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Murtala Mohammed: Remembering Originator of ‘Fellow Nigerians’ 47 Years After

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By Eric Elezuo

He is noted as the first person to use the popular military catch phrase ‘fellow Nigerians’, and popularised it among subsequent leaders, who had used it at all coup situations. He is Murtala Ramat Muhammad GCFR, Nigeria’s third military Head of State, who was murdered in cold blood on February 13, 1976, less than eight months after he took over administration.

Born on November 8, 1938, Mohammed is believed to have led the 1966 Nigerian counter-coup in overthrowing the Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi military regime and featured prominently during the Nigerian Civil War and thereafter ruled over Nigeria from 30 July 1975 until his assassination on that fateful February 13, 1976 morning.

He was in Kano, into a ruling-class religious family, Murtala served in the Nigerian Army as a cadet in the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. He later served in Congo; eventually rose through the ranks to become brigadier general in 1971, aged 33, becoming one of the youngest generals in Nigeria. Three years later Murtala became the Federal Commissioner for Communications in Lagos. As a conservative and federalist, Murtala regretted the overthrow of the First Republic and the promulgation of Aguiyi Ironsi’s unification decree of 1966. He was devastated by the assassination of Sir Ahmadu Bello, and for a time seriously considered the secession of Northern Nigeria. His career redoubled after Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and the young majors orchestrated the first military coup in Nigeria of 1966 coup empowering him to lead the mutiny of the night of 29 July 1966 in Abeokuta. Murtala was briefly considered as Supreme Commander before the appointment of Yakubu Gowon. He also masterminded the July 1966 counter coup, which evidently, sparked the Nigerian Civil War.

During the war, he commandeered Nigeria’s second infantry division which was responsible for the death of civilians and much of the rebels. His command’s use of veteran soldiers, no quarter, and scorched earth strategies led to between 10,000 and 30,000 deaths. Combined with the total wartime death toll of three million making the civil war one of the deadliest in modern history. Three years later the Federal military government declared victory which bolstered Murtala’s image over Nigeria and in particular the north as a military leader through the post-war era of “reconciliation, reconstruction, and rehabilitation”. In post-civil-war Nigeria, Murtala ruled with more power than any Nigerian leader before or since, and developed a charismatic authority and cult of personality. During the Cold War he maintained Nigerian neutrality through participation in the non-aligned movement but supported the Soviet Union — during the latter’s effort in the Angolan Civil War

Nigeria under Murtala presided over a period of rampant economic prosperity. At the same time, his regime transitioned from being authoritarian into consensus decision-making with Murtala the leader of a military triumvirate, alongside Generals Olusegun Obasanjo and Theophilus Danjuma. The dictatorship softened and Murtala unveiled plans for the demilitarization of politics. In 1976 barely seven months into his nascent rule Murtala without having time to see his plans implemented was assassinated in a failed coup d’ètat attempt, being succeeded by Olusegun Obasanjo as Head of State, who, in turn, led the Nigerian transition to democracy with the Second Nigerian Republic.

The legacy of Murtala in Nigerian history remains controversial as the nature of his rule changed over time. His reign was marked by both brutal repression, and economic prosperity, which greatly improved the quality of life in Nigeria. His dictatorial style proved highly adaptable, which enabled wide-sweeping social and economic reform, while consistent pursuits during his reign centered on highly centralised government, authoritarianism, federalism, national Federalism, and pan-Africanism.

Murtala Muhammed was born on November 8, 1938 in Kano. His father, Muhammed Riskuwa, was from the Fulani Genawa clan, who had a history of Islamic jurisprudence as both his paternal grandfather Suleman and paternal great-grandfather Mohammed Zangi served as Chief Judges in Kano Emirate and held the title of chief Alkali of Kano. His father worked in the Kano Native Authority and was related to Aminu Kano, Inuwa Wada, and Aminu Wali. He died in 1953, his mother, Uwani Rahamatu, was from the Kanuri and Fulani Jobawa clan, the Jobawa clan members include the Makama of Kano and Abdullahi Aliyu Sumaila, his maternal grandfather Yakubu Soja a World War I veteran was from Dawakin Tofa while his maternal grandmother Hajiya Hauwau (Aya) was from Gezawa, he was educated at Cikin Gida Elementary School which was inside the emir’s palace.

