In 1971, Mohammed was nevertheless promoted to the rank of Brigadier. After further Army coursework abroad, he returned again as Inspector of Signals. By 1974, then General Gowon felt he either had to coopt or purge him, eventually choosing the former line of action.
On August 7, therefore, Brigadier Murtala Mohammed became the Federal Commissioner for Communications - while retaining his role as Inspector of Signals in the Army. Tensions were already building in the Army - accelerated in part by Gowon's decision, announced on October 1, 1974, to renege on his promise to hand over to civilians in 1976. But the main grouse was that officers who "fought the war" felt excluded from patronage. Several solidarity meetings of senior Army Officers were held. It is alleged that at one such meeting Brigadier Mohammed advised General Gowon: "If you want to prevent a coup, remove the cause".
In late 1974/early 1975, the cabal of civil war frontline officers who felt they had been long excluded from the corridors of power and patronage, began actively plotting to remove General Gowon from power.
These officers, including Colonels Ibrahim Taiwo, Abdulahi Mohammed and Anthony Ochefu, Lt. Cols. Shehu Yar'Adua, Ibrahim Babangida and Alfred Aduloju among others, co-opted Colonel Joseph Nanven Garba, then Federal Guards Commander.
Then they approached Brigadier Murtala Mohammed for blessing. He reportedly told them that he would not actively join them but would do everything to 'save their necks' if they failed. They timed their coup to coincide with the absence of General Gowon at an OAU meeting in Kampala, Uganda on July 29, 1975. Mohammed took the precaution of arranging an official trip to London to avoid being asked to accompany Gowon to Kampala.
Once Colonel Garba went on air in Lagos, a plane left London for Nigeria and was allowed to land in Kano even though all airports were theoretically closed at the time. That plane had an important passenger - Brigadier Murtala Ramat Muhammed. After a serious misunderstanding with the coupists, in which they almost decided to drop him as their choice to lead the country, Brigadier Murtala Muhammed finally agreed to accept the position of Head of State on their condition - that he would share power in a trioka with Brigadiers Obasanjo (who was senior to him) and Danjuma (who was junior to him). Muhammed had initially wanted absolute executive power.
On July 30, 1975 he delivered the following address:
Events of the past few years have indicated that despite our great human and material resources, the Government has not been able to fulfill the legitimate expectations of our people. Nigeria has been left to drift. This situation, if not arrested, would inevitably have resulted in chaos and even bloodshed.In the endeavour to build a strong, united and virile nation, Nigerians have shed much blood. The thought of further bloodshed, for whatever reasons must, I am sure, be revolting to our people. The Armed Forces, having examined the situation, came to the conclusion that certain changes were inevitable.
After the civil war, the affairs of state, hitherto a collective responsibility, became characterized by lack of consultation, indecision, indiscipline and even neglect. Indeed, the public at large became disillusioned and disappointed by these developments.This trend was clearly incompatible with the philosophy and image of a corrective regime. Unknown to the general public, the feeling of disillusionment was also evident among members of the armed forces whose administration was neglected but who, out of sheer loyalty to the Nation, and in the hope that there would be a change, continued to suffer in silence.
Things got to a stage where the head of administration became virtually inaccessible even to official advisers; and when advice was tendered, it was often ignored.
Responsible opinion, including advice by eminent Nigerians, traditional rulers, intellectuals, et cetera, was similarly discarded. The leadership, either by design or default, had become too insensitive to the true feelings and yearnings of the people. The nation was thus plunged inexorably into chaos.
It was obvious that matters could not, and should not, be allowed in this manner, and in order to give the nation a new lease of life, and sense of direction, the following decisions were taken:
1. The removal of General Yakubu Gowon as Head of the Federal Military Government and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces.
2. The retirement of General Yakubu Gowon from the Armed Forces in his present rank of General with full benefits, in recognition of his past services to the nation.
