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If there was an embodiment of statesmanship and gentlemanliness, Alhaji Shehu Shagari could be regarded as that. A typology of the cap with many feathers; an academic and intellectual, a traditional ruler, a religious leader, an administrator, a politician, a civil servant and the many more terms that could be attributed to this man. A man that was at the helm of affairs of a nation and yet consistently shied away from the flashes of camera, the spotlight and the Paparazzi. One who was both judicious with his words, yet exuded confidence and uttered wisdom at every ‘spillage’ of words; not so verbose but yet, expressing the body language of a true patriot and nationalist. With a disposition that says, “What is the wisdom in saying so much, when the little said has so much wisdom already?” A man that was the typical example of ‘started from the bottom to the top’, or the proverbial ‘from grass to grace’. The evasiveness of the adequate words to describe him; Humble man, gentle heart, loving persona. What else could be said? Hardly would much words suffice. A man that is hardly ever evil spoken of; loved by many, hated by some, respected by all; Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari!

Shagari: the Rising of the ‘Great Son’

Officially referred to as Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari, but popularly called Shehu Shagari or just Shagari, The man was born on the 25th of February 1925, to the family of Aliyu and Mariamu in a Northern Nigerian village called Shagari, in Sokoto state precisely. The village was founded by his great Grand Father, Ahmadu Rufa’I, who was the village head then.[1] The man, Shagari was born into a family that depended on farming, trading and pastoralist lifestyles, though his father had to eventually relinquish most of his trading activities because of the traditional injunction that village heads or traditional rulers must not engage in trading or participate in business activities.[2]

Shagari’s education started with Quranic schooling. He proceeded thereafter to a neighbouring town to live with relatives; there he attended Yabo Elementary School from 1936-1940, and then went to Sokoto for middle school, then attended Kaduna college from 1941-1944.

Shagari: Teacher, Ruler, Leader, Administrator

Teacher: Shagari was a student of the Teachers’ Training College in Zaria, Kaduna state, Nigeria from 1944 to 1952. After his matriculation, he became a teacher in the Sokoto province. Shagari was also a member of the Federal Scholarship Board from 1954 to 1958.

Ruler: Shagari was made the Turaki of the Fula Sokoto Caliphate in 1962, by the then Sultan of Sokoto, Siddiq Abubakar III. The title Turaki means an Officer in the Court. By implication, the Sultan’s court at the Palace of Sokoto (a similar position with the Knighthood in the United Kingdom). In addition, he held the Chieftancy titles of the Ochiebuzo of Ogbaland, the Ezediale of Aboucha and the Baba Korede of Ado Ekiti.

Leader:  Shagari was a leader at different levels of life. At the onset of his engagement in administration, he was the secretary of the Northern People’s Congress in Sokoto (from 1951 to 1956). He was a member of the National Assembly in 1954, the Parliamentary secretary to Nigeria’s first and only Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, and also served as the Minister of Commerce and Industries(1959-1960), Minister of Economic Development (1960), Minister of Pensions (1960-1962), minister of internal affairs (1962-1965), and minister of works (1965-1966).

Administrator: Alhaji Shehu Shagari was also the secretary of the Sokoto Province Education Development Fund (1967), and Commissioner of Establishments of North Western states (1968-1969). At another time, he was Federal Commissioner for Economic development, rehabilitation and construction (1970-1971), Federal Commissioner (now called Minister) of Finance (1971-1975). During this time in Finance, he was also the governor of the World Bank and a member of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Committee of Twenty.[3]

Shehu Shagari was a founding member of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in 1978. The Party chose Him as the Presidential candidate for the 1979 elections, which he won and became the President and head of state of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Shagari: Personal Life, Awards and Demise

As the saying goes, ‘No man is an Island’. Shagari was a family man; supporting him through this journey were his three wives: Amina, Aishatu and Hadiza, and his many children. Shehu Shagari lived a very quiet life after retirement. He retired back to his village, Shagari to live and continue farming. His public appearances were usually only during functions of National interests or the National Executive Council meetings which comprised of all heads of State. Being a past president, he had the award of the Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (GCFR).

On the 28th of December 2018, Shehu Shagari died at the National Hospital in Abuja at the age of 93, after a brief Illness.

[1] Nuhu Koko, Abubakar Atiku Alhaji Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari, GCFR at 83.(Kano: Triumph publishing, 2008)

[2] Shehu Shagari, Beckoned to Serve An Autobiography

[3] Wikipedia

Featured image source: Daily Post NG

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This article was first published on 7th February 2019


Jeremiah is a scholar and a poet. He has a keen eye for studying the world and is passionate about people. He tweets at @jeremiahaluwong.

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