The Military historian and former West African peacekeeping force, ECOMOG Commander, Brig-General John Nanzip Shagaya (rtd). In this encounter with Louis Achi in Jos on March 8, 2003, the former internal affairs minister under General Ibrahim Babangida reveals why he was summarily withdrawn from Liberia as ECOMOG Commander, demotion and unceremonious retirement by Late General Sani Abacha. He also talks on several persistent naughty labels like ‘IBB Boy’, ‘Langtang Mafiosi’, as well as gives some insight into his life’s momentous journey…
Interview and Talks about “The Langtang Mafia” and “IBB Boys”
“What might qualify as the very low point of my military career would be that unfortunate incident of General Sani Abacha announcing my retirement on the CNN and BBC”, Brig. Gen John. Shagaya continues: “Simply because he (Abacha) had called me on December 19, 1993, to seek my co-operation and support for the coup against Shonekan and I told him I was not going to do that.”
Providing more insight to his role, or lack of one, in the murky intrigues that preceded the ouster of the interim presidency of Chief Ernest Shonekan, Shagaya talked about how the late Military Supremo General Abacha told him he would proceed with the upstaging of Shonekan all the same.
“I said if he did I was going to quit the service. I was not ready to subordinate myself under an armed forces we all had taken a vow to allow a democratic system to exist. Quite a few officers have acknowledged this position in their write-ups”, he further disclosed.
As it turned out seven days after the Abacha palace putsch sacked Shonekan on December 26, 1993, Shagaya was unceremoniously retired from an army he had served for over three decades. Before this move, the Kano-born goggled general withdrew Shagaya from the Liberian civil war theatre where he commanded the ECOMOG peace force and demoted him from a Major-General to Brig-General.
Observes the one-time internal affairs minister under General Ibrahim Babangida, “I was not surprised at my retirement. I knew the implications of the position I had expressed. My surprise was more at the information medium that was used to communicate that decision. This lowest point of my career all the same never killed my morale.”
Having shared the lowest point of his career with THISDAY, it was only natural that the Langtang general recall his happiest moment: “My happiest moment in life was that day, that hour, I was being decorated Major-General to go and head ECOMOG forces which later became an enlarged Continental force under OAU, now African Union, AU.”
Shagaya’s scholarly mien, insight, and articulation could make him easily pass for an academician. But the steely glint in his eyes and barely concealed vibrations of command give him away as a soldier.
In attempting to deconstruct one of the Nigerian army’s most brilliant combatant soldiers and something of a military historian, a writer would first need to rescue him from some popular stereotypes: an IBB boy’ and a member of the shadowy Langtang mafia’. In grappling with this bracing task, Shagaya himself provides some assistance.
Ensconced in his Spartan Jos office as CEO of Viewpoint Communications Ltd, he shares some insights into these somewhat naughty labels which have found fashionable perches on the necks of several Babangida military loyalists on one hand, and ex-military top shots of Langtang extraction in Plateau State, on the other.
“There is nothing wrong in friendship or to my mind, to be loyal to a friend and superior. If it is what has attracted to me and several other colleagues the label of IBB boys’, then I take it very kindly because I see it as very complimentary,” Shagaya reveals.
And more… “I was asked this same question when I returned from Liberia in December 1993. My reaction to the media was that I was proud to be associated with a government to the extent that I was being called IBB boy’, knowing fully well he is not my father. That label is a compliment to the fact that we were loyal to ourselves.”
Stating that if it was providence that made IBB and himself master and boy, then it was all well and good. Shagaya further reveals that following Abacha’s sacking of the Shonekan interim government and retirement of himself and some of his colleagues at the excuse of their being called IBB Boys, he had offered prayers for the new Commander-in-Chief. “I prayed that he enjoys the level of loyalty that IBB enjoyed from both his military colleagues and civilian subordinates who served under him that would warrant them being called IBB boys.”
But alas, regrets Shagaya, “He (Abacha) was not that fortunate to have had the likes of us to be called his boys. So I believe once you have friends they should be loyal to each other.
Once in authority, subordinates should be very loyal to bosses. If that is the interpretation Nigeria would run very well.” Expressing his sympathies to the then President Olusegun Obasanjo because “in all his subordinates I have not seen one who is loyal to him because he believes in what he is doing or because they believe in getting Nigeria out of the woods,” Shagaya restated that he was proud to be called an IBB boy.
“I belonged to his administration. I am happy I enjoyed the confidence of IBB throughout my service as minister of internal affairs. The resultant effect of that level of confidence and related support could be seen in the difference from when I left the ministry of internal affairs and what has become of the same ministry.”
More importantly, the area is top-heavy with retired and serving brass of the Nigerian army. A quick check-list-Air Marshall Wuyep (CAS), Lt-Gen. Jeremiah Useni (rtd), Lt-Gen Domkat Bali (rtd), Air Cmdr Bernard Banfa (rtd), Lt-Gen. Joshua Dogonyaro (rtd), Brig-Gen. Yakubu Rindam (rtd), Late Major-Gen. Joe Garba (rtd) and many others.
