Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Murtala: Sharp, sweet and all too short, by Professor Jibril Amin


Jaafar Jaafarhttps://dailynigerian.com/
Jaafar Jaafar is a graduate of Mass Communication from Bayero University, Kano. He was a reporter at Daily Trust, an assistant editor at Premium Times and now the editor-in-chief of Daily Nigerian.
tiamin rice


It is a great honour and privilege to address this Conference to commemorate the life and the brutal assassination of the Late General Murtala Muhammed, our late Head of State and the darling leader of all the Nigerians of his time. Thirty years ago, the death of Murtala Muhammed was truly the dimming of the hopes of many in this country of ours.
I thank the organisers, namely, the Bayero University Centre for Democratic Research and Training, Mambayya House, Kano the honour of being a Guest Speaker at this non-court-ordered meeting. My pleasure is multiplied many times by additional circumstances. It is not entirely fair, but it is very flattering to be sandwiched between two Social Science icons. I almost feel like that substitute they call I Cannot Believe It Is Not Butter. It is pleasing that in spite of his busy meetings since he arrived back in Nigeria, Dr. Wilmot is able to be here. Ali Mazrui in academia and Nelson Mandela in politics and governance are two of a rare kind in Africa. May Allah preserve them both.

It is, indeed, very touching to see the great Sam Nujoma of Namibia, Freedom Fighter and Father of his country, come all the way from home to chair this Conference. Murtala certainly made his mark in Africa. The sense of this occasion is very much enhanced by the fact that this Seminar is taking place in the institute and the hometown of the late Malam Aminu Kano. Malam was a quintessential teacher. He was also the quintessential leader because he taught his followers. I have long held that any so called leader who does not teach his followers has little to offer. I never visited Malam Aminu, whether here or elsewhere before his death, without making notes. Malam Aminu was a leader, who led by pure leadership qualities not padded, as is so often these days, by money, patronage and other forms of empty stuffing. Granted that no one lives forever, it is still a sad pointer to our current state of deprivation that we are talking about both of them as people no longer here.


But I was talking about pleasure. Finally, I do not know whether it was deliberately arranged. But, it is immensely delightful to talk about Murtala Kurawa, my classmate at Barewa College, Zaria. We both belonged to the Class A of the double stream of the total Class of 1952. Murtala, carried the serial No. 941 and belonged to Mort House. Our class was as successful as any class could be, with the likes of Murtala himself, Muhammadu Uwais (964), Mohammed Shuwa (965), the late Aliyu Mohammed (Jema’a), the late Maude Musa Ahmed, the Late Ali Baba (930), Ibrahim Waya, Lema Jibiya (962), Yahya Aliyu (1931), the late Abdullahi Sawa, Babayo Dukku (931), Isyaku Kurfi (937) and many other great fellows and my humble self, Aminu Song (929). We thus eventually produced a Head of State, Chief Justice of Nigeria, Secretary to the Federal Government, Senators, Vice Chancellors, Ministers, Generals, MD of Nigerian Ports Authority, Ambassadors, self-made multimillionaires, techno-bureaucrats, Doctors, Engineers, Political and Community leaders and much else more.

Murtala was in a class of his own no nonsense style. Hence the fond epithet of “Karfi” (Strength, force, power, might) from his classmates. We were exposed to the Army from 1955 as School Members of the Nigerian Cadet Force. He enrolled fully in the Nigerian Army, (then Queens Own Nigeria Regiment), in 1957. His exploits in the Army were legendary, a prominent one being how, during our Civil War, he turned the tide and drove out the rebel force from the Midwest State, which they had successfully occupied, back to their starting point. It was fascinating to hear his subordinate officers discuss Murtala’s leadership qualities at War.

He was a reluctant Head of State. May be his Sixth Sense knew what would happen to him. But, he had to be more than persuaded by the Young Officers who effected the change for him to agree to be Head of State.

