From a fatherless childhood to professorship: The life of Shagari away from Nigeria’s politics

THOUGH he is more popularly known as a foremost politician and ultimately Nigeria’s only president during the second republic, Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari was also many other things prior to his passing on Friday at the age of 93.

Born to Aliyu and Mariamu Shagari on February 25, 1925, he hails from Shagari, a village (now local government area) in Sokoto State. The village was founded by Ahmadu Rufa’i, his great-grandfather, who headed the village and adopted its name also as his family name.

Shagari is the sixth child in a polygamous family. His father, who later became the Magajin Shagari (Head of the Village), was a herder, farmer, and also engaged in trading activities. He died in 1930, five years after the birth of Shagari, and Bello, the young Shagari’s elder brother, had to take over as the village head.

In 1992, the Sultan of Sokoto, Siddiq Abubakar III, conferred upon him the title of Turaki (officer of the sultan’s court) of the Fula Sokoto Caliphate. He was also, at other times, given chieftaincy titles from other regions, including the Ochiebuzo of Ogbaland, the Ezediale of Aboucha, and the Baba Korede of Ado-Ekiti.

At a young age, Shagari was enrolled into a madrasah (Quranic school), before moving in with relatives at a nearby town where he attended a Catholic institution, Yabo Elementary School, between 1931 and 1935. From 1936 to 1940, he attended middle school in Sokoto, and then proceeded to Kaduna College where he studied Science of Education between 1941 and 1944.

In 1952, he graduated from the Teachers Training College, Zaria, Kaduna. From there, in 1953 and for the five years that followed, he was employed as a visiting teacher in Sokoto Province. Around the same period, he was a member of the Federal Scholarship Board.

Before venturing into politics in 1951 and his election into the federal House of Representatives three years later, Shagari was a teacher. He remained a professor at the college after obtaining his degree. He also taught in several other places, including the Middle School in Sokoto as a Professor of Science.

He was appointed as the director of a primary school in Arungu in 1951. In 1953, he travelled to the United Kingdom and spent a year in the country to complete his teacher training programme.

In all, he got married to three wives: Amina,  Aishatu and Hadiza, with whom he had several children, including Captain Muhammad Bala Shagari, his eldest son and a retired captain of the Nigerian Army, and Aminu Shehu Shagari, who represents the Shagari/Yabo federal constituency at the House of Representatives. Aishatu Shagari died in a hospital in London after a brief illness on August 24, 2001.

Narrowly defeating Obafemi Awolowo at the election, Shagari served as Nigeria’s head of government between 1979 and 1983 after the Olusegun Obasanjo-led military regime handed over power to a civilian government. Between 1958 and 1975, he had served multiple times as federal minister and commissioner in various capacities.


He was, however, overthrown and arrested shortly into his second term in office through a coup, after his government became unpopular due to rising corruption, worsening economic conditions, and allegations of electoral malpractices in the 1983 election.

Two years ago, at a prayer session conducted at his home to commemorate his 91st birthday, Shagari had counselled Nigerians to continue to live in unity, while sustaining peace.

“We should continue to live in peace with each other irrespective of our diverse religious, ethnic and cultural differences. God has His reasons for creating us together as a nation and our differences are aimed at cementing our unity,” he had said.

In 2015, the former president was rumoured to have passed on but his personal assistant, Atiku Nuhu Koko, quickly dismissed the false claim.

Shagari died on Friday, December 28 at the age of 93.


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