Biography Of General Murtala Ramat Muhammed, Nigeria’s Most Popular Leader Who Ruled With An Iron Fist


Friday the 13th. It was a day before Valentine’s
Day. And 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.
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.

RULERS OF THE NATION: Murtala Muhammed and Olusegun Obasanjo.

RULERS OF THE NATION: Murtala Muhammed and Olusegun Obasanjo.

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.

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.

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
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.

-Cikin Gida Primary School -Gidan Makama Primary School
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.


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.

Murtala might be a strong-headed soldier but he was an amazing family man. In 2006, his wife recollects the fond memories:
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
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.

Mrs. Ajoke Muhammed as Nigeria’s First Lady.

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.

Mrs. Hafsat Ajoke Muhammed.

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
-JUMAI (she was just a baby, less than a year old when her father was killed). The daughters are now married.

Hajia Balaraba Ramat Yakubu, Murtala Muhammed’s younger sister.

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

Murtala Ramat Muhammed at the Joint Service Staff College in Latimer, England. Credits: Amanda Kirby Okoye.

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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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. 
by Obasanjo, Garba, Danjuma, Yar’adua and Abdullahi Mohammed, the new
Nigerian leader stepped into the main conference room and joined other
officers. There, Garba announced the new regime and its key members. As
for the former service chiefs and Gowon’s acolytes, they were all
surrounded by IBB’s armoured vehicles and heavily-armed troops on hand
to quell any dissent.
BECOMING THE HEAD OF STATE: Events and Achievements
The organogram of Murtala’s government in particular reference to his foreign policies 
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.

Murtala Muhammed with the new governors.

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:
“Fellow Nigerians,
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

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.

Murtala with one of his ministers, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi.

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.

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

1. The removal of General Yakubu Gowon as Head of the Federal Military Government and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.
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

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. 

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.

arrives Angola with his external affairs minister. He lampooned USA and
other global powers for pokenosing in African affairs.

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.

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
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.
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
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.’
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.
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.
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. 
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.

Murtala sharing a joke with Obasanjo as he heads to Mecca for the pilgrimage.

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’.

His wife, Ajoke in Gabon.

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:
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.

the name of Murtala’s mother, is a name in Islam or Arab-speaking areas
and it is a shortened form of Rahmatallah, meaning ‘the Mercy of God’. A
very beautiful name I must say. When the BBC first announced Murtala’s
coming to power, they stated his name as Murtala ‘Rufai’ Mohammed but 24
hours later, it was changed to Murtala Ramat Muhammed. When he died, he
left behind many relatives, including his mother, Hajia Ramatu, his
uncle Alhaji Inuwa Wada (Magajin Gari Kano) , wife and children.
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.

The presidential limousine, shattered with bullets.

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.

ADC Akinsehinwa

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. 
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.

Lagosians run for safety as Murtala is assassinated.

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.

Lagosians run for safety as Murtala is assassinated.

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.
See photos of the protests below:

was because Dimka paid a visit to the 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.’
killed by the firing squad included the following (see their photos
below), with a majority hailing from Benue-Plateau, Gowon’s home state: 
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
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
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
thing that must be stated about the executions is that they were
lopsided and many believed that some of those killed were innocent but
roped in by Dimka. For instance, Major General Bisalla proclaimed his
innocence till the very end. And when Dimka was being interrogated, he
was already drunk, still drinking alcohol while he was being questioned.
it is not out of place for things to have being muddled up at some
point. But whatever the case maybe, the national mood at that time even
did not work in their favour. They were all publicly executed before
thousands of Nigerians -on the beautiful and pristine Bar Beach.

GLOOMY: Muslim women in Lagos mosque mourn the passing of their leader.

Lagos Governor Navy Captain Adekunle Lawal and Imam at the mosque during services for the late head of state.

British High Commissioner, Sir Martin Le Quesne

Jemibewon and others at the church services organized for the late Murtala Muhammed.

Obasanjo wearing the black band of mourning at the church service for his late boss.

General Danjuma reading at the Requiem Mass for Murtala Muhammed.

Anthony Okogie during the Catholic services organized in the memory of Murtala Muhammed.