During his six months’ rule, the whole country was on Cloud Nine. Suddenly, everyone rediscovered Nigeria and rediscovered themselves. Everyone seemed good, became nationalistic, a good compatriot and a good neighbour. The choke-a-block traffic of Lagos disappeared, with or without the koboko (whip, dorina). Meat was coming (‘ero Murtala”) from everywhere to be cooked in every pot, to feed every mouth. The Commander-in-Chief drove to work with little ceremony in a second hand Mercedes 230 in which he eventually lost his life. He lived in the House he entered as a Colonel. Off work, the Head of State drove himself round in his Volvo Car and was said to queue up in the supermarket. He drew up a political programme for the Military’s exit from politics. It was a programme that had no “ifs and buts”, no provisos or escape keys. He set up a Constitution Drafting Committee and he enjoined them to consider the Presidential system, chiefly to remove the perennial controversy around the Census. In governance, he instituted accountability, low profile, and complete reorientation, making service to the people the first priority, in order to give purpose to Government. He made telling examples of those unwilling to learn, and the effect on others was electric. He created more States and announced a new Federal Capital, later named Abuja, in order to enhance national stability and unity.

Africa became the visible centrepiece of the country’s foreign policy with an unrelenting and sustained major thrust in Southern Africa, in particular. Nigeria’s foreign policy, always laudable and successful, though always expensive, became even more dynamic. The Western powers had their strutting legs in Africa broken, and they did not like it.

Murtala either did not care or grossly underestimated the evil intents of his powerful and many enemies. The West could not tolerate “uppity niggers”. The enemies struck, and he was gunned down in a bloody coup attempt headed by ne’er do wells in the Army. General Iliya Bisalla was a treacherous, ambitious but cowardly course mate to Murtala and, Lt Col. Bukar Suka Dimka was fit only for the Nigerian Army Physical Training Corps. This dastardly action suddenly ended Murtala’s rule. It was SHARP, SWEET AND ALL TOO SHORT; the title of this presentation.

I remember it all like yesterday. The night before, I went to his house. We prayed together Mangrib and Ishaa. We then had dinner outside. It was a simple meal and in assorted company. Some “electricians” came and said that they had come to repair some fault. There was no fault reported. He just said “Rabu da su, soja ne” (“never mind them, they are soldiers”). I never appreciated what that meant, until afterwards. I took leave of him in his living room, never to see him alive again.

That fateful morning, driving from my residence in Alagbon Close, Ikoyi, to work, we were unduly delayed. Only to notice see some disorder, with a Korean looking man parking his car right in the middle of the junction of Alagbon and Ikoyi Road and bolting on foot. As we drove on towards the city, everything became more chaotic. A loaded military saloon drove past us with some fellows in mufti running after it. Then, they entered the Broadcasting House. It was clear; something was amiss. It was moments later we were told that it was coup d’etat, confirmed by soldiers rising up from where they were lying in ambush in The Ikoyi Cemetery with guns trained on us from both sides.

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About a quarter of an hour later, by which time we were all huddled up in the office of the Minister of Agriculture nearby, listening to Lt. Col. Dimka’s frenzied broadcast, that we received the reliable information that Murtala was killed in his car near the junction where I entered Ikoyi Road and this was only seconds before I was there. We saw most of what happed that day from our hideout, and the rest is history, very tragic history.

Murtala’s death is a permanent blot on our political and national landscape. But, like in all things, one can pick out some consolation. In the first place, this was the first time the people came out and dared the armed soldiers by demonstrating against a Military coup even as the rebels were menacing wandering about, with those dastardly miscreants bolting away afterwards only to be rounded up and each eventually brought to justice. Murtala’s shocking murder also gave room for the magnificent display of loyalty by his colleagues, particularly his successor, General Olusegun Obasanjo, and his close deputies. Murtala’s Government and programme were faithfully implemented or maintained, including the handing over of power to an elected Civilian Government on October 1, 1979. Even the liberal economic largesse was only amputated by the first and serious Oil Glut of 1976, which came as early as March of that year. Then, Abuja was made a reality as a beautiful Federal Capital and I live there right now. Back to Murtala, the whole country, including the Constitution makers, carried on with his political programme, and agreed to instal the Presidential System of Government and some of the bureaucracies he created, like the Public Complaints Commission and the Code of Conduct Bureau. There is no greater evidence of our evergreen memory of him than this remembrance meeting, what with all the great participants from far and near.