3. General Gowon will be free to return to the country as soon as conditions permit; he wil be free to pursue any legitimate undertakings of his choice in any part of the country. His personal safety and freedom and those of his family will be guaranteed.
4. The following members of the Armed Forces are retired with immediate effect:
Vice Admiral JEA Wey - Chief of Staff, Supreme HQ, Major-General Hassan Katsina - Deputy Chief of Staff, Supreme HQ, Major-General David Ejoor - Chief of Staff (Army), Rear Admiral Nelson Soroh - Chief of Naval Staff, Brigadier EE Ikwue - Chief of Air Staff, and all other officers of the rank of major general (or equivalent) and above.
Alhaji Kam Salem - Inspector General of Police, Chief TA Fagbola - Deputy Inspector General of Police
5. Also with immediate effect, all the present Military Governors, and the Administrator of East Central State, have been relieved of their appointments and retired.
6. As you are already aware, new appointments have been made as follows:
Brigadier TY Danjuma - Chief of Army Staff, Colonel John Yisa Doko - Chief of Air Staff, Commodore Michael Adelanwa - Chief of Naval Staff, Mr. MD Yusuf - Inspector General of Police
New Military Governors have also been appointed for the States as follows:
1. Lt. Col. Muhammed Buhari, North East 2. Colonel George Innih, Midwest 3. Lt. Col. Sani Bello, Kano 4. Captain Adekunle Lawal (Navy), Lagos 5. Lt. Col. Paul Omu, South East 6. Colonel Ibrahim Taiwo, Kwara 7. Captain Akin Aduwo, (Navy), West 8. Col. Anthony Ochefu, East Central 9. Lt. Col. Usman Jibrin, North central 10. Col. Abdullahi Mohammed, Benue-Plateau 11.Lt. Col. Umaru Mohammed, North West 12. Lt. Col. Zamani Lekwot, Rivers The Structure of Government has been reorganized.There will now be three organs of government at the federal level namely,
(i) The Supreme Military Council
(ii) The National Council of States
(iii) The Federal Executive Council
There will of course continue to be Executive Councils at the State level. The reconstituted Supreme Military Council will comprise the following:
The Head of State and C-in-C of the Armed Forces
Brigadier Olusegun Obasanjo - Chief of Staff, SHQ
Brigadier TY Danjuma - Chief of Army Staff Commodore
Michael Adelanwa - Chief of Naval Staff
Col. John Yisa Doko - Chief of Air Staff
Mr. MD Yusuf - IG of Police GOCs -
1st Division, Brigadier Julius Akinrinade
2nd Division, Brigadier Martin Adamu
3rd Division, Brigadier Emmanuel Abisoye L.G.O., Brigadier John Obada
Colonel Joseph Garba
Lt. Col Shehu YarAdua
Brigadier James Oluleye
Brigadier Iliya Bisalla
Colonel Ibrahim Babangida
Lt. Col Muktar Muhammed
Colonel Dan Suleiman
Captain Olufemi Olumide (NN)
Captain H Husaini Abdullahi (NN)
Mr. Adamu Suleman, Commissioner of Police
Lt. Col. Alfred Aduloju
Lt. Commander Godwin Kanu (NN)
All the civil commissioners in the Federal Executive Council are relieved of their appointments with immediate effect. The composition of the new Executive Council will be announced shortly.
We will review the political programme and make an announcement in due course. In the meantime, a panel will be set up to advise on the question of new states. A panel will also be set up to advise on the question of the federal capital.
With due regard to the 1973 population census, it is now clear that whatever results are announced will not command general acceptance throughout the country. It has, therefore, been decided to cancel the 1973 population census. Accordingly, for planning purposes, the 1963 census figures shall continue to be used.
A panel will be set up to advise on the future of the Interim Common Services Agency (ICSA) and the Eastern States Interim Assets and Liability Agency (ESIALA).
The Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture is postponed in view of the obvious difficulties in providing all the necessary facilities. Consultations will be held with other participating countries with a view to fixing a new date.
