By Wilfred Eya and Chukwudi Nweje
Yesterday, Chief Ernest Shonekan who headed the Interim National Government that succeeded ex-head of state, General Ibrahim Babangida(Rtd) joined his ancestors. The late statesman who died in Lagos at the age of 85 headed the Nigerian Government between August 26 and November 17, 1993 but was ousted in a coup led by late General Sani Abacha.
Expectedly, since his death was announced, eminent Nigerians have continued to reflect on the life and times of the Ogun-born statesman. Indeed, the nation’s history will not be complete without his contribution.
On January 2, 1993, Shonekan assumed office simultaneously as head of the transitional council and head of under Ibrahim Babangida. At the time, the transitional council was designed to be the final phase to a scheduled hand over to an elected democratic leader of the Third Republic.
In August 1993, Babangida resigned from office following the annulment of the June 12 elections. He had signed a decree establishing the Interim National Government led by Shonekan who was subsequently sworn-in as head of state.
But Shonekan was unable to control the political crisis which ensued following the annulment of the election adjudged the freest in Nigeria. During his few months in power, he tried to schedule another presidential election and a return to democratic rule but his was burdened by a national workers’ strike.
The main albatross on the neck of Shonekan was that the winner of the June 12 election, Moshood Abiola, did not recognise the interim despite the fact that it released political prisoners detained by Babangida. Shonekan’s administration also introduced a bill to repeal three major draconian decrees of the military That effort gave the administration some level of popularity but Gen Babangida was believed to have made the interim weak by placing it under the control of the military ab-initio.
After leaving the ING, Shonekan continued to offer his services to Nigeria in different areas. In 1994, he founded the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, an advocacy group and think-tank for private sector-led development of the Nigerian economy. He also went on to feature prominently as an elder statesman until his death.
The man Shonekan
Ernest Adegunle Oladeinde Shonekan was born into a family of six children in Lagos to an Abeokuta-born civil servant on May 9, 1936. He attended CMS Grammar School and Igbobi College before proceeding to the University of London where he obtained a law degree. He later attended Harvard Business School. He held the title Abese of Egbaland from 1981 in addition to a variety of other chieftaincy titles.
He joined the United Africa Company of Nigeria in 1964, at the time a subsidiary of the United Africa Company, played a prominent role in British colonisation. He rose through the ranks in the company and was promoted to an assistant legal adviser. He later became a deputy adviser and joined the board of directors at the age of 40. He was made chairman and managing director in 1980 and went on to cultivate a wide array of international business and political connections.
ING’s legal burden
On November 11, 1993, the Federal High Court in Abuja ruled that the ING appointed by Babangida was illegal.
The court presided over by Justice Dolapo Akinsanya also ruled that Shonekan was sworn in illegally by General Babangida because his appointment was signed after the Babangida administration had resigned from office.
In the confusion created by the court judgement, Gen Abacha, who was Minister of Defence in the ING took over power in a coup and dismantled all the democratic structures already elected during the phased transition to the Third Republic.
Some eminent Nigerians who spoke on his death include, Spokesperson of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Dr Hakeem Baba Ahmed, former governor of Anambra State, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, former president of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazurike and acting leader of Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Chief Ayo Adebanjo.
They all agreed that Shonekan would be greatly missed.
He was a true star – Dr Hakeem Baba Ahmed, NEF spokesman
The NEF spokesperson, Dr Ahmed described Shonekan as a true star of Nigeria who contributed immensely in various spheres of the national life. He also said younger Nigerians should learn a lesson in service to the country from the life of the former head of the ING.
He said, “This is a great loss to Nigeria, Chief Shonekan remains one of the true stars of the country who transversed the whole spectrum of life from being a distinguished entrepreneur to becoming the Head of State. I wish that Nigerians would read more about what kind of life chief Shonekan led and the commitment as well as sacrifices he made for this country and how he rose to the pinnacle he rose to so that the younger generation of Nigerians will understand that it is possible to be a great asset to Nigeria even if you don’t head the country. We send our condolences to Nigerians and his immediate family and pray that God will keep those still serving the country alive.”
He had no enemies –Ezeife
Dr Ezeife noted that Shonekan had no enemies and never indulged in controversies.
“Shonekan is one Nigerian without enemies, he did his best and proved that it pays to be neutral in controversial things. I pray that God accepts his soul and give him perfect rest and those of us in Nigeria to begin to think of how to survive because the way things are going, the is not helping us”, Ezeife said.
He tried to resolve the June 12, 1993 jigsaw –Uwazurike
Former president of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazurike said the late Shonekan will always be remembered as a man who did his best to the jigsaw puzzle created by the military juntas of General Babangida and General Abacha.
He said, “Ernest Shonekan will go down in history as a man who did his best in the jigsaw puzzle of Babangida and Abacha. He was really a remarkable man who rose to great heights. He was a lawyer who chose to go into administration and marketing with UAC. He rose to the great position of managing director and Chief executive. The uncertainty surrounding the maradonic movements of Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida saw him becoming Head of and later Head of state. His tenure was cut short by Abacha in what was understood to be a seamless coup.”
His death is a great loss, says Adebanjo
Acting leader of Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo on his part said Shonekan was a great Nigerian and described his demise as a great loss to Nigeria.