Mr. Chairman, I deliberately dwelt at length on the Murtala narrative because I do not intend to speak at great length on the topic of the Leadership Question and the Quest for African’s Development. It is a hallowed veteran of Seminars, books, documents, course units, sermons, mockumentories, political lectures and discourses and various commentaries and pep talks of varying degrees of competence and seriousness. In short, it is a thoroughly boring topic. But, I am not blaming the organisers because we clearly have not found an answer to the leadership question, and, therefore, cannot really say that we know how to tie an unanswered question to an equally difficult subject like African’s Development, whatever that is supposed to mean. Another reason why I will not say much is because I need not say much, what with Professor Ali Mazrui and Professor Patrick Wilmot here. Over the decades, they must have had plenty to say over the subject, and, I am sure, not always in agreement with each other or with the prevailing authorities in various parts of Africa.

C1 – Why Is Africa Behind?

One has to be very careful in a public discussion of Evolution anywhere, especially in a Shari’ah State like Kano. It is even more difficult personally for a Muslim. As a devout Muslim, I believe in the Creation. But, let us for the moment look at the Evolution rather than the Creation of Man. Naturalists most recently hold that Man started in Africa. From there, about 200 to 400 of them crossed the Red Sea around Aden. Actually the Red Sea at those times was believed to be so shallow that it was possible to cross it on foot. They probably did so to avoid rampant carnivorous predators, like lions, leopards, hyenas and wild dogs. From there, they multiplied and spread all over the world differentiating as they went along, each group according to the environment. They even came round back to some parts of Africa like the Manghreb. But the original African remained at home evolving and being different from everyone else.

While we are proud to have been told that we are the Source, and while Africa undoubtedly contributed the Egyptian civilisation to the world, there is a nagging question more serious than the Leadership one. Does the fact that our ancestors decided to remain here and not to be adventurous, unlike others, explain Africa’s disadvantaged position among the Continents? That, somehow, our genes are inferior and less smart?

I do not believe that for one moment, because I look at a lot of disadvantaged people all over the world, all descendants of the original migrant party, including the aborigines in Australasia, Papua New Guinea and the East Indies, Western Hemisphere “Indians”, Eskimos, etc. The influence of the Environment appears decisive over a long period. I prefer the charge that our all year round warm climate was a disincentive for us to develop faster and more sophisticated survival skills. That is another name for Development if you look at comfort, and affluence, as enhanced survival. So, I accept that we started with some disadvantage, although one has to go back to hundreds of thousands of years of history to be certain on this point.

In my view, the initial disadvantage of Africa, plus our being placed in the centre of the continental configuration of the planet Earth, combined with the resource depletion, as well the ruthless greed, of nearby Continents, particularly Europe, with people who became smarter than us simply to survive, added together to make us vulnerable to plunder and subjugation in the form of invasion, division according to the plunderer’s domain, colonialism, slavery, neo-colonialism, etc. etc. and, of course, colonial boundaries and variance in acquired colonial mentalities. African human and material resources were, even as we watched, being callously made a cushion for the domestic comfort of the metropolitan countries. Finally, since these marauding nations invaded Africa with no regard to existing boundaries among the people, they drew up boundaries that instituted structural inefficiency and conflict. It is very ironic that these are now the only legally accepted boundaries. With all these privations will obviously go poverty and pestilence, ignorance and migration and more cycle of conflict. The rest is well known especially if you have studied Professor Ali Mazrui’s Triple Heritage documentaries.

C2 – False Starts In Leadership Development

In this sort of situation, I mean of the plight of Africa, not of studying Ali Mazrui’s excellent documentaries, anything could happen. One of the things that happened, as a result of many factors, including the education of the African, was the move to grant Independence to the new nations mostly with artificial boundaries dividing peoples and enclosing plenty of internal incongruencies. In legitimising the initially illegitimate, and reconciling the internal congruencies, the correct underpinning philosophies, proper leadership training, high political skills, and optimum human and material resources are needed for these colonially determined entities to be managed to the point of eventually realising successful and self-sustaining communities or countries. Malevolent outside interests and influences will always prove adverse.

