Former President Shehu Shagari
By Onyebuchi Ezigbo
Memories of the First Republic were rekindled Tuesday as former President Shehu Shagari reminisced over his relationship with former Prime Minister, the late Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and former Premier of the old Northern Region, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the late Sardauna of Sokoto.
Shagari said at the launching of the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria golden anniversary commemorative stamps in Abuja that the late Balewa and the late Bello were great men who raised another generation of leaders.
He told the gathering that although he may not have attended any university, the knowledge he acquired from Bello and the Balewa was enough to see him through the challenges of office during his tenure as president of the country between 1979 and 1983.
“After my school in 1931, Sardauna advised me to join politics. He also advised me not to go to Kaduna but to go to Lagos instead. According to him, he wanted me not to be a member of the parliament in Kaduna but to try to become one in Lagos. He promised that he would help me to win elections in Lagos. At the end, I became a minister in Lagos and that brought me close to Tafawa Balewa who was also in Lagos,” he said.
The octogenarian elder statesman got the audience rolling with laughter when he said the only two universities he ever attended were the ones of the Sardauna of Sokoto and Tafawa Balewa, adding that apart from the primary and secondary schools he attended, whatever he learnt as a young person was from the late Bello and the late Balewa.
“Because I was close to Sardauna, he was able to teach me a lot of things that I did not learn from school. Even after I finished schooling at Barewa College, Kaduna, Ahmadu Bello was the person I relied on to advise me on many things.
“I must confess that much of the knowledge I acquired about life and politics did not come from any school or university but from Ahmadu Bello and Tafawa Balewa, “ he stated.
Recalling his early school days, Shagari said after finishing primary school, he had proceeded to join the middle school in Sokoto where he encountered Ahmadu Bello as his teacher.
“Apart from our normal classes in school, Sardauna taught me separately. At the time, teachers do not allow their pupils to come to their houses. But Sardauna asked that I become his messenger. At that time, it was a privilege for one to be chosen by a teacher so that he can go to the market to buy things for the family.
“Only those who are very close to the family were allowed to go into the family’s house like I did. With that, it was possible for me to known Sardauna closely and for him to be able to correct me when I did the wrong thing.
“Also at that time, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was a very good friend of Ahmadu Bello having attended high school together in Kaduna.
“When Tafawa Balewa became prime minister, I learnt from him in a similar way as I did from Sardauna. From that time onwards, both men became like my godfathers; always advising me on things. I usually speak with them on the telephone whenever I needed their advice and this was how I became a politician. That was how I got my own degrees,” he said.
Earlier, while explaining the essence of the commemorative stamps, ABU Vice Chancellor, Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, said the stamps were part of the institution’s efforts to immortalise it’s late founder, Bello.
He said this would be the first time the late Sardauna would be appearing on Nigerian stamps.
Minister of Communication Technology, Mrs Bola Johnson, said the commemorative stamps would serve to remind Nigerians of the contributions of ABU in the field of education and nation building as well as the giant strides of one the founding fathers of modern Nigeria, the late Bello.