Hurricane Murtala Muhammed who ruled Nigeria from July 29, 1975 – February 13, 1976, can’t be easily forgotten for his exploits within barely six months in power. He was quite controversial, especially to public servants of the time. To some, he is an incorruptible hero that would have, given the time, ridded Nigeria of the scourge of corruption that had then infected the country. To others he is an impetuous and arrogant despot, guilty of war crimes and worse. What is not in doubt, however, is the commitment he showed to the liberation struggle in Angola, Mozambique and South Africa and, to the pan- African cause, a development that made Nigeria an instant African leader, not just by its wealth and population.
Specifically, on January 3, 1976, the American Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Donald Easum, brought a letter addressed to the Nigerian head of state from the United States president, Gerald Ford. The same letter was sent to many other African leaders. Murtala considered this a contemptuous gesture – an attempt by the Americans to dictate policy regarding the Angolan liberation struggle. His federal military government took a bold and unprecedented step of releasing President Ford’s letter to the press. It also issued a strong response, calling the letter a “gross insult” and basically telling the Americans to go to hell. This event triggered Murtala’s decision to attend the OAU Extra-ordinary Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Sunday January 11, 1976 where he delivered his powerful message of hope – for the black race to the world. He pulled no punches as he railed against the forces of neo-colonialism and imperialism aiming to keep Africans in poverty and strife. In his speech, he paid special attention to the “Pretoria-Lisbon-Salisbury” axis (the governments of South Africa, Portugal and Rhodesia) and, to the United States of America who he claimed were interested in maintaining “white supremacist minority regimes” in Africa.
Unfortunately for the country, barely a month later, Murtala Muhammed was assassinated at the age of 37 during a failed military coup. Let’s read the last part of his 3, 485 word speech in which he declared to the western powers, “Africa has come of age”.
…In the circumstance, Mr. Chairman. this Assembly has before it a clear choice. It should endorse the MPLA as the only Government of Angola and invite its President, Dr. Agostinho Neto to take his place of honour among us. The Assembly should call upon the FNLA and UNITA to dissociate themselves from South Africa and lay down their arms and the OAU should use its good offices in consultation with the Angolan Government to effect national reconciliation of all the people of the country. This step is not without precedent. Nigeria recalls with tremendous pride and satisfaction the noble role, which this Organisation plays during our crisis. The effectiveness of the role of the OAU rested on three key factors:
Firstly, the insistence on non-interference by foreign powers. Secondly, the firm recognition of the Nigerian Federal Government as the only Government in the country. Thirdly, the close collaboration between the OAU Commission and the Nigerian Federal Government. The easy and unprecedented reconciliation, which has marked developments in Nigeria since 1970 is as much a tribute to the enlightened policy of the Nigerian Federal Military Government as it is a justification of the sensible approach to the OAU to the crisis. It is worth recalling that those who are now seeking to dictate a solution on Angola to the OAU were the same ‘do-gooders’ and self appointed keepers of the moral conscience of the world who condemned the OAU resolutions of 1967 and 1968 on Nigeria. They were proved wrong in Nigeria, they will be proved equally wrong on Angola.
Mr. Chairman, Africa has come of age. It is 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 out hands to make or 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 interest; 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. Nigeria has come to this Assembly determined to co-operate with you, Mr. Chairman, and with all member States to put a stop to foreign interference in our Continental matters. As an African nationalist of distinction, I trust that your wise guidance will direct our deliberations to fruitful conclusions of which our peoples will be proud. –
I thank you.
Even after General Murtala, his successor, General Olusegun Obasanjo continued with remarkable diplomatic exploits making Nigeria the authentic black race’s leader in the fight against apartheid policy in South Africa and oppression in parts of Africa. Specifically, Obasanjo nationalised the assets of British Petroleum in Nigeria and became champions of pan-African cooperation.
On that July 31, 1979 (Agence France‐Presse) dispatch The New York Times used as its page one lead under the headline, B.P.’s Nigerian Oil Nationalized on August 1, 1979, the remarkable story ran thus: Nigeria announced today that it was taking over the British Petroleum Company’s remaining stake in Nigerian oil operations because of Britain’s recent decision to, allow B.P. to sell crude oil to South Africa. A Nigerian Government statement said that the takeover of B.P.’s 20 percent equity interest in the Shell‐B.P. Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, which accounts for roughly half of Nigeria’s daily oil production of 2.4 million barrels and is the largest foreign company here, would be effective as of midnight tonight.
