President Goodluck Jonathan, and five former Nigerian leaders, on Wednesday attended the 90th birthday of Nigeria’s Second Republic president, Alhaji Shehu Usman Shagari.
It was an occasion for the incumbent and former leaders to extol the virtues of the celebrant. One of them, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, recalled how Alhaji Shagari ignored a piece of advice that he be kicked out of the military for being a serial coup plotter.
Shagari was on 31 December 1983 sacked by a military junta of which Babangida and a key member. Major General Muhammadu Buhari, who is the current presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), headed the military government that sacked Shagari. Babangida became the Chief of Army Staff of the junta and on 27 August 1985 led another military coup that ousted Buhari.
Babangida revealed that he was not only emotional about Shagari but also remained eternally grateful to the former President. According to the former military ruler, Shagari’s kindness was the reason he attained the position of General in the Army and subsequently becoming Head of State.
He recalled that Shagari rejected a recommendation that he be kicked out of the military while in office.
“In 1979, Alhaji Shehu Shagari was advised that I should be kicked out of the Nigeria Army, the reason being that I was involved in all the coups in this country, so I shouldn’t be there. But Alhaji Shehu Shagari said no. Therefore, I want to specially thank him at his 90th birthday for allowing me to rise up to the rank of a General, and to become the Chief of Army staff and subsequently a Military president”.
Also at the event were Chiefs Olusegun Obasanjo and Ernest Shonekan as well as Generals Yakubu Gowon, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar, all of whom were Nigeria’s leaders at different periods.
In his speech, President Jonathan recalled that he was an undergraduate when Shagari was president, noting that the elder statesman was a role model for all Nigerians.
“It is not easy to endure 90 winters, especially in a country that attaining 50 is not even easy. Even at the age of 90, Alhaji Shehu Shagari is still very, very committed to contributing his quota to the development of Nigeria,” Jonathan observed.
Looking at the faces around the celebrant, President Jonathan admitted that he was happy because of the unity and love for the country among her past leaders.
“I am happy because in Nigeria, former Head of States come together. One of my happiest days was when all the Head of States attended the council of states meeting,” he said.
While recognizing the uprightness of Alhaji Shagari, General Yakubu Gowon said he brought the Second Republic President into his government to take over from the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo as Minister of Finance because of his credibility.
“He performed exceptionally well for this country as Minister of Finance in my government”, Gowon affirmed.
Also playing glowing tribute to the celebrant, General Abubakar described Shagari as not only his mentor but also an adviser and a confidant whose service to the nation would forever to be remembered.
On his part, Chief Shonekan, who said it was heart-warming that Shagari attained the age of 90, expressed confidence that the Second Republic President would continue to contribute his quota to the development of the country.
Insisting that, Nigeria is a paradox, Obasanjo said to Shagari: “You have seen it all: The good, the bad and the not so good. When we were in power, we had a lot of people who called themselves friends but we only know true friends when we are out of power. We thank God for your life, services to the country and the ability to bear it all”.
Responding, former president Shagari who was full of joy, thanked Almighty Allah for his life’s sojourn, and pledged to continue contributing his quota to the development of the country as long as he is alive.