Finally, we reaffirm this country's friendship with all countries. Foreign nationals living in Nigeria will be protected. Foreign investments will also be protected. The government will honour all obligations entered into by the previous Governments of the Federation. We will also give continued support to the Organization of African Unity, the United Nations Organization, and the Commonwealth.
Fellow Countrymen, the task ahead of us calls for sacrifice and self discipline at all levels of our society. This government will not tolerate indiscipline. The Government will not condone abuse of office.
I appeal to you all to cooperate with the Government in our endeavour to give this nation a new lease of life. This change of Government has been accomplished without shedding any blood; and we intend to keep it so.
Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria."
With dizzying speed, a series of initiatives were announced, including a mass purge of the civil service and parastatals, often without regard for due process.Probes of former officials were similarly flawed - although popular at the time. Witchhunting was the rule rather the exception. But not all that was done was inherently reckless or impulsive.
Muhammed launched an assertive foreign policy, recognizing the MPLA government in Angola, for example. However, it is unfortunate that the war in Angola continues to this day.
Although unpopular within the military, a gradual program for inevitable Army demobilization was announced.
A 50-man Constitution Drafting Committee was appointed - although some to this day would have preferred that it was elected or that its recommendations should have been approved by plebiscite.
Panels were set up to advise on assets investigation of some former public officers, abandoned properties in the three Eastern States, the location of the Federal Capital and creation of more states.
The administration announced a "low profile" policy for public officers and Muhammed chose to stay at his home in Ikoyi rather than move into the more fortified Dodan Barracks residence. He occasionally startled observers by showing up at the Polo ground (for example) without protection! In the weeks leading to his assassination he was warned to be more cautious but brushed aside all admonitions.
In January 1976, Murtala Muhammed was promoted to the rank of full General (four stars). TY Danjuma and O Obasanjo were also promoted to the rank of Lt. Generals - in a move that proved to be controversial within the uppermost echelons of the military.
As Chief of Army Staff, for example, Danjuma (who was originally a Short Service Officer trained at Mons OCS Aldershot) became senior to his own Defence Minister, Major General Iliya Bissalla (a Sandhurst trained Regular Officer) who was originally senior to him, had commanded him during the civil war, and was still in active service. On February 3, 1976, following recommendations of the Aguda panel, General Murtala Muhammed announced that the Federal Capital would be moved "to a federal territory of about 8,000 square kilometres in the central part of the country." No plebiscite has ever been organized to approve this momentous decision.
Subsequently, seven (7) new states were created and a political transition program announced which was scheduled to end with hand-over to civilians on October 1, 1979.
Unfortunately, he did not to live to see the outcome of his efforts. General Murtala Muhammed was assassinated in the early morning hours of February 13, 1976.
The coup attempt eventually failed, crushed by forces rallied by Lt. General TY Danjuma, Chief of Army Staff. Lt. General Olusegun Obasanjo became the Head of State. Lt. Col. Shehu Yar'Adua, one of the original leaders of the July 1975 coup, was promoted in an ethno-religious balancing move to the rank of Brigadier and appointed Chief of Staff SHQ.
The Defence Minister, Major General Bissalla was arrested and shot for his alleged role in the plot, along with Lt. Col. Dimka and many others, some controversial to this day. Efforts to extradite Muhammed's old rival, General Yakubu Gowon, from the UK to stand trial for allegedly being involved in the plot failed. He was subsequently dismissed in absentia from the Army, but later pardoned by President Shehu Shagari after the military left office.
General Murtala Ramat Muhammed's colorful life thus came to a tragic end at the tender age of 38 years.Many monuments in the country are dedicated to his memory, including the International Airport in Lagos and a park in Benin City. Note (1): In his early years General Murtala Muhammed was known as Murtala Rufai Mohammed. He changed this to Murtala Ramat Muhammed when he came to office as Head of State.