large became disillusioned and disappointed by these developments. This trend was clearly incompatible with the philosophy and image of a corrective regime.
Unknown to the general public, the feeling of disillusionment was also evident among members of the armed forces whose administration was neglected but who, out of sheer loyalty to the Nation, and in the hope that there would be a change, continued to suffer in silence. Things got a stage where the head of administration became virtually inaccessible even to official advisers; and when advice was tendered, it was often ignored.
Responsible opinion, including advice by eminent Nigerians, traditional rulers, intellectuals, et cetera, was similarly discarded. The leadership, either by design or default, had become too insensitive to the true feelings and yearnings of the people. The nation was thus plunged inexorably into chaos. It was obvious that matters could not, and should not, be allowed in this manner, and in order to give the nation a new lease of life, and sense of direction, the following decisions were taken:
1. The removal of General Yakubu Gowon as Head of the Federal Military Government and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.
2. The retirement of General Yakubu Gowon from the Armed Forces in his present rank of General with full benefits, in recognition of his past services to the nation.
3. General Gowon will be free to return to the country as soon as conditions permit; he will be free to pursue any legitimate undertakings of his choice in any part of the country. His personal safety and freedom and those of his family will be guaranteed.
4. The following members of the Armed Forces are retired with immediate effect: Vice Admiral JEA Wey – Chief of Staff, Supreme HQ, Major-General Hassan Katsina – Deputy Chief of Staff, Supreme HQ, Major-General David Ejoor – Chief of Staff (Army), Rear Admiral Nelson Soroh – Chief of Naval Staff, Brigadier EE Ikwue – Chief of Air Staff, and all other officers of the rank of Major General (or equivalent) and above. Alhaji Kam Salem – Inspector General of Police, Chief TA Fagbola – Deputy Inspector General of Police.
Although very brief (just a little over six months), Murtala’s time was full of events. Upon assuming power, Murtala (sorry, that flows better with me than referring him to Mohammed) made it abundantly clear that he would brook no nonsense.
He was very decisive with issues, wasted no time and because of this and many more, he became the darling of millions of Nigerians. His country men and women were immensely happy with him and were satisfied that at long last, Nigeria now has a strong, decisive and uncompromising leader, the one with the discipline and tenacity to take them to the Promised Land.
On his first day at work, Lagos workers who had hitherto been perennial latecomers and truants under the softer and ever-smiling Gowon found a way to get to work on time, despite the usual ‘traffic hold up’. Murtala inspired a sense of purpose in Nigerians, who rallied behind him in their numbers. Murtala made very bold statements on the local and international stage. He damned the United States, allied with the Soviet Union and pumped huge sums of money to African groups in places like Namibia fighting for independence. Slowly but steadily, he was becoming another Nkrumah, a rallying point for not just Nigeria but all of Africa, and with millions of petrodollar profits tumbling in, the 37-year-old Kano military ruler presided over an empire.
When he came to power, he constituted the Federal Executive Council with 25 ministerial posts, 12 of which were held by civilians even though the real power was vested in the Supreme Military Council (SMC) of which he was the Chairman.
The 19 state governors were not members of the SMC, thus giving him more power to operate from the federal center. Governors did not formulate their own policies but implemented the ones Murtala sent down from the federal level. This way, Murtala’s impact was directly felt across the nation.
The federal government also took over the running of state universities and broadcasting, taking charge of the two largest newspapers published in the country. He also set up a 50-man committee to see to a new draft constitution and make plans on handing over to the civilians by October 1979. The Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) was headed by the late Justice Rotimi Williams.
Although very brief (just a little over six months), Murtala’s time was full of events. Upon assuming power, Murtala (sorry, that flows better than referring him to Mohammed) made it abundantly clear that he would brook no nonsense.
He was very decisive with issues, wasted no time and because of this and many more, he became the darling of millions of Nigerians. His country men and women were immensely happy with him and were satisfied that at long last, Nigeria now has a strong, decisive and uncompromising leader, the one with the discipline and tenacity to take them to the Promised Land.
This SMC was constituted later on after an initial emergency council which included Commodore Michael Adelanwa as the CNS. It was at this stage that coup plotting became really attractive for junior officers as the plotters were all rewarded with plum government appointment, raking off substantial financial gains in the process.
Brigadier MURTALA RAMAT MUHAMMED – Head of State, Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, Chairman of the Supreme Military Council and Chairman of the Federal Executive Council.
-Brigadier OLUSEGUN AREMU OBASANJO – Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters (and de facto Deputy).
-Brigadier ILLIYA BISALLA – Federal Commissioner (Minister) of Defence (Bisalla was the only member of Gowon’s SMC to be retained. He would later be executed on charges of plotting to overthrow Murtala).
