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Murtala Mohammed: the black Friday – 42 years after

*Strolling through the streets of history

From Muideen Ibrahim

We were in school one Friday morning, indeed we had just resumed from the ‘Ijade ijeun’ (lunch break) when the school bell rang unusually. We were all perplexed by this oddity and were still trying to figure who the august visitor we were summoned for was, when teachers hurriedly shooed us out of our classrooms and told us to go home immediately. To compound an already chaotic situation, there was an unusual movement in the adjoining army barracks which was separated by the barbed wire mesh.

Itafa by Yemi Olaboye
Itafa by Yemi Olaboye

Guns were being corked and we could see soldiers running helter-skelter while some soldiers were assembled seated on the football field. We were still busy watching them when Mr. Olaniyan and Mr. Farinde came from behind and gave us generous lashes of ‘pankere’ cane on our buttocks. We were warned to proceed to our respective homes immediately because there was a fight among the soldiers. We managed to get home but met the same apprehension while some adults crowded a battery-powered transistor radio to listen to a broadcast that seemed to come intermittently.

We were confined indoors and the Friday Jummat prayer for that day was attended only by my grandfather – we did not follow him as it was the norm.  We were told there was ‘ko-nile-o-gbe-le’ (curfew) by those who overthrew the six-month old Murtala Ramat Mohammed government whose leader, Lieutenant Colonel Bukar Suka Dimka, had been talking to us over the radio all day.

General Murtala Mohammed
General Murtala Mohammed

By evening, the situation appeared clearer as the assassination of the Head of State, General Murtala Ramat Mohammed was confirmed alongside his Aide-de-Camp, Lieutenant Akintunde Akinsehinwa. Their Mercedes Benz limousine was ambushed at a road intersection on their way to the seat of government in Dodan Barracks from the Ikoyi residence of General Murtala. They were aged 38 and 31 years old respectively; the date was Friday, February 13, 1976. The Head of State’s driver, Sergeant Adamu Minchika as well as the Orderly, Sergeant Michael Otuwe were also victims of the ambush although Otuwe survived with gunshot injuries on his right arm.

The initial position was that the Military Governor of Kwara State, Colonel Ibrahim Adetunji Taiwo was abducted and his whereabouts was unknown. By the following day, a new Head of State was announced as Lieutenant General Olusegun Obasanjo while the assassination of Colonel Taiwo was confirmed and his corpse was recovered in a shallow grave on a cassava plantation off the Ajase-Ipo/Offa highway and taken to his Ogbomoso hometown for a decent burial. The remains of General Murtala Mohammed had earlier been taken to Kano for interment. Colonel George Agbazikah Innih was later named the new Military Governor of Kwara State.

I later read in the Daily Times and other newspapers that some soldiers had been declared wanted while others had been arrested and taken to Lagos. I saw some familiar faces of soldiers from the Offa Barracks of the Nigerian Army 2 Division Training School on the list. It confirmed what I earlier heard from some adults that those who assassinated the Kwara State Governor, Colonel Taiwo were mainly from the Offa barracks.

The names of my friend, the Land Rover man, Major Gagara, the mustachioed Lieutenant Wayah, Lieutenant Zagmi, Sergeant Bala Javan (O pari patapata), Sergeant Ahmadu Rege and one other soldier who usually wore a large wristwatch on his right wrist which I was told was his own army rank, were splattered on the pages of newspapers and public notices. Indeed, Sergeant Rege was said to be the one who fired the shot that took the life of Governor Taiwo. At the court martial that followed their arrest, Rege reportedly confessed ‘Na Oga say make I shoot am and I shoot’. The Oga (Master) was Major Gagara.

Three weeks after the botched putsch, Colonel Dimka was arrested on March 5, 1976 by a policeman at a roadblock in Abakaliki allegedly in company of a prostitute. Ten days later, the coup plotters were executed in two batches which saw about forty of them facing the firing squad in Lagos.  The gory pictures of these adorned the pages of newspapers and Almanacs were made of these pictures. I could not stand the sight of the soldiers I had seen and interacted with at close quarters in that horrendous state. That singular experience yanked off totally from my mind the notion of taking a career in the army as I had previously nursed. Thus, when the army authority decided to relocate its 2 Division Training School from Offa following the 1976 abortive coup, I did not miss anything.

I welcomed the development in my juvenile mind because I had lost all interest in whatever was going on in that barracks since I saw those pictures. Two years later in 1978, the new Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo introduced a new national anthem to replace the ‘Nigeria we hail thee…’ that we used to sing. There was also another one they called the ‘National Pledge’ which was to be sung immediately after the new National Anthem; but unlike the national anthem which we sang standing at attention and clasping our hands by our sides, the National Pledge was to be sung with our right hand palm on our chest. Suddenly, we had two items of several lines to memorize within a short period.

(Culled from ITAFA: THE FORMATIVE YEARS by ITAFA Olayemi Olaboye – Page 111- 113)



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