Murtala Muhammad

General Murtala Mohammed was a military ruler who ruled in 1975 for 6 months before he was assassinated in 1976.

Murtala Ramat Mohammed

Military, Head of State

8th November, 1938

February 13th, 1976

Sandhurst Royal Academy

Kano, Kano State


General Murtala Mohammed was a military ruler who ruled in 1975 for 6 months before he was assassinated in 1976.  His short stay in office gave the country a sense of direction, duty and patriotism. His military regime was known to hand over leadership power to civilian rule.


Murtala Ramat Mohammed was born in Kano on November 8, 1938 to Risqua Mohammed and Uwani Rahamat. He attended and graduated from Government (now Barewa) College Zaria in 1957. He enlisted in the Nigerian Army in 1958 and was enrolled at the Regular Officers Special Training School in Ghana. Mohammed was then sent to Britain where he received advanced training in Signals at Sandhurst Royal Academy as an Officer Cadet.  His success in his training programs, subsequently paved way for his rapid promotions in the Nigerian Army.

Military Career

In 1961, Murtala Mohammed was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant where he served with the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Congo and upon return to Nigeria, was appointed aide-de-camp to Moses Majekodunmi, the Administrator of the Western Region at the time. He rose in ranks to temporary Major by late 1964, and in April 1966 elevated to Lt. Colonel where he served as Inspector of Signals in the Nigerian Army. In 1971 he was promoted to o the rank of Brigadier and was later appointed Commissioner for Communications in 1974.

Role during the Civil War

Murtala Mohammed was the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the Nigerian Army’s 2nd Division during the Nigerian civil war (1967-1970). He successfully led his troops to the legendary recapture the midwestern region previously overrun by Biafran forces and played a key offensive operation to cross the River Niger to rejoin the 1st Division.

On the other hand, Mohammed violated authority and the laws of war. His division  was accused of war crimes that included the mass murder of civilians in Asaba and execution of Biafran prisoners of war, in addition to defying military orders.  He threatened to resign his commission after being repeatedly reprimanded by superior officers, after which he left for the United Kingdom for an extended holiday.

Life as Head of State

One of the events that led to Nigeria’s first civil war was the first coup d’etat on January 15 1966 which brought the country under military rule governed by Major General Aguiyi-Ironsi, who stabilized the political situation in the nation but also forcefully controlled the affairs of the government by intimidating the federal cabinet. His opponents, mostly northerners, organized a counter coup and installed young Lieutenant-Colonel Yakubu Gowon as Supreme Commander of the Nigerian Army. Murtala Mohammed however desired this role and seized his opportunity at military power after a bloodless coup that overthrew Gowon while he was away at a summit of the Organization of African Unity in Uganda on July 30, 1975.

As Head-of-state Murtala agreed to share executive power with Brigadier Obasanjo, the appointed Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters and Brigadier Danjuma, appointed Chief of Army Staff.

Murtala’s administration was known for a “low profile” policy for public officers. He introduced the phrases with “Fellow Nigerians” and “with immediate effect” to the national lexicon. His decisiveness in policies elevated him to the status of national hero. However, some accused him of hypocrisy since corruption was still rampant.

His administration had a mix of reputable and controversial policies. He scrapped the 1973 census which unfairly weighted to favor the north and reverted to the 1963 census for all official purposes. He purged the civil servicemen and parastatals appointed by the Gowon regime and appointed 25 ministerial posts in the Federal Executive Council to civilians, though secondary to the Supreme Military Council.  He also ordered a comprehensive review of the Third National Development Plan whose biggest aim was to curb inflation thus reduce money supply from swollen government expenditure. He encouraged a “patriotic” approach in foreign policy and in government dealings with the international community. His administration encouraged the expansion of the private sector into areas where public corporations dominated. His regime set up of a Public Complaints Commission and also created a total of 19 states carved out of the original 12 states in 1967. In February 1976, he announced the proposed relocation of the Federal Capital “to a federal territory about 8,000 square kilometers in the central part of the country”, presently Abuja and also announced a program to hand over power to civilians.


Weeks before his assassination, Murtala ignored warnings to be more cautious and instead opted to stay in his Ikoyi residence rather than the more secure Army Dodan Barracks. On February 13, 1976, on his way to his office at Dodan Barracks with his aide-de-camp, Lt. Akintunde Akinsehinwa, Murtala’s black Mercedes Benz car was ambushed in an attempted coup by Lt. Col. Buka Dimka. Armed with a single pistol, both Murtala and his aide were killed. The coup however was unsuccessful as Murtala was succeeded by his Chief of Staff, Olusegun Obasanjo who completed Murtala’s plan to hand over power to civilian rule that took place on October 1, 1979, with Shehu Shagari as president.

234 Impact

National Hero

Murtala’s military achievements won him remarkable national acclaim and respect and many of his policies also won him popular support and admiration among the populace. His administration re-injected dynamism and fresh sense of patriotism in the country. His creation of the Public Complaints Commission will always be remembered as a tool that offered many Nigerians probity in their personal and public lives. Today, he is honored with his portrait on the 20 Naira note and named after the international airport in Lagos.


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