While in his third year at Government College Zaria, Kaduna, Murtala lost his dearly beloved father in 1953. Young Murtala weathers the storm and went on with determination to complete his secondary education with excellent results. With the completion of his secondary education, Murtala enlisted into the Nigerian Army in 1958.
He attended several courses outside the shores of Nigeria as an officer. Murtala trained at the Royal Military Academy in Teshi, Ghana, Sandhurst Military Academy, England, and School of Signals in Catterick, England. In Sandhurst, England, the Commandant adjudged him as “most intelligent cadet who has worked hard and well to produce an above average result. He is above average in leadership and organizing ability.”After his training, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1961 and assigned to the Nigerian Army Signals that same year. He served with the United Nations Peace Keeping Force in Congo (now Democratic Republic of Congo) as a Lieutenant upon his return to the country after an incisive training programme at Sandhurst, England. Upon his return from Democratic Republic of Congo, he was appointed Aide-de-Camp to the Administrator of the Western Region in Nigeria, where a State of Emergency had been declared. He became the officer-in-charge of the First Brigade Signal Troop in Kaduna, Nigeria in 1963. Apapa, Lagos.
By November 1965, he was made acting Chief of Signals of the Army and in January 1966, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and was the inspector of signals in Lagos. He played a prominent role in the Nigerian civil war, where he led the newly established 2nd Infantry Division for which he was made the first General Officer Commanding in August 1967. In March 1968, he was redeployed to Lagos and was appointed Inspector of Signals. In April 1968 he was promoted a Colonel.
He proceeded to the Joint Service Staff College in England in 1970 and returned in 1971 and in same year was promoted to Brigadier-General in October 1971 after the war. By 7th August 1974, he was appointed by the Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon as the new Federal Commissioner for Communications, which he combined with his military duties as Inspector of Signals at the Army Signals Headquarters in Apapa, Lagos. Following the coup against General Gowon, Murtala Muhammed was appointed as the Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on 29 July 1975 and was promoted a General in January 1976 with effect from July 1975.
Some Legacies of Murtala Muhammed included:
-The creation of seven more states
-Movement of the Federal Capital from Lagos to the present Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, a more central part of the country.
-The drafting of a new constitution
– Played a prominent role in ending apartheid in South Africa
– Liberation of African countries like Angola and Zimbabwe
-The organisation of states and national elections as prelude to a return to democratic rule on 1st October 1979
Murtala Muhammed Role in Ending Apartheid in South Africa and Liberation of Other African Nations
The government of General Murtala Muhammed played a prominent role in the direction of Nigeria’s foreign policy. He made his government’s stance known on apartheid in South Africa, the conflict in Angola and the parlous state that Africa found itself post-independence. General Murtala thus brought Africa’s most populous and one of its richest nations out of its erstwhile vacillating approach to African and foreign issues to play a more active role. Guided by pragmatism, this energetic feature of Nigeria’s diplomacy has continued even after the death of Murtala Muhammed.
Without General Murtala Muhammed, the eventual liberation of Angola, Zimbabwe, and South Africa would not have been achieved when it was. Murtala Muhammed laid the foundation, set the ball rolling and threw down the gauntlet to all those that supported tyranny and apartheid in the nations of southern Africa.
His extraordinary and dynamic foreign policy vis a vis the total liberation of our brother African nations and his unrelenting opposition and resistance to apartheid in South Africa and Rhodesia (as it was then) continued under the able leadership of his second in command, General Olusegun Obasanjo after he took over as Head of State on February 14th, 1976.
His administration has been characterised as a watershed in Nigeria’s history and his astute handling of state affairs seen as a standard in Leadership.
His wife, a Yoruba woman (with partly Fulani roots), Mrs. Hafsat Ajoke Muhammed said they met in 1961 while she was studying at the School of Dental Hygiene in Lagos. He proposed to her and they got married in Kaduna in 1963 after her studies with the union producing 6 children.
Murtala Muhammed was assassinated on February 13, 1976 in an abortive coup en route his office at Dodan Barracks Lagos.
Murtala in his service to the nation received several awards namely Forces Service Star (FSS)Forces Service Star (Nigeria), General Service Medal (GSM) General Service Medal (Nigeria), Meritorious Service Star (MSS), National Service Medal (NSM) National Service Medal (Nigeria), Republic Medal (RM).