Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi [1937-2016]
The death on Wednesday last week of Alhaji Umaru Ali Shinkafi, Marafan Sokoto, robbed Nigeria of one of its most astute public servants, one of our most prominent politicians, our top spymaster and a dedicated community leader totally committed to the service of his people and country. He died at the Harefield Hospital, Middlesex, United Kingdom at the age of 79 after battling with illness for some time.
Born on January 19, 1937 in Kaura Namoda town, present day Zamfara State, Shinkafi attended Sokoto Middle School and Barewa College, Zaria in the 1950s. He read Law at the University of Lagos, graduated in 1973 and was called to the Bar the following year. Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi joined the Nigeria Police Force in 1959 and rose steadily through the ranks from Inspector to become Commissioner of Police and head of the Special Branch in the East Central State during the Nigeria Civil War. He was appointed Federal Commissioner [i.e. Minister] for Internal Affairs by the late General Murtala Mohammed in 1975, in which position he made a significant contribution to internal security, prison construction, border security and immigration issues.
In 1978, Shinkafi became Commissioner of Police in Oyo State and at the onset of the Second Republic in 1979, President Shehu Shagari appointed him Director General of the Nigeria Security Organisation (NSO) in charge of intelligence and counter espionage. That position earned for him a reputation as Nigeria’s top spymaster. As NSO boss Shinkafi was largely unseen but his firm hands were visible in protecting national security during the period of political rancour and social unrest. He quit the position in 1983 and returned to Sokoto, where he was conferred with the prestigious traditional title of Marafan Sokoto in 1985. Shinkafi also headed a Presidential Panel in 1986 that recommended the splitting of NSO into three organisations, including the State Security Service [SSS] now known as Department of State, DSS.
Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi ventured into partisan politics in 1989 as a member of the unregistered Nigeria National Congress (NNC). He later achieved great political prominence as a leading presidential aspirant in the National Republican Convention, NRC. His Choice 92 campaign outfit was easily the best organised campaign outfit at the time. The first round of the NRC primaries ended with a scheduled runoff election between Malam Adamu Ciroma and Shinkafi but the runoff never took place because military ruler General Ibrahim Babangida annulled the party primaries and banned twenty three top aspirants from politics, including Shinkafi.
After General Sani Abacha’s death in 1998, Shinkafi emerged again as a leading figure in the All Peoples Party, APP. His party struck an alliance with Alliance for Democracy [AD] for the February 1999 presidential election and Shinkafi was the running mate to Chief Olu Falae in the joint AD/ APP ticket. They lost the election to PDP’s ticket of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo/Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. In subsequent years Shinkafi gradually retired from partisan politics due to ill health. As a mark of his high principle, he never switched parties but remained in ANPP to the end of his political sojourn.
Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi also served as Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of Council of the Sokoto State University and was a noted philanthropist especially in his hometown, where he empowered thousands of people with scholarships and other facilities. He lived an exemplary life of selfless and patriotic service to the nation. His family, friends and associates should be comforted with the knowledge that Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi left an indelible mark of public service and statesmanship on the sands of time. May the Almighty God grant Shinkafi eternal rest in Aljannat and may He give the bereaved family the fortitude to bear the pain of this irreplaceable loss.