Aminu Shagari, three-term House of Representatives member and lawyer son of the late President Shehu Shagari, talks about Nigeria’s 60th independence, his disappointments with the Muhammmadu Buhari regime, how the country got it wrong, among others, in this interview with ADENIYI OLUGBEMI
What are the striking changes between Nigeria of today and Nigeria of your father’s time?
There are many differences between Nigeria at that time and Nigeria now. During my father’s administration as the president of Nigeria, I know that civil servants served the country diligently and there was a remarkable difference between a civil servant and a contractor. Then, people were passionate about serving and developing Nigeria but leaders and followers don’t have those traits again.
What was your father’s view about the direction Nigeria was going before his death?
Honestly, he was very disappointed that Nigeria had derailed from the dreams of her founding fathers and one of the things he was mostly concerned about was the level of decadence and drug abuse among our youths. Then, in his last days, he was concerned about the incessant killings, insecurity, poverty and the growing population of orphans in the society. I can vividly recall in my last coherent discussion with him, he was concerned about the large number of orphans in the country. His plan was to take the ones he saw around him off the streets and enrol them in a school he had for them in Shagari, his village.
Did the situation in the country ever make him shed tears?
No, I never saw him shed tears over anything. He was a God-fearing man, who believed so much in God. I never saw him shed tears; even when three of my siblings died in a motor accident, he never shed tears.
How disappointed was your father about Nigeria’s situation before he died?
It will be an understatement to say he was disappointed with the way and manner some of his legacies were ruined and discarded in his lifetime; he was really sad. One of his legacies that he was particular about, which was very dear to his heart, was the Ajaokuta Steel Company. His administration was passionate about the project as they proposed that it would be the backbone of industrialisation in Nigeria.
His administration went ahead to develop Ajaokuta Steel Mill, with supportive steel rolling mills across the country in Osogbo (Osun State), Jos (Plateau State), Katsina (Katsina State) and Delta State, towards industrialising the nation.
Unfortunately, Nigeria is nowhere near Brazil and India that started developing the steel sector at the same time with Nigeria. Brazil now manufactures automobiles and aircraft. India is sending rockets to space but Nigeria has yet to complete Phase 1 of the Ajaokuta complex which is supposed to be bigger than that of Brazil and India.
The Ajaokuta complex was abandoned and allowed to rot away by successive administrations. It also touched me because when I led the House of Representatives’ Committee on Steel as its chairman on oversight function to the complex, I literally shed tears. Ajaokuta is not an ordinary Steel complex.
The landmass can conveniently take 5,000 units of houses. It has an airstrip and a dock where ships can be offloaded. All the cranes were already there. There are also railway tracks and (a) completed road linking Itakpe Iron Ore Mine and a standard rail line linking it to Delta. But when we visited the place, they had become dilapidated and left to ruin.
Be that as it may, one thing he was happy about was the legacy of Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory. Abuja wasn’t his idea but, he put the machinery for its development in place. I recall how we didn’t like following him to Abuja in those days because construction was going on everywhere. We were staying at Aguda House because the Presidential Villa had not been built then. There was only a road from Nyanya to Area One, down to Dei Dei Market.
In the areas of agriculture and housing, he set up the fertiliser plant at Onne, Port Harcourt; supported Green Revolution; established the marketing board and diversified our economy. If you go round the country, his legacy on housing abounds everywhere with Shagari low-cost estates.
What do you think about the current state of the country?
I spoke loud and clear on the floor of the National Assembly; I am very disappointed. Let me draw your attention to the opinion of experts on the Ajaokuta complex that should we fail to complete it by 2020, we must forget about vision 20: 2020. That is, to be among the top 20 industrialised nations in the world. In fact, they said we might not be among the top 50 industrialised nations by 2050. Now, look at where we are, at the close of year 2020, we are even struggling to stay alive. It has never been this bad.
As a nation, where do you think we got it wrong?
It was when the military took over from General Yakubu Gowon and summarily dismissed a lot of civil servants. These were people who had nothing of their own. They had no houses or vehicles because all they had were owned by the government. So, they lost everything and there was no pension or gratuity. So other civil servants became contractors and started stealing public funds because they were afraid that they might become destitute despite their selfless service to the country.
Is there hope for Nigeria?
Our only hope is in good governance. I believe if we get it right in this aspect of our national life, our story would turn from bad to good within a short time. With emphasis, all we require is a credible and sincere leadership that will maximise our God-given talents and resources. A lot of us committed so much to bring this administration on board. As an individual, I assumed that, if nothing else, we would get the issue of security right, and every other thing would follow.
Unfortunately, our security situation has degenerated from bad to worse and the President has refused to listen to every voice of reasoning. Rather, he has turned a deaf ear to what people are saying and insisted on keeping the service chiefs.
Just recently, the government slammed the entire citizenry with a double post-COVID-19 assault – fuel price hike and increase in electricity tariff, without considering the income of Nigerians. With the minimum wage, in the face of the depreciating value of the naira, how do you expect an average Nigerian worker to survive, meet their family financial needs and be happy?
What do you think about Nigeria of today with killings, banditry, kidnapping, animosity among tribes and so on?
My opinion is that there are some forces within and outside that are trying to ensure that Nigeria does not remain a united, indivisible entity. Worst of all, these atrocities are being committed under the nose of a retired general, who is our Commander-in-Chief but has failed woefully in ensuring the nation’s territorial integrity. Added to this is the ineptitude of this administration in managing our economic affairs, which has made Nigeria, the headquarters of poverty. Everyone has now seen how the security challenges you mentioned have exposed the inadequacies of our security forces. It has now dawned on us that our security is in the hands of God.
