By Levinus Nwabughiogu, Abuja
President Mohammadu Buhari, yesterday, said that the utmost desire of the late former Head of State, General Murtala Muhammed was to make Nigeria a better country.
He said that Mohammed upon assumption of office in 1975, demonstrate rare courage and necessary leadership skill, saying that his preoccupation was to fast-track decisions to herald the progress of Nigeria.
According to the president, two major developments of the late military leader were “prominent among his legacies: the move of the capital to Abuja from Lagos; and the creation of seven new tates to make 19”.
President Buhari, who spoke at the 40th Memorial Lecture of the former Head of State in Abuja, also enjoined Nigerians to emulate his life and character.
He said: “On assuming the role of Head of State in 1975, Murtala set out with a single-minded determination seldom seen in Nigerian leadership. Decisions were on fast-track. Two major developments were prominent among his legacies: the move of the capital to Abuja from Lagos; and the creations of seven new States to make 19. The shadow of his death still somewhat hangs over Nigeria.
“On the 13th of February 1976, Nigeria suffered a grievous blow with the assassination of Murtala Muhammad in a failed coup d’état. The country mourned, and rightly so, because Murtala had been on his way to putting Nigeria back to the path of order and discipline, after years of drift, corruption and near despair. It would not be over-stating the case to say that Nigeria lost its newly-found momentum with Murtala’s demise.
“His life, short though it proved to be, was marked by an extraordinary passion, energy and determination to do better, and to make Nigeria better. These are values that young and old alike should all remember – and celebrate.”
President Buhari while recalling the military exploits of Mohammed during the civil war said he had great respect for him.
“By the time Murtala was given Command during the Civil War, the Federal side was on the defensive. The rebels had over-ran the then Mid-West, and reached as far as Ore, just 100 miles from Lagos. By dint of sheer bravery, improvisation and resourcefulness, he mustered a rag-tag group of soldiers, integrated them into an entirely new division, knocked them into fighting shape, recovered Mid-West and ventured across the Niger. Alas, there were terrible casualties on both sides.
“But Murtala’s motto was to get the job done as quickly as possible; sacrifice and loss were part of the risks of war. Relations between Murtala and some other senior officers were not always easy. But no one could doubt his inspirational qualities or call into question his love and dedication in the service of Nigeria.
Also speaking at the event, the Vice-President of the Board of Trustees of the Murtala Muhammed Foundation, organizers of the annual lecture series, Retired Lt. Gen. Theophilus Danjuma thanked President Buhari for recognising the leadership qualities of the late Head of State.
Similarly, the Head of the United Nation’s Office for West Africa (UNOWA), Mohamed Ibn Chambas, who also served as the Representative of United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon, and former President of Namibia, Mr Lucas Pohamba, extolled the virtues of the late leader, saying that his death, 40 years ago, created a big vacuum yet to be filled.