The death of foremost industrialist, statesman and head of defunct Interim National Government (ING), Ernest Shonekan, on January 11, 2022, is a great loss to the country, Africa and the global community. Aged 85, the former leader died of ‘natural causes’, according to family sources. He served as Head of State from 26 August 1993 to 17 November 1993.
Born in Lagos on May 9, 1936, Shonekan was educated at CMS Grammar School and Igbobi College, all in Lagos. He received a law degree from the University of London and was called to the bar. He later attended Harvard Business School, United States (US). Prior to his brief political career, Shonekan was the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the United African Company of Nigeria UAC), the successor of the Niger Company, a vast Nigerian conglomerate, which at that time was the largest company in sub-Saharan Africa
He joined the organisation 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 the Chairman and Managing Director of the company in 1980 and under his watch, the company witnessed phenomenal growth.
Shonekan’s involvement in politics commenced on January 2, 1993, when he assumed office simultaneously as head of transitional council and head of government under the then General Ibrahim Babangida political transition programme.
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, faced with opposition from Nigerians and international isolation over the annulment of the June 12 presidential election presumably won by media mogul, Chief MKO Abiola, Babangida stepped aside. Before his eventual departure, Babangida signed a decree establishing the Interim National Government (ING) led by Shonekan who was subsequently sworn in as head of state.
The confusion created by the annulment of June 12 election continued and on November 17, 1993, barely three months into his administration, Shonekan was overthrown in a palace coup by the late General Sani Abacha. However, Shonekan rose beyond the controversies of the 1993 elections and in 1994 founded the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), an advocacy group and think-tank for private sector-led development of the Nigerian economy.
The NESG has since then been offering profound insights on ways to get the country out of its economic challenges. Shonekan went on to feature prominently as an elder statesman, occasionally making principled interventions that ensured atmosphere of peace and harmony in the country. At the National Council of State meetings, he was credited with offering perspectives that help to stabilise the country.
There is no doubt that the late leader was a great patriot and boardroom guru. He helped to stabilise the polity at a time of national crisis. Although his intervention in 1993 political development had been misconstrued, it was done to preserve the country.
Shonekan died at a time his services will be greatly needed. He was a bridge-builder and detribalised Nigerian. He will be sorely missed by many Nigerians, friends and admirers. For his contributions to the development of the nation, we urge the government to immortalise him.
He was a recipient of the country’s highest award of the Grand Commander of the Federal Republic (GCFR). Shonekan was popularly known as the Baba Sale of Egbaland. We commiserate with the family, Ogun State and the entire country on the great loss. May God grant his soul eternal rest.