This Is Why Silence Is Not Golden On Shagari's Birthday. A Reply To Mr. Page
Mr Mathew T Page, a U.S department top expert on Nigeria thinks silence on Shagari's birthday is rather golden. Like every other year, whenever Nigerians celebrate Shagari's birthday by merely wishing him well, Mr.Page, thinks it's wrong because "any history book will tell you, Shagari’s government was deeply corrupt, rigged the Oct 1983 elections, and opened the door to 16 years of destructive military rule", he noted via twitter.
Therefore, celebrating Shagari is a celebration of corruption in Nigeria. He has been consistent over the years with this view. But which government wasn't corrupt and which election wasn't rigged according to those "history books" in Nigeria? Well except 1993 which was annulled, even worse. I cared less about his comments until now that it is beginning to become a continues calumnious campaign against an underplayed pan African personality like Shagari that may mislead many Nigerians.
Well, from the assertion of Mr Page, he was fair enough to have cited that he had his information from "history books", and that any of them says the same thing. No! the history books that were written by people who detested Shagari for their political and personal reasons. To find true history, you should go to people with first hand experience of the past events as many of them are still alive today or may have written their account. Well, let me tell Mr.Page the part of history he is missing. Because with facts, you may succeed in tarnishing the image of Nigerias second republic, but you will never succeed in tarnishing the image of Alhaji Shehu Shagari. Practically, his immense contributions to Nigeria and Africa, are enormous. And I am sure, Mr.Page will prefer working in Abuja than Lagos, where his office is located currently, a city that may never have been built if Shagari had not laid its basic infrastructure. So he too is a beneficiary of a Shagari's legacy. Although Shagari didn't really play along with the U.S, because he contracted the Russians at the height of the Cold War, when the U.S had refused us any help to build the Ajaokuta steel complex. The purpose was to realize an industrial take off for an export substitution to oil for income revenue. At another instance, Shagari threatened the U.S with oil sanctions if it continued to support minority rule in Southern Africa. That's quite a sin on Shagari's part and also put Nigeria/UK relationship on the line on the issue of Zimbabwe. You'll find those evidences in Margret Thatcher's archives. However, to be fair to Mr Page again, it is true that Shagari ran a corrupt government, but he has not made it clear whether Shagari himself is corrupt or not. I will be waiting for that answer. Obviously, every government from 1960 to date has been accused of corruption in Nigeria. Mr. Page may wish to enquire from a professor in the University of New York, Jean Herskovits who said "the second republic is neither the beginning nor the escalation of corruption in Nigeria". I don't know for how long Mr Page has been studying Nigeria, but she has been studying Nigeria for over five decades.
But were you expecting Shagari's government bureaucracy to be different? a democracy for that matter? Or shouldn't we celebrate all of our leaders because they ran corrupt governments? Even some of the best leaders in the world ran corrupt governments, but they shouldn't be judge by the government they ran but how they ran them and their contributions and efforts to make things better. In Shagari's second term, he started a new ministry which he named Ministry of National Guidance under Yusuf Maitama Sule, solely for the purpose of fighting corruption and indiscipline. The ministry birthed the duo initiatives of ethical revolution and war against indiscipline that was launched by the Buhari regime which continues to take the credit for launching. In a similar effort, he also changed his cabinet by almost 80%. However, three months later, powerful Nigerians connived with ambitions and desperate soldiers to removed Shagari in a coup which was openly welcomed by the U.S! Although not Carter but Regan. Dear Mr Page, and when the military took over and investigated Shagari, he had only N62,000 in his banks account which is a little more than his salary as president, and had only three houses and no single foreign investment. The Buhari regime continued with the new Shagari policies, that is why he too didn't last long.
This is a man who has held eight ministerial appointments including Finance! before becoming the president of an oil rich Nigeria. Shouldn't Nigerias celebrate and emulate him? Well, In fact they do not, that is why we are here. This is a man who began building Abuja when everyone thought "it's was just folly" like Clifford May, a former New York Times reporter had recalled, but Shagari never had a single plot in Abuja until Olusegun Obasanjo had to facilitate building a house for him in 2005. For this reason alone, the man is even worthy of idolatrous adoration. And since his removal from office, he didn't care to meddle with the affairs of Nigeria, because he believed in the younger generation to take over the staring of National Affairs as he has done his part unlike others. Shagari built all the universities of technology we have in Nigeria and complemented them with first ministry of science & technology. He embarked on the largest low-cost housing scheme ever in Nigeria, he built our steel companies, he embarked on the largest ever military hardware procurement in Nigeria, he built roads and bridges, he built water dams and embarked on the famous green revolution to revive agriculture. During his time, Nigeria had the largest airline network in Africa. These are a few among his golden legacies which are verifiable today that which no civilian government can compete with. He managed to run a unity government with minority in the National Assembly. Everyone in Nigeria at that time had a sense of belonging. Meanwhile, the economic downturn of his time was as a result of an oil glut which led to a global recession before the maturity of the ongoing export substitution. But Nigerians insisted that the recession was due to stealing. But check the world records. Shagari is an African leader, who was welcomed with 29 gun salute in the US and the U.K., where he was invited with the highest honor of a state visit. He is a symbol of Pan African political activism, for fighting uncompromisingly against apartheid since in the 60's, and his help in facilitating independence in Zimbabwe and Namibia. The history books you read can never point out Shagari's personal involvement in corruption.
He is decent man, and humble to fault and never fond of blowing his own trumpet. Perhaps, that is why his contributions are widely unknown by most Nigerians. Please Mr Page, why shouldn't we celebrate such a man? Silence on Shagari's birthday is either carelessness or ignorance but it is never golden. Happy 93rd Birthday Alhaji Shehu Shagari, an elder statesman per excellence. Bello Bala Shagari, Filmmaker and Youth Advocate.