Prof. Pat Utomi, who served in the government of the late President Shehu Shagari, has described the ex-Nigerian leader as a true nationalist whose good deeds would not be adequately captured by newspapers and history.
Utomi, who spoke on Monday at the “Never Again Conference” to mark the 50th anniversary of the Nigerian civil war, narrated how as a young graduate he was invited to serve in Shagari’s government.
He recalled, “I somehow got lucky, a young fellow coming back from grad school, thinking he could change the world and then I got identified by that Vice-President (the late Alex Ekwueme) and one day he says to me, ‘President Shagari, yesterday, approved for you to replace Prof. Odenigwe’; and I said, ‘what does that mean?’.
“And I ended up in government and from my office in 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 either.
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“To smoke, President Shagari would come out. 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 ended, the Igbo were still maginalised 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.
“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.”