Have you been in any situation that really frightened you?
I am a Nigerian, who resides in Nigeria, and by this, not immune to things that affect Nigerians. The recent frightening experience I had occurred during one of my campaign rallies, when we encountered suspected bandits around a huge forest, where my constituency borders Zamfara State.
On our way back, we saw ahead of us, suspected bandits in a large number shining their torches. I will say we were able to escape by divine intervention. It was probably because they were overwhelmed by the large number of vehicles in our convoy. There was another time when I went to my village and the visit was abruptly cut short because I was advised not to stay for long, as I had intended.
Why have you and other descendants of Nigeria’s past leaders been quiet as things go from bad to worse. Is it because you are not poor like some other Nigerians?
Regarding the Shagari family, this is a total misconception. Our father lived and bequeathed a modest and upright life to us, which is enough legacy for us. Unlike what you see around now, our father left behind a house in his village, which we are planning to turn into a museum. There is a family house where he lived in Sokoto until his death. The only house he had in Abuja was built for him by a past administration. So, where is the wealth Shagari acquired or left behind for his children? Our father never acquired or amassed ill-gotten wealth. I am the only child of his that has a house in Abuja.
You represented your constituency for three terms of twelve years, how do you exonerate yourself from the problems Nigeria is grappling with today?
This is not a matter of blowing one’s trumpet but I did my best within my capacity. A case in point was, during my tenure as the House Committee Chairman on Steel, I did everything possible to ensure that Ajaokuta Steel Mill was revived. I can recollect that Diezani Alison-Madueke was the minister then and we tried to convince Mr. President to visit the place and he agreed. I was part of the advance party that went to Kogi State for the planned visit by the President and the entire Kogi was agog. All of a sudden, the President announced the disbandment of his cabinet, and this put paid to all our efforts as Diezani never returned as minister of the supervising ministry.
When I was Chairman, House Committee on Judiciary, I sponsored a bill on financial autonomy for the judiciary and the state legislature. Right now, I am a member of the Presidential Implementation Committee of the bill which has already been signed by the President. At the same time, I worked assiduously alongside Abike Dabiri on the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities Bill, and I am happy the bill has been signed to meet the needs of persons living with disabilities. I did my best on a lot of other things that I can’t remember now.
In your last interview with Sunday PUNCH, which you granted after the death of your father, you said President Buhari disappointed your dad and even the family before and after his death. Were you contacted by the Presidency after the interview and have things changed?
I was never contacted and the Presidency has not contacted our family, to the best of my knowledge. Nothing has changed; the only thing I remember is that, at a campaign rally in Bauchi, after his visit to our father’s residence in Sokoto, prayers were offered for my dad. This probably was an afterthought following the backlash that followed his (Buhari) mere signing of the condolence register, with no written or verbal condolence message.
This is somebody we really supported, campaigned for and mobilised people for his election because we obediently adhered to our father’s dictate to forgive and let bygone be bygone. The same Muhammadu Buhari, in the condolence letter he gave the state governor (Aminu Waziri Tambuwal), promised to immortalise our dad. Close to two years after his death, he has yet to fulfil his promise. Whereas he recently named certain landmarks after some Nigerians who are still alive, including former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Let me use this opportunity to tender a public apology to former President Jonathan and seek forgiveness because I helped to divide the Peoples Democratic Party and bring down his government, but, I have found out that what we thought about his stewardship was not entirely true. I expect President Buhari to also ask for forgiveness having found out that most of the things he accused my dad’s and President Jonathan’s administrations of are not true.
Many Nigerians, particularly southerners, believe northerners contribute to the problems of this country because they hardly criticise the government when a northerner is the leader. Do you think this is what is happening with Buhari?
I totally disagree with you. How could you assume the North has been keeping quiet and not criticising or condemning incompetence, nepotism and others? Can you mention one aspect of this administration’s policies that has placed the North at an advantage over the South, which would warrant a conspiracy of silence among northerners?
Haven’t you been hearing notable northerners like Professor Ango Abdullahi, Ghali Umar Na’aba, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, Dr Aliyu Tilde, Najatu Bala, Dr Obadiah Mailafia, Theophilus Danjuma, Professor Usman Yusuf, Senator Sani Shehu, and a host of others condemning Buhari’s administration when and when necessary?
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Professor Woke Soyinka recently said the country was drifting towards a failed state, and that Buhari was divisive, what do you think about the statement?
Their statements are very true. There is no aspect of this administration where traces of cluelessness, nepotism, deception and divisive tendencies are not glaring. We have never had it this bad in Nigeria. Things have degenerated from bad to worse. Nigeria, a blessed country with land flowing with milk and honey, has suddenly become the world’s capital of poverty. We are tilting towards becoming the most terrorised place in the world. The peace and unity we had been enjoying took flight before our very eyes. Tell me, what is worth celebrating in Nigeria today?y
What do you think about the growing and noticeable divisive tendencies in the country and the agitations for Biafra Republic and Oduduwa Republic?
I really don’t like or support those agitations you mentioned because such agitations will bring more harm than good to us as a nation. I am a firm believer in the unity and oneness of this country. Our collective agitation should be directed to getting a leadership we can trust, that will take us to the Promised Land. I sincerely don’t like all those divisive tendencies, only that they are symptoms of bad governance.
On his 90th birthday, my father said, “We should continue to live in peace with one another, irrespective of our diverse ethnic and cultural differences. God has his reasons for putting us together as a nation and our differences should cement our unity.” If we have good leadership, our differences will not be this visible.