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February 13, 2006

God is angry with Nigeria, says Ajoke Mohammed, 30 years after her husband’s death

Getting an interview with the widow of the former Nigerian head of state, the late General Murtala Ramat Muhammed is like the camel passing through the eyes of the proverbial needle. Tough.

Monday, February 13, 2006

At her Cooper road residence, Ikoyi, Lagos, the mother of six and grandmother first turns down your request and directs you to her daughter at the Murtala Muhammed Foundation office on Osborne road.

But ma, it’s you I want to talk to, the reporter pleads. And in a calm voice, she replies: “She is my daughter and the executive secretary of the foundation, please talk to her.”
Aishat Oyebode, her first child turns out to be more open. The reporter persisted and six hours later, Ajoke Muhammed also opened up.

Her story is that of mixed blessings. The bad times remind her of the day exactly 30 years ago when her husband, Murtala Ramat Mohammed was gunned down by assassins, the death of her first son Zakari about 20 years later, and also the demise of her daughter Aishat’s first husband. On the other hand, are the happy moments she shares with the children and her grandchildren.

First you want her to talk about her husband’s selfless service to the nation and the fact that he did not believe in acquiring material things for himself. But all she says in reply is “you are right”. You press further, requesting for a flashback to the events of February 13, 1976, but again she discharges the question with a wave of the hand.

In a subtle way, you try to talk about her garden, the family, challenges and other issues. She softens a bit, and gives you a glimpse, just a little peek, into her world.

30 years after
We will have prayers at the remembrance cenotaph, and there will be lectures in Abuja on Tuesday. At home and at work, my husband was one and the same person. His behaviour at work and home were the same. He was a firm person, upright and had a great sense of humour.

That was a military dispensation. In his time, things were different and he could do things at his own pace. But in a democracy, it is different. You cannot go ahead and do things on your own. Things are also different now…They are also doing very well now. Ribadu is the man after my heart. I believe that if they allow them to do it, corruption would reduce.

Challenges I face
It is the normal challenges that one parent faces, be it a man or a woman. There were certain limitations. Sometimes, I don’t know if I should rejoice about the achievements or I should leave that for the children. A few years ago my occupation was a mother. I think I have played that role well and that is an achievement.

My daily life
It depends. Before, I used to get to the garden as early as 8 am. Now, I take it easy and it is likely that I would be at the garden around 11 a.m if I am in town. It is a plan that I have been working on for a long time. Sometimes, my attention would be on a new plant. What we do in the garden is a lot of conservation, which is the mandate of the botanical garden.

We look for plants on the red list and they are either endangered of facing extinction. And so we work in collaboration with other agencies, universities and research institutes. There are times when we look for the seeds, plant them and put them back.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, first female president in Africa
The news was wonderful. I prayed hard for her to win. It is long overdue. We need it. When the men get together, all they do is to fight. Unfortunately, when there is famine or HIV, more women die. Now, with the inauguration of Sirleaf in Liberia, things would start to change. If we can have it in Liberia, why not in Nigeria?

I believe that when the times comes for a woman to be president in our country, the men will allow it. So far, no woman has tried really hard. I know that there is the complaint about finance and that women are not rich. But I believe that if we play better politics, we would get there.

Political ambition
I am not a politician. I am too frank to be a politician. I try to be a bit diplomatic but you need more than this.

I am not a politician but from what I see as a Nigerian citizen, there is more of indiscipline, corruption, non-chalant way of doing things and more decay. My husband advocated that people should be the architect of their own fortune. If they do not tolerate corrupt politicians they would not be there.

The plane crash
I was in Lagos when I heard of the two crashes. The first one was really traumatic for most of us. A friend of ours, Mrs. Lanre Ojora lost a daughter, Bimbo. It was so traumatic. So many lives lost. I knew the late Waziri Mohammed, he was a friend to my boys. We were phoning everywhere. First, they said half of the people on board had survived, so there was hope but later we realised that they all died.
I was in my garden when my driver came to tell me about the second crash. He said there was another crash. The first thing that crossed my mind is that God is annoyed with Nigeria. Most of the things that happened to us are carelessness. So, why won’t God be angry with us?

People do not care about what happens to other people. That has to change. When you throw stones in the market, you don’t know where it would land. A lot of people try to reap where they did not sow. First, their children do not live well, they become all sorts of miscreants and you don’t know how far they can go.

Every Nigerian should endeavour to be his brother’s keeper. We should think of the effect it would have on others before we do it. Can you imagine how our country would be if we all do this?

Death of Stella Obasanjo
It really upset me because she was close to us. She was a nice lady. Anytime something is happening in the house she must come. We have known one another for many years. We met since she got married to President Obasanjo. She was a respectful woman.

Health routine
I do a lot of walking around in the garden. I do not have the strength to exercise. I spend my leisure also in the garden and read books by philosophers. I find a lot of things that relax the mind while reading these books.

Posted by Publisher at February 13, 2006 06:28 AM

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