Inevitably, there must be leaders emerging as a result of the constitutional and electoral processes. These Constitutions, or at least the patterns, were initially drawn for each country from the metropolitan country. But, the comparison ends there, apart from the official language and the nomenclatures and empty rituals, like the attire of Judiciary, National Days, Oaths of office, etc.

You do not need to have studied Rene Dumont’s “False Starts in Africa” to know that, in almost every case, there was indeed a false start.

African leaders, whether they were getting Independence from the British, Dutch, French, Portuguese, Spaniards, or even the Americans, behaved the same way. They replaced the colonialists in the palaces, offices and in name and then proceeded to behave in the way that the worst colonialist never did. The only thing that they seemed not to have attempted was to bundle off their people to sell them off into slavery. May be, only because there are no buyers these days.

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I wish to quote at length here from a paper on Accountability that I read to a PDP Workshop in Abuja on August 20, 2002.

“False Starts Begetting Destructive Self-Serving Perceptions

“When, in 1947, India obtained its Independence from the British, the leaders, Gandhi, Nehru and the rest, did not see themselves as the replacements of the departing British. They conducted themselves in such a way as to make India, in spite of its many other problems, still a great democracy. In other words, a few people, leading at the right place and time, can make all the difference.

“This was not the experience here, and in most parts of Africa. The so-called fathers of the nation replaced the colonialists, and in many cases behaved worse than the worst colonialist. They set up an elitist leadership style with themselves on top. Those below took a cue from the apical leaders. Down the line, developed an incredible elitism, which fractured the society into those who belonged and those who did not. Western education, which would have been the instrument for developing the entire country, became only a key to the elitist leadership club. The elite acquired expensive mentalities and tastes. Deficient personalities are compensated for by endless and meaningless honours and titles, meaningless because they do not truly portray the recipients. They collect retinues around them of every thing – consorts, cars, houses, yes men, each according to how much they can appropriate from the country or sector they work in. Naturally, each baron’s expenditure level rises and cannot be accommodated within his or her legitimate earnings, what with the additional demands of the “noblesse oblige” or the benefit culture. Other compounding social evils like favouritism, bigotry and prejudice follow. Instead of being agents of healthy social change, the leaders and the elite became ruthless predators on the society and organizations they were supposed to lead.

“Sycophants, out of fear or parasitism, or both, convince the elite, especially the leaders, that they were chosen by God, and that, without them, the country or the organization was finished. The pervasive culture of ego massaging leads to the feeling in those at the top of proprietary rights. Namely, while they were there, they owned what was only put in their trust and they do their utmost to be there for as long as possible. Conversely, those who are not there will do all they can on earth to get there. A familiar African story.

“In other words, poor governance, lack of accountability, and corruption in particular, arise not only or not so much from greed, but as well from a mindset (or the psychological underpinning) of misinterpreting one’s official position. While the Holy Scriptures demand accountability from everyone over everything, our mindset, and the cultural environment we have created around it, tells us that in the mind of the official or despotic leader, accountability and public office are portrayed as mutually exclusive. To be accountable is often presented as meekness, as not being really up on it. The crisis of accountability has its roots in the elite acting out their perverted perception of power. That, of course, has its national economy and thus Development consequence.

“The pathological mindset in the leaders and officials manifests itself in many ways. One only has to keep one’s ears and one’s eyes open.

“It is only that we do not come to examine these everyday situations, because, if we do, they will strike us in the face. Why should the person you elected to do a job need so much ceremony around him or her? Did you elect a king (who elects a king?) that he will be living so much above all of you? Why should he require so much security if you elected him? How can an elected official, instead of being grateful for being elected and promise to do his or her best, threaten the electors with fire and brimstone? Why should all that happen? What should be the normal relationship? What is Government to the elector? A servant or a source of power to the leaders and public officers to lord it over the people?”

