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Demola Olarewaju @DemolaRewaju
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Wasn’t going to say much about the person and passing of the former President Shehu Shagari beyond the perfunctory but yesterday I read a thread from someone I respect somewhat and today marks exactly 35 years since his Govt was kicked out by a coup that brought in Gen. Buhari.
First I think it’s important to say (as I’ve said before) that I understand this generation is coming into alternate historical knowledge and it feels compelled to denigrate past personalities upon discovery of their flaws - which mainstream History sometimes covers up.
For me, that epiphany came in the past especially with past Yoruba Leaders whom many in my family adored and I grew up adoring too.

But I had a mind that explored and I went in search of history as written by the people those Leaders disliked and I saw the flaws they’d hidden.
The advantage the progressive camp in Nigeria has always had - especially in the SW axis - is that they always documented their experiences and those documents became mainstream.

So if they disliked/hated someone, the records bore them witness because they put it on record.
An Akintola for example is someone I grew up disliking - but I later found out there was a lot to admire in the man and that he was for a very long time adulated by those who eventually denigrated him in historical works.

Or an example like Olaiya Fagbamigbe for instance...
Fagbamigbe was a core Awolowo supporter from Ondo who published Awo’s more famous books we call “The Three Voices” and was highly praised.

The man however fell out with Awo’s party UPN in 1983 and went to the NPN then suddenly became a demon whose name was wiped out.
So it is also with Shehu Shagari: the UPN opposition chose to see him as the embodiment of all that was evil in the Second Republic of which he was President.

Corruption, Impunity, Gbatueyoism etc are among the things the man was accused of - as APC would later do to GEJ/PDP.
Thankfully though, the record of that period can now be viewed retrospectively with the passing of time and its place in History evaluated and appreciated.

And Shagari himself wrote a book “Beckoned To Serve” - where he describes himself in his own words - and he was quite open.
It is from that book by Shagari for instance, that we know how the Northerners who have lived around the Obalende bridge for years in Lagos came there - they came as ‘protectors’ for the NPC legislators who were attacked and abused by thugs in Lagos in the 1950s.
As a person, everyone agrees (ironically the same way it is agreed on GEJ by many) that he was a good man, easy to work with, amiable and quite permissive.

No charge of corruption ever stuck on Shagari either for his time before or after office - although many were brought.
The worst anyone could say about him was that he was surrounded by corrupt people - which for me is a very subjective statement and isolatory: Corruption is endemic in Nigeria and even if you’re not corrupt, there’s a high tendency to be surrounded by corrupt people.
And as per the Second Republic, even my idol Bola Ige was charged with corruption by the Buhari regime that seized power - but it was said that he and other UPN Governors misappropriated state funds to their party coffers.

Ironically, Ige wrote about that saga with pride.
Ige would write proudly that he and the other Governors including Bisi Onabanjo who died as a result of that Buhari incarceration were not accused of personal corruption but for enriching the purse of their party, “the Great UPN”.

But this is about Shehu Shagari as I see him...
In his death, Nigeria has lost perhaps the last of the true Leaders of Old from the North and a connection between the Ideals they forged for the North pre-Independence has been severed.

Shagari was one of those who could truly say they were right there at the very beginning.
Far back as the 1940s, the North had many schools of political thought: gatherings of then young men to discuss political ideas - I’ve written once about the forgotten radicals and progressives of the North who formed the Zaria Zumuntu Association and the Bauchi Discussion Circle
Sani Darma, Abdukadiri Ajaiyi and Maitama Sule in Kano formed the Kano Youths Association, Muhammadu Sani Dingyadi also formed a group in Sokoto called Nigerian Citizens Welfare Association - the former was radical at its core while the latter tended conservative.
In Sokoto, Shehu Shagari, Ahmadu Danbaba and Ibrahim Gusau were core members of the Youths Social Circle of which a then young Ahmadu Bello was an irregular peripherial member who often came to listen to the others speak but from there perhaps developed ideas and ideals.
It was perhaps based on the recommendation of the Sardauna that Shagari later became Parliamentary Secretary to Tafawa Balewa - after having Distinguished himself as the Secretary of the NPC and won a House of Rep seat for himself.

