Nigeria lost one of her finest soldiers ever with the passage of John Nanzip Shagaya, who died in a ghastly motor accident on the Jos-Langtang highway on February 11. We express our heartfelt condolences to his immediate family, the people of Plateau State and the entire nation, whom he served with integrity, diligence and patriotism during a most distinguished military career and other remarkable public service. He was, indeed, a gentleman officer par excellence. Born on September 2, 1942, Shagaya joined the Nigerian Army in 1964 after attending the Nigerian Military School, Zaria, between 1960 and 1964. He had, before then, had his early education at the Junior Primary School at Nyer and the Sudan United Mission Primary School, Langtang (1952 and 1959.)
Shagaya, who passed on aged 75, had his first military posting at the Nigeria Army Corps and just two years after, he participated as a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) in the counter-coup of July 1966, when he served with the 2nd Reconnaissance Squadron in Abeokuta. Those were difficult days in the trajectory of the country, and the Civil War that soon broke out in 1967 found Shagaya serving with the famed 3rd Marine Commando as 2nd Lieutenant. By dint of his hard work and tenacity, Shagaya rose through the ranks in the military and earned very important positions. He was Military Secretary at the Army Headquarters and General Officer Commanding (GOC), 1st Mechanised Infantry Division of the Nigerian Army.
Under the Military Presidency of General Ibrahim Babangida, he was appointed as the Minister of Internal Affairs and Member of the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) which was the apex ruling body of the then military government. Brigadier General Shagaya also served as a Member of the Police Council (PC) and chaired the very important Committee on Nigeria’s membership of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) in 1987. That was a testing assignment, considering the widespread controversy that Nigeria’s membership of the religion-based organisation generated and its implication for a self-professed secular state like ours.
In his position as the Minister of Internal Affairs, General Shagaya served with distinction at the Nigeria Boundary Commission (NBC) and, in this role, helped to resolve several boundary disputes with our neighbouring countries, notably Benin and Chad. His service as Field Commander of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOMOG) Peacekeeping Force in Liberia was short. Posted to the high command in September 1993 at the height of the June 12 crisis, he was abruptly recalled by General Sani Abacha who took over from the Interim Government of Chief Ernest Shonekan in November 1993. The highly respected military officer was a victim of the high-wired military politics of the time as he was not only retired as a Major General, but also demoted to his previous rank of Brigadier General.
Out of the military, Shagaya took to politics. He was a foundation member of the United Nigeria Peoples Party (UNPP) at the commencement of the current democratic dispensation in 1999 and sought to represent the people of Plateau South in the Senate under its umbrella. He was unsuccessful in this quest. He failed again in 2003 when he contested for the same seat in the Senate, this time under the auspices of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).
Undeterred, Shagaya threw his hat into the ring once more in 2007. He contested and won the seat that he had always sought in the Senate, but this time under the banner of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Recalling the sad events surrounding the June 12 crisis which led to his premature retirement from the Nigerian Army, Colonel Dangiwa Umar (rtd) remarked that Shagaya was one of the best officers ever produced by the Nigerian military and that he would have made a great Chief of Army Staff (COAS). This was a great compliment to his integrity and professionalism.
Shagaya teamed up with the then Candidate Muhammadu Buhari and the then opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) in the fight to wrest power from the ruling PDP and succeeded. His appointment to head the Board of the Nigeria Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) at Kuru was not only a reward for his loyalty, but also a recognition of his patriotism, competence and outstanding public service.
Shagaya distinguished himself in other areas of life. He was a Director of the now defunct Lion Bank between 1998 and 2003. He also authored three books covering diverse areas of his career in the military, public administration and policy making. He died at a time when his vast experience and wealth of knowledge are needed to resolve the many challenges confronting the country. His life of remarkable service to the country is, indeed, worthy of emulation.