Associated rights to ship crude from Nigeria will be denied B.P. and the company’s 60 percent interest in B.P. Nigeria Ltd., a marketing company, is also to be nationalized.
The Nigerian Government’s statement said that the British decision on oil sales to South Africa would mean that, “North Sea oil will be released to South Africa while Nigerian oil is made to take its place in European markets.” It called the British move “a clever ruse for sending Nigerian oil to enemies of Africans in South Africa.” B.P. is 51 percent owned by the British Government…’.
Even apart from Obasanjo’s strong foreign policy in his second coming (1999-2007, there were still signs of a resurgent oil-driven foreign policy President Umaru Yar’Adua inherited and sustained. In October, 2007, Yar’Adua joined South Africa and Libya in opposing US plans to deploy Africom, its new African regional military command, on the continent. He (Ya’Adua) then asked Nigeria’s National Assembly to write off $13m of Liberia’s $43m bilateral debt after Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf withdrew her offer to host the new command. That was resourceful shortly after he assumed power. Nigerian officials were not so loud but artful in voicing their concern that Africom could be part of an American effort to exert control on West Africa’s oil-producing countries. But in confidential briefings, Nigeria had strongly hinted that it would not tolerate any foreign incursions on a vital and strategic resource in its own backyard. Who wasn’t proud of this product of good diplomacy – from the strong tower of the black race, Nigeria?
This is why last week’s undiplomatic procrastination by Nigeria’s government on the crisis at the African Development Bank (AfDB) where it is still the biggest shareholder, can be described as curious at a time the Buhari administration appears to be anxious for revival on the eve of its cross-over to its sixth year in office. The major shareholder’s dithering led to former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s strategic letter urging African leaders to prevail on the United States not to, “derail the superlative performance and vision” of the bank’s president, Dr Adewunmi Adesina. The Letter Writer-General of the Federation cautioned against railroading the AfDB’s board into observing the law in the breach. It is strange that Nigeria’s significant but belated response through the Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Hajia Zainab Ahmed appeared on the same day a former president’s more significant one was circulated. Obasanjo warned in his letter, “…if we do not rise and defend the African Development Bank, this might mean the end of the African Development Bank, as its governance will be hijacked away from Africa.”
Doubtless, Nigeria’s government should have discerned that Dr. Adesina has been a marked man for some time because of his “bad verses” to the super powers that would like to destroy or take over the bank for Africa’s development. In his speech during the launch of the Africa Economic Outlook 2020 at the Bank’s headquarters in January, Dr Adesina stated that, “Africa is where the focus of the world is right now as the growth and investment frontier.” Continuing, he averred that, “There has been China-Africa Summit, Japan-Africa Summit, India-Africa Summit, Korea-Africa Summit, Russia-Africa Summit, US-Africa Summit and several others. What do all these countries see? They see the opportunities that Africa offers.”
“With a population of 1.2 billion people that is expected to rise to 2.5 billion by 2050, a rising middle class, rapid urbanization – and a workforce that will rise from 705 million today to well over 1 billion in the next ten years – Africa offers a huge market and investment opportunities. The Africa Continental Free Trade Area makes Africa a market worth $3.3 trillion. Africa can no longer be ignored”, he said.
This narrative of a resurgent Africa isn’t really a pleasant note to the powers that are bent on pulling Africa’s developmental-strings. Last year, an article by Daniel Runde, published in The Hill, (targeted at the Congressmen) frowned at the AfDB’s efforts to increase its capital. The adversarial report called on the U.S. to seek more controlling stake in the Bank. “At the World Bank, the U.S. has 15.7 per cent of voting power and a de facto veto, and the U.S. does not hold similar veto power at the AfDB. The U.S. has 12.7 per cent of the voting power at the Asian Development Bank and 30 per cent of the voting power at the IDB, yet only has 6.649 per cent of the voting power at the AfDB”, the article read. Simply put, the U.S. needs to dictate the pace of development in the continent via the Bank.
All told, the Buhari administration should study the strategy paper of Murtala on that Super Sunday January 11, 1976 when he declared that ‘Africa has indeed come of age’. And there should be no doubt in the minds of those who want Nigeria to remain Africa’s power house that the continent can only sustain its rising status with men like Adesina who have chests as C.S Lewis would have put it. So, the AfDB’s President should not be made to perceive that Abuja dozes off on his case because he is not a Nigerian from the right region, after all. This is not about Adesina. It is about the soul of the continent, some super powers would not like to rise beyond production of raw materials, after all.