Nigeria lost a humble and patriotic leader in the death of former Nigerian President, Alhaji Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari, who died on December 28, 2018 at the age of 93. The deceased was born on February 25, 1925 in the Northern Shagari village in Sokoto State. Among others, he attended Sokoto Middle School, Kaduna College and the Teachers Training College, Zaria.
The late former president worked briefly as a teacher before entering politics in 1951. In a political career that spanned about 32 years, the Second Republic first executive president of Nigeria bestrode the political scene like a colossus. He started his political career as the Secretary of the Northern People’s Congress, (NPC) in Sokoto. Later, he was elected as a member of the House of Representatives in 1954 representing Sokoto West.
In 1958, he became the Parliamentary Secretary to the late Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, and Minister for Commerce and Industries. He worked in the ministries of economic development, pensions, internal affairs and works until 1966. Shagari served as a federal minister and federal commissioner from 1958-1975.
With the fall of the First Republic, he returned to his village to become the Secretary for Sokoto Province Education Fund and subsequently as Commissioner for Establishments in North-Western State. He returned to the centre in 1970 and served as the Federal Commissioner for Economic Development, Rehabilitation, and Reconstruction, and later became the Commissioner of Finance. During his tenure as the Commissioner of Finance, Shagari was also a governor for the World Bank and a member of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) committee of twenty.
His emergence as the presidential candidate of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in 1978 amidst other aspirants such as the late Umaru Shinkafi, Ali Ciroma and Umaru Dikko caused a stir. In spite of that, he won the election. His reign witnessed impressive strides in sectors such as housing, transportation, industries and agriculture.
He built good roads across the country and initiated a programme to mechanise agriculture. Shagari created low cost housing schemes and completed the Kaduna refinery in 1980. He also concluded the construction of an additional steel plant and three rolling mills at Ajaokuta. He completed the Delta Steel Complex in 1982. In 1983, Shagari created the Aluminum Smelter Company of Nigeria at Ikot Abasi. Curiously, some of these projects have been abandoned by successive administrations.
The fall in oil prices, which began in 1981, forced his government to launch an Economic Stabilization Programme to safeguard the country’s economy and steer it towards growth. Due to his government’s “austerity measures”, allegations of corruption and the shoddiness of the conduct of the 1983 polls, his government was overthrown by the military in December 1983.
Shagari will be remembered for his humility, tolerance, assiduity and vision. The glowing tributes from many Nigerians and world leaders since his passage are fitting testimonies to his statesmanship. As one who took over the reins of leadership nine years after the fratricidal Nigerian Civil War, he understood the need for national unity and vigorously pursued it in his policies.
He was a democrat, a bridge builder and a stickler for the rule of law. He who believed that power belongs to the people. Out of power, he maintained a low profile and avoided controversy.
We urge Nigerians, especially the politicians to emulate the sterling qualities of the departed elder statesman and compatriot. There is no doubt that Nigeria urgently needs selfless and patriotic leaders now more than ever before. The Federal Government should immortalize him. We commiserate with his family, the people of Sokoto State and the Federal Government on the irreparable loss. His death, undoubtedly, will open a fresh vista for the reappraisal of the nation’s values and goals. He was survived by two wives, many children, grand children and great grand children. May Allah grant his soul eternal repose.