The nation was thrown into turmoil on the 13th of February 1976 after the Head of State and the Chief Commander of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, General Murtala Ramat Muhammed, was assassinated in Lagos during an unsuccessful coup led by Lt. Col. Buka Suka Dimka. History has it that Gen. Muhammed loved a low-profile lifestyle, and it was this kind of lifestyle that led to his easy assassination.
On the day Gen. Murtala Muhammed was killed, he was driven in an official black Mercedes Benz saloon car and escorted by his Aide-de-camp (ADC), Akintunde Akinsheinwa, an orderly, Michael Otuwu (the only survivor of the attack) and a driver. The only visible sign of protection was a pistol carried by Michael Otuwu. Unlike today’s leaders, General Murtala didn’t go about in dozens of reckless driving convoy, all it took him was just a traffic controller who while carrying out his duty, stopped on the lane the Head of State’s Mercedes-Benz car was at the time of the incident. Gen. Murtala Muhammed’s deputy, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, who was the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters and Lt-Gen. Theophilus Danjuma, the Chief of Army Staff were also marked by the coup plotters to be killed on the same day and almost the same hour as the Head of State. General Murtala Muhammed wasn’t as lucky as Gen. Obasanjo and Lt-Gen Danjuma who still live till today.
Lt. Col. Dimka and his boys opened fire on the General’s car and killed everyone in it except the orderly, Michael Otuwu who still live to tell his part of the story. Otuwu explained that he had earlier seen a man on babanriga (Hausa traditional attire) approach their car immediately it stopped (this man was later identified to be Dimka). “He (Dimka) shot the driver in the head, then other soldiers loyal to him ran towards the car and opened fire”. He furthered, “Murtala would have survived the attack had the coup plotters not noticed the door of his car opened shortly after it was riddled with bullets from AK-47 assault rifles. The moment Dimka’s boys noticed the opened door, another rain of bullets fell on the car and killed Murtala this time.”
Immediately after the assassination of the Head of State, it was confirmed that Lt. Col Buka Suka Dimka ran to the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) to announce the success of the coup which unknowing to him was not yet successful. At the NBC, he read his first speech: “Fellow Nigerians, Murtala Muhammed’s deficiency has been detected. His government is now overthrown by young revolutionaries.” Lt. Col. Dimka, thinking the coup had succeeded, bragged on: “All the 19 military governors have no powers over the states they now govern. The states affairs will be run by military brigade commanders until further notice…” Unfortunately for him too, he didn’t live to rectify his dream of ruling Africa’s most populous country. Unlike his predecessor, General Yakubu Gowon, General Muhammed was considered tough, dogged and fearless. It is touted that he applied this characteristics in his resolved fight to rid the country of all form of corruption by some military governor-politicians under General Gowon, whom he said had“betrayed the trust and confidence reposed in them by the nation and betrayed the ethics of their profession.” His fight against public sector corruption, led to mass dismissals and retirement of over 10,000 public officials on the grounds of inefficiency and corruption. As it is in modern Nigeria, many of those dismissed or retired were people regarded as highly placed, with connections in high places. Perhaps, it could be said that the difference between General Muhammed and Nigeria’s current crop of leaders is that while the General was willing to make the hard decision for a greater and brighter tomorrow even though as a military regime, today’s leaders lack the political will to make hard choices that could better the lots of the country.
Lt. Col. Dimka never had the chance of reading his second speech: “Fellow Nigerians… On the 29th July 1975 the Government of General Gowon was overthrown. “Some of the reasons given for the change were: corruption; indecision; arrest and detention without trial; weakness on the part of the Head of State; maladministration in general and a host of other malpractice. Every honest Nigerian will agree with me that since the changeover of government, there has not been any physical development in the whole country generally.” On the dismissals and retirements of public servants in the fight against corruption and inefficiency.” Dimka’s speech read further: “All we have is arbitrary dismissal of innocent Nigerians who have contributed in no less amount to the building of this great nation… The sad point about it all is that those who initiated the retirement or dismissal exercise are the worst offenders. You will be informed about the ill-gotten wealth in my next announcement. The people of this country have been living in a state of fear. They (referring to General Muhammed and his fellow coup plotters that ousted General Gowon from power) in fact took over power to enrich themselves. In view of what I have just said and a lot more which time will not permit me to mention, we the Young Revolutionaries have once again taken over the Government to save Murtala from total disgrace and prevent him from committing further blunders and totally collapsing the country before he runs away in the name of retirement to enjoy the huge fortune he got through bribe which he has now stored outside this country. I believe that charity should begin at home. Please stay by your radio for further announcements. We are all together.” So ended Dimka’s second speech that was never read.
Col. Ibrahim Babangida led a detachment of soldiers to dislodge Dimka and his men at the NBC on the others of Gen. Theophilus Danjuma. Another account said it was Danjuma himself that went to the NBC to dislodge Dimka, while Dimka escaped through a tunnel.
However Lt. Col. Dimka was later caught, and was executed publicly on the 15th of May 1976 at the Maximum Security Prison in Lagos.
Gen. Muhammed Murtala was succeeded by Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, who was in power till 1979 when he handed over power to the democratic government of Alahji Sheu Shagari.
- Falola, Toyin; Heaton, Matthew (2008). A History of Nigeria; Cambridge University Press
- Ndaeyo Uko, Romancing the Gun: The Press as a Promoter of Military Rule, Africa Research & Publications, 2004.
- This Day Live