By Tajudeen Sowole
Four decades after the assassination of former Head of States, General Murtala Mohammed, a memorial exhibition and lecture in his honour have generated reflection on the worth of selfless leadership.
Held at the National Museum Onikan, Lagos, the exhibition titled ‘Our Hero Past: General Murtala Ramat Mohammed’ – currently showing – is a rejuvenated and expanded version of the permanent display by Nigerian Government. Still standing as the iconic object of the exhibition, is the Mercedes Benz car in which the late head of state was assassinated on February 13, 1976.
For a nation currently on a journey towards rebirth, the occasion of the 40th anniversary of General Mohammed death should have provided for mass reflection of the people. Sadly, the period coincided with celebration of falsehood and distortion known as Valentine’s Day, which took attention of the people, particularly the youth from the true virtue of leadership that the late Mohammed stood for.
While government-organised events in Lagos and the Federal Capital territory, Abuja in honour of Mohammed were faintly heard, the hypes about Valentine’s Day took over the newspapers and airwaves of the Nigerian media.
However, for those who cherished the virtue of true leadership, the 40th anniversary of General Mohammed was worth the gathering at Onikan, a significant neigbhood where the late head of state was assassinated. Guest Speaker at the event, Ambassador Prince Adegboyega Christopher Ariyo, who is a former Nigerian High Commissioner to Namibia noted how General Mohammed gave new direction to governance before he was assassinated on February 13, 1976. Also, the daughter of the late head of state, Mrs Aisha Mohammed Oyebode who is the Chief Executive Officer, Muritala Mohammed Foundation explained the importance of the anniversary in Nigeria’s potentials to greatness.
In his four and half page lecture titled The Life and Times of Late General Murtala Muhammed: Any Lesson for Contemporary Nigeria?, Prince Ariyo, among other commendations, argued that the late head of state gave Nigeria “the missing leadership qualities” that the people needed. The former Ambassador added: “He gave new dynamism to the pursuit of the essence of governance in the national interests. Fulfillment of the spirit and letter of the social contract between the leader and the led was given new meaning.”
Speaking on what he considered as the golden era of Nigeria’s foreign policy, Prince Ariyo traced the nation’s achievement to the leadership quality of Mohammed: “though geographically in West Africa, Nigeria became a member of the frontline States of Southern Africa – Those medling in African Affairs were told to keep away.” The former Ambassador recaaled that a phrase Africa has come of age speech in Addis Absba “was a clear signal that Nigeria had the resources tend her res future in dignity and would not take any nonsense.”
The exhibition, Our Hero Past… is a tripartite project of National Commission For Museums and Monuments (NCMM), ikoyi-Obalende LCDA and Murtala Mohammed Foundation. From her Goodwill Message, Mrs Oyebode listed quite a number of benefits of the 40th memorial exhibition. Among such benefits, she said, “it allows us to celebrate the contributions of Late General Mohammed to the project of nation building for which he was very passionate; to highlight, once more, the very ideals eschewed by Late General Mohammed to the project of nation building for whic and on which the Foundation is founded.”
Earlier in his Welcome Address, the Director-General, NCMM, Mallam Yusuf Abdallah Usman had explained that the exhibition “is the humble attempt” of the government agency to raise awareness, celebrate and promote the ideals for which Muhammed died “as a befitting epitaph for the fallen patriot.”
Usman listed among several achievements of the late head of state, the creation of additional seven states and conception of the proposal for the movement of the Federal Capital from Lagos to Abuja. Usman recalled that the official car of Mohammed in which he was assassinated “has been under the care and preservation of the NCMM since the brutal murder.” He stressed that the Mercedes Benz car “has become one of Nigeria’s priceless antiquities, and available for viewing and education of our visitors.” Usman disclosed that to further place Mohammed in the rightful place of Nigeria’s past heroes and promote the ideals for which he died, “his tomb has been proposed by NCMM as a national monument.”
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, who was represented by the Director-General, Centre for Black African and Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC), Ferdinand Anikwe described the tenure of the late head of state as having a “record that is difficult to surpass.” The minister added that “the exhibition is a challenge to all to rid Nigeria of corruption, nepotism and keep the nation as one.”
Apart from the exhibition, the cenotaph of Mohammed in Lagos Island, according to Toyin Caxton-Martins, Executive Secretary, Ikoyi-Obalende, LCDA, Eti-0sa, , will be improved as a monument. The council boss had earlier added her voice to the growing importance of keeping Nigeria as a major lesson to pick from the memorial exhibition and lecture.
Also, a commemorative postage stamp in the honour of Mohammed was launched by Nigerian postal Post during the exhibition and lecture.