General Murtala Ramat Muhammed, former Head of State of Nigeria. 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.
Trained as a regular combatant at Sandhurst, Murtala Muhammed 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. At that time, Lagos was the Capital of Nigeria 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.
After Murtala became Head of State of Nigeria, His Supreme Military Council was constituted later on after an initial emergency council which included Commodore Michael Adelanwa as the Chief of Naval Staff. 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.
As evening was approaching on 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
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 Military 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
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 build 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.’
Murtala 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 December 22, 1975. The panel came up with a report which was utilized in the formation of new states in 1976.
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 was an obstinate personality. 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. 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. 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
Murtala’s life was cut short at the tender age of 37 by coupists led by Buka Suka Dimka in Lagos on February 13, 1976 after his car was attacked and he was gunned down.