OBITUARY: Ernest Shonekan, the technocrat who ‘stabilized’ Nigeria after the June 12 cancellation


While June 12 and its aftermath remain a brackish abyss in the ocean of Nigerian history, Ernest Shonekan is widely credited as the man who brought ‘stability’ at a time of great political uncertainty.

A glance at the short but illustrious gallery of Nigerian leaders will show leaders in military attire, alongside a handful of men in starched traditional dress. But right in the center of these two groups of leaders is the solemn-looking Shonekan, who held power, albeit briefly, after Ibrahim Babangida, the former head of state, “stepped down”. after the June 12 cancellation.

shonekan died Tuesday at the age of 85 and with the tributes that have continued to pour in to his honour, his short stint as the country’s business helmsman leads the conversations around what many call a life well lived.

Beyond his transitional regime as Nigeria’s acting head of state, Shonekan was a UK-educated lawyer and industrialist who ran large Nigerian conglomerates. He founded te Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), a private sector-led think tank and policy advocacy group that promotes sustainable growth and development of the economy.


Shonekan was born on May 9, 1936 in Lagos to a civil servant father from Abeokuta. He had his previous education at CMS Grammar School and Igbobi College before earning a law degree from the University of London. He then attended Harvard Business School.

In 1964, Shonekan was employed by the United Africa Company of Nigeria, then a subsidiary of the United Africa Company, whose reputation dated back to British colonial times. A rapid rise through the ranks earned him a place on the board at the age of 40. He was appointed Chairman and Chief Executive Officer in 1980. He received the title of Abese of Egbaland in 1981.


On January 2, 1993, Babangida appointed Shonekan to head the transitional council which was created to be the first step in the eventual handover from military to civilian rule which should have emerged from presidential elections later that year- the.

However, June 12, 1993 came and the elections were held and Babangida canceled the results after Moshood Abiola of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) reportedly took a significant lead over his opponent, Bashir Tofa of the Republican National Convention (NRC). ) . A crisis ensued with Abiola and his supporters pushing for a declaration of victory.

Babangida, instead, stepped down on August 27, 1993, but not before signing a decree establishing the Interim National Government, which saw Shonekan become interim head of state.


shonekan became Nigeria’s shortest-term head of state after being ousted by Sani Abacha, his defense minister, on November 17, 1993. He spent only 83 days as head of Nigeria’s government. His caretaker government, however, was widely unpopular with the people despite the appointment of Abiola as their vice president.

Under his brief leadership, his predecessor’s strident economic policies began to unravel, which many linked to the uncertain political terrain after the June 12 cancellation.

Before settling down and building a structure to create an impact, he was deposed in an Abacha-led coup.

Delivering his resignation speech on November 17, 1993, Shonekan said that the national government under his leadership “had endeavored to bring honor to the government” and had taken steps to combat corruption and indiscipline.

Meanwhile, a few days before his resignation on November 10, 1993, a high court ruled that the caretaker government was “illegal” on the grounds that Shonekan’s nomination was signed after Babangida “stepped down”.


After leaving office in 1993, with the private sector relationships he built during his years at UAC, he founded the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG).

The private sector think tank worked with the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) to contribute to promoting economic cooperation between local authorities and companies in the search for job creation.

In 2019, the group signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Universities Commission (NUC) for a university-industry collaboration aimed at revitalizing the Nigerian higher education system.


Apart from other positions he has held, including chairman of the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), Shonekan has been outspoken about his belief in Nigeria’s potential for greatness.

Speaking at the Democracy Day celebration in May 2014, he expressed optimism for Nigeria’s ‘bright future’, which he said could be achieved by promoting peace and supporting the people. young.

“I believe the future will be bright if there is peace. Without peace, there can be no progress in the country. So we must have peace in the country. And if we are to have peace, each of us must contribute to it as we deserve,” he said.

“So I call on everyone to sheathe their swords and focus on growing the economy and creating jobs for the large population.

“I’m glad we’re thinking about young people because young people make up about 50% of the total population right now — that’s a lot.

“So we have to create jobs; we have to make them happy. If we manage to get each of them to contribute a little to the economy, this country will be a better place and it will be very difficult for any country to beat Nigeria.

From former leaders to lawmakers and political actors, one message runs through how Shonekan will be remembered: stability.

While President Muhammadu Buhari has described Shonekan as “a peacemaker” who led Nigeria through “a delicate period when the country needed someone of his calm demeanor and pedigree to save the ship from state of sinking”, for former President Goodluck Jonathan, he was “a bridge builder who stepped in to lead at a very difficult time”.


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