Shagari At 90
AS Nigeria grapples with a crisis of leadership, the 90th birthday anniversary of former president, Alhaji Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari, especially the aftermath of the celebrations which attracted an array of former heads of state and dignitaries, offers Nigerians an auspicious moment to reflect on the quality of leadership this country direly needs.
Since his government was overthrown in a military coup d’etat on December 31, 1983, Shagari has been living a life of modesty and exemplary dignified silence, and making only comments that are geared towards national integration and unity.
He has witnessed, acted on, and presided over some of the good and not too cheery parts of Nigeria’s chequered political history. Notwithstanding the moral odour of the public space in which he acted, Shagari’s humility, sense of collaboration and integrity had stood out like a prideful Rose flower amongst a circle of thorns, thereby making his life an open book.
One of his enduring enviable qualities is that, at 90, Shagari still has the gracious gifts of health and wisdom to serve the country. Although he is rarely seen in public engagements, Shagari is a respected member of the Council of the Sultanate of Sokoto, where he renders advisory services everyday. He also regularly attends the National Council of State meeting, where he deploys experience, wisdom towards the cause of nationalism. Not many elderstatesmen have the privilege of unsoiled personal life; one characterised by popular acclaim of wisdom and personal dignity. Yet, in spite of his solemn and clerical mien, Shagari is a very accessible person, outgoing and accommodating. He is strong and healthy both in mind and body.
Born on February 25, 1925 in Shagari village in present day Sokoto State, young Shehu had early education in rudimentary Quranic education before he proceeded to Sokoto Middle School and later Kaduna College. On passing out from Kaduna College, he became a science teacher at his alma mater the Sokoto Middle School, and thereafter was posted to Zaria Middle School. For most part of the mid1940s, Shagari remained a dedicated and versatile teacher, and rising to become the head teacher of a primary school in Argungu in the present Kebbi State.
Contrary to speculation that Shagari hopped from the position of a common school teacher to become a presidential aspirant in 1979, Shagari’s sojourn in politics is an illustrious career built upon rock-solid grassroots endorsement. As the rise of nationalism took over the global world order, Shagari switched to politics, having formed the Sokoto Youth Social Circle with Mallam Gambo Abuja, to mobilize youths in the Sokoto caliphate. As this group grew influential, it attracted the attention of the northern powers like Sir Alhaji Ahmadu Bello. Before long, the Youth Social Circle fused with other northern political groups to form the Northern People’s Congress, which later became the major political party in the north.
In 1954, he won a seat at the general election to represent Sokoto Southwest Constituency, and four years later, he was appointed parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. In 1960, he was appointed Minister of Economic Development, and then Minister of Internal Affairs in 1962. In 1965 he was Minister of Works and Survey (1965), until January 15, 1966, when a bloody military coup cut short that regime. When the military government of Gen. Yakubu Gowon took over after a counter-coup, Shagari was appointed Commissioner of Economic Affairs and later Commissioner of Finance.
At the birth of the Second Republic in 1979, a reluctant Shagari emerged the presidential candidate of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), won the election and was sworn-in on October 1 that year. Whilst his government was later characterised by political brigandage and profligacy, at the onset of the second term which he won in equally controversial circumstances, he seemed to have assembled the best set of Nigerians into his cabinet, suggesting that he was willing to change track and tactics to move the nation in the right direction.
All things considered, he could be said to be an embodiment of humility and decency; and one who was unencumbered by the brigandage that dogged the Second Republic. He neither schemed, nor bulldozed his way to seek power for its sake. One of the lessons from his life is that, the real leader is one who is neither vengeful nor intimidating, but one whose altitude is determined by his attitude; one who has been elected by destiny to take responsibility for a people.
Shagari’s dignified composure and sagely attention to the many maladies afflicting the country, has, no doubt been an invaluable counsel to the promotion of national unity.
Politicians and those who seek leadership positions should see in Shagari’s life an open book from which to learn the wit and wisdom of national integration. Indeed, even older generations of leaders, rather than burn themselves out straddling the political space with younger aspirants, should, like Shagari, cultivate the disposition of statesmanship and maintain an eloquent taciturnity of being kingmakers and oracles of the polity. To many citizens who are distraught and overwhelmed by the vicissitudes of Nigeria’s rudderlessness as well as those who are plundering the nation’s resources to amass needless and scandalous wealth, Shagari’s life is a lesson in contentment and serenity.