-Brigadier THEOPHILUS YAKUBU DANJUMA – Chief of Army Staff (COAS).
-Commodore MICHAEL ADELANWA – Chief of Naval Staff (CNS)
-Colonel JOHN NMADU YISA-DOKO – Chief of Air Staff (CAS)
-Alhaji MOHAMMED DIKKO YUSUF – Police Inspector-General (IGP)
-Brigadier JULIUS IPOOLA ALANI AKINRINADE– General Officer Commanding, 1 Division, Kaduna.
-Brigadier MARTIN ADAMU – General Officer Commanding, 2 Division, Ibadan.
-Brigadier EMMANUEL ABISOYE – General Officer Commanding, 3 Division, Jos.
-Brigadier JOHN OBADA – General Officer Commanding, Lagos Garrison Organization (LGO)
-Lt. Col. IBRAHIM BADAMASI BABANGIDA – Commander, Nigerian ArmyArmoured Corps
-Lt. Col. ALFRED ADULOJU – Commander, Nigerian Army Signal Corps
-Lt. Col. MUKTAR MOHAMMED – Nigerian Army
-Lt. Commander GODWIN NDUBUISI KANU– Nigerian Navy
ABUJA, THE NEW FEDERAL CAPITAL TERRITORY
In his characteristically decisive manner, he felt Lagos was too dirty, rowdy and crime-ridden to be the nation’s capital and set in place plans to built a new Federal Capital Territory, to be sited in the Abuja Emirate. He set up a panel headed by Justice Akinola Aguda to consider the possibility of a new capital. Few days before he was killed, on the 3rd of February 1976, he made an announcement that the Federal Capital would be moved to a ‘federal territory of about 8,000 square kilometers in the central part of the country.’
CREATION OF SEVEN NEW STATES
He set up a panel headed by Justice Ayo Irikefe on the creation of seven more states (Niger, Bauchi, Gongola, Benue, Ogun, Imo and Bendel) to the 12 existing ones on 22nd December, 1975. The panel came up with a report which was utilized in the formation of new states in 1976.
CANCELLING 1973 CENSUS: Upon becoming the Head of State, Murtala proceeded to cancel the 1973 census which was lopsided to favor the northerners, after which he adopted the 1963 figures.
Murtala was a blunt, outspoken and consummate risk taker. A soldier who ironically had no regard for the chain of command, he was in a class of his own when it came to dangerous exploits.
While planning a coup against his own Commander-in-Chief, Gowon, Murtala, then a brigadier, went to Muhammed D Yusufu, who was Gowon’s Chief Security Officer (CSO) and told him pointblank that there was a plan for a coup and he could go and reveal it to ‘anyone he liked’. That was not Murtala’s first time of announcing a coup in such a blunt manner. He did the same in July 1966 before Aguiyi-Ironsi’s government collapsed.
Murtala Muhammed worshipping at the Obalende Praying Ground in Lagos.
Murtala was an obstinate personality (alagidi sombori). When he took part in the coup that brought Gown to power in 1966, Murtala wanted the title of the Supreme Commander to himself even if that was improper and made little sense as Gowon was the Head of State. Watch him speak below:
He insisted he wanted the post but seeing that the military advisors from the United States and the United Kingdom did not support him, he backed out and the ever-diplomatic Gowon compensated him by making him a Lieutenant Colonel (he was acting prior to that time) and also made the Inspector of the Army Signals Corps.
A no-nonsense person, Murtala was known for his legendary outbursts of terrifying anger. Although many of his fans may not be aware of this especially with the passage of time, I could have easily dubbed this piece ‘Nigeria’s Angriest Leader’.
However, his fire-and-brimstone part was just one side, he had his good fractions too. Apart from the earth-shaking anger, he also exhibited what some have described as arrogance and insubordination, especially to his superiors and there are many instances given to illustrate this:
He told Gowon to his face that he Murtala and others put him in power and would remove him anytime they deem fit. Gowon particularly had to endure a lot from Murtala while he was the Nigerian Head of State.
WHY THE NAME ‘RAMAT’?
As the traffic eased, Murtala’s motorcade also proceeded on the way to his office. When they got to Ikoyi, in front of the Federal Secretariat near a petrol station not too far from Dodan Barracks, the black limo slowed down and in a matter of seconds, Lt. Col. Buka Sukar Dimka (head of the Nigerian Army Physical Training Corps), Lt. William Seri, Major Ibrahim Rabo and Captain Malaki Parwang appeared from nowhere, calmly and confidently walked up to the car and opened fire on the Nigerian Head of State.
