Alhaji Ahmed Bello summed up the life and times of the former President, describing him as a simple man who became even simpler in death.
Desmond Mgboh and Tunde Omolehin, Sokoto
Until his death, only few Nigerians were aware of the presence of former President Shehu Aliyu Shagari. A far more number of Nigerians could barely account for or capture him in their imaginations. Though he had always been there, he seemed to have faded away from the thoughts of many Nigeria given his chosen selfless life ways.
In his last days, Shagari had lived a very quiet, simple and ordinary life that sharply contradicted his highly esteemed status.
Whether in his village in Shagari town or in his resident in the state capital, he lived a life away from the public glare.
Characteristically, he often retreated to his middle-class apartment, situated on Sama Road, Sokoto, and melted away. Except for few occasions, when he hosted visitors on courtesy calls, he was just there, courting a life away from earthly allures, fading away, gracefully and peacefully.
Alhaji Ahmed Bello summed up the life and times of the former President, describing him as a simple man who became even simpler in death. He was apt in his description. For such was the characterization of the first executive President of Nigeria, who passed away on Friday, December 28, 2018. Heart broken immediate neighbors believed that they lost a friend and father.To Kabiru Alhassan, a retired civil servant, who resides a few meters away from the late President’s home, Shagari was without airs and would hardly push for your attention. “I came to realize that the house of the former President is just some meters away from my own apartment after I had spent about three weeks in his neighborhood,” he stated, buttressing the fact that the late Second Republic President was a simple man:
“In fact, it was when I gave the description of my new apartment to a friend, who had sought to pay me a visit that he pointed out that the description I gave him was not too far away from the home of Shehu Shagari.
“Alhaji Shagari was hardly heard in public. He was nobody’s godfather. He did not throw his weight around for or against any government. His home was nobody’s political Mecca. He was just there, an embodiment of honour and dignity.”
“Each time some of us wanted to lobby through him for any jobs (contracts), he would never allow us to do so. He would never agree that you use his name to beat the rules or the regulations, to get things like jobs or to secure undeserved opportunities” said a relative of Shagari, who did not want his name printed.
For his grandson, Nura Mahe: “I feel much honoured to be related to someone like Alhaji Shehu Shagari because, he was an honourable man, a very distinguished nationalist. His doors were always open to everybody, irrespective of religious and tribal affiliations.
“He treated members of his family the same way he treated others. He did not discriminate among us. He was a very humble man. If you had spent a few minutes with him, you would find out all about these qualities in him.”
When death finally came
In Shakespeare’s play, Julius Ceaser, Culpurnia, Ceaser’s wife, acknowledged the time-tested fact that, “the heavens themselves blaze forth for the death of princes.”
But Shagari, a titled officer of the Sokoto Caliphate chose a simple death. There were no blazes, no trumpets nor flights of comets across the sky announcing his death on the day he died. He gave up the ghost in a simple manner at the National Hospital, Abuja.
A source told Daily Sun: “We were all there seated, when Sarkin Mafara Shagari, Alhaji Bala Shagari, came out of Intensive Care Unit to announce his passage. He died at about 6:30 pm at National Hospital Abuja, in the company of three of his children, Capt Bala Shagari, rtd, (eldest son); Aminu Shagari and SP Haruna Shagari.
“Others were the only two surviving aides of Shagari, Dr. Dalhatu Sarki Tafida his personal physician and his former ADC. In fact, Tafida came into the hospital in less than 10 minutes before Shagari answered the call to glory.”
Simple man simpler even in death
In view of his rank as the Turakin Sokoto and a member of the Sultanate Council, Shagari was entitled to be buried at Hubbare Cemetery. The cemetery has been the final resting place to members of the caliphate, including the leader of the Islamic Jihad, Shiek Usman Dan Fodio and sultans.
But typical of his ways, Shagari had requested that he should be buried at a different location. It is for this that he was buried in his not very fanciful private residence in Shagari town.
A family source told Daily Sun that this decision was that of the former president, who asked to be buried beside his son, Abdulrahman, who died years ago.
Eldest son, Bala, recounted how his father, who was also District Head of Shagari town, rejected an offer from the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Muhammadu Abubakar III, to be accorded a “royal burial” at Hubbare Cemetery:
“There was an offer from the Sultan of Sokoto that the remains of the former President be buried at the Hubbare Cemetery. But long before now, our father had willed that he should be buried beside his son, Abdulrahman, at his Shagari residence.”
At about 12:55pm, the remains of the president arrived Sultan Abubakar III International Airport, Sokoto, aboard a presidential aircraft marked 5N-FGZ. It was received by Governor Waziri Tambuwal, alongside former Governor Attahiru Bafarawa and other members of the State Executive Council. The body departed for Shagari, his hometown, in a motorcade for a journey of about 35 kilometres from the state capital. An ambulance van belonging to the NAF-119 Forward Base, Sokoto, conveyed the corpse
On arrival at about 2 00 pm, the body was received by his family members and sympathizers. The funeral prayers were led by Professor Shehu Galadanci after which, his body received the last respect by the Nigerian Army. Afterwards, his remains were committed to mother earth at about 3 00 pm.
Those at the funeral included the representative of the Sultan and the Wazirin Sokoto, Professor Sambo Wali Junaid; Bala and Federal Government delegation led by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Gida Mustapha. Also present were Ministers of Justice, Abubakar Malami; Aviation, Hadi Sirika; Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh; Education, Adamu Adamu and Minster of State, Trade and Investment, Aisha Abubakar
Governors in attendance included Tambuwal, Abdul Aziz Yari Abubakar and Atiku Bagudu of Sokoto, Zamfara and Kebbi states respectively.
Among the early callers to the elder statesman’s home included President Muhammadu Buhari. He came a day after to condole with the family. His condolence message was read by Tambuwal, who described the late president as a “landmark figure.” He added that he was virtually the nation’s last link with the First Republic. He promised that the Federal Government would, in due course institute a suitable memorial in honour of the late former president.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan described Shagari as an amiable leader who meant well for Nigeria. He was accompanied by the running mate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Obi.
He said: “A unique habit of the late former President which only those who had interacted with him would tell you is he was a very simple and humble man in spite of the various positions he held.
“He possessed a very clean and good heart which he had shown clearly in life time thorough his various engagements and activities.” He implored his family members to be happy that their father had impacted positively on many Nigerians.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo described the deceased as a man with a forgiving spirit. He added that Shagari was a man of simplicity, faith in God, commitment to his fatherland.