Thursday, October 15, 2020 12:35 pm
And Nigeria loves foreign food
By Shehu Shagari
General Sheikh, the Chief of Pakistani delegate strongly urged me to visit Pakistan to study their civil service training programmes; and arrange for Nigerian civil servants to attend. On my return home, I received a formal invitation from the Pakistani government. Somehow, the Indian government learnt of the impending visit and Mr. Shastri, India’s Minister of Interior, immediately extended a similar invitation. The Prime Minister agreed to both, and I was accompanied by Michael O. Ani and Mallam Garba Gummi, my Permanent Secretary and Private Secretary respectively…
While in Pakistan, General Ayub Khan, the President, expressed to me his displeasure with Nigeria sending its military personnel to Indian rather than to Pakistani academies. He wanted Sir Abubakar to know how greatly disappointed he was that Pakistan, a friendly Muslim country eager to assist Nigeria with Military expertise, was being discriminated against by a Muslim leader.
Incidentally, I delivered the message in the presence of Muhammadu Ribadu, the Minister of Defence. Ribadu, himself a devout Muslim, was not amused. He quickly said he would hesitate to send his boys to a country where they may learn how to stage coup d’etat! Arrangements were nevertheless made for our soldiers to train in Pakistan. Many years later, some of the beneficiaries were to overthrow democracy in Nigeria and impose the most authoritarian regime the country had ever seen. But we would perhaps never know whether they learned coup making while in Pakistan.
In India, Prime Minister Jawaharal Nehru had a quite different complaint: Nigerians, he understood, imported rather than grew the food they ate. I tried to correct this partly mistaken impression, affirming that the bulk of imported foods were meant to meet the needs of expatriates living in Nigeria. Still, he strongly advised that we should stop them and force everyone to eat Nigerian food.
On our return to Nigeria, I raised the issue with the Indian High Commissioner. I suggested that his office might have been sending home inaccurate reports on the eating habits of Nigerians. He took my remarks in good part, and was in due course to seize the opportunity of Nehru’s visit to Nigeria the following year to give me a reply.
At a banquet held in Mr. Nehru’s honour at the Federal Palace Hotel in Lagos, the envoy reminded me that Mr. Nehru could now see for himself that Nigerians do, in fact, prefer foreign food; the entire menu at the banquet was foreign!
– Former President Shehu Shagari, in Beckoned To Serve