A picture of Shehu Shagari in the office during his presidency

Alhaji Shehu Shagari was a Nigerian statesman who served as the first elected civilian executive President of Nigeria from 1979 to 1983. Shehu Shagari came to power after the Nigerian military government allowed the returned of the democracy in the country. He contested and won the election under the platform of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN).

Before becoming the Nigerian President, Shehu Shagari served as a member of the Nigerian House of Representatives during the First Republic. He also served in different ministerial positions under the Tafawa Balewa administration and the Military government of General Yakubu Gowon.

Early Life of Shehu Shagari

Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari was born on 25 February, 1925, in Shagari village, Yabo Local Government, Sokoto State. Shehu Shagari’s father was Aliyu who was a Fulani holding tittle of the Magajin Shagari and also the village head of Shagari. Shagari lost his father in 1930 when he was five years old. Therefore, Shehu Shagari’s eldest brother, Alhaji Bello took his custody.

As a religious culture of the Hausa-Fulani, Shehu Shagari attended Qur’anic school where he reads Qur’an and other basic Islamic knowledge. Began his formal education at the Yabo Elementary School from 1931 to 1935 where he received his primary education. He enrolled into the Sokoto Middle in 1935 and finished in 1940. From 1941 to 1944 he attended the Kaduna College. In 1944, he was at Zaria Teachers Training College where he received a teaching certificate in 1945.

Early Career of Shehu Shagari

After being certified as a qualified teacher in 1945, Shehu Shagari returned to Sokoto and became a science teacher at the Sokoto Middle School. Shagari remained in Sokoto Middle School until 1951 when he was transferred to the Argungu Senior Primary School as a Headmaster. However, after one year, in 1952, he was promoted to the rank of Senior Visiting Teacher in charge of primary schools in the entire Sokoto Province. Shagari remained in the position of the senior visiting teacher until 1958.

Political Career of Shehu Shagari

Shehu Shagari he has been participating in a social activities that were related politics since he was a teacher. In 194, he was one of the Sokoto young elites that formed a social organization called the ‘Sokoto Discussion Circle.

In 1949, Shehu Shagari became one of the founders of the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) that was previously called the ‘Jam’iyyar Mutanen Arewa’. After being an active member, Shagari was appointed the Secretary of the NPC in 1952.

In 1954, Shehu Shagari was elected under the platform of the NPC as a member representing Sokoto West in the Nigerian House of Representatives. While in the parliament, Shehu emerged as one of the leading members of the House. Due to that, in 1958, he was appointed parliamentary secretary.


In 1959, general election was held in Nigeria and Shagari was reelected as member of the House of Representatives. In the same year, Shehu Shagari as a parliamentarian and member of the NPC, was invited and appointed the Minister of Commerce and Industries by the then Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa. Shagari remained in the cabinet of the Tafawa Balewa administration in which he held different ministerial positions that included Minister of Economic Development in 1960, Minister of Pensions From 1960 to 1962, Minister of Internal Affairs from 1962 to 1965, and finally Minister of Works from 1965 until the Coup of the January 1966.


On 15 January, 1966, a group of some young army officers mostly of Igbo background staged a military coup in which top Northern Nigerian political leaders such as Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa lost their lives. As part of the coup, Shehu Shagari as one of the top ministers was also to be killed. But, fortunately to him, he escaped the death.

After the Coup which marked the end of the Nigerian First Republic, Shehu Shagari left Lagos and returned to his native Province of Sokoto. In 1968, he was appointed the Commissioner for Establishment in the North Western State which has Sokoto as its capital.


In 1970, General Yakubu Gowon invited and appointed Shehu Shagari as the Federal Commissioner (minister) for Economic Development, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction. The ministry which Shagari was given was new and its primary purpose was to revived the affected areas during the Nigerian Civil War.

Shagari’s tremendous work in the Ministry for Economic Development, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction led to his appointment in 1972 to a more higher position of Federal Commissioner of Finance. Shagari remained in the position until 1975 when Gowon government was overthrown in a coup by Brigadier Murtala Muhammad.

In September 1978, the then Nigerian Military Government under General Olusegun Obasanjo lifted the ban on politics which was imposed since 1966. Immediately, after the ban, politicians were allowed to formed political parties for Return of the democracy.

On the other hand, Shehu Shagari became one of the politicians who began preparing for the new development. In the year, he became one of the founding members of National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Later, in December 1978, Shehu Shagari won the NPN presidential ticket for the upcoming 1979 presidential election.

On 11 August, 1979, presidential election was held nationwide between five candidates :

  1. Shehu Shagari of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN)
  2. Obafemi Awolowo of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN)
  3. Nnamdi Azikiwe of the Nigerian People’s Party (NPP)
  4. Aminu Kano of the People’s Redemption Party (PRP)
  5. Ibrahim Waziri of the Great Nigerian People’s Party (GNPP)

After the counting of the votes casted in all of the Nigerian 19 states, Shehu Shagari emerged winner with 5,668,857 popular votes, defeating his closest rival Obafemi Awolowo who scored 4,916,651 popular votes.


Nearly two months after the election, on 1 October, 1979, Shehu Shagari was sworn in as the Nigerian first executive civilian President. During the swearing in ceremony, Shagari on his maiden address said that his government would put a high priority on education, housing, and more importantly agriculture.


As part of his effort of reforming the agricultural sector and shifting the Nigerian dependency on petroleum, in April 1980, Shehu Shagari introduced the ‘Green Revolution’ program. Shehu Shagari added that the programme was to ensure that Nigeria became a self-sufficient country in the production of food.

In carrying out the programme, the Nigerian government under Shagari disbursed 18.3 million in different projects which the programme encompassed. One of the most important part of the projects was the river basin system which aimed at improving the rice farming. Also, the government provided agro-chemicals such as fertilizer, and modern machines.

However, the Green Revolution faced some setbacks especially in the non-NPN states. Also, the programme faced some challenges from some farmers who lost their farms under the programme.

Second Term and Overthrown

On 6 August 1983, a presidential election was held in Nigeria and Shehu Shagari won the second term of office. During the election, Shagari under the platform of the NPN scored 12,081,471 popular votes against his closest rival Obafemi Awolowo of the UPN who scored 7,907,209. However, the election was criticized by many Nigerians as being full of manipulations.

Unfortunately, Shehu Shagari’s second term which was a transition of his first term in office was regarded as a full of corruption. Even though, Shehu Shagari himself was considered free of corruption, but many of cabinet members (ministers) was considered corrupted. Eventually, after about nearly five months of the election, some Nigerian Army officers led by Major General Muhammadu Buhari staged a military coup in which they overthrown the Shehu Shagari from power.

After Shagari was ousted from the government, he was caught and imprisoned until 1986.

Release form Prison and Later Life

After Shehu Shagari was released from the prison, he decided to leave politics and devoted himself to personal life. However, he continued to influence other activities in Nigeria. Even though he played a moderate role among the former Nigerian Presidents.

In his home state of Sokoto, Shagari retained his traditional royal title of ‘Turakin Sokoto’ which he was holding since 1962. He was also appointed member of the Sokoto Kingmakers Council.


Shehu Shagari died on 28 December, 2018, in the National Hospital, Abuja. He died at the age of 95.

Ahmad Abdullahi, BA History

My name is Ahmad Abdullahi, I was born on 10th March, 1994 in Garun-Danga Town, Gabasawa L.G., Kano State. I attended FCE Demonstration Primary School from 2002 to 2007, FCE Staff Secondary School from 2007 to 2013, and Northwest University, Kano from 2013 to 2017, where I obtained bachelor degree in History.

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