The impact this crop of soldiers have made on the nation’s socio-political history is hardly debatable. Perhaps, it was only natural that a matching mystique evolve to appropriately position them in the geo-political pantheon of forces that shape the country’s future.
What really is the Langtang mafia and is Shagaya a member? “That’s a very difficult question, but I will attempt an answer,” responds the mafiosi(?)
According to Shagaya, “When the accident of progress and promotions made them meet at certain points and times in their career, it was not a deliberate plan. So he (IBB) defended his position in having a lot of Christians, if not the majority as members of his cabinet. He also had a lot of the so-called Middle- belters enjoying the commands of the formations of the Nigerian army.”
The ‘IBB boy’ then delivers his punchline: “And so if Langtang belongs to the sub-region called Middle belt, the detractors of IBB were then supposed to see it differently, because they thought and believed at the time that exclusive enjoyment of power or the control of power was in the hands of some particular group.
If that is what is being referred to as the Langtang mafia then one is happy that I belonged to a certain group and grade of officers at a certain time in that ran this country. It was fortunate or unfortunate that a majority happened to come from a particular sub-region (Langtang/Middle Belt) where I come from.”
Having delved into the origin of that enduring construct, ‘Langtang Mafia’, Shagaya went further to clarify what he felt were some misperceptions about IBB’s tenure and unfair flak from the Middle Belt itself. “Having spoken at length on the so-called Langtang Mafia and the way some Northern Moslem citizens saw IBB at the time, I would also say that in as much as I have admitted we have enjoyed the name Langtang Mafia, you will be surprised to also know that even in the Middle Belt itself, IBB was not spared.” And more…
“Difficult in the sense that IBB (General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida rtd) being a Muslim stood being accused by the core Islamic North for surrounding himself with Southerners and of course Middle belters. Since his explanation at the time was that people joined the service at different times.
“He was being accused and I think till today some political leaders in the Middle Belt are still accusing him to the effect that the Middle Belt were his boys. They served and he used and dumped them. I want to say here that it is false. False, because at the time the man exited the seat of power almost all the formations of the Nigerian army were commanded by Middle Belters.”
Deploying statistics to shore up his contention Shagaya recalls, “I was in 1 Division, Major-Gen. Chris Garuba was in 82 Division, Late Major-Gen. John Inienger was in 2 Div. Major-Gen. Ishaya Bamaiyi was in Lagos. They were all Christians. And so, if the man left this crop of officer to run the formations, he couldn’t have also been responsible for using them to overthrow Shonekan.”
At this point, Nigeria’s longest-serving Minister of Internal Affairs has a word of advice to anybody who wants to become the country’s president “So what one will say here is that one common central feature to all this is that a large portion of Nigerians recognise that IBB had certain loyalists.
That he had a very strong hold in the Middle Belt sub-region and especially his friends in the South and South-South which I will advocate is desirable for anybody who wants to become the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
With a faraway look in his eyes, Shagaya recalls the philosophy that has guided his life this far. “One thing my upbringing dictates for me to do is to be upright, be truthful in whatever I do. In my relationship with other beings and lesser mortals. one has to do so with fairness.”
“And in carrying out the challenges of duty and responsibilities one should do so as a good ambassador. This has been all I have tried to do-hard work, truthfulness, honesty-some-times to a fault. I also set very high standards and expect that subordinates and colleagues would take on and achieve results.”
“I am one of those who believe that we have seen enough deceit from 1959 till date and that some of us should come in and add value and quality. One decided to join politics to be able to contribute qualitatively to the way the game of politics is being played. Especially in my sub-region and my community, Langtang.”
A foundation member of the United Nigeria Peoples Party (UNPP), Shagaya makes it clear he did not join politics because of certain immediate needs like seeking political office or appointment- “Far from it.
I would continue to participate, represent the little community I belong to and above all give advice nationally and within the state level where I believe this would be useful to advance the polity. For now, I have not taken a decision to seek elective office.”
In a parting message to the Nigerian youths who represent the future of the soldier, he said:
“Young Nigerians are too much in a hurry to acquire material wealth. A meaningful future should be rooted in honesty, sincerity, and hard work.”
Biography of Late Brig-General John Nanzip Shagaya (rtd)
John Nanzip Shagaya Born on 2nd September 1942 at Danburam Langtang II to MalIam Sikji Miri-Wazhi alias Shagaya and Mrs. Maryamu Zwancit.
He was a Nigerian senator and former senior military officer who was elected in April 2007 to represent the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Plateau State as a member of the Nigerian Senate for Plateau South.
He ran for reelection in April 2011 on the Labour Party (LP) platform but was defeated by Victor Lar of the PDP. As a non-commissioned officer (NCO) with the 2nd Reconnaissance Squadron in Abeokuta, he participated in the Nigerian counter-coup of 1966.
He attended his primary school at Nyer and later SUM Primary School, Langtang between 1952-1959, and later the Nigerian Military School (NMS) Zaria in 1960-1964.
After graduation from the Nigerian Military School, Zaria, he was posted to the Nigerian Army Armoured Corps then (Recce Squadron).
