Forty years after the killing of one of Nigeria’s most loved former Heads of State, Murtala Ramat Muhammed, Nigerians still hold fond memories of his short but eventful stint as the country’s leader.
At an exhibition put together as part of events celebrating the 40th anniversary of his cruel assassination on the streets of Lagos on February 13, 1976, Nigerians from different walks of life came to pay tribute to him in a way that stirred emotions in almost everyone present. Held at the National Museum, Onikan, Lagos, the event was organised by the National Commissions for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) in conjunction with the Murtala Muhammed Foundation and Ikoyi-Obalende LCDA.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed said he was excited to witness the exhibition celebrating the life and times of the late Murtala Muhammed. Represented by Dr Ferdinand Aniekwe, Director General of Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC), the minister said: “The late General lived a worthy, patriotic and heroic life worthy of emulation by the present generation of military and political leaders. His assassination on 13th February, 1976 was a great loss to the nation.”
Describing the coup that led to Muhammed’s assassination as “a watershed in the political history of Nigeria,” Mohammed urged Nigerians, both young and old, to see themselves as positive tools in the change agenda of the present administration.
In his welcome address, Director General of NCMM, Yusuf Abdallah Usman said, “This pictorial exhibition we are opening today is a demonstration of our statutory responsibilities of collecting, preserving and presenting the nation’s history and culture in both tangible and intangible forms captured in our antiquities, monuments, sites, living human treasures, etc.
“We are gathered here today to celebrate one of our heroes in the nation’s recent history, the late General Murtala Ramat Muhammed. The exhibition we are commissioning today has been planned specifically by the National Commission for Museums and Monuments to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his brutal assassination on 13th February, 1976.”
Speaking further, Usman said: “The official Mercedes Benz car in which the General was assassinated has been under the care and preservation of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments since his brutal murder. It has become one of the nation’s priceless antiquities. It is available for viewing and education of our visitors.”
The gathering made up of school children, NYSC members, guests and other prominent Nigerians, became sober due to recollections of the life and times of the late Head of State, especially on account of his simplicity which many believe led to his death in public on a sunny Friday afternoon 4 decades ago.
This was especially the case when Amb Adegboyega Christopher Ariyo, Looja of Ibala in Ijesa land, spoke about the late Murtala. According to him, the Kano-born General gave meaning to governance in Nigeria, serving with honesty, patriotism, sacrifice, focus and clear goals which placed Nigeria at the top in Africa on account of the country’s foreign policy relations.
One of the late General’s daughters who heads the Murtala Muhammed Foundation, Aisha Muhammed Oyebode, expressed appreciation to the NCMM and Ikoyi-Obalende LCDA for the honour accorded her father 40 years after his death.
“As a foundation, we are happy to be part to be involved in this project for several reasons. First because it allows us to celebrate the contributions of late General Murtala Muhammed to the project of nation building for which he was very passionate. Secondly it allows us to highlight the very ideals espoused by the late General Murtala Muhammed and upon which the foundation was founded. Finally it allows us to an opportunity to remind once more the younger generation here represented by the students and the National Youth Service Corps members among us of the heritage already laid down by heroes past which ultimately will enable us attain true development by utilising the potentials that our great country, Nigeria is capable of.”
Also speaking, Executive Secretary of Ikoyi-Obalende LCDA, Toyin Caxton-Martins said the LCDA she leads is happy to be a part of events celebrating the late Murtala Muhammed because of the values and ideals of the man who paid the ultimate price in the service of his country.