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Shehu Shagari:Why Former President Rejected Presidential Palace

At a road intersection linking Emir Yahaya Road, Rijiya Dorowa and Kofar Atiku in Sokoto, is a narrow way popularly called Lungu in Hausa Language. On both sides of this obscure road, are old   houses made of mud but plastered with cement. From that side of Sokoto metropolis, the old Post Office, popular Marina Police Station, prison and even the Sultan Palace could be accessed.

Virtually all the buildings on the lane have rustic charm, revealing that the area is part of the old Sokoto city, populated by natives. Of the property in the countrified scenery, only a storey building looks different. That the house is somewhat striking, does not imply that it is an architectural masterpiece. Of course, it is the only storey building on the street, but only the regular presence of  policemen at the frontage makes one curious.

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Opposite the house is an old-fashioned house formerly made of mud, which was the first property, former President Shehu Shagari built in Sokoto, before erecting the storey building. Yes, a house made of mud! But the structure on Shehu Shagari Crescent Road, which is also known as Gidan Shagari, among the local folk, is regarded as the only property built by Nigeria’s first Executive President. Knowing the self-enrichment legacy of African leaders, it is indeed, pleasantly shocking.

Shagari had been a lawmaker, minister, and  Chairman of Peugeot Automobile Limited,  before becoming President at the age of 54, but many people believed he didn’t have the legacy of greed and impunity.To paraphrase his eldest child, Capt Bala Shagari, rtd,“he is never greedy and he is a person who never solicits anything or position, only gets it purely on merit.”The former President resided at the property until 1995, when the government of the late Head of State, Gen Sani Abacha, rtd, built a befitting home for him in an upscale area, Sama Road. Gentle mannered and principled, Shagari exemplified modesty while in government and outside government. Just the way these virtues are not lost to Nigerians, they are considered priceless by family members.

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For instance, when comments were sought  from his grandson, President of Nigerian Youth Council, Bello Shagari, his response simply captured the former President’s simplicity. “When he was sworn in as the President, he decided to take the Vice President’s residence instead of the one meant for him because he felt the residence meant for the President was too luxurious for him and his family,” he said.

Though not a follower of the late leader of the Talakawa political ideology, Alhaji Aminu Kano, the former President cared less about comfort or luxury. That was why in January 1986, he was cleared of any personal involvement in corrupt practices, despite being accused by the Buhari regime of being corrupt.The regime which toppled Shagari had alleged that government officials conspired to collect about  $22  million in kickbacks on a  $333  million contract with a French construction company, Feugerolle Nigeria Ltd. But the Justice Samson Uwaifo review panel, declared that Shagari was unaware of the bribes. Instructively, the panel, which was instituted by the then Military President, Ibrahim Babangida, dismissed the argument that Shagari should be held accountable for offenses committed by his aides.

At the time, the former President had been detained in a government guest house in Lagos for two years. Opinions may be divided on how well Nigeria fared during his stewardship, but there is a consensus that he was an incorruptible leader. Like Abraham Lincoln, who in a speech to the US Congress, said: “we cannot escape history; the fiery trial through which we pass will light us down in honor or dishonor to the latest generation.”

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