Amidst preparations for the 2019 general polls came the news of the death of a foremost Nigerian nationalist and elder statesman, Alhaji Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari. The northern star and the last of the political titans of his generation passed on Friday in Abuja after a brief illness and his remains were laid to rest in his ancestral home, Shagari.
Although he died at a ripe age of 93, his passage was significant in one respect. He died in a democratic Nigeria governed by the man who overthrew his regime exactly 35 years ago.
Shagari has also joined the list of Nigerian political icons that had gone down in history as incorruptible and selfless servants of the people who did not use their position to amass riches. His likes were the first Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Malam Aminu Kano and Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto. Shehu Shagari and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa had one thing in common. The duo adopted their places of birth as their surnames.
The Nigeria’s first democratically elected president will also be remembered for his role as a statesman and father of the nation who extricated himself from the political space after his ouster at the age of 60 when most politicians are still neck deep in partisan politics.
Born in Shagari village in the present-day Sokoto state on February 25, 1925 to the family of Magaji Aliyu and Mariamu, Alhaji Shagari was the sixth child of the family. He lost his father at the age of two and was raised by his uncle. He was trained as a teacher at Kaduna Teachers’ College. Alhaji Shagari was perhaps one of the last pioneer nationalists that fought for Nigeria’s independence.
Shagari began his political peregrinations in 1954 when he won an election into the Federal House of Representatives to represent Sokoto Southwest constituency on the platform of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) after a stint as a teacher.
In 1946, he, in collaboration with other like minds, founded the political organisation known as the Youth Social Circle. He had played a pioneering role in the formation of the NPC that won the parliamentary election in 1959, having been appointed parliamentary secretary to the first Prime Minister of Nigeria, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, a year earlier.
Alhaji Shagari later became the Minister of Economic Development in 1960, Minister of Internal Affairs in 1962 and Minister of Works and Survey in 1965. Following the 1966 military coup that truncated the First Republic, Shagari returned to his homestead to manage his farm business and also showed rare humility by serving as a councillor in the defunct Sokoto Native Authority.
In 1967, he was appointed as the secretary for Sokoto Province Education Development Fund. From 1968-1969, Shagari was given a state position in the North Western State as commissioner for establishments.
He was to return to the national service under the military regime of Gen. Yakubu Gowon and served in various capacities. When the ban on politics was lifted in the build-up to the Second Republic, Alhaji Shagari set his eyes on the Senate on the platform of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) but providence had a bigger assignment for him. He was persuaded to stand as the flag bearer of the party which won the presidential election in 1979. However, his administration was toppled three months into its second term in a bloodless putsch that ushered in the regime of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari on December 31, 1983.
Shagari was conferred with the title of Turaki of the FulaSokoto Caliphate in 1962 by the Sultan of Sokoto, Siddiq Abubakar III. In addition, he held the chieftaincy titles of the Ochiebuzo of Ogbaland, the Ezediale of Aboucha and the Baba Korede of Ado Ekiti. By virtue of his position as President, he was also conferred with the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (GCFR).
During the oil boom era, Shagari made housing, industries, transportation and agriculture the major goals of his administration. In transportation, he launched some road networks across the country. He employed mechanised farming to boost agriculture as exemplified by his Green Revolution programme. This initiative favoured large scale farmers as it guaranteed massive yields. He also created a low cost housing scheme, popularly referred to as the Shagari Estates across the states.
In 1980, Shagari finished building the Kaduna refinery, which started operating that year. Also with the oil revenue, he concluded the construction of an additional steel plant and three rolling mills at Ajaokuta. He completed the Delta Steel complex in 1982, and established the Aluminum Smelter Company of Nigeria at Ikot Abasi a year later.
Tributes have been pouring in from eminent Nigerians. They are unanimous about the selfless service he had rendered to his fatherland that spanned over six decades, and above all, his meekness.
The nation will sorely miss his wise counsel particularly at this time of our democratic process.
Blueprint joins millions of Nigerians in mourning the passage of this icon. May Allah grant him Aljannah Firdaus, and his family the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss, Ameen.