Re: SHEHU SHAGARI: A Good Man, a Bad Leader by Jiti Ogunye

The historical position taking by Mr Jiti Ogunye in his review of the life and times of Shehu Shagari, which he summed up as “A good man, a bad leader”, is copious enough. In my opinion, Mr Ogunye seems to have covered all the relevant issues to justify his good-man-bad-leader image of the late former President Shehu Shagari of Nigeria.

The only addition I wish to make is to highlight a more relevant image of late President Shehu Shagari as an archetype of everything that is wrong with leadership practices in Nigeria. A glance at his Curriculum Vitae shows the following: 

Shehu Shagari joined the political leadership cadre in Nigeria at the grand old age of 29. Before then, he had spent 8 years (1944-1952) as a student in a Teacher Training College. With only one year experience as a visiting teacher in Sokoto Province, he was appointed as a member of Federal Scholarship Board. After four years in the post, he entered politics and became a parliamentary secretary. At 34, he was appointed as a Federal Minister for Commerce and Industries, later redeployed as the Federal Minister for Economic Development; Minister for Pensions; Minister for Internal Affairs; and Minister for Works. All these important Cabinet posts were bestowed on him between 1958 and 1966.  After the military coup d’état of 1966 he went back to Sokoto and between 1967 and 1969, he was appointed as Secretary for Sokoto Province Education Development Fund and later as North Western State Commissioner for Establishment. 

At the end of the Nigerian civil war in 1970, Shehu Shagari rejoined the Federal Government as Federal Commissioner for Economic Development, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction. From 1971-1975, he was the Federal Commissioner for Finance and in this capacity, he served as a governor for the World Bank and as a member of the International Monetary Board Committee of Twenty. From 1954 to 1975 Shehu Shagari worked/served in government without breaking stride as a political office holder.

We may like to ask, what is the background qualification, expertise and experience that Shehu Shagari brought into these important government positions? His basic educational background was a Grade Two Teacher Certificate that took 8 years to obtain. Without any additional educational exposure, he was selected to manage the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and the Ministry for Economic Development. These were two important agencies of government that were critical to the laying down of a formidable economic foundation for a newly independent nation.

While nations like Singapore and Malaysia sought the best materials among their citizens to lay a sound foundation for their economic growth and development, the Powers-That-Be in Nigeria had no vision beyond seizing the reins of political power. The political leaders in Nigeria are only proficient in how to enjoy the perks, the luxury and the comfort of political office. But in the delivery of public services to benefit the people, they never have a clue about how to make and use political power/office to work for the progress of the commonwealth. 

The archetype Shehu Shagari was an example of the calibre of political overlords placed over Nigeria since independence in 1960. He was a typical square peg in a round hole. Where Nigeria is today as a poverty-stricken nation, it is thanks to the foundation of mediocrity his types laid since 1959.  Unfortunately, the template of rejecting the services of the competent for the incompetents, of sabotaging meritocracy for mediocrity; and of selecting/appointing unqualified personnel to manage serious leadership positions, is still very much alive and kicking strong today. 

The Cement Armada Scandal

How many people in Nigeria can remember that Shehu Shagari was the Federal Minister of Finance in residence during the Cement Armada episode of 1974-1975.  In a paper written by Hanaan Marwah it was recorded that,  The ‘Cement Armada’ was a major Nigerian government scandal which culminated in hundreds of cement-laden ships arriving en masse at Lagos, creating severe multi-year-long port congestion during the height of the 1970s oil boom.”  Also, a government Tribunal reported that, “The Ministry of Defence needed only 2.9 million tons of cement at a cost of N52 million as against the 16 million metric tons of cement, it ordered, at a cost of N557 million.”

The reason behind the scandal was due to the failure of the Ministry of Finance to lead and to coordinate the activities of the Central Bank of Nigeria and of the Ministry of Defence in the approval and issuance of import licences for the importation of cement and other goods. And also its technical and professional inability to see the linkage between the number of licences issued, the volume of expected cargoes and the inadequate capacity of the port that would handle the clearance on arrival. 

Hanaan Marwah in a doctoral thesis in 2011 argues that,

“The scandal epitomised profligacy with government funds, public officials using their access to gain illegal personal benefits, major avoidable planning errors and disorganisation which attracted wider illegal involvement. It also caused severe port congestion which lasted for several years: ships waited on average 250 days in 1975 to unload their goods, and the port was still congested in early 1978, with attendant inflation and product shortages, including shortages of construction materials. The events were a major blow to the Nigerian economy of the 1970s and played a role in bringing down the government in a coup in mid-1975.”   