By the time the bullets spraying ended, Murtala, his driver and orderly had breathed their last. It was a very nasty scene with a full magazine of bullets emptied on Murtala’s car. They wanted to make sure he did not survive it. After the first magazine was finished, the gunmen went to get a new one and finished it on the car and its occupants -Murtala, his driver Sergeant Adamu Minchika, ADC Akinsehinwa and orderly Staff Sergeant Michael Otuwe.
While Seri ruthlessly aimed at Murtala, Dimka told Rabo to focus on the ADC. Parwang was the sentry who watched out for Murtala’s car. Eyewitnesses said they saw a man in civilian clothes walk up to the car and emptied a magazineful of bullets into it.
His aide-de-camp, a Yoruba from Ondo Town, Ondo State, Lieutenant Akintunde Akinsehinwa was also killed in the abortive coup attempt. Akinsehinwa was just 31 and remains the first ADC to die while protecting a Nigerian head of state. A very loyal and devoted officer, Akinsehinwa remains one of Nigeria’s worthy heroes. While the orderly and the driver were killed instantly in the hail of gunfire, Akinsehinwa survived the first torrent of bullets. He managed to come out of the limousine and made attempts to defend his Commander-in-Chief by returning fire.
But the stream of bullets flying from Dimka and his cohorts were too much for him. He mustered all his strength but he could not make it, eventually surrendering to the fiery lead projectiles. Upon conducting the autopsy, Akinsehinwa had sustained six bullet wounds in his back. Their limousine was not bullet-proof.
Upon hearing the death of their beloved leader, Nigerians went haywire and the gates of hell were flung open. There were spontaneous outbursts of protests across the nation. Students, especially those of the University of Ibadan and University of Lagos took to the streets, damned the soldiers and even went ahead to destroy American and British facilities.
British High Commission after killing Murtala where he made a request to the British High Commissioner, Sir Martin Le Quesne that he be placed across to General Gowon in Britain, students descended on the British High Commission and vented their anger.
Sir LeQuesne would later be told to leave the country when he made an unkind and undiplomatic statement that Nigerians should pay for the windows broken by the protesters. He left, Nigeria also recalled its ambassador. He later died in 2004 at the age of 86.
That Dimka visited the British High Commissioner immediately after killing Murtala has set off a lot of conspiracy theories, with many roping in Gowon himself, United Kingdom, the CIA or even Mossad, Israel’s Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations (Israel Secret Intelligence Service), once described as the world’s most efficient killing machine. The other coup plotters had also pencilled down Murtala’s allies like Theopilus Danjuma, Olusegun Obasanjo, Colonel David Jemibewon (Oyo Governor) and Colonel Ibrahim Taiwo (Kwara State Governor formely known as Ibrahim Kagara).
While Obasanjo narrowly escaped to the house of his civilian friend and businessman, Chief S.B Bakare, hid there and monitored events by telephone, Danjuma and Jemibewon also lived to tell the tale. But Taiwo was not that lucky. He was hunted down and kidnapped by the team of Major KK Gagara (others were Lt. Zagni and some non-commissioned officers like Sergeant Rege and Bala Javan) and killed in the most unfortunate manner, with his corpse dumped in a shallow grave some five kilometers outside Offa, a town in Kwara State.
Interestingly, the late Taiwo was the one who acted as the national coordinator when Gowon was removed from power in July 1975 (Lt. Col Muhammadu Buhari was also one of the coup plotters) and he was also one of those who saw to the establishment of University of Ilorin by military decree in August 1975 under Gowon.
So naturally, he and Murtala were buddies and apart from the that, he and Shehu Musa Yar’adua were colleagues in Murtala’s legendary 2nd Division during the civil war. Amongst other things, the busiest and one of the most beautiful streets in Ilorin, Kwara State was later named after Ibrahim Taiwo.
But even in death, Murtala’s popularity was still in full force. Loyal soldiers declared their support for the late leader and the coup failed after just five and half hours. The first officer to voice out his opposition for the coup and his support for the Murtala regime was Brigade Commander stationed in Calabar, the late Colonel Mamman Jiya Vatsa (later executed under IBB) and then Lieutenant General Ipoola Alani Akinrinade, General Officer Commanding, Kaduna (he later became the Chief of Army Staff and Chief of Defence Staff).
Danjuma, then the Chief of Army Staff, formed a coalition of loyal troops at the Bonny Camp and rallied them to crush the coupists. Actually, as stated earlier, Danjuma was also to be killed but his supposed killer, Lt. Lawrence Garba decided to let him go at the last minute even though he could have killed him when he accosted Danjuma at the Marina Jetty. Upon reaching his office and listening to the coupists’ announcement on radio, he got in touch with two colonels: Domkat Bali and Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) and planned a strategy on how to take control of the situation and defeat the coup plotters.
