With each passing year, I get afraid. I am scared of the consequences of ignorance and apathy towards history exhibited by younger generations of Nigerians, especially the Igbo who were the victims of the Civil war.
One may reincarnate to this part of the world after his first life to see villains honoured as heroes—simply out of ignorance. Historians call it “biographical revisionism”—a very dangerous thing that can eat away the fabrics of human integrity.
February 13, 2017—few days ago—was the 41st anniversary of the murder of Murtala Muhammed in a bloody coup.
After the January coup of 1966 led by Nzeogwu and other soldiers, Murtala Ramat Muhammed came to the limelight of political and military affairs in Nigeria. He was only 28 at that time. His life was to last for only a decade between 1966 and 1976 after his 28th birthday.
Between those 10 years, Murtala Ramat Muhammed succeeded in achieving a record that has remained unbeaten in the history of violence, bloodletting and passionate hate—all towards the Igbo. Ramat rose with blood and bullets in 1966 and fell with same blood and bullets in 1976. For 4 out of those 10 years—(in fairness to him)—Ramat was killing and killing.
If he wasn’t killing, he was ordering others to kill. If he wasn’t ordering people to kill, he was taking out his anger on those who are trying to prevent him from killing. The casualties of Murtala’s genius at violence were not in tens or hundreds or thousands; they ran into tens of thousands of Igbo military men and civilians—even more! The records are in books. Never an exaggeration!
Not long after Murtala died, a bust of his head was embossed on the 20naira currency note. The busiest airport in Nigeria was named after him. Ajoke, his widow together with the kids later launched a foundation called “Murtala Muhammed Foundation” in his memory.
A total of 40 Nigerian soldiers were summarily executed for having a hand in his murder. 38 of them were Northerners from either Plateau, Kaduna or Gongola while 2 (Majors Kola Afolabi & Olaosebikan Ogunmekan) were Yoruba from Kwara and Osun States (cf pgs 249-250 of Oil, Politics and Violence by Max Siollun).Many others were either jailed or punished in another way. So much for a man whose thirst for blood was unprecedented!
Some highways and streets were also named after him. Overnight, Ramat became a “hero” and a “martyr” canonized by his military accomplices and other ignorant/misguided civilians. His heroism and martyrdom have managed to stay like a cult for 4 decades now. His less than one year as Head of State automatically wiped off his numerous years of abomination—mas terminded by his biographical revisionists.
The younger generations grew up to know little or nothing of his 4 years of untold violence against Igbo people. They only saw the few years of his ‘heroism’. And that is what they still see today.
There is the new movie titled “76” which has been airing at different cinemas. I do not know exactly how that movie portrays Murtala Ramat Muhammed but the movie has something about him as one of its dominant themes.
My only fear is that many young people from my generation, especially the Igbo will get to watch the movie but may never care about reading or researching the horrible story behind the true life of one of the movie’s major characters—Murtala Muhammed.
But I am consoled by the efforts of some Igbo journalists, historians and documentarians to ensure that generations won’t be deceived and allowed to perish in ignorance and apathy. I am glad that some Asaba educated people have taken on the giant step of running a documentary in 2013 on the killings of thousands of Asaba men and boys at Ogbe Osowa, supervised and headed by the so-called hero, Murtala Ramat Muhammed and his ‘guys’ in 1967.
The documentary has been refreshed and made more available online this week and I hope thousands of Igbo people will access, share and watch it with utmost concentration and attention to the details. To ndi Igbo: The atrocities of Murtala Ramat Muhammed should never be forgotten or forgiven, especially out of ignorance and apathy. Our Ancestors who were cut down by his bullets would never allow us peace both in this life and in death, if we ever do.
*By Chijioke Ngobili