Yet four years later, the same Shehu Shagari whose mismanagement of the Ministry of Finance contributed in no small measure to the toppling of a government was adjudged qualify enough by the then secretive ‘Kaduna Mafia’ and he was railroaded above all other better candidates to lead the Federal Republic of Nigeria as President in 1979. As usual, history was allowed to repeat itself as the country witnessed another unprecedented profligacy in government during his tenure as President in 1979-1983. His repeated mediocre performance again led to the sacking of his government by another military coup d’état in 1983.

Nigeria is still treading the same path of political quagmire and is still swimming merrily in the sea of endemic nepotistic habits that continue to foolishly put square pegs in round holes. Nigeria is repeating the same mistake of the past as we are again experiencing today under the clueless administration and mediocre economic management of present President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria.

Also just like Shehu Shagari, Buhari has brought no prerequisite educational qualification for the job that such an important position as head of government demands. Buhari has neither the intellectual capacity to administer the office of the President nor is he broad-minded enough to identify and to assemble capable hands outside of his family and clan members to manage national affairs. It seems by the nature of the political system gifted to Nigeria and put in place since 1914, Nigeria is forever constrained from seeking and putting the best brains forward to manage the affairs of the country. Why is that so? 

It is because the departing British colonial administrators in 1960 cruelly laid abundant booby traps on Nigeria’s development path. By clandestinely and recklessly apportioning artificial population figures for the British chosen surrogate ethnic group as overseer of Nigeria, it has become practically impossible to select/elect, through democratic means that rely on numbers, the right political candidates for the right political and economic positions in Nigeria. 

Particularly, when we considered the immovable booby trap of the fraudulent population and census figures imposed on the nation in 1952, justice and fair play were ruthlessly taken out of the equation of Nigeria. Since then Nigeria has become a peculiar nation in the comity of nations that can only present estimated population figures because she is unable to count its citizens for obvious reason. This singular treacherous episode of masking and shrouding the population figures of Nigeria in secrecy during the making of Nigeria has, unfortunately, locked up the country in a mediocrity bubble.

Sadly, the massaged and skewed ethnic population figures have become a veritable weapon in the hands of the British chosen minority in power for the exploitation of the majority. In my humble opinion, it seems the British colonial administrators, as usual, seems to have designed and built an apartheid political regime for Nigeria. The manufactured population figures have since become the unjust, the magical and the unscientific yardsticks for national planning, for all federal allocation of economic resources, financial revenues, political structures, political appointments, parliamentary seats, etc. 

Hence the whole world marvel and wonder about the recurrence of deplorable and incompetent leaders in Nigeria. The world ask, why is it that the most unqualified Nigerians, whose only qualification is to belong to the right bloodline among the British preferred and chosen ethnic group, have always succeeded in manning the highest seat of political affairs in Nigeria? Why is the world still entertaining any surprise and still in doubt about what the outcome of such dishonest manipulation of political affairs will be?

Such a political game as it is being played in Nigeria cannot produce any pleasant fruit of progress and development than the disastrous consequences of disunity, distrust, strife, rancour, war, poverty and suffering that have become the lot of Nigerians since independence. And as long as this population booby trap remains intact, unshaken and uncorrected, the future of Nigeria is going to be bleaker than her past. 

In order for us to understand fully this unwholesome and ongoing political rape of the different nations that make up Nigeria, a proper study of the archetype Shehu Shagari will draw the lesson home clearly to all those seeking answers to the inscrutable Nigerian Question.

Having discovered one of the answers to the dilemma of Nigerian Question as a deliberate and calculated population fraud foisted on the country as a divide and rule strategy, the ball is now in the courts of ‘Fellow Nigerians’ to show the world that we are ready, prepared and capable to use the lessons of our contemporary history to deconstruct, reconstruct, restructure and reconstitute our future.

Enough said.   

In the Spirit of Truth


3 January 2019


  1. Jiti Ogunye (2018) Shehu Shagari: A Good Man, a Bad Leader. 
  2. Hanaan Marwah (2018), Untangling government, market, and investment failure during the Nigerian oil boom: the Cement Armada scandal 1974-1980
  3. Hanaan Marwah (2011), Investing in Ghosts: Building and Construction in Nigeria’s Oil Boom and Bust c.1960-2000. (A Doctoral Thesis) University of Oxford