African leaders who, on securing independence, did not become like discussed above are the rare exceptions that prove the rule; like President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, to some extent Leopold Senghor of Senegal, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of Nigeria, and Nelson Mandela of South Africa. The last two were undoubtedly great, but, in truth, would have found it difficult to do otherwise given the case of their countries. With the foregoing, it would be impossible for autocratic leaders to maintain the rule of law, because that would be contradictory to their despotism and high handedness. Yet, the rule of law is vital for development. Hernando de Soto, the Peruvian Laureate in Economics, emphasised the indispensability of the rule of law in property rights in facilitating credit for economic growth. This appears to have been wholly accepted by the US, and its officials, and modified it to read something like this: “the rule of law is the invisible architecture of economic growth”. Those who cannot maintain the rule of law cannot hope to attain economic growth, let alone economic development, except, as in the case of some Gulf countries, where a wide margin of resource excess can compensate for plenty of structural defects and inefficiencies.

Failure to maintain the rule of law is evil enough. But, if it is combined with intolerance, persecution and undemocratic behaviour and other violations of human rights, as is usual in most autocratic states, the decadence grows faster because of the additional factor of lack of public opinion, lack of sincere advice and brain drain. The quality of education, as equipment for citizenship, slumps. Corruption reigns unchecked. The state can be regarded as a failed one.

In 1972, I was driving in a car in the middle of our largest indigenous city, near the famous hilltop town hall; in the company of Nigerian’s most senior and, I would say, most famous, political scientist, then working in our premier University, but now deceased. We suddenly kept quiet. He looked at the milling crowd of our people pursuing what they called their daily business. He shook his head ruefully after awhile and coldly said: “Jibril, the African will never make it”. That was in 1972, which for Nigerians, means that things were many times better. Their currency was strong; there was no debt burden; they had no HIV/AIDS; and no Bird Flu threat and Armed Robbery was only just commencing as a social problem and looked containable. What the Professor said was not nice at all. But did it look like he might be right?

C3 – Poor Leadership Promoting Conflict

In addition to autocracy, the African model would tend to be a prescription for conflict, unless, as I said, there is the good fortune of excellent management. With the “artificial boundaries”, parties in conflict tend often to have friends and kinsmen outside the country rather than inside. In other words, it easily becomes international, like the Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea one, or the Congo, Uganda, Rwanda (and Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe) other; all only a few years ago. At anytime, Africa tends to have ten or more shooting wars going on. Some of them are forgotten, like the Senegal/Casamance internal conflict.

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Most of these can be traced directly to irascible leaders, like Charles Taylor, or, worse, Konan Bedie of the Ivory Coast in his absurd attempt to keep Outtara out of the contest for the leadership of the country.

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Conflict, apart from the sad and usual loss of lives and property has other consequences particular to the issue of Development, namely economic growth towards economic development.

Conflict is the prescription for poverty since hardly any economic activity, especially Agriculture, Extractive Industries and distributive trade, can go on. There is the loss of the confidence of investors, both internally and, especially, externally. That is why the Americans, talking about how to attract their investor dollars say: “Money is a coward: It does no go to where there is trouble”. Leaders who promote conflict cannot bring about the major investment to their people or in their people. There was an African leader in the Horn of Africa who had reportedly invaded every neighbouring country at one time or the other, including neighbours across an international seaway.

Conflict is diversionary to any country and to the entire Continent. There are high opportunity costs. In the past decade, Africa had its finest hour in terns of Africans, people of African descent and African sympathisers occupying key posts in international politics and markets. Among them: Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, Colin Powell, Candeleeza Rice, Bishop Tutu, Presidents Obasanjo, Tabo Mbeki, Abdullahi Wade, and Boutefleika all working with African sympathisers like Clinton, Bush, Tony Blair, Schroeder, and Chirac among the Heads of States, and others like Bono, Bill Gates and Bob Geldorf. This window of opportunity would not remain open for ever or for long. Much has been achieved in terms of debt relief, assistance to fight HIV and some boosting of technical aid. But, not as much as could have been done if these human assets were not wasted in settling silly but tragic disputes, like Mandela tied down in Burundi, many others in Liberia and Sierra Leone; disputes that arose as a result only of poor leadership. Now, some of the human assets are beginning to leave the scene, replaced by different others. Yet, we still have serious outstanding issues like Fair International Trade, Millennial Development Goals, Foreign Direct Investment, Immigration, Racism and Discrimination, Education and Technology Acquisition, Small arms, Sponsorship of coups, Reparation, etc. etc.

