The Hurricane: In memory of the Late General Murtala Muhammed
In this season of focusing on the centenary of the country’s birth, it is pertinent to also to highlight the personalities who played significant roles, some of them heroic, in shaping the destiny of the nation till date.
The late General Murtala Muhammed is one of the few personalities, living or dead, widely regarded as real Nigerian heroes. He made a tremendous impression upon the minds of his countrymen. His life and activities in public office affected many lives and altered the course of history.
His untimely death drew unprecedented outpouring of grief and bestirred national outrage against those who brutally terminated his life. There was great anger against the act that sought to truncate a reinvigorated vision of a new Nigeria, which Murtala was generally believed to be pursuing with vigour and conviction.
Like any human being, Murtala may have had his weaknesses. As a young military officer, he got embroiled in the cauldron that was Nigerian politics, in the fiery battle for sectional dominance. The resultant abortion of the republican democracy and the eventual outbreak of the civil war saw Murtala playing a leading role as a dogged warlord, with some of his actions being regarded as tactless and costly.
After the war, Murtala did not just settle down into a quiet and routine military life, he made himself the conscience of the nation by constantly speaking out against societal ills and inept leadership. Even when he became a member of the ruling cabinet, he was relentless in his outspokenness against what he saw as the purposeless leadership.
And when eventually the mantle of leadership was thrust on him as Head of State, he infused a new spirit of dynamism and patriotic fervour into governance. One commentator wrote about his tenure: “It will be remembered as the period of which Nigeria received a new lease of life. They were six months that gave a new orientation to national goals which revitalized public life and then set the nation on the path of true greatness.”
His tragic assassination on the morning of February 13th, 1976 made his era a painfully brief one. Like a fleeting hurricane, it nonetheless left a sweeping impact on the psyche of the nation. His death was mourned far and wide and it generated copious media attention. And year after year afterwards, whenever Murtala’s assassination was commemorated, the media, especially the newspapers and magazines, usually devoted generous attention to this memory.
In recent years, however, the attention seems to have declined considerably. The story of Murtala is increasingly appearing to be like a footnote in the annals of Nigeria’s history. The annual Murtala Muhammed lecture organised by a major newspaper house in the country is now a thing of the past.
It seems that before long, if care is not taken, the annual commemoration of Murtala’s life and death will be reduced to a mere affair for his immediate family members. This now seems to be happening. And he does not deserve this.
The late General can be cast in the same mould as President John F. Kennedy of the United States of America and the human rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr., both of whom suffered the same fate as Murtala by being cut down at their prime by assassins’ bullets.
The mesmerising lives and the tragic death of these two icons have generated not only numerous books and biographies, but also scores of movies. The endless literary fairs highlight different aspects of the lives of these prominent personalities. The story of General Muhammed’s life deserves no less.
To date, most of the books that have been written by some of the major participant–observers on the military’s involvement in Nigeria’s governance have only made passing references to Murtala. The other ones that have been specifically written on his tenure focus largely on his administrative policies and pronouncements. None gave detailed human angle accounts of his life and death, until The Hurricane written by Taiwo Ogundipe, a journalist, came on the scene 13 years ago.
The Hurricane, which received raved reviews, traces the roots of the General and his progenitors. It also focuses on his birth, his growing-up years, his schooling days, his life as a young man as well as his military training and career. The book also highlights his marriage and family life, his performance as a soldier; his involvement in the post-independence crisis that engulfed the nation, his emergence as a national leader, his role as head of state, his tragic death and finally the after-effects.
A product of extensive research and interviews, the book paints a very intimate picture of General Muhammed. And because he is not alive to tell his own story, the author took the poetic license of living in the soul of the General and seeing most of the events through his eyes and those of the other major actors that are also dead.
Murtala’s successor, General Olusegun wrote the foreword to the book and describes it as “a good research work on the person of the late General Murtala Muhammed. It is a well outlined piece of writing on the life and times of the late Head of State who was indeed a personal friend and a professional colleague in the Nigerian Army.”
Obasanjo wrote further: “The Hurricane has effectively captured the historical perspectives of the work of the General, depicting his effort to bring about discipline and sanitization of the military and the Nigerian civil society.”
The late Major General J. J. Oluleye, a major participant during the military regime of Murtala, and the author of the book, Military Leadership in Nigeria: 1966 – 1979, wrote about The Hurricane thus: “I looked through the draft and concluded that you are dead on course.”
A revised edition of The Hurricane is now about to be released worldwide through the Amazon publishing platform.