The Regime of Murtala Muhammad

The Regime of Murtala Muhammad

The armed forces chose thirty-eight-year-old Brigadier (later General) Murtala Ramat Muhammad, a Muslim northerner, to succeed Gowon. A Hausa, trained at the British military academy at Sandhurst, Murtala Muhammad had command of federal field forces in the final phase of the civil war, including being responsible for the abortive efforts to cross the Niger River. He was not directly involved in the coup d'état that brought him to power, but he had played a prominent role in rallying northern officers behind the July 1966 coup that felled Ironsi. In a short time, Murtala Muhammad's policies won him broad popular support, and his decisiveness elevated him to the status of a national hero.

One of his first acts was to scrap the 1973 census, which was weighted in favor of the north, and to revert to the 1963 count for official purposes. Murtala Muhammad removed top federal and state officials to break links with the Gowon regime and to restore public confidence in the federal government. More than 10,000 public officials and employees were dismissed without benefits, on account of age, health, incompetence, or malpractice. The purge affected the civil service, judiciary, police and armed forces, diplomatic service, public corporations, and universities. Some officials were brought to trial on charges of corruption, and one former military state governor was executed for gross misconduct in office. Murtala Muhammad also began the demobilization of 100,000 troops from the swollen ranks of the armed forces.

Twelve of the twenty-five ministerial posts on the new Federal Executive Council went to civilians, but the cabinet was secondary to the executive Supreme Military Council. Murtala Muhammad imposed the authority of the federal government in areas formerly reserved for the states, restricting the latitude exercised by state governments and their governors in determining and executing policy. Newly appointed military governors of the states were not given seats on the Supreme Military Coucil, but instead were expected to administer federal policies handed down by Murtala Muhammad through the military coucil. The federal government took over the operation of the country's two largest newspapers, made broadcasting a federal monopoly, and brought remaining state-run universities under federal control.

Murtala Muhammad initiated a comprehensive review of the Third National Development Plan. Singling out inflation as the greatest danger to the economy, he was determined to reduce the money supply that had been swollen by government expenditures on public works. Murtala Muhammad also announced that his government would encourage the rapid expansion of the private sector into areas dominated by public corporations. He reappraised foreign policy, stressing a "Nigeria first" orientation in line with OPEC price guidelines that was to the disadvantage of other African countries. Nigeria became "neutral" rather than "nonaligned" in international affairs. The shift in orientation became apparent with respect to Angola. Nigeria had worked with the OAU to bring about a negotiated reconciliation of the warring factions in the former Portuguese colony, but late in 1975 Murtala Muhammad announced Nigeria's support for the Soviet-backed Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola--MPLA), citing South Africa's armed intervention on the side of the rival National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (União Nacional para a Indepêndencia Total de Angola--UNITA). The realignment strained relations with the United States, which argued for the withdrawal of Cuban troops and Soviet advisers from Angola. In October the Nigerian air force took delivery of Soviet-built aircraft that had been ordered under Gowon.

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