Finally on Conflict, is the accelerated looting of resources especially Oil, Gold and the Conflict Diamonds. Apart from Russia no one exports more diamonds than Africa. Where is the money? And how many Africans wear diamonds? African Leaders must realise that conflict promotion is the worst form of irresponsibility in governance and those who thrive in it must receive punishment slightly more harsh than Charles Taylor’s luxury topical retreat in Calabar, surrounded by the acquired comfy comfy products of his looting of the Liberian people.

C4 – Estranged Mediocrity in Leadership

African leaders tend to be too far away from their people. Protected by a ring of hardware and explosives, menacingly carried by “Sai Baba Ta Gani” armed personnel, they have little of the common touch. The people who elected them become the enemy from whom they do not feel safe. There is little contact because of excessive protocol and high profile life. They cannot elicit voluntary compliance from the people and have to resort to laws, and orders and threats and sanctions. Alternatively, they lapse into the habit of trying to bribe the people with false promises and lose the respect of the people. Either way, their effectiveness falls and they have to find diversion inside or outside the country. Too many African nations have too many liars at the top or among the ruling elite. Their words mean little and their people tolerate them only because they have no choice. Dictators hardly have ever heard of the Indian Philosopher, Deepak Chopra, that loving your fellow human being is the most cost effective win, win, relationship. Lots of the Leaders Africa has, or has seen, are nothing but a burden to their countries.

Planlessness, incompetence if you will, is surprisingly common although it tends to be concealed by much hype and up-beat false rhetoric. Some people just have no idea of what to do, and do not even seem to know that they can get good advice on what to do. Many are very competent planners only of winning or rigging elections to power but can never tell you what they will do once they get there. All the energy is in winning. Alas! There are too many of them who actually get there and the result is predictable. Others are afraid to say anything definite because they do not wish to offend, or to say something wrong on which they will be reprimanded or successfully challenged later. Both relapse into the diversionary photo-opportunity seeking syndrome. Camelot (collection of societal upper crust) at social occasions are regarded as successful political outings. No. The people are entitled to know what to expect and ambition should be made of sterner stuff. Not Camelot; not “sari ka noke” or guerrilla press campaigns.


Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, looked at all round, the prospect for economic development as a result of good leadership appears bleak. Poor leadership by self centred elite, mismanagement of human and material resources and opportunities, unfair international trade, excessive competition for external investment funds, rising mortality and falling life expectancy, HIV/AIDS, especially among the youth, yam headed conflicts from pea headed rulers, and other challenges, make it all look impossible.

But, there is some hope, as a result of a rising level of seriousness in some countries, including ours, with the new economic reforms, war on corruption and other indicators. Continent-wise is the NEPAD. Debt relief has already been referred to. There are also more African States going back to Democracy, like Liberia and Guinea Bissau recently. However, there been reverses in Uganda and Chad. The political processes still remain very murky, and many African leaders continue to deceive themselves that you can have a clean government with dirty politics.

Hope is the only thing no one can deny us. As we cling to it, let us look at our blessings. Africa has more untapped resources than any other Continent. We still have our remaining young people with their residual idealism. We also have African kinsmanship, of being your brother’s keeper, a bond expression much envied by others. Furthermore, there is the land of Africa that scientists say was the Origin of Man. Let us also look at some of the illustrious sons of Africa, dead and alive, and chant that God will not desert us, for example here in Nigeria, if only because, as Chinua Achebe might say, leaders like Murtala Muhammed and Aminu Kano lived here.

I thank you for your kind attention.

Guest Speaker Address Delivered At The Thirtieth Memorial Anniversary Conference on General Murtala Ramat Muhammed Organised By The Centre For Democratic Research And Training, Bayero University, Kano and Held At The Indoor Sports Hall, Kofar Mata, Kano on Monday February 13th, 2006.

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