The Ghana High Commissioner signs the Condolence Register.

Another foreign envoy signs the Condolence Register.

Young girls sign the Condolence Register.

Nigerians queue up to sign the Condolence Register of their late head of state.

Anthony Okogie signing the Condolence Register.

Soldiers paying their last respects to Murtala’s ADC

Murtala’s ADC buried at the Ikoyi Burial Ground.

The corpse of Murtala’s ADC retrieved from LUTH.

Burial of Colonel Ibrahim Taiwo in Ilorin, Kwara State.

Waiting for Murtala’s corpse in Kano.

The grave of Murtala Muhammed in Kano.

Obasanjo gives a salute to the corpse of his boss.

Emir of Kano Ado Bayero and others waiting for the corpse of Murtala Muhammed.

Obasanjo, Danjuma and others watch as Murtala’s corpse is flown to Kano.

Murtala’s corpse dressed up for the Islamic rites of burial.

Murtala’s coffin in a Nigerian Air Force plane at the airport that was later named after him.

Murtala’s corpse arrives Kano from Lagos.

Murtala’s corpse arrives Kano.

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.

Murtala’s wife consoled by General Obasanjo.

his death, there was an unusually intense outpouring of grief all over
the nation. Musicians like Queen Salawa Abeni (her album Late General
Murtala Ramat Muhammed released in 1976 by Leader Records was the first
of a female Nigerian artiste to sell more than a million copies), King
Sunny Ade , King Wasiu Ayinde Marshal (now K1 the Ultimate), waxed
various songs in his honour. Listen to them below:

wept and the sadness was quite palpable while the gloom was
unmistakable. It was a very sad and pitiable moment in Nigeria’s
history. Murtala had promised to hand over to a civilian government on
Independence Day Celebration in 1979 but the young Kano soldier did not
even spend up to a year in office. Obasanjo later took over and
fulfilled Murtala’s promise when he handed over to the elected Alhaji
Shehu Aliyu Muhammadu Shagari on October 1, 1979.

The vehicle in which he was assassinated is now in the National Museum in Onikan, Lagos.

immortalize the late head of state, a number of institutions have been
named after him with some other lofty steps taken. These include:
-Murtala Muhammed International Airport, MMIA, Ikeja, Lagos -Nigeria’s
largest and busiest airport. With its international terminal modelled
after the Amsterdam Airport Schipol in the Netherlands, the airport was
formerly addressed as the Lagos International Airport. Interestingly,
Murtala seized control of this same airport during the successful but
bloody countercoup of July 1975 that ushered in the Gowon government.
The airport has a domestic terminal (formerly the old Ikeja Airport) and
an old international one, both located at a distance of about one
kilometer apart.
A Remembrance Cenotaph was also built in his honour, see it in the video below.
-His portrait adorns the obverse face of the N20 naira note. The note
was first introduced in 1977 and re-issued in 1984 in new colours. It is
also the first naira note to have the portrait of a national hero in
the person of Murtala. On the 28th of February, 2007, the paper note was
redesigned and issued in its polymer substrate which is in use till
-Murtala Muhammed Way, Lagos is named for him.
-A film, made by African filmaker, N.Frank Ukadike, was made in his honour. It was titled The Death of a Black President.
-The Murtala Muhammed Park, Benin City, Edo State was also named in his honour.

  • The movie ’76 tells the story of the unsuccessful coup d’etat pn
    February 13, 1976 by Lt. Col. Buka Dimka, who oversaw the assassination
    of then leader General Murtala Mohammed along with his
    aide-de-camp Lieutenant Akintunde Akinsehinwa.  Watch the chilling
    thriller below:
    -On the 13th of February 2002, the 26th anniversary of his death, the
    Murtala Muhammed Foundation (MMF) was established. Before then, there
    had been the Murtala Muhammed Memorial Lecture Series which started in
    1991. Murtala, who spent just a little over 200 days in office, stood
    for justice, dedication to the fatherland, purpose, fought against
    corruption, had his own flaws, yes, but he taught us a very memorable
    lesson: it is not how long, but how well.

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