By Ogunjimi James Taiwo
“What do the dangers or sacrifices of a man or a people matter when what is at stake is the destiny of humanity.” – Che Geuvera
Personally, i believe that the way he stood up to the western forces makes him a hero to remember. He may not have been a flawless man, but if there is anything Africa needs, it’s freedom from western colonisation. His speech at the OAU summit made him one of the most respected leaders. Below is the speech:
“Africa has come of age. It is no longer under the orbit of any extra continental power. It should no longer take orders from any country, however powerful. The fortunes of Africa are in our hands to make or to mar. For too long have we been kicked around: for too long have we been treated like adolescents who cannot discern their interests and act accordingly. For too long has it been presumed that the African needs outside ‘experts’ to tell him who are his friends and who are his enemies. The time has come when we should make it clear that we can decide for ourselves; that we know our own interests and how to protect those interests; that we are capable of resolving African problems without presumptuous lessons in ideological dangers which, more often than not, have no relevance for us, nor for the problem at hand.”
We should never forget that this speech practically signed his death warrant. After the speech, many believed he was a walking corpse. We shouldn’t forget what he stood and died for.
Murtala was a man who didn’t believe in formalties. He adopted a low profile policy, so for the 200 days he was Head of State he lived in the same house he had occupied as Director of Army Signal Corps and drove to work at the Dodan Barracks every morning from his house. No convoy. No sirens. No outriders. Few days after his assumption of office, Murtala shunned the sirens and convoy and rode alone with his driver, from Lagos to Kano, a journey of more than one thousand kilometres, in his personal car.
He was a man who wasn’t just interested in the wealth of our nation, he stood for our liberation from western forces. In an interview with The Punch of May 4th 1982, the late Chief MKO Abiola, a very close friend of Murtala, said that Murtala had only Seven Naira Twenty Two Kobo (N7.22) in his bank account when he died.” He wasn’t like the parasitic leaders we have today, who live off our money like lichens.
Murtala never detained a single person in the 6 months that he led the Nigerian nation. When former Lagos University Law Lecturer Dr. Obarogie Ohonbamu wrote in his magazine, African Spark that Murtala had corruptly enriched himself before becoming Head of State, and accused him of owning fleets of trailers and rows of houses, Murtala did not descend on him with his heavy boot as most military dictators, he quietly went to Igbosere magistrate court and sued Ohonbamu for libel. At the last hearing, the case was adjourned till 17th March, 1976, but Murtala was assassinated on 13th February.
As we remember him, we should remember what he stood for. We shouldn’t just remember him, we should fight for what he fought for. He fought for our freedom from those who believed they could dictate to us, those who thought themselves superior to us and those who are taking advantage of us. The onus lies on us to either break free of western dictatorship or remain slaves forever.
Murtala set our feet on the path to continental freedom, are we going to follow through on that path? Or would we rather remain slaves forever? You see. . .the choice is ours.