Shagari: Exit of a humble statesman

January 2, 2019 Nigeria , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS

Reuters photo



Abdulyassar Abdulhamid



To sum up the feeling of this irreparable loss, as the Australian author and broadcaster, Clive James would say, that Alhaji Shehu Shagari, the first civilian and only Nigerian executive president of the Second Republic who passed away on Friday December 28, 2018, has made his exit, there is no solace except in Martin Luther King Jr.’s memorable quote: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools” that is evident in Shagari administration’s determination to translate that slogan of “One nation, one destiny” into reality.


That was a very good political gesture by the Shagari administration to bridge the ever widening gap between different ethnic groups created by the Nigerian civil war of 1967, expunge the acrimony that overwhelmed the first republic and to reintegrate the various ethnic groups that were, perhaps still are, going for the jugular of one another.


This was a wake-up call to all Nigerians to face the reality then that was contained in his 1979 inaugural speech; and which is what the country, still, is lacking. Many, unfortunately, misinterpret “nationalism” as a natural phenomenon. They assume that Nigeria can effortlessly be great without hard work or determination. This misconception has been conniving unfailingly with other factors to throw a monkey wrench into the wheels of national development. This is what President Shagari was there to right.


What one had in the ex-president was a true, forthright and dedicated leader, who had a strong belief in one Nigeria. He was an epitome of real politics, a true democrat who never bore any grudge even against those who toppled his government and incarcerated him.


Born on February 25, 1925, in the northern Shagari Village, Sokoto State, Shagari was the son of a village head, Aliyu, who relinquished some of his trading activities, as he took up the traditional title of village head. His father died five years after his birth.


The young Shagari started his early Islamic education in a Qur’anic school and sometimes thereafter, he went to live with his relatives in a nearby town, where he continued his studies.


Between 1931 and 1935, the late Shehu Shagari attended Yaba Elementary School. He went to Sokoto for his middle school from 1936 to 1940; and some years after, he attended Kaduna College between 1941 and 1944.


In the year 1944, Shehu Shagari enrolled in the Teachers Training College, in Zaria, Kaduna and graduated in 1952. From 1953 to 1958, Shagari got a job as a visiting teacher at Sokoto Province. He was also a member of the Federal Scholarship Board from 1954 to 1958.


In 1954, at the relatively younger age of 29, Shehu Shagari was elected into his first political office as a member of the Federal House of Representatives representing Sokoto West. With his ocean of experiences in public service, Shagari served seven times in ministerial or cabinet posts as either a federal minister or federal commissioner from 1958 to 1975.


Shehu Shagari was a founding member of the National Party of Nigeria in 1978. In 1979, he was fielded by the party as the presidential candidate for the general elections that year, which he won to become the president and head of state of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.


In 1983 Shagari ran for a second term and won the general election, but as fate had it, he was toppled by the Major General Buhari-led military coup based on allegations of corruption and electoral fraud in the 1983 general elections. He was later cleared of corruption allegations but was banned from active politics for life.


To delve into his literary world, the late General Mamman Vatsa translated Shagari’s compelling literary work from Hausa to English. It was a poetry book of sixty-four pages entitled Song of Nigeria and falls into the genre of historical poetry. One needs not be told of content and the form.


Till his death, Shehu Shagari was considered the most respected elder statesman, a detribalized national leader and the most experienced politician in Nigeria’s recent history, as S. A Tanko Yakasai would say.


In the cause of writing this somehow belated tribute to the former president, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, I had the singular privilege of exclusively interviewing A. A. Tanko Yakasai OFR, who was the special assistant to the ex-president on National Assembly Liaison, to hear as they say, from the horse’s mouth.


“The late Alhaji Shehu Shagari,” he said, “was a complete statesman. He was patient, diligent, humble and had respect for everyone. To the best of my knowledge, I do not know someone who held as many public offices as Shagari. He had a very good plan for the country; but, unfortunately, his dream was cut short.”


“The late president will be remembered best for his housing scheme and Green Revolution. His political party, National Party of Nigeria (NPN), had house and a cob of maize on its emblem. The house symbolized a low-cost housing scheme and the maize symbolized agriculture. The housing scheme was to help the less-privileged Nigerians to own houses and be freed from the shackles of tenement. The houses were built in almost all local government areas back then. The Green Revolution was to improve agricultural productivity, create jobs, reduce importation of rice and make Nigeria self-reliant.”


He further disclosed that what stood the late Shagari out among his peers was his nationalistic vision. The politics then was placed upon a solid foundation of nationalism. When he became president and commander-in-chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, his political party NPN had only one-third of the members of the National Assembly. In four years of his first tenure only two of his motions were dissented by the house due to some errors made by the executive arm, which were later assented to after some amendments.


Out of the oil revenue, Shagari finished building the Kaduna refinery in 1980 which started operations in the same year, he completed the construction of an additional steel plant and three rolling mills at Ajaokuta, the Delta Steel complex in 1982, Katsina Rollong Mill and 1983 he established Aluminum Smelter Company of Nigeria at Ikot Abasi, Akwa Ibom State.


When paying this tribute to this humbly true leader, I find it worthwhile to quote from his enriched October 1, 1979 inaugural speech to remind the reader of what President Shagari administration stood for:


“National integration requires hard work. There [is a] need for a dedicated leadership and citizenry imbued with faith to cultivate a wide-spread national feeling for one Nigeria. I am convinced that these goals are attainable because we are at this time opening more auspicious circumstances. Surely, we have learnt great lessons from the past and we have no need to permit divisive factors to continue to undermine our national well-being. I urge all Nigerians to join me in working with resolution for the attainment of these goals. The first thing is for all those who have participated in the recent elections to work together, whether they won or lost…”


Ultimately, as I register my heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family of the ex-president, and Nigerians too, I say farewell to this great leader, a teacher, poet, intellectual and politician par excellence. Indeed there was a leader. And I invoke the Almighty Allah for the repose of his gentle soul in Jannatul Firdaus and give his family the courage and fortitude to bear this great loss. Ameen.





Abdulyassar Abdulhamid

Abdulyassar Abdulhamid, Kano based, is graduate of B.A English from Bayero University, Kano. He is a budding writer, social analyst, freelancer at Sunrise Language Practitioner (SLP) and regular contributor to Nigerian dailies. 
His writings have appeared in The Communicator, a magazine published by Kano State Polytechnic and in Dailytrust, The Triumph and The cable newspapers. He has a strong interest in literary theory.

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