Exit of a Galant Soldier

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With the tragic death of General John Nanzip Shagaya (rtd), Nigeria lost an officer and a gentleman, who promoted national unity in his life time, writes Shola Oyeyipo

Nothing will better showcase the late General John Nanzip Shagaya (rtd) as a truly patriotic Nigerian, who contributed his quota to national development, than the content of the tributes that poured in when the news broke that he died on Sunday, February 12, 2018, in a ghastly motor accident.

Shagaya, a retired military Brigadier-General, was former Minister of Internal Affairs and Senator, Federal Republic of Nigeria, who represented Plateau Southern zone. He died last Sunday in an auto crash along Langtang-Pankshin Road in Plateau State on his way to Jos.

On hearing the tragic news of the accident that claimed Shagaya’s life, President Muhammadu Buhari, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, described Shagaya as “A great Nigerian, whose legacies will live on in the patriotic work he did as a military officer, who rose to the position of a General, and a distinguished Senator.

According to President Buhari, “At each step of his distinguished career in national service and politics, Senator Shagaya brought his deep convictions and discipline to national, regional and community assignments and was ready to always offer his best to the development and stability of the country.”

The president said Shagaya’s legacies, especially in the area of nation-building and unity would live on in the patriotic work he did.

Former military ruler, General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd), shared similar perspective on the late Army General-turned politician, when he expressed shock at Shagaya’s sudden death. He called him one of the brilliant retired military officers in Nigeria.

“General Shagaya until his death had been an ardent supporter of the unity of Nigeria as a nation and a peace builder,” Babangida said.

Tributes coming from well-meaning Nigerians are almost endless. For instance, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), where he was vice chairman, Board of Trustees (BoT), in a statement by its spokesman, Alhaji Mohammed Biu, also described Shagaya, as an elder statesman, who would be remembered for his commitment to national unity.

Biu said, “The late elder statesman, Shagaya, would be remembered for his commitment to national unity, selfless service to his fatherland, vision and intellect,” adding, “Nigeria has lost one of its finest politicians, a bridge-builder and a leader, who lived a simple and humble life.”

Former President of the Nigerian Senate, Senator David Mark, also said Shagaya was among the best and fertile minds in the armed forces.

“He believed in the sanctity of our unity. He believed in the rule of law and in a society, where every citizen is free to pursue his or her legitimate ambition in any part of the country without fear of molestation or intimidation,” he said.

Shagaya, who was recently named Chairman, Board of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) by President Buhari, had held various sensitive positions in Nigeria and had used the opportunity to exemplify himself as a true nationalist.

After graduation, Shagaya was posted to the Nigerian Army Corps, then to 3 Marine Commando, when he gained his commission as Second Lieutenant. He was part of the Marine Commando in the Nigeria Civil War (1967–1970).

He was subsequently given appointments as Grade Three staff officer, Nigeria Army School of Infantry, Jaji; Director of Cadets, Nigerian Defence Academy; Director of the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, Jaji; Brigade Commander, 9 Mechanised Infantry Brigade; Military Secretary, Army Headquarters, and General Officer Commanding, 1st Mechanised Infantry Division.

During the Babangida era, Shagaya was Federal Minister of Internal Affairs, a member of the Armed Forces Ruling Council and a member of the Police Council. He also served as chairman of the committee set up in 1987 to decide on Nigeria’s membership of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. He was also a member of the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC).

Not only was he involved in the drafting of the main protocols for the Economic Community of West African States, he was appointed Field Commander in the ECOMOG Peacekeeping Force in Liberia in September 1993, taking over from Major General Tunji Olurin and as a member of the National Boundary Commission, he helped resolve disputes with Benin and Chad. As a non-commissioned officer (NCO) with the 2nd Reconnaissance Squadron in Abeokuta, he participated in the Nigerian Counter-Coup of 1966.
But when General Sani Abacha became head of state after a military coup 1993, tagging him as “one of the IBB boys” he was recalled from Liberia, demoted from Major General to Brigadier General and even retired from the army.

Born on September 2, 1942, Shagaya was elected senator in April 2007, on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He sought reelection in April 2011 on the Labour Party (LP) platform, but was defeated by Victor Lar of the PDP.

Certain that he had written his name in gold in the sand of time in Nigeria, the Senate, last Wednesday, urged the federal government to immortalise Shagaya, by naming a national monument in his honour.

The Senate resolution followed a motion by Senator Jeremiah Useni (PDP Plateau South), titled: “Demise of Senator John Nanzip Shagaya (OFR) (2nd September, 1942 – 11th February, 2018), which was co-sponsored by Senators Jonah David Jang (Plateau North), Joshua Dariye Chibi (Plateau Central); Theodore A. Orji (Abia Central); Barnabas Gemade (Benue North-East: Akume George (Benue North West) and Shuaibu Lau (Taraba North).

After underscoring many of his outstanding attributes, the lawmakers canvassing for his immortalisation noted that the late Shagaya was a proud awardee of national and several prestigious military awards such as Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR), ECOWAS Distinguished Service Medal, Republic of Liberia’s Distinguished Service Star, Nigerian Armed Forces Medal and Distinguished Service Star.

As Chief of Army Staff, he was known to have canvassed and undertaken reforms aimed at preserving apolitical Army with a deep sense of professionalism. He would go down in the annals of the Nigerian history as someone, who was committed to national unity, selfless service to his fatherland, vision and intellect. There is no doubt that Nigeria lost one of its finest politicians, a bridge builder and a leader, who lived a simple and humble life.