President Muhammadu Buhari says the assassination of former Head of State General Murtala Mohammed on February 13, 1976 robbed Nigeria of her great foundation.
President Buhari stated that the slain Head of State was on his way to putting Nigeria back to the path of order and discipline after years of drift, corruption and near despair, when he was killed.
Buhari stated this at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja yesterday while speaking at the 40th Anniversary Memorial Lecture of the late leader, organized by the Murtala Mohammed Foundation.
"Murtala was 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 overstating the fact to say that Nigeria lost its newly found momentum with Murtala's demise", Buhari, who was then a Lt-Col in the Army and Military Governor of the eorth-eastern states, said.
The President called on all Nigerians to learn from the late Murtala, the virtues of loyalty, honesty and extraordinary passion to make the country better.
He said on assumption of office in 1975, the late Murtala set out with a single-minded determination seldom seen in Nigerian leadership.
He cited the making of Abuja as the Federal Capital Territory, as well as the creation of seven new states as prominent developments witnessed during Murtala's regime.
Buhari said he developed a great liking and respect for Murtala, who he noted was his senior in the Army, on the ground of professional excellence, competence, straight-forwardness and concern for up-and-coming officers.
He recalled: "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.
"General Murtala's story has been told over and over again in the last forty years. So, I will not repeat what has been related many times before. Suffice to say that his mother brought him up, and, through her efforts, paid expenses for his education and general welfare. In turn, Murtala repaid her by his exemplary performance in school, in military training, in war, in peace and in government.
"What was Murtala like as a man? Although he was much more senior to me in the Army, I developed a great liking and respect for him on account of his professional excellence, competence, straightforwardness and genuine interest and concern for up-and-coming officers like myself."
Buhari, who noted that no one was without flaws, described the late Murtala as a man in a hurry; the flaw, he said, could make the former leader appear abrupt or moody.
President Buhari, however, stressed that Murtala never tolerated incompetence and idleness, adding that no one could doubt his inspirational qualities or call into question, his love and dedication in the service of Nigeria.
He stated: "Of course, no one is without flaws. He was a man in a hurry, and sometimes this could make him appear abrupt or even moody. But what he could not tolerate was incompetence and idleness.
"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.
"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 are 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.
"We are here to honour a national hero and patriot, not to mourn him, and to take a few lessons from his achievements: his love for Nigeria and Nigerians, from wherever they came; his intense professionalism; his impatience with incompetence and lack of patriotism; his loyalty to friends and colleagues.
"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", Buhari said.
In his own remarks, former Defence Minister General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma disclosed that he was among those to be killed had the February 13, 1975 coup de tat succeeded.
Danjuma, who is also the Vice President of the Board of Trustees of the Murtala Muhammed Foundation, explained that the leader of the aborted coup, Lt. Col Bukar Suka Dimka, and his group had listed him as number three of those to be killed.
He explained that when the list was shown to General Ilyasu Bisalla, he brought his name forward to number two after Murtala, who was the prime target.
He stated: "That I live today is by the special grace of God. From that moment, 40 years till date, have been moments of emotions for me. In fact, I have considered them as divine."
Danjuma thanked the organizers for consistently marking the event and putting in the true situation in perspectives, saying mischief makers could have otherwise distorted history to their selfish advantage.
Danjuma, who expressed delight for being associated with Murtala early in life, advised the leadership of the Foundation to embark on aggressive media campaign in order to educate the public on its activities and achievements so far.
The guest speaker at the event, a former Chief of Staff and Professional Head of the British Armed Forces, Mr. David Richards, said inter-state and intra-state rivalries had continued to make the world unstable for mankind.
Richards, who spoke on the topic "Regional Security and State Building: Portents and prospects", charged world leaders to find lasting solutions to socio-political crises across the globe.
The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon's Representative and Head of the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA), Mohamed Ibn Chambas, who represented former Namibia President Lucas Pohamba, said Murtala's demise had left an indelible mark in the history of Africa.
Chambas extolled the virtues of the late former Nigerian Head of State and described him as a natural leader.
In her welcome address, the Chief Executive officer of the Murtala Muhammed Foundation, Mrs Aisha Muhammed-Oyebode, decried that the civil service was fraught with corruption and sheer commercialization of public service; the vices which, she said, her father fought to a standstill in his service to the nation.
Aisha, Murtala's daughter, however, noted that she was happy that just like her late father, President Buhari was currently fighting corruption.
Aisha, who was 12 years old Murtala was assassinated, said the only way President Buhari could sustain her father's legacies was to ensure that he did not relent in the fight against corruption.
She described her father as a zealous believer in the African liberation and a simple and radical idealist.
"We are imbibing the zero tolerance for corruption and promoting the ideal as a way of expressing our distress by the commercialization of public service. However, in Buhari, we have a leader who shares Murtala's values", she said.
Aisha equally commended Buhari's administration's efforts towards fighting the Boko Haram insurgency, expressing optimism that the over 200 abducted Chibok schoolgirls would soon be rescued.