Shagari, being a man of integrity and patriotic Nigerian, was blessed by God with long life despite the vicissitudes he experienced in later years.
The first Executive President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Alhaji Usman Aliyu Shehu Shagari transited to the great beyond on Friday 28, December, 2018. Shagari died at the National Hospital, Abuja after a protracted illness. He has been buried in Sokoto according to the Islamic rites. Shagari was the President of Nigeria between October 1, 1979 to December 31, 1983. He was overthrown in a coup d’état led by the present Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari.
Shagari was a Fulani from Sokoto and enjoyed a rare privilege of acquiring western education and also being a second generation of the then Nigeria ruling elite, he undergone political tutelage under the late political leader of the North and the Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello. Shagari was a class teacherand he delved into politics at a tender age and in his early 30s,He was appointed a minister of the Federal Republic and parliamentarian during the first republic. He had the rare privilege of walking shoulder to shoulder with the great Nigerians like Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, Okotie Boh, Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe and others. Also, after the military putch of May 1966, he was equally appointed a minister under the military regime of General Yakubu Gowon.
At the inception of the 2nd republic, he teamed up with the remnants of the defunct Nigerian People Congress to birth the defunct National Party of Nigeria, NPN which eventually won the presidential election of 1979 with Shagari as its presidential candidate. As a matter of fact, providence has always been generous with Shagari and I think this is to his very end. The reaction being that, he was chosen ahead equally talented, educated and exposed contemporary like Alhaji Yusuf Maitsma Sule, Mallam Adamu Ciroma, Abubakar Olusola Saraki, among others.
The achievements of the second republic government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari could be captured from the acceptance speech of Shagari after he was renominated as the presidential candidate of NPN on June 12, 1982. According to Shagari, “it is evident to all that despite the many problems that we have faced, some inherited, other news, we have been able to make remarkable progress in the implementation of our party programmes. I may mention just a few. First of all, we have kept the country more united than ever before. We have maintained peace and stability; we have given all Nigerians a sense of belonging irrespective of political leaning, ethnic grouping or religious belief. We have laid solid foundation for a meaningful industrial take-off by building steel plants.
“This year, the first Direct reduction Steel Plant in Africa was opened in Aladja. We have also built new ports and more are under construction. More teaching hospitals have been built, while positive steps have been taken to improve the lot of workers. Now, there is a national minimum wage and a review of salaries and fringe benefits at various levels of production and service in progress. We have reintroduced free collective bargaining and recognized May as a public holiday. In fact we can claim that in the history of Nigeria the workers have never had it better than n the Administration. We are making good progress in our effort to build the Federal Capital at Abuja and we have effected a lot of improvement to the condition of our Law Enforcement Agencies.
“In those areas where we need the cooperation of other parties to implement our pledge to the electorate, for example the creation of new states we have taken the initiative and provided effective leadership. Upon our initiative, positive steps have been taken and there is every hope that new states will be created by October, 1983. In pursuit of participatory democracy, we have continued to guarantee the freedom of the Press, and maintained the independence of the judiciary. In short, we have watered the tree of democracy which today is flourishing in our country, without bloodshed and without prejudice.
“Mr. Chairman, I am proud to say to you and to the whole world that we have been able with God’s help, within thirty three months of our taking office, to solve what were considered by many people as most difficult questions. The ill-feelings of civil war and of the February 13 event have been finally buried. Both Mr. Gowon and Mr. Ojukwu are free citizens, free to return and to live in their father land. Another difficult area is the sharing of revenue among the components of the Federation. These and many other problems and promises have been vigorously tackled with a great deal of success. We have a catalogue of achievements and a few setbacks, but such setbacks are due to no fault of ours. The current economic setbacks we are experiencing are due largely to global recession over which nobody has any control.”
A school of thought opined that there was prolificacy in the time of Shagari due to free flow of petrol dollar accruing to the nation. As a result the cabals controlling Shagari government used the opportunity at their closeness to Shagari to award oil blocks to themselves, import license to cronies and friends, and majority began to buy operate jets. At that time we saw champagne that we re-customized for some NPN leaders.The economy soon began to show signs of recession. At that time the Sage, Obafemi Awolowo, in a letter to Shagari in 1982 warned him on impeding economic doom for the country but the sycophants around Shagari waved the warning of the sage as ranting of a confused mind. The truth letter surfaced and what follows was the declaration of austerity measure in Nigeria in late 1982.
By early 1983, Shagari government had become unpopular in most parts o the nation and as the parties went to polls in mid 1983, the ruling party resulted to rigging in order to control power and many other power at the centre and some states. The result to rigging was resisted in some which went up in flames. An example is old Ondo State. The arson and violence which erupted after the election and disillusionment in the nation forced the beret Generals to intervene on December 31, 1980 to put an abrupt end to Shagari’s second term and the 3rd republic in Nigeria.
Shagari, being a man of integrity and patriotic Nigerian, was blessed by God with long life despite the vicissitudes he experienced in the later years of his life. There is no doubt that before his death, he must have been sad about the turn of events in the country which was declared by International Organization as the centre of poverty in the world! Present crop of politicians have lessons to learn from Shagari’s life and time most importantly as 2019 election is drawing near. Our leader should be careful of sycophants and book lickers and cabals who would advise them to cling to power at all cost.
People’s voice must be respected in democracy. Power belongs to the people and they should be allowed to exercise this without hindrance. As John F. Kennedy said in 1962, “those who make peaceful change impossible make violence change inevitable”. May the soul of Shagari rest in peace.
Adegbite writes via [email protected]