He then transferred to Gidan Makama primary school in Kano which was just outside the palace. He then proceeded to Kano Middle School (now Rumfa College, Kano) in 1949, before attending the famous Government College (now Barewa College) in Zaria, where he obtained his school certificate in 1957. At Barewa College, Muhammed was a member of the Cadet Corps and was captain of shooting in his final year. In 1957, he obtained a school leaving certificate and applied to join the Nigerian army later in the year.

Murtala Muhammed joined the Nigerian Army in 1958. He spent short training stints in Nigeria and Ghana and then was trained as an officer cadet at Sandhurst Royal Military Academy in England. After his training, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1961 and assigned to the Nigerian Army Signals that same year, later spending a short stint with the No. 3 Brigade Signals Troop in Congo In 1962, Muhammed was appointed aide-de-camp to M. A. Majekodunmi, the federally-appointed administrator of the Western Region.

In 1963, he became the officer-in-charge of the First Brigade Signal Troop in Kaduna, Nigeria. That year he traveled to the Royal Corps of Signals at Catterick Garrison, England for a course on advanced telecommunications techniques. On his return to Nigeria in 1964, he was promoted to major and appointed officer-commanding, 1st Signal Squadron in Apapa, Lagos. In November 1965, he was made acting Chief of Signals of the Army, while his paternal uncle, Inuwa Wada had recently been appointed Defense Minister.

Mohammed’s coup in 1966 led to the installation of Lieutenant-Colonel Yakubu Gowon as Supreme Commander of the Nigerian Armed Forces, despite the intransigence of Muhammed 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 until then) and his appointment (Inspector of Signals).

In June 1968, he relinquished his commanding position and was posted to Lagos and appointed Inspector of Signals. In April 1968, he was promoted to colonel. The actions of the division during this period, mostly in Asaba became a subject of speculation. In a book published in 2017, S. Elizabeth Bird and Fraser Ottanelli document the 1967 mass murder of civilians by troops of the 2 Division under General Muhammed’s command. They also discuss the events leading up to the massacre, and its impact on Asaba and on the progress of the war, as well as other civilian massacres carried out by soldiers of the 2nd Division at Onitsha and Isheagu.

Between 1970 and 1971, he attended the Joint Service Staff College in England, his supervisor’s report attributed him to having ”a quick agile mind, considerable ability and common sense. He holds strong views which he puts forward in a forthright manner. He is a strong character and determined. However, he finds it difficult to moderate his opinions and finds it difficult to enter into debate with others whose views he may not share”.After the war, he was promoted to brigadier-general in October 1971. Between 1971 and 1974, Muhammed was involved in routine activities within the signals unit of the army. However, he also disagreed with some of the policies being pursued by Gowon.

On 7 August 1974, the head of state, General Yakubu Gowon appointed him as the new Federal Commissioner for Communications, which he combined with his military duties as Inspector of Signals at the Army Signals Headquarters in Apapa, Lagos. On 7 August 1974, General Yakubu Gowon appointed Muhammed as the Federal commissioner (position now called Minister) for communications to oversee and facilitate the nation’s development of cost effective communication infrastructures during the oil boom. After the war and after he took power as head of state, Muhammed started the reorganization and demobilization of 100,000 troops from the armed forces. The number of troops in the armed forces decreased from 250,000 to 150,000.

On 29 July 1975, General Yakubu Gowon was overthrown while attending the 12th summit of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Kampala, Uganda. Muhammed took power as the new Military Head of State. Brigadiers Obasanjo (later Lt. General) and Danjuma (later Lt. General) were appointed as Chief of Staff, Supreme HQ and Chief of Army Staff, respectively.

