#HistoryClass with Cheta Nwanze: What really, is Murtala Mohammed’s legacy?

“Also with immediate effect, all the present Military Governors, and the Administrator of East Central State, have been relieved of their appointments and retired.” – Murtala Mohammed

This is not a #HistoryClass to whitewash the legacy of Murtala Mohammed. Neither is it one to spit on his grave. Today’s #HistoryClass, is simply meant to put in proper perspective, the legacy of a man who did Nigeria a lot of harm.

In September of 1975, a funeral was held at a house in Ebute Metta. The funeral was of a man named Obimbgo who was meant to have been the new tenant at that address. What was quite interesting about it was that Mr. Obimgbo had never lived in that house. On the morning of the day that he was meant to have finally moved in, he did not wake up from his sleep. He had passed away quietly.

As is usual in most Nigerian deaths, no autopsy was performed, so the exact cause of death was never determined, but from all indications, Mr. Obimgbo died of a stroke.

You see, he was entering into the great unknown after a life of certainty and stability, and at his age (he was around 50), he could not figure out where to go or what to do, especially having lived in Ikoyi since his youth. Mr. Obimgbo was one of more than 10,000 public officials and employees who were dismissed without benefits, on account of age, health, alleged incompetence, or alleged malpractice.

The purge affected the civil service, judiciary, police and armed forces, diplomatic service, public corporations, and universities, and was the action of the regime of Murtala Ramat Mohammed, the man who adorns Nigeria’s twenty Naira note.

To a lot of people, and for sentimental reasons, Murtala Mohammed is a national hero. To me, he is not. For the records, the massacre at Asaba on October 7, 1967 was carried out by troops under his command, and despite the fact that he was not present during the actual shooting; no one was disciplined for those actions. A few weeks later, troops under his command also committed another atrocity, this time in Onitsha. But that is a discussion for another day and time…

When Murtala became Head of State of Nigeria, his first action was to sweep off the old guard of people who had worked under Yakubu Gowon. While I understand the action of retiring persons like Gowon, Wey, Katsina, Ejoor, Soroh, Ikwue, Salem and Fagbola, the action of retiring all officers of the rank of Major General and above effectively left the Army without guidance.

After purging the Army, he turned on the Civil Service and did a whole raft of retirements, most of them, like Mr. Obimgbo, were essentially dismissed summarily, and expected to move out of their staff quarters with not a penny in their pockets. Nigeria is still paying for that action until this day.

The Nigeria Civil Service was modelled after the Civil Service of the United Kingdom. In the UK, only the best brains are allowed into the Civil Service and this after rigorous examinations. Once in, these people are essentially assured of being set for life. They are paid decently, and well taken care of. Above all, their pensions are not messed with.

This is because the Civil Service is the engine that runs the country. Politicians come and go, but the civil servant remains in place, rising through the ranks, learning where the mines are, and defusing them. As long as there is an efficient Civil Service behind the country’s executive, there will always be a smooth transition from one government to the next, projects will always get done on time and life will be steady and stable.

The importance of these ingredients in a nation’s life cannot be overstated. It was similar in Nigeria prior to 1975. Civil Service examinations were attended by the best our schools had churned out, and those who were lucky (and good) enough to be taken were assured of a car loan, a house set aside for them in government reservation areas and most importantly perhaps, a pension for the rainy days when they were no longer in service.

The Murtala Mohammed regime’s rash action in dismissing so many without any benefits turned the Nigeria Civil Service on its head. The younger civil servants (not to talk of military officers) who were watching what became of their seniors such as Mr. Obimgbo took the lesson to heart, and took it to heart quite well.

Whereas in the First Republic and during the Gowon era, corruption had always been simmering below the surface, only practiced openly by the so called big shots, it became an institutional thing from 1975 onwards.

The destruction of Nigeria’s Civil Service, and not Asaba, or Onitsha, or his ill discipline in interacting with his superiors during the war, is Murtala Muhammed’s legacy. #HistoryClass is over.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

cool good eh love2 cute confused notgood numb disgusting fail