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Ernest Shonekan (1936-2022): His role in Third Republic debacle

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ERNEST Shonekan, the former head of the Interim National Government that succeeded the military junta of General Ibrahim Babangida, is dead.

The role played by the elder statesman in the history of the Nigerian Third Republic cannot be forgotten.

When his name is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is the role he played  in the Interim National Government.

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 annulment of the 1993 election generated a lot of controversies and threw the country into a state of chaos.

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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.

Shonekan’s tenure as head of government was characterised by controversy.

He was largely unacceptable, especially by people from the Sout west who refused to accept the nullification of June 12 1993, election.

Shonekan could not control the political crisis that followed the election annulment. During 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. 

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Opposition leader Moshood Abiola viewed Shonekan’s interim government as illegitimate. Shonekan released political prisoners detained by Babangida.

His administration introduced a bill to repeal three major draconian decrees of the military government. Babangida deliberately made the interim government weak by placing it under the control of the military.

Shonekan had lobbied for debt cancellation, but most Western powers had imposed economic sanctions on Nigeria after the election annulment.

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 organisation 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.

In 1994, he founded the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, an advocacy group and think-tank for private sector-led development of the Nigerian economy.

Shonekan was born on May 9 1936, in Lagos. The son of an Abeokuta-born civil servant, one of six children born into the family.

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Shonekan was educated at 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 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 40. He was made Chairman and managing director in 1980 and cultivated a wide array of international business and political connections.

Shonekan died at a hospital, in the Lekki area of Lagos state, at the age of 85.

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