Between 1964 and 1966 when he rose to the enviable rank of a corporal and an instructor in the squadron in Communications, Gunnery, and D & M.
Shagaya, then a Corporal with the 2nd Reconnaissance Squadron in Abeokuta, was one of the many soldiers of northern Nigerian origin (including 2nd Lieutenant Sani Abacha, Lieutenant Muhammadu Buhari, Lieutenant Ibrahim Bako, Major Theophilus Danjuma, Lieutenant Colonel Murtala Muhammed, and Lieutenant Ibrahim Babangida among others), who staged what became known as the Nigerian counter-coup of 1966 because of grievances they felt towards the administration of General Aguiyi Ironsi’s government which quelled the January 15, 1966 coup.
In 1967, Shagaya attended the first short service combatant course in NDA Kaduna and was posted to 3 Marine Commandos upon commissioning in the rank of the second lieutenant where he participated in the Nigerian civil war 1967-1970
After the civil war, he started a long and successful march to command a West Africa Multi-National Force (ECOMOG) in 1993 in the field rank of a Major General, having commanded 1st Mechanized Division of the Nigerian Army between 1992-1993 and all lower commands in the Nigerian army including platoon, company, battalion, and brigade.
To date, he is the country’s longest-serving Federal Minister of Internal Affairs and member Armed Forces Ruling Council. Member of the Police Council, all between August 1988-December, 1989.
Shagaya served as Chairman of the controversial Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) committee at the time this country would have been torn to pieces because of religious crises in 1987 allegedly associated with Nigeria’s Permanent Membership of OIC.
Between this same period as Minister of Internal Affairs, he served as the Chairman of the Ministers of Internal Affairs of the ECOWAS sub-region to draft ECOWAS PROTOCOLS l, ll & III.
Because of his interest in military history, he was between 1984-1986 made the Chairman of the National War Museum and a member of the National Commission for Museum and Monument.
His efforts resulted in the historic Umuahia complex of the National War Museum and the National Museum of Colonial History at Aba in Abia State.
Other important military appointments he held include:
The Military Secretary Army, Army Headquarters.
Directing Staff Command and Staff College-Jaji,
Director of Cadets-Nigerian Defence Academy Grade lIl,
Staff Offficer, Nigeria School of Infantry-Jaji.
He was described throughout his career by his superiors and assessors as the soldiers’ soldier.
He was one of the few Nigerian Military Officers who between 2nd Lieutenant and Brig. General attended every professional course commensurate to that age and rank.
His performances at the military institutions in the USA earned him the Honorary citizenship of six states.
At the Royal College of Defense Studies (1990), he became the Second Nigerian to earn an academic prize for his research work, the first being late General l.D. Bissalla in 1974.
On November 17, 1993, General Sani Abacha became head of state after a military coup. Abacha distrusted Brigadier John Shagaya and other “IBB boys” loyal to Babangida. Within a few days, Shagaya was recalled from Liberia, demoted from Major General to Brigadier General and then retired from the army.
On 16th November 2000, Shagaya was conferred with a National Honour of the Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) by the President, Commander-ln-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
In addition to being an active politician, Brig. General Shagaya was Director of Lion Bank (Nig) Plc since From 1998 to 2003
Shagaya was a founding member of the United Nigeria People’s Party (UNPP), running unsuccessfully for the Senatorial seat of Plateau South in the 1999 elections.
Before the 2003 elections, he joined the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) but was defeated again.
As of 2003, he was working on a book, “The Tarok History“ having published in 1990 “The Ministry of Internal Affairs, an Overview.”
He has participated in many international seminars on “Peace Keeping “The ECOMOG Experience and Conflict Resolutions.”
Some of the traditional titles he held include:
Danburam Langtang II,
Akaraka I of Ibeku and
Otun-Akogun I of Ikosi – Kosofeland, Lagos.
Shagaya had converted from a military officer to a politician, earned the title of a moderate, and was elected as Senator for Plateau South in April 2007, running on the platform of PDP.
His election was challenged, and nullified by the elections petition tribunal, but in December 2008 a Court of Appeal in Jos overthrew this decision and ordered the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to immediately issue a Certificate of Return to Shagaya.
In June 2009, Shagaya warned that offering an amnesty to the Niger Delta militants might not end the violence. The militants might hide their best weapons, and return only disused and damaged ones.
In an interview in October 2009, he defended the various military interventions since Nigeria gained independence, and stated that the influence of generals in politics since 1999 simply reflected their training and discipline.
John Nanzip Shagaya was involved in a car accident on the 11th of February 2018 while returning to Jos from Langtang, at a time when he was involved in reconciling the quarrelling North of Nigeria.
Biography of Late Brig-General John Nanzip Shagaya (rtd)
John Nanzip Shagaya Born on 2nd September 1942 at Danburam Langtang II to MalIam Sikji Miri-Wazhi alias Shagaya and Mrs. Maryamu Zwancit. He was a Nigerian senator and former senior military officer who was elected in April 2007 to represent the People's Democratic Party (PDP) in Plateau State as a member of the Nigerian Senate for Plateau South.