Shagari by himself though was a renowned Leader
Following the 1965 squabble of UPGA and NNA, Balewa was called upon by Azikiwe to form a broad-based Govt and Shagari was appointed Minister of Internal Affairs in a cabinet along with the likes of AMA Akinloye, Richard Akinjide, Raymond Njoku, Adeniran Ogunsanya among others.
When that Govt was swept out by the military coup of 1966 (which was applauded by the SW media and pro-Awolowo groups), Shagari retreated quietly but was later invited to replace Awolowo as Finance Minister in the regime of Gowon after the civil war.
When Murtala Mohammed kicked Gowon out of Govt and probed his regime for corruption, 10 out of 12 Military Governors were found guilty of corruption (Oluwole Rotimi and Mobolaji Johnson found innocent and only 2 Federal Commissioners were found innocent: Shagari and Ali Monguno.
Preparatory to the return to Democracy in 1979, a Constituents Assembly was set up and each part of the country sent its best.

From the North, you had Bello Maitama Yusuf, Iya Abubakar, Musa Daggash, Shettima Monguno, Ibrahim Tahir, Ibrahim Dasuki, Olusola Saraki, Abubajar Rimi.
Also included were Ahmed Kari, Joe Garba, Suleiman Kumo, Adamu Ciroma, Bashir Tofa, Sunday Awoniyi, Kam Selem, Shehu Malami and this same Shehu Shagari.

If you weren’t at that Assembly from your zone, you weren’t really a leader - although Awolowo didn’t go but he had his folks.
It was from that Assembly that the various caucuses that led to political parties in the Second Republic began and ambitions began to surface.

But Shagari interestingly did not show interest in becoming President and in spite of that (or maybe because of that) was chosen.
Can’t go into the scheming that went on at that time but one is relevant to modern history - how Zik almost aligned with the core North to be President but the talks broke down in a funny manner with Mbazulike Amechi being in the thick of that particular negotiation.
Some Northerners opposed that aspiration because of his initial pro-Biafra stance while some Easterners led by Achebe opposed him because of his latter anti-Biafra stance.

Interestingly, Shagari as Chairman of Peugeot Automobile at the time donated 3 cars to Zik for campaign.
The idea at the time was to use the 1979 election to fully integrate the Igbos into national political leadership - and Shagari was fully behind it but a lot of political dealings went on that prevented that from happening - mainly that Zik’s party didn’t want to join the NPN.
Nwobodo was in NPP with Zik and was sure to win the Anambra gubernatorial seat but if Zik joined NPN where C.C. Onoh was sure to get the ticket, Nwobodo would lose out - so permutations like these prevented the Zik deal with NPN from happening.

And NPN decided to look Northward.
Adamu Ciroma, Ali Monguno, Maitama Sule and Shehu Shagari were the frontlines from the North to be President - with Shagari as the seeming dark horse who was less charismatic than the others but was a popular choice because he seemed to be the least ambitious or disruptive.
Shagari was so unambitious in fact that at the NPN convention of December 1978 where all six contestants addresses party members, he offered to step down for any aspirant more qualified than him 🤦🏽‍♂️🤦🏽‍♂️

His backers had to quickly push forward another manoeuvre for their man.
They tried to shortlist the aspirants to three from six, in order to edge out the other popular aspirants and leave Shagari with unlikely candidates but Anthony Enahoro as Chairman of the Convention Committee refused to give in to this idea - so all 6 aspirants went to the polls.
Of 2,235 delegate votes, Shagari (from Sokoto) got 978, Maitama Sule (from Kano) had 564, Adamu Ciroma (from Potiskum) had 293, Olusola Saraki (from Ilorin) had 214, J.S. Tarka (from Gboko) had 104 and Iya Abubakar (from Mubi) had 93.

The rule though was two-thirds majority.
So there was no clear winner and the top three had to go for a rerun but Maitama Sule and Adamu Ciroma conceded and Shagari was declared winner.

