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Murtala Ramat Mohammed

General Murtala Ramat Mohammed (November 8, 1938-February 13, 1976) was a military ruler (Head of the Federal Military Government) of Nigeria from 1975 until his assassination in 1976.

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Created: 23rd Jul 2008
Modified: 9th Feb 2010
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Mohammed opposed the regime of Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi which took power after a coup d'etat on January 15, 1966 carried out mainly by Christian Igbos from the south, in which several northern Nigerian leaders had been killed under gruesome circumstances. Aguiyi-Ironsi, as GOC of the Nigerian Army, brought normality back to the nation by imprisoning the coup makers and intimidating the federal cabinet into handing over the helms of government to him. However, Many northerners saw the reluctance of Ironsi to prosecute the coupist and the fact that the army was giving exceptional privileges to the coupist as an indication of Ironsi's support for the killings. Consequently northern politicians and civil servants mounted pressure upon northern officers such as Mohammed to avenge the coup. In the face of provocation from the southern dominated media which repeatedly showed humiliating posters and cartoons of the slain northern politicians, on the night of July 29, 1966, northern soldiers at Abeokuta barracks mutinied, thus precipitating a counter-coup, which may very well have been in the planning stages. According to most southern sources Muhammad at first intended to use the counter-coup as a step towards the secession of northern Nigeria, but later dropped this demand when the economic difficulties of a potential Northern Nigerian State were pointed out to him by civil servants and British diplomats. The counter-coup led to the installation of Lieutenant-Colonel Yakubu Gowon as Supreme Commander of the Nigerian Armed Forces, despite the intransigence of Mohammed who wanted the role of Supreme Commander for himself. However, as Gowon was militarily his senior, and finding a lack of support from the British and American advisors, he caved in. Gowon rewarded him by confirming his ranking (he had been an acting Lt. Colonel till then) and his appointment (Inspector of Signals).

During the Nigerian Civil War, Mohammed was General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Nigerian Army's 2nd Division. This division was responsible for beating back the Biafran Army from the midwest region, as well as crossing the River Niger and linking up with the 1st Division, which was marching down from Nsukka and Enugu. At the border town of Asaba, in the Igbo-speaking part of the midwest region, Mohammed was accused of leading his troops in one of the most gruesome episodes of the entire war. According to observers and foreign journalists, he lined up any able-bodied men he could find along a wall and had them face a firing squad. Their crime seems to have been aiding and abetting of the Biafran troops by allowing them into the midwest due their common Igbo heritage, even though the midwest was still in Nigeria. To further compound matters, there were tales of women (even some who were pregnant) being raped and then killed. Mohammed steadfastly denied these claims during the war, but conceded after the war that his troops may have gotten carried away. He never proffered an apology, however.

Mohammed's second encounter with disaster during the war happened shortly after, as he attempted to cross the River Niger to Biafra. Despite the recommendation of his superiors at Army Headquarters in Lagos that he wait for the bridge, which had been blown up by the retreating Biafran forces, to be rebuilt, he felt they were trying to deprive him of his glory by delaying him, and insisted on a riverine crossing. This type of crossing was not one that the Nigerian Army was well prepared for, and as a result their passage was clumsy and bogged down midstream, making them easy targets for the Biafran shoreline guns on the other side. Twice he was beaten back, before finally making it through on his third attempt, albeit with significant losses in men and supplies. Shortly after this, another similar disaster in Abagana, where a Biafran road side bomb caused a fuel tank in a large supply transport to explode, destroying almost all of the transport's supplies. Mohammed already reeling from his humiliating experiences crossing the Niger, and fed up with reprimands from Army HQ, decided to quit his command and left for an extended holiday in the United Kingdom, but not before threatening to resign his commission.

On his return to Nigeria after the war, he was given back his old position of Army Signals Inspector and it seemed the last chapter had been written in his army career. However, with the declining popularity of the Gowon government, which had been characterized by excesses and corruption, some Army officers, acting in what they claimed to be patriotic interests, approached Brigadier Mohammed and two other wartime colleagues, Brig. Olusegun Obasanjo, whose division won the civil war for Nigeria, and Brig. Theophilus Danjuma. It has been speculated that the real reason for the coup was the wartime commanders frustrations that despite their efforts to win Nigeria the war, their army colleagues who had remained at Army HQ, away from the frontlines, were being promoted faster, and seemed to be more involved in government, than they were. The coupists identified these three brigadiers as the men who would rule if they were successful in deposing the Gowon government. On July 29, 1975, Brigadier (later General) Mohammed was made head of state, when General Gowon was overthrown while at an Organization of African Unity (OAU) summit in Kampala, Uganda. Brigadiers Obasanjo (later Lt.General) and Danjuma (later Maj.General) were appointed as Chief of Staff, Supreme HQ and Chief of Army Staff, respectively. In a short time, Murtala Mohammed's policies won him broad popular support, and his decisiveness elevated him to the status of a folk hero, although there were some who accused him of being a hypocrite, since corruption continued unabated.

One of his first acts was to scrap the 1973 census, which was weighted in favor of the north, and to revert to the 1963 count for official purposes. Murtala Mohammad 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 twenty-five ministerial posts on the new Federal Executive Council went to civilians, but the cabinet was secondary to the executive Supreme Military Council. Muhammad 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 Muhammad 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 Muhammad 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. Muhammad 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 Muhammad 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 (União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola). 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.

Murtala Mohammed was killed on February 13, 1976 in an abortive coup attempt led by Lt.Col Buka Suka Dimka, when his car was ambushed while enroute to his office at Dodan Barracks, Lagos. Several top officers, including his predecessor and at the time, graduate student in Warwick University, England, Yakubu Gowon, were accused of either planning or approving the coup attempt. He was succeeded by the Chief of Staff, Supreme HQ Olusegun Obasanjo, who completed the plan of an orderly transfer to civilian rule by handing power to Shehu Shagari on October 1, 1979.
Biographical Information
Murtala Ramat Mohammed
(At a Glance)
Date of Birth: Nov/8/1938
Gender: male
Place of Origin: Nigeria
General Murtala Ramat Mohammed was born on November 8, 1938 to Risqua Muhammed and Uwani Rahamat in the ancient and historic city of Kano. He had his early education in Kano and finished up at Government (now Barewa) College, Zaria in 1957.