Events leading to Gen Murtala Mohammed’s assassination

Events leading to Gen Murtala Mohammed’s assassination

Sunday, March 1, 2020 9:01 am

General Murtala Mohammed

February 2020, the month when the death of General Murtala Mohammed is marked, ended yesterday. Below is an article showing the events leading to his death on 13 February 1976:

Events Leading to Murtala’s Assassination


By Sadeeq Shehu

By the end of 1975, preparations were on for an extra-ordinary meeting of the Organization for African Unity OAU in Addis Ababa. Initially Murtala showed little interest in attending the conference; Gen Obasanjo was making preparations to represent him. Suddenly something happened that made Murtala change his mind and compelled him to make the historic and flamboyant appearance at the conference where he gave the powerful “Africa has come of Age” speech.

Sadeeq Shehu

On the 3rd of January, 1976, the American Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Donald Easum, brought a letter addressed to Murtala from the United States president, Gerald Ford. The same letter was sent to many African leaders.

This is the text of the US President Gerald Ford’s letter to Gen Murtala on U.S. Attitude on Angola where Nigeria was a strong supporter of the MPLA:

Your excellency:

 During this critical period in African and world affairs, I believe it would be useful to give you my views on the Angolan situation. Since your Government has recognized the M.P.L.A. regime as the government of Angola, I believe it is necessary that there be no misunderstanding about our position. In turn I would welcome any ideas and suggestions which, I am sure, you will offer in the spirit of friendship and cooperation that I present my thoughts to you. The objective of United States policy in Angola has been to counter efforts by the Soviet Union to impose one faction as the government of Angola, Our view has been that only a government composed of all groups can claim to represent that country. We have consequently refrained from recognizing any faction as the government. We have several times called for an end to all foreign intervention and have repeatedly stated our willingness to cooperate with such an endeavor.

 As President of a country which has global responsibilities, I want you to know how seriously we regard this Soviet intervention 8,000 miles from its borders. outside its traditional area of security interest. The Soviet action could have grave future implications elsewhere in the world. I wish to assure you that we see the M.P.L.A. as one of the three legitimate factions in Angola. We seek neither the destruction nor the defeat of the M.P.L.A. But we do believe that it should not be allowed to assume total power by force of Soviet and Cuban arms.

National Unity Favored

 We hope a government of national unity will emerge, and we stand ready to provide reconstruction assistance when that happens. On the South African question, I wish to state that the U.S. in no way sought or encouraged the South Africans to become involved in Angola. nor were we consulted. They acted, no doubt, in defense of their national interest as they see it. We did not initiate any consultation with them and have maintained our military embargo on all arms to South Africa.

 We share your concern over their presence and desire it to end just as we do that of the Soviet Union and Cuba. We will do our utmost to bring about their withdrawal in the interest of withdrawal of all foreign forces.

 Cease‐Fire Wanted

 The upcoming O.A.U. summit meeting on Angola can clearly be extremely important in promoting an early end to the fighting and a peaceful settlement of the civil war. It is our hope that the O.A.U. will insist upon a prompt end to all foreign involvement in Angola, arrange a standstill ceasefire between the forces, and bring about negotiations among the Angolan groups. My Government would support such an initiative and cooperate with it, provided other distant powers do so as well. We would also, in that case, urge South Africa to end its involvement.

We cannot, however, stand idly by if the Soviet and Cuban intervention persists.

I would be pleased to learn your reaction to the foregoing and I hope we can continue to exchange views on this and other matters of mutual concern.




Murtala was furious. Not only did the federal military government take the bold and unprecedented step of releasing President Ford’s letter to the press, it also issued a strong response to it later that same evening calling it a “gross insult” and in sum, telling the Americans to go to hell.

This event triggered Murtala’s decision to attend the OAU conference and deliver his message to the world. The South Africans were fighting with the opposition factions to M.P.LA. General Murtala objected to Ford siding with the South Africans, and against African self- determination.

Eventually the late Murtala delivered his powerful “Africa has Come of Age Speech at the OAU meeting on the 11th of January, 1976. The concluding part of the speech reads :

“Mr. Chairman, when I contemplate the evils of apartheid, my heart bleeds and I am sure the heart of every true blooded African bleeds. . . Rather than join hands with the forces fighting for self-determination and against racism and apartheid, the United States policy makers clearly decided that it was in the best interests of their country to maintain white supremacy and minority regimes in Africa. . .Africa has come of age. It’s 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.

Murtala Ramat Mohammed was killed 34 days after making this speech. As the Nigerian proverb says: The witch cried yesterday night and the baby died in the morning.

On 11 October 1978, the United Nations General Assembly held a special meeting to observe the International Anti-Apartheid Year where the UN Secretary-General, assisted by the Chairman of the Special Committee against Apartheid, Nigeria’s Leslie Harriman, presented gold medal for distinguished service in the struggle against apartheid posthumously to General Murtala Mohammed.


-Excerpts from my upcoming book (to be published later this year, by the grace of God) to coincide with Nigeria’s 60th independence anniversary 

-Nigeria Nostalgia (FB)

Join The Conversation

What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.