Former President Alhaji Shehu Usman Shagari, a devout Muslim, a former school teacher, son of a farmer, trader and herder, is being remembered as a nice man, a gentle man but not a particularly strong man.
Nice, gentle and amiable – good qualities – but just short of what the opposition desired for the leader of Africa’s burgeoning colossus.
As a result, Mr. Shagari’s service to the nation from 1979 to 1983 was cut short by a coup led by military men including the current president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari.
Flags will be flown this week at half-staff for the former President, while eulogies are delivered by the current crop of political leaders. Mr. Shagari passed away on Dec. 28 at the age of 93.
“I mourn the departure of a patriot, who served Nigeria with humility, integrity and diligence,” Mr. Buhari tweeted this week. “Nigerians held him in the highest esteem even when he was out of office, until his demise, and will forever miss his wise counsels.”
Shagari had been a lawmaker, minister, and Chair of Peugeot Automobile Ltd, before becoming President at age 54. He won two elections, both of them disputed by his opponents who accused him of meekness in governing Nigeria.
His term overlapped with a punishing global glut in oil that sent prices tumbling in the early 1980s. In 1983, rioting by an extremist Islamic group in the northern city of Kano led to the deaths of thousands of civilians, 100 policeman and 35 military personnel. Fears that the group was infiltrated by “illegal aliens” produced the massive deportation of immigrants from Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Mali and Burkina Faso.
Up to two million people, many of them Ghanaians, fled the country in what was denounced in Britain as “an act of heartlessness and a failure of common humanity.” The U.S. State Department described the expulsions as “shocking and a violation of every imaginable human right”. Even Pope John Paul II called it “a grave, incredible drama producing the largest single and worst human exodus in the 20th century.”
Amnesty granted to 1,000 members of the so-called Maitatsine cult — sometimes depicted as the forerunner of Boko Haram — who had been imprisoned since 1980, created more enemies for Mr. Shagari.
Finally, it was on Mr. Shagari’s watch that the building of a new capital in Abuja was advanced to escape the chaos and tribal affiliations of Lagos. The grand project was riddled by questionable construction contracts.
Meanwhile, thousands viewed Pres. Buhari’s tweet and responses were generally dismissive. “Just a question to you sir,” tweeted Wale Popoola. “If he had all these qualities as you said, then what were your reasons for removing him from power through coup? Just asking.”
Source via Global Information Network