Punch’s das­tardly punch

Daily Trust - - OPINION -

Punch news­pa­per’s ed­i­to­rial on the late Pres­i­dent Shehu Sha­gari is a das­tardly punch on a man whose life and times were of ser­vice to coun­try and com­mu­nity. In­deed it came as no sur­prise that Punch would sound a dis­cor­dant note on his pass­ing given that the paper was among those print-me­dia out­lets that pressed the no­tion of a “Stolen Pres­i­dency” in or­der to dele­git­imise his elec­toral vic­tory against their pre­ferred can­di­date - thereby vir­tu­ally en­cour­ag­ing the over­throw of his gov­ern­ment by the mil­i­tary.

Sha­gari’s back­ground was noth­ing to be sneered at; he was a de­scen­dant of the rul­ing fam­ily of his home town who went on be­come a teacher. To mem­bers of his gen­er­a­tion and the one be­fore it, teach­ing was not a hum­ble but hon­ourable pro­fes­sion, a step­ping stone to great­ness, as proved in his case - mul­ti­ple min­is­te­rial ap­point­ments over a pe­riod of nearly twenty years cul­mi­nat­ing in his pres­i­dency in 1979.

Sha­gari’s long stay in gov­ern­ment in­deed “pre­pared him for a higher call­ing”, his re­luc­tance to en­gage more deeply in the rat -race had more to do with the ex­pe­ri­ence of the po­lit­i­cal class since 1966. That his con­tem­po­raries across the coun­try would seek and trust him to lead was no small mea­sure of con­fi­dence in his ex­pe­ri­ence and dis­po­si­tion.

The “rel­a­tively buoy­ant econ­omy” the mil­i­tary left was al­ways cap­tive to the va­garies of the world oil mar­ket; up to to­day we haven’t been able to mod­er­ate the ef­fects of oil-price gy­ra­tions on our econ­omy. The state-owned en­ter­prises Sha­gari in­her­ited weren’t run down un­der his watch; his ad­min­is­tra­tion even added to the Nige­ria Air­ways fleet three or so Air­bus air­craft. The de­ple­tion of the NNSL ves­sels came after his ouster. Nige­rian Rail­ways Cor­po­ra­tion was al­ready wob­bling in the mid-1970s, prompt­ing Gen­eral Obasanjo to con­tract Rail In­dia to man­age it for a while. It’s true how­ever that Sha­gari didn’t get to deal with the prob­lems of the Rail­ways. The low­cost hous­ing pro­gramme wasn’t a suc­cess, mis­man­aged as it was by a coali­tion of civil ser­vants, con­trac­tors and lo­cal party po­ten­tates.

The Sec­ond Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan 1975-1980 launched by Gen­eral Gowon was pre­pared when Sha­gari was Fed­eral Com­mi­sioner of Fi­nance and Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment, so he was fa­mil­iar with its de­tails. As pres­i­dent he con­tin­ued its im­ple­men­ta­tion. It’s false as­ser­tion that his ad­min­is­tra­tion “blew” the Ajaokuta Iron and Steel Project, in fact it grew it such that most of it was com­pleted by the time his ouster. The con­struc­tion of both Jebba HEP dam and the Eg­bin Ther­mal Power sta­tion be­gan dur­ing his time in of­fice, to be com­pleted in 1984 through 1987.

At in­de­pen­dence Nige­ria was roughly at the same level of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment as Malaysia but cer­tainly not Brazil. The Civil War damp­ened progress but soon picked up after the re­turn of peace. The tex­tile in­dus­try re­mained buoy­ant dur­ing the Sha­gari era, it was only in the early 1990s when China be­gan to ex­port tex­tile ma­te­ri­als in vol­umes to Africa that its woes be­gan. Nige­ria’s ac­ces­sion to the World Trade Or­gan­i­sa­tion in 1996 com­pleted the de­struc­tion of our tex­tile in­dus­try - and many oth­ers.

The Sha­gari ad­min­is­tra­tion es­tab­lished uni­ver­si­ties (of tech­nol­ogy) at Abeokuta, Akure, Ow­erri, Bauchi, Minna and Yola. He was ear­lier on, among the trio of min­is­ters in the gov­ern­ment of Tafawa Balewa - oth­ers be­ing Jaja Nwachukwu and Fes­tus OkotieEboh - who mid­wifed the es­tab­lish­ment of the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment Col­leges/Unity Schools sys­tem.

Sha­gari ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­sponse to the warn­ing of an im­pend­ing eco­nomic cri­sis in 1982 must have con­text: it was the tar­get of un­remit­ting hos­til­ity from Chief Awolowo’s acolytes such that ev­ery state­ment from that side could only be war­ily re­ceived. Re­me­dial mea­sures were taken when the sit­u­a­tion be­came clear.

Scan­dals have been part of ev­ery ad­min­is­tra­tion in the coun­try, cur­rent ones over­whelm­ing past malfea­sance, the im­por­tant thing be­ing no dirt could be at­tached to him or his Vice Pres­i­dent de­spite in­tense in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the suc­ceed­ing mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment. Branded cham­pagne? Van­ity. Pri­vate jets owned by min­is­ters? No proof of that in the Sec­ond Repub­lic.

Ul­ti­mately, it was the will of the peo­ple that made Sha­gari pres­i­dent against an ar­ray of can­di­dates touted as pre­pared for the job. He ac­quit­ted him­self well enough, democ­racy and free­dom were pro­tected even in the face of un­be­liev­able op­po­si­tion provo­ca­tions. Sha­gari’s pass­ing is mourned by Nige­ri­ans who ac­knowl­edge his states­man­ship as much as his hu­man­ity. A “gen­tle­man politi­cian” - in the words of the Guardian.

M T Us­man, Kaduna .

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