Former interim president, Earnest Shonekan dies at 86

Former Nigerian Interim President, Ernest Shonekan is dead.
Chief Ernest Shonekan who headed the Interim National Government that succeeded the junta of General Ibrahim Babangida passed on Tuesday morning.

He was the interim head of the Nigerian Government between August 26 and November 17 1993 when he was ousted in a coup led by late General Sani Abacha.

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

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.

Prior to his political career, Shonekan was the chairman and chief executive of the United African Company of Nigeria (successor of The Niger Company), a vast Nigerian conglomerate, which at the time was the largest African-controlled company in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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.

On 2 January 1993, Shonekan assumed office simultaneously as head of the transitional council and head of government under Ibrahim Babangida. At the time, the transitional council was designed to be the final phase leading to a scheduled handover to an elected democratic leader of the Third Nigerian Republic.

Shonekan learned of the dire condition of government finances, which he was unable to correct. The government was hard-pressed on international debt obligations and had to hold constant talks for debt rescheduling.

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

Shonekan was unable to control the political crisis which ensued following the election annulment. During his few months in power, he tried to schedule another presidential election and a return to democratic rule, while his government was hampered by a national workers’ strike. Opposition leader Moshood Abiola viewed Shonekan’s interim government as illegitimate.

Shonekan released political prisoners detained by Babangida. Shonekan’s administration introduced a bill to repeal three major draconian decrees of the military government. Babangida made the interim government weak by placing it under the control of the military.

Shonekan had lobbied for debt cancellation but, after the election annulment, most of the Western powers had imposed economic sanctions on Nigeria. Inflation was uncontrollable and most non-oil foreign investment 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.

Shonekan tried to set a timetable for troop withdrawal from ECOMOG’s peacekeeping mission in Liberia. General Sani Abacha, was the minister of defence and chief of defence staff who had full control over the military.

In November 1993, three months into his administration, Shonekan was overthrown in 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.

Since then Shonekan went on to feature prominently as an elder statesman. 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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