Monday, February 11, 2019

OBITUARY: Shagaya, the ECOMOG commander who facilitated peace abroad but witnessed crisis at home

OBITUARY: Shagaya, the ECOMOG commander who facilitated peace abroad but witnessed crisis at home
February 12
10:31 2018

When the history of peacekeeping mission in Africa would be told, a special place will, no doubt, be reserved for John Nazip Shagaya who was an ex-commander of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) at a point in time. ECOMOG was a West African multilateral armed force established by ECOWAS. It was a formal arrangement for separate armies to work together and restore peace in troubled countries.

In an interview in 2012, Shagaya who ended his earthly journey in a road crash on Sunday, said: “It’s a shame that I ensured peace in Liberia, Angola, Sierra Leone, yet no peace in my home state.” He hailed from Plateau state, which has experienced different forms of violence and of late, the clashes between farmers and herdsmen.

Earlier this month, the deceased shared an outstanding encounter with Daily Trust. Although that incident happened in 1964, the memory was with him, probably till he took his last breath. He had been posted to a cemetery where about 40 bodies had been buried. His assignment was to head the troops who were to watch over the dead. Ironically, troops are currently guarding his own body at the Air Force Military Hospital in Jos, Plateau capital. Life!

Scene of the place where Shagaya died

Hear what he said of that 1964 mission: “I was assigned to guard a cemetery and that particular cemetery, somewhere in Wukari, Taraba state was where it was suspected that some 40 human beings were buried and the period of responsibility was dependent on how soon the forensic police officers would come from Lagos and someone from Scotland Yard in England. That assignment made me the subunit commander of the troops that guarded and protected that graves until bodies were exhumed, counted, numbers were known and some form of DNA was taken before they were reburied. That was in 1964. In the night we were intimidated by all sorts of things, spiritual things but then, we remained unshaken because we had a duty.”


The one-time senator who represented Plateau south was disturbed about the clashes between farmers and herdsmen.

In January, he led a delegation of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) to Benue state, where over 73 persons had been killed. During the visit, he urged Samuel Ortom, governor of Benue to continue with his “constructive engagement” with the federal government, his colleagues and security agencies to find a lasting solution to the challenge.

Shagaya advocated for a “constructive” approach to the clashes between the herdsman and farmers.

Babangida in his military days

He said there was a need to understand the dynamics of the clashes before “we start condemning ourselves.”

“Nigerians have to start seeing certain national problems as a problem of the country and not a problem of one religion or a problem of Buhari because he is a Fulani man and a Fulani man entered a farm,” he said in an interview.

“We have to outgrow that, after all, down in the south-east, south-south where kidnapping became an industry, it wasn’t done along religious line and yet there are governors there who come from some of these communities.”


In March 2017, Pauline Shagaya, the ex-senator’s wife, died in an Abuja hospital after a brief illness. She was 70. Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Shagaya as the chairman of the National Institute for Policy and Strategy Studies (NIPSS), Jos.


Shagaya graduated from the Nigerian Military School Zaria in 1964. Upon graduation, he was posted to the Nigerian Army Corps and later to the 3 Marine Commando where he was commissioned as second lieutenant. After the civil war, he held appointments such as 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.

He retired from the army as a brigadier general after he was demoted from rank of major general in 1993 by Sani Abacha, late dictator. Abacha reportedly did not trust those loyal to Ibrahim Babangida, ex-head of state, also known as “IBB boys”. This was to be the reason he demoted Shagaya. Under the military government of Babangida, Shagaya was minister of internal affairs.


Abacha: He demoted Shagaya

On August 27, 2003, Babangida said Shagaya was “a participant in the exercise that brought our regime to power”.

The occasion was the presentation of book entitled ‘Governance in Nigeria: The IBB Era; an Insider View’ by Shagaya. That day commemorated 18th anniversary of the coup that brought IBB to power after overthrowing Muhammadu Buhari in 1985.

“At 6am on Tuesday August 27, 1985 After having a champagne breakfast to toast their success, the plotters’ inner caucus held a meeting at Bonny Camp to flesh out details of the new leadership,” Chris Alli, a retired major general, said in an account.

“The meeting was attended by the following officers who arrived dressed in combat fatigues: Babangida, Maj-Gen Sani Abacha, Brigadier Joshua Dogonyaro, Brigadier Aliyu Mohammed (head of military intelligence), Navy Commander Murtala Nyako, Lt-Col Ahmed Abdullahi, Lt-Col Tanko Ayuba (commanding officer – Nigerian army signal corps), Lt-Col John Shagaya (commanding officer – 9th mechanised brigade, Ikeja), Lt-Col Anthony Ukpo, Major Abubakar Umar.”


The retired brigadier general had a vision of seeing the country being developed by the hands of Nigerians.

He lamented that Nigerians who have acquired experience abroad are not brought back to the country to contribute their own quota in the country’s development.

“Many Nigerians will lament that with the wealth of experience of many Nigerians outside this country who are professionals that will be found in countries like the US and UK, no one thinks of bringing them back to the country, to use their experience for the growth of the economy. Yet we have very powerful manpower that shakes the world, so it is sad. We are talking about the need to recognize that there is value on the need to recognise and bring in people with experience to serve this country,” Shagaya said in an interview.

The late Shagaya

“I will borrow from the example of Gen Ibrahim Babangida. Even though it is not the best example since it was the military era, but you will find from the quality of Nigerians he brought from outside the country to serve in the nation made the administration what it was and so far it remains in history that it is the one that brought lots of innovations in terms of governance and that can be found in my book, ‘Governance in Nigeria, the IBB era’. Why do I say so?

“That administration recognized that people like Dr. Olukoye Ransome-Kuti who was then working for the World Health Organization and he decided to reform the health sector.”


Shagaya was elected as senator representing Plateau south in April 2007. He was elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The election was nullified until the court of appeal upheld him as the winner in December 2008. The ex-senator was a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) until his death.

Born to Sikji Miri Wazhi and Maryamu Zwancit, he is survived by eight children and 13 grandchildren.



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1 Comment

  1. Sumsum
    Sumsum February 13, 10:50

    His son, Sim Shagaya, is the founder of the online store

    Reply to this comment

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