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Murtala Muhammed: 40 years after




The gash made by the hot bullets of the renegade soldiers led by Lt. Col Bukar Sukar Dimka remains conspicuous on the gleaming steel body of the car. Three of the bullet holes are still visible on the back door at the driver’s side, and five others on the right side where General Murtala was seated that sad Friday.

Likewise, the bullets caused two narrow depressions that hacked through the windshield at the front, leaving a lasting cobweb of cracks on the screen.

Few inches to the arm rest at the back, about five bullet holes sink deep into the red leather seat, forming a perpendicular line on the leather surface. “One of the bullets here must have killed the general,” said an attendant at the museum, pointing at the leather seat.

Even if Paul Bracq, the man who designed Benz 230.6 had padded the body of the brand better, his design may not have offered safety to the slain General considering the different angles from which the bullets were hailing.

According to Sergeant Otuwu who spoke to Authority recently, the assailants finished their entire magazines on the occupants of the black car before they departed. Though Mercedes Benz stopped making Benz 230.6 the same year General Murtala was killed, it didn’t start making the likes of armoured Mercedes-Benz W220 formerly used by the President of Germany. This brand, first sold in 1998, comes with bulletproof glass and body layered with armour plate. But that was 22 years after.

Today not many Nigerians can remember Mercedes Benz 230.6 anymore, yet many still keep in mind the memory of a leader who once declared that “Africa has come of age. It is no longer under the orbit of any extra-continental power…”

This afternoon, the people of Kano, his home town, will troop not to the central mosque, but to Murtala Mosque, the site of his burial to offer special prayer. They will be led by his cousin, Lamido Muhammad Sanusi II who is now the Emir of Kano. He was barely 15 years when his uncle was murdered.

Though his murderers were captured and were publicly executed, there are conspiracy theories about the cause of his death. One of such stories linked the West to the killing. Many believe that his “Africa has come of age” speech which he delivered 32 days before his assassination at an extra-ordinary meeting of the OAU held in Addis Ababa might have incensed the Western power that eventually planned his assassination.

In the run-up to the Angolan independence, Nigeria supported MPLA and mobilised other African countries to do same in defiance of America’s interest which favoured UNITA and FNLA. In fact, US President Gerald Ford sent a circular letter to all African heads of state at the OAU meeting and warned them against recognising MPLA. But what did audacious General do? He did not only publish Ford’s letter, he publicly rejected it. And Nigerian newspapers celebrated the action of Murtala with banner headlines such as “To hell with America!”  That act of courage put paid to his life, many observers believed.

But some of his colleagues think the General was partly responsible for his tragic end. They believe he made a fatal mistake by refusing to take his personal security more seriously. One, he did not relocate to Dodan Barrack where he could be safer; rather he continued staying in the house he occupied before he became the head of state. Two, he often rode without convoy of security personnel. A few days after his assumption of office as head of state, he reportedly drove alone in his personal car with his driver, from Lagos to Kano, a journey lasting more than 13 hours. Media reports claimed his deputy, Lt-Gen Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd) urged him a number of times to be more security conscious, but he dismissed the warning, saying “If they (coup plotters) succeeded in killing all of us, good luck to them”.

Thus, he was seen many a time driving in Lagos without a motorcade including the day he was gunned down.  He sometimes shocked his mates by arriving unannounced at occasions without security.
His first daughter, Aisha Muhammed- oyebode, said her father, on weekends, used to take them for swimming or grocery shopping. “I remember when he took us to Federal Palace hotel where we had burger, and burger had never tasted so nice after that time,” she told The Guardian in an interview.      

Well, all this is now history. What is left is the memory of General Murtala, whom his first daughter described as a “very kind man”. No doubt Nigeria also has been kind to his memory. An international airport and a specialist hospital in Kano are named after him. His face adorns the popular twenty naira note. Several more monuments are set up in memory of the great General. And because of the respect Nigerians have for him, they will be offering prayer for him today in Kano and other places. Also a gathering of eminent personalities will gather in Abuja tomorrow to participate in the discussion at the 40th-anniversary memorial conference. President Muhammadu Buhari, the former President of Namibia and winner of 2015 Mo Ibrahim Leadership Prize, Hifikepunye Lucas Pohamba; former Chief of Defence to the United Kingdom, Lord David Richard; Dr. Kayode Fayemi and a host of others will be in attendance.

The National Museum at Onikan Lagos will open at 10 o’çlock today for the exhibition of the memorabilia of the February 13 tragedy where the Mercedes Benz 230.6 will feature prominently.
The curator of the museum, Mrs Edith Ekunke, said the ill-fated car will always be around for many generations to view and reflect on the misfortune of the last outing of the people’s General.

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