Ernest Shonekan: Who Was He Asides Being Interim Head of State?

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Ernest Shonekan, the interim Head of State of Nigeria from 26 August 1993 to 17 November 1993, died on Tuesday morning at a hospital in Lagos, aged 85. We know that he had a short tenure as President as well as his exit from power through a military coup by General Sani Abacha in 1993 after the annulment of the 12 June presidential election. But, who really, is Ernest Shonekan?

Shonekan Before Presidency

Shonekan was born on May 9, 1936, in Lagos. He was the son of an Abeokuta-born civil servant, one of six children born into the family. Shonekan was educated at the CMS Grammar School and Igbobi College. He received a law degree from the University of London and was called to the bar. He later attended Harvard Business School. 

Shonekan joined the United Africa Company of Nigeria in 1964, a subsidiary of the United Africa Company, which played a prominent role in British colonization. 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 40. He was made Chairman and managing director in 1980 and cultivated a wide array of international business and political connections.

Shonekan As President

Shonekan was a boardroom guru before being handpicked as the chairman of the Interim National Government which he headed between August 26 and November 17 1993. The transitional board was designed to be the final phase leading to a scheduled handover to an elected democratic leader of the Third Nigerian Republic.

Ibrahim Babangida, then military president of Nigeria, decided to step aside after nullifying one of Nigeria’s most successful general elections, purportedly won by Moshood Kashimawo Abiola (MKO). The transitional board was designed to be the final phase leading to a scheduled handover to an elected democratic leader of the Third Nigerian Republic.

Ibrahim Babangida, then military president of Nigeria, decided to step aside after nullifying one of Nigeria’s most successful general elections, purportedly won by Moshood Kashimawo Abiola (MKO). The annulment of the 1993 election generated a lot of controversies and threw the country into a state of chaos. Many human rights groups rose to challenge the action, but the head of state sent the military to quell the crisis.

In August 1993, when the situation worsened, Babangida resigned from office, following the annulment of the June 12 elections. He signed a decree establishing the Interim National Government led by Shonekan, who was subsequently sworn in as head of state.

Ernest Shonekan was appointed to head an Interim National Government (ING) that was expected to usher in a new democratically elected government to appease the Southwest then who felt aggrieved, but his stay was short-lived with Babangida’s military coup.

Shonekan’s tenure as head of government was characterized by controversy. He was largely unacceptable, especially by people from the Southwest who refused to accept the nullification of the June 12, 1993 election. In his few months in power, he tried to schedule another presidential election and a return to democratic rule while a national workers’ strike hampered his government. He also released political prisoners detained by Babangida. Inflation was uncontrollable, and most non-oil foreign investments disappeared.

The government also initiated an audit of the accounts of NNPC, the oil giant, an organization that had many operational inefficiencies. Shonekan served as an Executive of Royal Dutch Shell while acting as the interim President of Nigeria. In November 1993, three months into his administration, Shonekan was overthrown in a palace coup by Abacha.

Shonekan After Presidency

In 1994, he founded the Nigerian Economic Summit Group an advocacy group and think-tank for private sector-led development of the Nigerian economy. Since then Shonekan went on to feature prominently as an elder statesman.

He passed away on Tuesday 11 January 2022 at the age of 85. At the time of his death, he was the third oldest surviving Nigerian head of state by age after Elizabeth II and Yakubu Gowon. 

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