Dimka and his cohorts would later state some of their reasons as: a. Corruption b. Indecision c. Arrest and detention without trial d. Weakness on the part of the Head of State e. Maladministration in general and a host of other malpractice. When Obasanjo came to power, he offered an alternative explanation for the reasons behind the Dimka coup as thus:
1. The plotters felt the Murtala government was abandoning Nigeria’s traditional non-aligned posture and going “communist”.
2. The plotters were opposed to recent Army promotions and the appointment of Danjuma as Army Chief.
3. The plotters intended to restore General Gowon to office
4. The plotters intended to restore all previous military governors to office, as well as restore all retired public servants back to office. Any subsequent retirement was to be based on legal due process. (As of that time about 11,000 civil servants and over 200 army officers had been summarily retired across the country). Some other factors proposed for Murtala’s removal was the conspiracy by Middle Belt officers who felt shortchanged, haphazard and very controversial promotions which negatively affected people like Major General Bisalla accused of being one of the plotters and of course, Murtala’s style of governing with a low profile without detailed security as against Gowon’s flashy and well-protected convoys.
AFTER MURTALA’S DEATH
A great leader was gone and the world’s most populous black nation was thrown into a sorrowful mood. Seven days were declared as days of national mourning and flags were flown at half-mast with a public holiday (Friday 20th) declared after the one-week mourning period so that Nigerians will have time to offer special prayers for the late Head of State.
Although Gowon was already deposed and safely in Britain, his own troubles were also to begin. On the 24th of March, 1976, the Obasanjo regime formally requested that the exiled Gowon be extradited to Nigeria because he ‘knew and by implication, approved’ of the Murtala’s bloody overthrow. Gowon denied all the accusations and would stay in the United Kingdom where he was studying.
As expected, the Obasanjo regime declared the coup plotters wanted, rounded them up (two non-commissioned officers, Sergeant Clement Yildar and Corporal Dauda Usman escaped and were never found) and were made to face hastily-formed Special Military Tribunals. About 40 people faced the firing squad. On the television to announce the killings was Brigadier Shehu Yar’adua who declared ‘They are being shot about now.’
Those killed by the firing squad included the following:
1. Major General I.D. Bisalla (Defence Commissioner
2. Joseph Gomwalk (Ex-Governor of Benue-Plateau)
3. Col. A.D.S. Wya (his British wife committed suicide after he was executed. She stood against a trailer along the Kaduna-Kano highway and was crushed to death. She could not imagine life without Wya, her loving husband).
4. Col Isa Bukar
5. Lt. Col. T.K. Adamu
6. Lt. Col A.B. Umoru
7. Lt. Col Buka Suka Dimka
8. Lt. Col. Ayuba Tense
9. Major C.D. Dabang (he allegedly stated that were it not be that he was on his sick bed, the coup would have been a lot bloodier and messier).
10. Major Ola Ogunmekan
11. Major J.W. Kasai
12. Major J.K. Afolabi
13. Major M.M. Mshelia
14. Major I.B. Rabo
15. Major K.K. Gagara
16. Capt. M.R. Gotip
17. Capt. M. Parvwang
18. Capt. J.F. Idi
19. Capt. A.A. Aliyu
20. Capt. S. Wakian
21. Capt. Austin Dawurang
22. Lt. A.R. Aliyu
23. Lt. William Seril
24. Lt. Mohammed
25. Lt. E.L.K. Shelleng
26. Lt. O. Zagmi
27. Lt. S. Wayah
28. Lt. S. Kwale
29. Lt. Peter Cigari
30. Lt. Lawrence Garba
31. Seven (7) non-commissioned officers
32. Mr. Abdulkarim Zakari (civilian broadcaster): The only civilian executed. A graduate of the University of Ibadan, he was an elder brother of Mrs. Victoria, Gowon’s wife.
Others were dismissed from the military or simply clamped into jails. As for Gowon, his relatives like his brother, Major Moses Gowon in the Nigerian Air Force were booted out of the armed forces while some like another brother of his, Captain Isaiah Gowon even got imprisoned (Isaiah got a 15-year jail sentence).
LEGACY AND REMEMBRANCE
When Murtala died, he really didn’t have much in terms of material possessions (he was living at his No.6 Second Avenue house in Ikoyi, Lagos for more than 10 years and did not move into the State House even when he became the Head of State).
The Obasanjo government had to quickly pay his pensions and gratuities to his family (his wife had resigned to become a full housewife). His family was also given a considerable sum of money to ensure they were saved from any future disgrace stemming from a lack of money. That’s quite commendable.