In the coup d’état that brought him to power he introduced the phrases “Fellow Nigerians” and “with immediate effect” to the national lexicon. In a short time, Murtala Muhammed’s policies won him broad popular support, and his decisiveness elevated him to the status of a folk hero.

However his highly popular, often televised “with immediate effect” style of governing, also gained some criticism amongst the countries top civil servants – some of which were Nigeria’s top intellectuals. His ad-hoc Presidential proclamations left his civil service often unprepared, lacking details or even funding to implement his ideas, and his administration led to the dismissal of thousands of civil servants. Over 10,000 civil servants, government employees were dismissed without benefits; reasons stated were age, health, incompetence, or malpractice. The removal of such a large amount of public officials affected the public service, the judiciary, the police and armed forces, the diplomatic service, public corporations, and university officials. Quite a few officials were tried on corruption charges, and an ex-military state governor was executed for gross office misconduct.

Muhammed took federal control of the country’s two largest newspapers – Daily Times and New Nigerian; all media in Nigeria was now under federal control. He also took federal control of the remaining state-run universities. On February 3, 1976, the Military Government of Murtala Muhammed created new states and renamed others, the states he created include: Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Imo, Niger, Ogun, and Ondo. This brought the total number of states in Nigeria to nineteen in 1976.

As head of state, Muhammed put in place plans to build a new Federal Capital Territory due to Lagos being overcrowded. He set up a panel headed by Justice Akinola Aguda, which chose the Abuja area as the new capital ahead of other proposed locations. On February 3, 1976, Muhammed announced that the Federal Capital would in the future move to a federal territory location of about 8,000 square kilometres in the central part of the country.

Towards the end of 1975, the administration implemented a mass purge in the Nigerian civil service. The civil service was viewed as undisciplined and lacking a sense of purpose. A retrenchment exercise was implemented as part of a strategy to refocus the service.

Source: Wikipedia

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Personality in Focus

Tinubu Appoints Yakubu As DG, Budget Office, Drops Akabueze

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President Bola Tinubu has approved the appointment of Mr. Tanimu Yakubu as the Director-General of the Budget Office of the Federation, following the expiration of the tenure of Mr. Ben Akabueze.

This was disclosed in a statement signed by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, on Thursday.

Yabuku is an accomplished economist and Chief Economic Adviser to a former President from 2007 to 2010; Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria from 2003 to 2007, and Commissioner of Finance, Budget, and Economic Planning in Katsina State from 1999 to 2003.

The new Director-General of the Budget Office of the Federation holds a Master of Business Administration degree in Finance from Wagner College, Staten Island, New York, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from the same institution.

The statement noted that President Tinubu thanked the outgoing Director-General, Mr. Akabueze, for his services and wished him success in his future endeavours.

“The President expects the new Director-General of this pivotal agency to further enhance the provision of efficient and qualitative budget functions, with a view to promoting fiscal sustainability, transparency, and accountability in public finance management for national development,” it added.

Akabueze was first appointed by former President Muhammadu Buhari as a Special Adviser Planning (SAP) to the President on February 15, 2016, and later redeployed and appointed as DG Budget, June 10, 2016.

Buhari renewed Akabueze’s appointment as the DG of Budget Office in 2020.

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Personality in Focus

Onyeali-Ikpe Makes MIPAD’s List of Global Top 100 Trade Champions of African Descent

