Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari (Nigeria’s First Elected President, October 1, 1979 – December 31, 1983)

Shehu Shagari was Nigeria’s first elected president and indeed a man of the people. This article discusses his life and times as a politician, an educationist, and his contribution to Nigeria’s growth.

Early Life, Childhood, and Education of Shehu Shagari

Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari was born on February 25, 1925, in a polygamous family. His father, Aliyu Shagari, was the village head, a trader, farmer, and herder.

Shagari began his education by attending a Qu’ranic school but attended the Yabo Elementary School between 1931 and 1935. He proceeded to attend Middle school from 1936 to 1940. 

In 1941, he attended Barewa College, and after graduation in 1944, he went to the Teachers Training College in Kaduna. After graduating from the college in 1952, he gained employment as a teacher in 1953 and taught until 1958.

Early Career: the Political Career of Shehu Shagari

In 1951, Shagari became the secretary of the Northern People’s Congress in Sokoto, marking his full entry into politics. However, he had founded a youth group, “the Youth Social Circle,” in Sokoto. When the Northern People’s Congress was founded, this youth group merged with it to become one.

Shagari was an avid reader of the West African Pilot, a newspaper owned by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. He also admired Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe for his pro-African views. So, when in 1948, Azikiwe rallied for donations to fund a delegation’s journey to London to ask for an overturn of Richard’s constitution, which was deemed undemocratic, Shagari happily attended. 

However, the British Educational Officer discovered this and punished Shagari by refusing to increase his salary until the following year.

Subsequently, the colonial government banned the West African Pilot. Still, Shagari pressed for its restitution by writing articles in support of it. Following in the footsteps of Azikiwe, Shagari began to oppose colonial rule by writing and circulating a pamphlet titled “Anti Colonialist.”

In 1954, Shagari won an election as a member of the federal House of Representatives for Sokoto West. In 1958, he received an appointment as parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister of Nigeria, Sir Tafawa Balewa. Furthermore, he served as the Federal Minister for Commerce and Industries.

Between 1959 to 1960, Shagari was the Federal Minister for Economic Development of independent Nigeria. Between 1960 to 1962, he was the Federal Minister for Pensions. 

Between 1962 to 1965, Shagari was the Federal Minister for Internal Affairs. From 1965 to 1966, Shagari was the Federal Minister for Works. 

In 1967, he was appointed the secretary of the Sokoto Province Education Development Fund. Between 1968 to 1969, he became the Commissioner for Establishments.

Following the January 15, 1966 coup and the dispersion of the Tafawa Balewa government, Shagari went back to Sokoto to promote education. There, he built many schools and became the Executive Secretary of the Sokoto Province Education Development Fund.

Later on, he served as the Commissioner of Establishment and Training and the Commissioner for Education. After the July 1966 counter-coup, the new Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, reached out to resume his services under the Nigerian government.

Under the Gowon administration, Shagari served as the federal commissioner for economic development, rehabilitation, and reconstruction.

He reconstructed schools and hospitals, among others. Between 1971 to 1975, he became Nigeria’s Federal Commissioner of Finance. It was during his time as finance minister that the present Nigerian Naira was introduced.

During this period, he also served as a governor for the World Bank and a member of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Shehu Shagari: First Elected President of Nigeria (1957 – 1966)

In 1978, along with a few others, Shagari founded the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). As Nigeria sought to transition from a military rule to a democratic one, Shagari’s party presented him as their presidential elect. He went on to win the 1979 election, thus making him Nigeria’s first elected president.

As a president, Shagari’s government focused on the Agriculture industry, among others. His “Green Revolution” initiative focused on disbursing seeds and fertilizer to farmers to encourage agricultural productivity. This initiative also provided machines for large-scale farmers.

Shagari’s government also targeted housing. The goal was to build 200 thousand houses but completed only 30 thousand. Still, this remained Nigeria’s most prominent public housing project.

Shagari also focused on his first love, education. During his time, the Nigerian system of education flourished. More secondary schools, tertiary institutions, and teacher training colleges were built, and there was an increase in literacy.

Shehu Shagari Effort on Women Empowerment

Shagari also empowered women. He instructed States to provide a woman out of their nominees. He also selected an Igbo woman to be his Vice President, although she declined. Furthermore, he appointed the first female ministers in Nigeria. These included Janet Akinrinde, Elizabeth Ogbon, Ebun Oyagbola, among others.

Despite recording significant successes as a president and winning the election to run for the presidency a second time, Shagari was overthrown by General Muhammadu Buhari in a military coup on December 31, 1983. 

He was arrested and accused of corruption but was cleared of these charges and released in 1986. However, he was banned from participating in Nigeria’s politics for life.

Shehu Shagari: Ghana Must Go (January 1983)

In January 1983, Shehu Shagari released an executive order that demanded immigrants who did not have the legal immigration documents to leave Nigeria or be arrested according to the law.

As at that time, most immigrants in Nigeria were Ghanaians. In a hurry to leave Nigeria, the Ghanaians packed their things in cheap matted zipped tote bags. The tote bag earned the name “Ghana Must Go.” which is still being used in Nigeria today. 

Shehu Shagari’s Death

On December 28, 2018, Shehu Shagari died from a brief illness at Abuja’s National Hospital. He was aged 93.

Shehu Shagari’s Personal Life

Shehu Shagari was married to three women, namely Hadiza, Aisha, and Amina, who bore him many children, including Aminu Shehu Shagari and Muhammad Bala Shagari.

Shehu Shagari’s Honours and Awards

● Baba Korede of Ado-Ekiti

● Ezediale of Aboucha

● Grand Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (GCFR)

● Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON)

● Ochiebuzo of Ogbaland

● Turaki of the Sokoto Sultanate — 1962

Books by Shehu Shagari

  1. Beckoned To Serve (Autobiography)
  2. The Challenge of Change (A Collection of Speeches)
  3. Uthman Dan Fodio: The Theory and Practice of His Leadership
  4. Wakar Nijeriya or Song of Nigeria (Poetry)


Britannica (2021)

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