From the onset, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, who won the 1979 Presidential election, although the verdict was controversial, never gave the impression of being a man who had clear idea of what government was all about. If anything, he appeared to be the reincarnation of Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa: purposeless, weak, and even to some, lazy – characteristics not surprising in a man who, after all, had never courted power and wanted only to be a senator.
In the way he operated and performed as president of Nigeria, it was clear that what President Shagari found most attractive was the pomp and pageantry that came with leadership. General Olusegun Obasanjo, who handed over the reins of power to him, said of him, in his book, Not My Will: “He was pushed into power by those who wanted to make use of him and he was unfortunately too weak, and somewhat ill-prepared for the trappings of political power to check the abuses of his power by those who made use of him”. Shagari himself later demonstrated his lack of confidence in government when he made his famous remark to the effect that, in reality, there were only two major political parties in Nigeria during the Second Republic: the civilians on the one hand and the military on the other.
Because he inherited a healthy economy and because, like former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, the oil boom really was a real boon for him, Shagari saw his problem not as earning money for the country, but as not knowing what to do with it.
When he came to power October 1, 1979, the price of oil was $40 per barrel on average and the production level was two million barrels per day throughout 1980 and the beginning of 1981. The price of oil had jumped from about $14 per barrel in the third quarter of 1979 to $40 per barrel in the first quarter of 1980. In 1979/80 Nigeria’s revenue was estimated at N12.272 billion (about £9 billion), to which oil contributed about N9.489 billion (£7.6 billion).