In choosing VP, Shagari showed clearheadedness and firmness but managed it so well that the SE owned the eventual choice of Ekwueme.
Ozumba Mbadiwe, JOJ Okezie, Dike Nworah, Macaulay Nwankwo were all leading contenders to run with Shagari knew whom he wanted already - Alex Ekwueme with whom he had had financial dealings while he (Shagari) was a Federal Commissioner - but he left the decision to SE Leaders.
The SE had two states at the time so Shagari asked them to present one candidate from each - Imo presented Nwankwo, Ekwueme was presented by Anambra as a lot of backhand deals had been struck to ensure happened.

Shagari on the campaign trail hinted Ekwueme that he’ll be chosen.
The combination blew the competition away in the general election:

Shagari/Ekwueme (NPN) – 5,688,587
Awolowo/Umeadi (UPN) – 4,916,651
Azikiwe/Audu (NPP) – 2,822,523
Kano/Ikoku (PRP) – 1,732,113
Ibrahim/Nzeribe (GNPP) – 1,686,489

But the winner needed 12 and 2/3rds to win.
Nigeria at the time had 19 states and two-thirds of those states is either 12.67 or rounded up to the nearest whole state - 13 states.

Awo went with the latter interpretation which Shagari didn’t have while Akinjide came up with the 12.67 argument - divide the 13th state into 3.
In other words: 2/3rds of 19 was 12 and 2/3 and so any candidate who won 25% in 12 states, and 25% in 2/3rds of any other state was the winner.

In addition to winning 12 states, Shagari also won 243,423 votes in Kano which was more than 25% of 2/3rds of Kano which was 813,842.
If the Maths is confusing now, it was even more confusing them with political emotions running high and a Professor from UNILAG - Ayodele Awojobi, was brought in by Awo to clear the confusion.

FEDECO declared Shagari, the tribunal rejected it and the Supreme Court also did.
But that was the origin of the bitter politics of the Second Republic - Awolowo and his party mounted a very strong opposition against Shagari and NPN with “Corruption” as the ready tag.

By the next election in 1983, Shagari had been thoroughly maligned and painted as the devil.
Unfortunately for Awo, Shagari won that election in what many called a “moonslide”.

Was it rigged? Yes, I believe so.

Could Awo and his UPN have won though? No, NPN had the upper hand and a lot of political reasons were at play but I can’t go into it all here, just a few:
Ige had offended the Ibadan people in Oyo and although I grew up believing he was rigged out, the historical evidence of that slight to the Ibadans explains why to me, he always seemed afterwards to be adulating Ibadan in his writings.

Olunloyo beat him fair and square.
Ige’s Deputy, S.M. Afolabi had resigned and worked for the NPN along with a UPN ‘enforcer’ Eruobodo. Internally, some core Awoists were unhappy that in Oyo, Free Education students were being called “Omo Bola Ige” instead of “Omo Awolowo” as it had been in the First Republic.
In Ondo, the Awo camp had split terribly over ethnic tensions and the Ekitis voted largely for NPN which fielded an Ekiti man - Akin Omoboriowo against UPN’s Ajasin from Owo.

The tribunal later upturned the gubernatorial result but Shagari/NPN won much votes from there.
In Bendel, Enahoro was retired as NPN’s frontliner with Anenih brought in to lead the charge and the hugely popular Ogbemudia fielded as gubernatorial candidate.

In Kano, we later found out that PRP struck a deal that astoundingly alloted a part of their votes to NPN’s votes.
Again, the inability of Awolowo and Zik to strike a deal that they had been pushing and to field only one of either of them also cost the opposition heavily, much like it did in 2011 when Tinubu and Buhari couldn’t reach a common ground and GEJ/PDP won.

So I believe NPN won it.
The pro-UPN media of the SW began to reject Shagari’s victory and some even openly called for the military to return to Govt.

So strong were they that NPN had used MKO Abiola to set up a rival media house to counter them but it didn’t work.

