How Murtala Muhammed tried to change Nigeria in his 198 days of governance

Today, February 13, marks another year of remembrance that General Murtala Ramat Muhammed, Nigeria’s then Head of State and Commander-in-Chief, was assassinated in Lagos, Nigeria’s then Federal Capital City.

The Nigeria’s fourth Head of State, no doubt rode into power on a promising note, as he displayed his readiness to deliver quality governance through proactiveness. Sadly, he was taken out of action when the ovation was loud for him.

On July 30, 1975, Murtala mounted the saddle of leadership but was killed less than seven months later in an abortive coup of February 13, 1976. Arguably, before his assassination, Mohammed had left his footprints on the sands of time.

Foreign Policy

Nigeria obtained her political independence from the British government on the 1st of October, 1960. This is believed to have naturally created the need for the country to forge a fresh foreign policy distinct from that of the period of internal self-government

It is not erroneous to say foreign policy is best understood and assessed in the context of its regional and continental ambitions largely designed by the presiding head of state or president.

Nigerian historians and political scientists regard the Murtala regime as a period that the country became the “Giant of Africa” due to her confrontational foreign policy posture.

Murtala believed that sound and strategic foreign policy can be the bedrock of national development as Global politics is an extension of domestic policies.

“The fortunes of Africa are in our hands to make or mar. For too long have we been kicked around; for too long have we been treated like adolescents who cannot discern their interests and act accordingly”, Gen Murtala Muhammed made this known during AU Summit on January 11, 1976.

History has it that Murtala 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 “non-aligned” 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).

Non-Partisan Public Service Purge

On his emergence as the Head of State, Murtala removed top federal and state officials to break links with the General Yakubu Gowon regime and to restore public confidence in the Federal Government.

He sacked more than 10,000 public officials and employees on account of age, health, incompetence, malpractice or corruption. The purge affected the civil service, judiciary, police and armed forces, diplomatic service, public corporations, and universities. Some officials were tried for graft.

Demobilisation of 100,000 troops: Although unpopular within the military, Mohammed embarked on the demobilization of 100,000 troops from the swollen ranks of the armed forces. Implemented diarchy: Mohammed also operated diarchical system of government by incorporating civilians. Twelve of the 25 ministerial posts on the new Federal Executive Council went to civilians even though the cabinet was secondary to the executive Supreme Military Council.

Establishment Of Unitarianism

The Federal Government took over the operation of the country’s two largest newspapers, namely -Daily Times and New Nigerian. He subsequently made broadcasting a federal monopoly and brought remaining state-run universities under federal control.

Murtala initiated a comprehensive review of the Third National Development Plan, as he announced that his government would encourage the rapid expansion of the private sector into areas dominated by public corporations.

He demonstrated his ideologically-driven charisma, when he named Abuja as the new Federal Capital Territory, citing the geographical centrality of Abuja as a uniting factor.

It is, however, pertinent to note that after 42 years of his assassination, Murtala’s memory has refused to diminish as the 198 days spent in power, strategically shaped and are still shaping the affairs of governance in the country.

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