According to Capt. Bala Shagari, his travails in the military began soon after his father was overthrown by the then Major General Muhammadu Buhari. Here are excerpts from the interview below;
At the time he became president, where were you and how did you feel as son of the President?
When he became president, I was already in the Nigeria Army. I can recall that when he was President-elect, my promotion also came as Lieutenant, and traditionally you cannot wear your new rank until you go back to your unit. At that time, I was in Lagos for official engagement because I was also a sportsman in the Army. I was playing snooker game for my Division, 1 Division, Kaduna. So, I was in Lagos for the game when the Supreme Court decided the case between him and Chief Awolowo. It was about the same time that my promotion came as Lieutenant. I saw it in newspapers, but I couldn’t wear it until I went back to my unit when my C.O. decorated me. Jokingly, the C.O said my father was a President-elect and I was a Lieutenant-elect. We all laughed. So, I was in the Nigeria Army when he became the president. During his tenure as president, none of his children ever went out with bodyguard or fleet of cars. We moved around freely and mixed with people freely without fear or sense of insecurity to our lives. We all feared our father for his principled lifestyle. We were so conscious of what we do as his children and what people will be saying about us. When I saw children of president maybe during Babangida regime and so on going around in presidential jet, it made me remember an incident. I came to Lagos one day because I was serving in Zaria. So, I took a commercial flight from Kaduna airport to Lagos, and when I was going back to Zaria, my father’ Aide de camp (ADC) bought me a flight ticket to return back to Kaduna, it was about N21 or so. But when my father saw the ticket he was furious. He then queried the ADC on why he should buy me a ticket because I wasn’t a staff of State House. Why should he buy a ticket for me? So, you can see the difference between then and now. He wouldn’t even allow State House to buy you a ticket talk less of you taking a presidential plane around. I also remember when his two wives wanted to go for holiday. They wanted to go to London for a few days and later move to Saudi Arabia for prayers. My father denied them to be flown in the presidential plane. He insisted that they must fly in a commercial plane or they abort the trip. He said the presidential plane can take them within Nigeria and not outside the country. So, when I see the children of these days doing things the way they like because of their fathers’ influence or position, I laugh it off.
Where were you when he was overthrown and how did you feel?
I was still in the Nigeria Army when he was overthrown. Though, I was later retired compulsorily by the Buhari’s regime.
What was your sin(s)?
For being the son of President Shehu Shagari. That was all. That was my only sin, I think. I can recall that the retirement letter states that ‘by the power vested on me as Chief of Army Staff, you are hereby compulsorily retired and your service is no longer required.’
Who was the Chief of Army Staff?
The then military secretary signed the letter while General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida was the Chief of Army Staff. The letter was his directive. Immediately they served me the letter, that was where they also picked me up and detained for six weeks. Though, it was a house arrest in Sokoto, not in a prison yard. They took me to Kaduna, I passed a night in Kaduna and they later brought me back to Sokoto, to NSO office which we call SSS now. When they brought me, I slept a night in their office. The next day, they prepared one of their guest rooms and put me there for six weeks.
What were you doing when the news was broken to you that your father had been overthrown?
I remember on the day of the coup d’état, I was in Jos playing polo. And I came back in the morning trying my horses because I had another game in the evening. I was with two of my Lebanese friends who played polo too. They were also from Zaria. They called my name repeatedly asking me if I have not heard the news that my father had been overthrown in a coup d’état. I merely responded to them and continued rolling my ball. They were surprised the way I responded to them. My mates were also surprised to see me calm throughout the period.
When you were moved to Sokoto, did NSO officials later brief you the offence you committed?
Not at all. Well, maybe the new government felt I was a threat to them because I didn’t look worried at all when my father was overthrown.
Before you were retired, what was your mood like, at least for taking orders from those who overthrew your father?
I didn’t have any mixed feelings about the whole thing. I was a young officer and well nurtured in the military. I always see myself as serving the nation. In fact, there was another polo game I went for in Lagos, and I met with Babangida. I believed he must have been thinking of me by saying ‘see this boy again, only God knows what he is planning against us.’ When they discovered that my mood wasn’t changed, at one time, Colonel Aliyu Akilu, the then Head of Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) called me to confirm if I have any problem. And I said no sir. He then said if I am not comfortable again in the military, I can put in my resignation letter. I said no sir. I am okay. He called me again to know if I have made up my mind to tender my resignation letter from the Army. I repeated the same no sir, and assured him that I am alright. I said ‘when I joined the Army, my father was not a president. Now because he is no more a president doesn’t mean I should also quit the Army. So, I will not resign but if you people felt you cannot work with me, you can ask me to go.’ That is what I told him. Later I was served with compulsory retirement letter. That was all.