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In acknowledgment of her outstanding impact on global trade, Dr. Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe, the Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Fidelity Bank Plc, has been recognized as one of the honorees in the 2024 Most Influential Global Top 100 Export and International Trade Edition.
Themed, “Championing the Vision of Global Africa as a Unified Economic Block and Single Market,” the initiative which was announced on May 25, 2024 in celebration of Global Africa Day, lists several leaders in the global trade space of African descent, including the President, African Export–Import Bank (Afreximbank), Prof. Benedict Okey Oramah,); Minister of Trade and Export Promotion, Algeria, H.E. Kamel Rezig;  Chairman, World Trade Centre Accra, Ghana, H.R.H Togbe Afede; the Nigerian Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Doris Nkiruka Uzoka-Anite; Executive Director and CEO, Nigerian Export Promotion Council (Nigeria), Nonye Ayeni; Executive Vice President, Intra-African Trade Bank (IATB), Kanayo Awani; Director, Trade Development (Africa & Caribbean), World Trade Centre Miami, US, Kemi Arosanyin; Secretary of State for Business and Trade and President of the Board of Trade (United Kingdom/Nigeria), Kemi Badenoch; President, US-Africa Business Centre at US Chamber of Commerce, Kendra Gaither; and President of the Buenaventura Chamber of Commerce (Colombia), Milady Garces Arboleda.
According to a statement by Most Influential People of African Descent (MIPAD), the organisers of the initiative, “These honorees are recognized for their groundbreaking achievements in Trade & Export and are called upon to champion the vision of a unified Global Africa as an economic block. This recognition aligns with the ethos of the International Decade for People of African Descent, highlighting MIPAD’s ongoing commitment to celebrating individuals, organizations, and governments demonstrating outstanding leadership in advancing people of African descent globally.”
Commenting on the initiative, Dr Onyeali-Ikpe said, “This recognition demonstrates our market leadership in the international trade space at Fidelity Bank and our devotion to helping Nigerian businesses play a more active role in the global trade space.
Since 2022, we have hosted the largest private-sector driven trade expo tagged the Fidelity International Trade and Creative Connect (FITCC) with hundreds of export businesses from Nigeria, off-takers in the UK and USA, investors, regulators, media and other key stakeholder in the trade sector. Through FITCC, we have closed deals totaling $450million. Our commitment as a bank is to do more in this space and we thank MIPAD for the recognition.”
The Most Influential People of African Descent (MIPAD), is a global civil society initiative in support of the International Decade for People of African Descent, proclaimed by United Nation’s General Assembly resolution 68/237, to be observed from 2015 to 2024. MIPAD identifies high achievers of African descent in public and private sectors from all around the world as a progressive network of relevant actors to join together in the spirit of recognition, justice and development.
Ranked as one of the best banks in Nigeria, Fidelity Bank is a full-fledged commercial bank with over 8.3 million customers serviced across its 251 business offices in Nigeria and the United Kingdom as well as on digital banking channels.
The bank has won multiple local and international awards including the Export Finance Bank of the Year at the 2023 BusinessDay Banks and Other Financial Institutions (BAFI) Awards, the Best Payment Solution Provider Nigeria 2023 and Best SME Bank Nigeria 2022 by the Global Banking and Finance Awards; Best Bank for SMEs in Nigeria by the Euromoney Awards for Excellence 2023; and Best Domestic Private Bank in Nigeria by the Euromoney Global Private Banking Awards 2023.
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Nafisa Mohammed Assumes Duty As New ROSOWA President

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The wife of Mallam Shehu Mohammed, the new Corps Marshal, Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Hajiya Nafisa Shehu, has taken over as the new President, Road Safety Officers Wives Association (ROSOWA).

The brief ceremony took place at the national Secretariat of the Association in Abuja on Monday, according to a statement signed by the Corps Public Education Officer, Corps Commander Olusegun Ogungbemide, and made available to the National Association of Online Security News Publishers (NAOSNP).

Hajiya Nafisa took over from the erstwhile President of the Association, Hajiya Aisha Biu.

At the handing over ceremony, the new President commended her predecessor for her exceptional leadership and gave assurance of her resolve to build on the legacies handed over to her. She pledged her commitment towards promoting collaboration and bring up strategic initiatives that will promote unity amongst members.

While appreciating God for the opportunity to serve, Hajiya Nafisa implored members of the association to give her the necessary support to make her tenure a successful and impactful one.

The erstwhile President, Hajiya Aisha Biu equally thanked the incumbent President for a successful handing and taking over and urged members to give her successor more support than she enjoyed during her tenure.

The handing and taking over ceremony was carried out at the National Secretariat of the Association in Abuja on Monday.

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