December 31, 1983: Buhari struck.
In ending the Govt of Shehu Shagari, Buhari and his military boys denied Nigeria an opportunity to grow democratically and I say this:

Democracy at the initial stage is by no means perfect; but Democracy at any stage has the means to rejuvenate and refine itself if left alone.
For a country that was under the military regime from 1966 to 1979 - a period of 13 years and one that had never practiced the Presidential System of Govt before that time, the Second Republic did well but was short-lived and Shagari did his best with that for Nigeria.
What Buhari and the military did in 1983 was to return Nigeria to another dark period of 16 years of military rule which preceded the 16 years of PDP they now shout foolishly all over the place - as though 1999 is when Nigeria got independence, as though Nigeria had no history.
What History has shown since then is what some of stand by:

Tno matter how bad a Democratic Govt is, no matter how it rigs itself into office again and again - a day will come that the system will reconfigure itself and reestablish true democracy.

Just keep the military out!
If Babangida is guilty of aborting a baby by annulling June 12, then Buhari (by that logic, not necessarily mine) is guilty of murdering a 5 year old baby by the coup of December 31, 1983 of which today is the 35th year remembrance.

It was a selfish disservice to Nigeria.
Max Siollun points out in one of his books (can’t remember which) that Shagari was naive to have left officers like Buhari, Babangida, Dasuki and co in office when he came in (Obasanjo didn’t make that mistake in 1999) but what the military did was still a disservice.
So just as we are today - looking back on the year with gratitude, regrets and lessons and looking forward to a new year with hope; some people were somewhere planning how to kick out the Govt and put Buhari into power.

That event is a huge part of our problems today.
Imagine if Democracy has been allowed to thrive since that time - our political system and democratic culture would by now be far advanced.

Yes it would have had some downsides but holistically, Nigeria would have been better for it - and I don’t want to belabour this point.
But remember that military regimes had no legitimacy and in order to win some, they often did frivolous things to woo the masses - TraderMoni kinda policies.

The Buhari regime in particular demonised politics and politicians in order to look good - still his style today, sadly.
By the time Democracy returned in 1999 after 16 years of military rule kickstarted by Buhari, many experienced politicians from the Second Republic had expired.

Only the likes of Sule Lamido who had gone into the House of Reps as a young man remained to guide us - and Bola Ige.
If that coup hadn’t happened, it is possible that by 1987, Ekwueme would have become President.

Some say in fact, that the coup was done to prevent that from happening.

This is why no one should believe these ones will hand over to the Igbos in 2023 - they’ll rather do a coup.
If Nigeria is messed up today, it is not because of PDP or any political party per se but the sum-total of all the wrong historical events that got us here - especially those 1966 and 1983 coups.

It is because men like Buhari thought they’re better than men like Shagari.
Men like Nzeogwu thought they were better than men like Ahmadu Bello - so they kicked them out of office, only to set Nigeria on the edge with their divisive, clueless and incompetent leadership.

But men are bound to repeat the mistakes of the history they refuse to learn from.
It is fitting therefore that we celebrate Shehu Shagari - a Northern Leader who was detribalised but understood the duality of his duty to country and to the North without letting one hinder the other: my ideal Nigerian.

Important again to say that the UPN media did him wrong.
If you were raised on a diet of pro-UPN narratives like I was, you’ll believe that man was a demon.

But when you widen your horizon and deepen your historical knowledge, you’ll see that he was neither an angel nor a demon, just human.

Like the best and worst of us all.
We celebrate Shagari into eternal glory and to the shame of those who kicked him out of office but mismanaged Nigeria into more problems.

We celebrate him as surely as we will denigrate them when they also die - the twice proven incompetent gang of power-grabbers.
Let me end by saying in response to those who don’t like that I don’t take a neutral perspective on present politics with my historical recollection:

My knowledge of history is the exact reason I’m in politics and it’s why I chose the side that I belong to - I can hardly help it
For me: History is not just a dead subject to be studied for amusement; History is a living subject, an engagement of past into present to guide the future - it is to be learnt from, it is to be made relevant to the present.

History without relevance to the Now, is Dead.
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