Abuja office of former President Shagari still intact – Dr. Abari
Story from Ibraheem Hamza MUHAMMAD
Neptune Prime has gotten exclusive access to the office of the former executive president of Nigeria, late Alhaji Shehu Aliyu Shagari in Abuja.
Alhaji Shehu Aliyu Shagari used the Abuja office whenever he was on a working visit to the then-proposed capital of Nigeria, Abuja when the capital was in Lagos.
The office, which has been preserved in its original form for thirty-two years, is situated between the office of the Director-General of the National Orientation Agency, (NOA) and the board room in the old Federal Secretariat in block B, Area 1, Garki, Abuja. NOA confirms that indeed the office and convenience is measured at 21 by 12 ft.
The office, simply furnished, has a comfortable look to it even now and can be compared to what is obtained in flamboyant offices of top civil service officials. The door of the office is made of wood covered in a dark brown colour, it has a sign on a green plastic with a white inscription as thus: “Office of President Shehu Aliyu Shagari, former President of Nigeria”.
The key is kept with the protocol unit under the office of the DG. It was opened ajar after just two-step turns. The walls and ceiling are painted white, and there are ten locally made visitors’ chairs with no armrest; eight facing the table of the president and two by the left side.
The table is a normal one which can be said to be that of a middle-level civil servant, it has six drawers; three drawers on each side. There is a medium-sized cupboard with a painting on top of it. A flag of Nigeria with the coat of arms in the centre stands by the right-hand side of the chair, one split air conditioner that is probably more archaic now than a product is still in very good condition.
And most importantly, the white seat of the president with the seal of the President on top or at the head-rest of the snow-white chair. The color of the chairs match the fabric used to cover it on the visitors’ seats, which is ash with a mixture of black.
The most intriguing thing is the toilet at the end of the office. The toilet is too small, approximately four feet, tiny space for a modern office holder of the rank of a director in the civil service. It is made up of one WC, one sink, and a towel hanger.
The office was opened and used by the then executive President Alhaji Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari whenever he was on a working visit or on vacation in Abuja to supervise the ongoing project of building offices, houses, roads, and other infrastructure to pave way for the relocation of the capital from Lagos to Abuja. That was where he conducted the affairs of the government of the day as usual.
The administrations that preceded him built the present luxurious seat of government now known as Aso Rock Villa in Asokoro, Abuja.
The DG of the NOA, Dr. Yusuf Abari said, “When I saw the office for the first time, I was nostalgic, simplicity is nothing compared to what the intention and the content of a person’s work are. This tells you how things used to be in the past; that the whole thing is about service and not about the ornaments, about the embellishment or the conduciveness or the lack of it of the environment, but service.
“And this is the office of the president of Nigeria, in the Federal Capital Territory. This tells you that we have lost most of the values, because we are obsessed with aesthetics. This is the office when he flew in from Lagos to Abuja, the only thing of significance in the seat that bears the presidential seal. Look at the chairs, the table. Now go to Ministries and agencies and see what they call offices of Directors and so on.”
The DG said visitors are surprised about the simplicity of the former president, whose intention was to work without regard to the obnoxious appeal attached to holders of such high offices. Even as they have travelled far and wide as Very Important Persons (VIPs) to many developed country’s palaces, villas, and hotels.
Modern offices of Directors and above in the civil service have a chair and table, a dining table, a tea table, and a couch of chairs, with a collection of other offices for assistants, clerks, kitchen among others. As others have an enclosure for a private telephone conversation or for two people to converse in secret.
However, the Director, General Services in NOA, Mr. Samuel Soughul said “The office comprised of just three things: office, convenience and a council Hall used by former President Alhaji Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari whenever he was in Abuja.
The original structure was under the management and control of the Presidency before it was dismantled and handed over to the then Mass Mobilization for Self Reliance, Social Justice and Economic recovery, MAMSER, which was inaugurated in July 25, 1987.
It later came under the custody of NOA when it was inaugurated in August 23, 1993, it became NOA. He said the office is under lock and key, been cleaned on all working days, and shown to visitors. But the council hall has been converted to a board room.”
He recalled that the now old federal secretariat was commissioned to enable the federals, civil servants, to relocate there from where they were operating in Suleja Town of Niger State.
The Director said he learned that former President Alhaji Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari did not complain about the smallness of the office considering his status as an elected executive president because his zeal and determination were to work and not caring about the paraphernalia of office.
Mr. Samuel Soughul said, “I was very surprised when I saw the office of the great man and that made me respect him the more for his simplicity, down to earth, and commitment to service in and out.
“To this regard, NOA is calling on Nigerians to be proactive and contented and make judicious use of the material resources they have instead of engaging in obnoxious appeal compared to the character of the forefathers. We want people to know that the office is so small, but that is not what matters, but the commitment behind the former president to keep working and to operate from anywhere. The air condition of the office is still functioning.”
He said the only new insertion added to the original items in the office is the portrait painting of the former president which was donated by a former Youth Corp Member, Mokogbu Christian Chika who saw the need to contribute a painting to the office or the agency in 2011 and this influenced NOA to employ her for her foresight.
People are free to visit the office to know firsthand that for them to know the value of maintaining public structure and items, the purpose for showing people the office is for them to imbibe the desire to work for the country, maintain structures entrusted to them and make the country great.
Mr. Samuel Soughul said, “The dignitaries that visited the office are the former Senate President, David Mark when he visited the agency accompanied by five ministers and the former Speaker and now the Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal and their reactions were all of the praises for the former president for his simplicity and commitment to work without affluence upon being an elected president.
Similarly, Alhaji Isyaku Ibrahim, a friend and political associate of the late first executive President Shehu Aliyu Shagari who has been with him several times in the office said, “Shagari had the concern of the people above his own interest, that was why he maintained a simple office, but with the zeal to provide food and shelter which was the symbol of his party, National Party of Nigeria, (NPN).
“All the furniture is locally made by Nigerians to encourage local consumption. This office was simple but occupied by a great man. May Allah repose his soul, Amin.
“I urge people to visit the office and for NOA to continue preserving the office.”Said Alhaji Isyaku Ibrahim.