The death of Second Republic President, Alhaji Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari, on Friday at age 93, has surged back fond memories of the glorious years of dignity, love and respect for selfless service to our beloved country by our leaders of yesteryears.
Any Nigerian as old as this country will ever remember the eulogies enjoyed by the likes of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto and Premier of Northern Nigeria; Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Premier of the Western Region, Prime Minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, Alhaji Aminu Kano and the like.
Alhaji Shehu Shagari and his contemporaries like the late Dan Masanin Kano, Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule (of blessed memory), rightly fall among these great legends having gone through interesting political apprenticeship under these gladiators. Simply put, Shagari’s death has robbed our country of a patriot, elder and statesman who maintained a simple, sincere, humane and realistic stance in his approach to national issues throughout his life.
From the outpouring of tributes, it is clear that former President Shagari did all his best to improve the lives of Nigerians when he took over the reins of power on October 1, 1979 from the military government led by former head of state, General Olusegun Obasanjo. The humility and sincerity with which he served the common good cannot be disconnected from his early beginning.
The former president, born in his hometown, Shagari, on February 25, 1925, attended Yabo Elementary School from 1931 to 1935. After his primary education at the Sokoto Middle School from 1936 to 1940, he was at the Government College, Kaduna (later renamed Barewa College, Zaria) between 1941 and 1944. After his studies, he worked as a science teacher in the late 1940s and early 1950s but the dream to serve his people and advance their welfare pushed the young teacher to join active politics. By 1951, he had become the secretary of the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) in Sokoto Province. This paved the way to his election as a member of the House of Representatives in 1954. Shagari’s sheer dedication to duty, influenced his appointment as parliamentary secretary to Nigeria’s first and only prime minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, in 1956.
He also got appointed as minister for commerce and industries (1958-1959), minister of economic development (1959-1960), minister of internal affairs (1962-65) and minister of works (1965-1966), among other key positions. With the collapse of the First Republic in January 1966, the military appointed him secretary of the Sokoto Province Education Development Fund in 1967. This was followed by yet another appointment as commissioner for establishment in the North Western State (1968-1969). He was soon elevated to the position of federal commissioner for economic development, rehabilitation and reconstruction in 1970 by General Yakubu Gowon. Other positions held by Shagari under the Gowon military regime included federal commissioner for finance and governor for the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Shagari’s marks in public service were more glaring when he served as the nation’s first executive president. During his tenure, he pursued goals and programmes crucial to food security and ethical revolution and took advantage of the rising prices of crude oil in making housing, transportation and agriculture the major objectives of his administration. It was under his leadership that several industrial projects, including the Kaduna Refinery, steel plant and rolling mills at Ajaokuta, Delta and Ikot Abasi were completed, among others.
Though accused by Second Republic politicians of corruption and other sundry crimes that attracted military intervention on December 31, 1984, the former president was never found wanting.
May his soul rest in peace.