Shagari respected the president’s office, he never smoked inside it — Utomi

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Prof. Pat Utomi has praised the leadership qualities of the late former President Shehu Shagari.

Utomi, who served in the Shagari administration, described the late president “as a true nationalist.”

The political economist, who spoke on Monday at the ‘Never Again Conference’ to mark the 50th anniversary of Nigeria’s Civil War, said Shagari was highly disciplined.

He said, “I somehow got lucky, a young fellow coming back from graduate school, thinking he could change the world and then I got identified by the Vice-President (the late Alex Ekwueme) and one day he says to me, ‘President Shagari, yesterday, approved for you to replace Prof Odenigwe’. I said, ‘what does that mean?’ And I ended up in government. From my office at Dodan Barracks. Most of us don’t remember, but President Shagari was a chain smoker, but he never smoked in public and he respected the Office of the President so much that he never smoked inside that office.

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“To smoke, President Shagari would come out – to smoke. And I would come out; and Aba Dabu and I would corner him and start chatting him up. And I saw a true nationalist in that man, that history and the newspapers probably will not capture enough.”

Also speaking at the event, which took place at the MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos, renowned musician, Onyeka Onwenu, lamented that 50 years after the civil war, the Igbo were still marginalised in the country.

Onwenu said, “I have tried with the little talent that God has given me to use it for the betterment of my society and my country. But if I were a Yoruba or Hausa woman, I would probably have had more patronage, more help and more support than I have got by my self-help effort to raise this country up. But I’m not asking anybody for anything.

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“I am angry at Nigeria; I am angry at this government which seems to be letting us down. I am angry at us as a people. I am angry at my people, Ndigbo, because if they have refused you, why are you refusing yourself? Stop complaining and do it for yourself, we’ve always been able to do that.”

Punch

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