Tribute: Celebrating Ernest Shonekan at 80


When a man attains four score years, he is said to have achieved quiet a lot. Not only that, it is also said that he has lived full. The situation is the true story of one time Chairman of Nigerians Interim National Government (ING), Chief Ernest Shonekan. The British-trained lawyer turns 80 today!

Born Ernest Adegunle Oladeinde Shonekan on May 9, 1936 in Lagos, he is a British-trained lawyer, industrialist, politician and traditional chieftain.

Shonekan was born and raised in Lagos. He is the son of an Abeokuta-born civil servant, and one of six children born into the family. Shonekan was educated at C.M.S Grammar School and Igbobi College, Lagos. He also attended and received a Law Degree from the University of London and was later called to the bar.

Shonekan joined UAC in 1964, and was later sent to Harvard Business School. At UAC, he pursued a legal path. A few years after joining the company, he was promoted to the position of Assistant Legal Adviser. Two years later, he became a Deputy Adviser, and soon joined the board.

In 1980, consequent upon his hard work and dedication to duty, he was made the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of UAC. As head of UAC, he was the chief executive of the largest African-controlled company in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The company, UAC was not the only endeavour to enterprising entrepreneur found himself in, he is a Co-Founder, Partner, and Non-Executive Partner at African Capital Alliance. He was also the Chairman and Managing Director at Unilever Nigeria.

His career came to its height when in 1993, following the public outcry for General Babangida to step down, he was made the Nigerian Head of State; a position he held for only three months; August 26 1993 to November 17, 1993.

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Chief Shonekan is a Member of various corporate boards including the Nigerian-German Chemical and MAERSK Line Nigeria Limited. He was awarded the ‘Commander of Most Excellent Order of British Empire’ by Queen Elizabeth II and ‘Grand Officer dans 1’Ordre de la Legion d’Honneur’ by President Chirac.

Shonekan is a seasoned and proven businessman with a wide network. His proven abilities and political neutrality made him a prospective leader for Babangida’s council of civilians-run government, a government which was in the midst of economic turmoil and later came to a political crisis. On January 2, 1993, Shonekan assumed office as the Head of Government affairs under the leadership of the former Military President, Ibrahim Babangida. At the time, the transitional council was designed to be the final phase leading to a scheduled hand over to an elected democratic leader.

Shonekan learned of the dire condition of government finances, which he was unable to correct. The 1993 budget was pegged to include a 28 billion naira deficit with little money left in its foreign reserves. The government was hard pressed on debt obligations and had to hold constant talks for debt re-scheduling. Shonekan had lobbied for debt cancellation but, after the cancellation of the 12 June elections, most of the western powers had imposed economic sanctions on Nigeria.

Though the political crisis leading to emergence as Interim President would not allow him concentrate on the subject of leadership as the supposed winner of the cancelled elections that brought him to power, vowed to oppose the interim government, he remained steadfast. Even when democracy supporters of Southwest Nigeria, Shonekan’s region, considered him an obstacle on the nation’s path to democracy, social justice, and improving the welfare of the people, he held on the unity of Nigeria. During his few months in power, he tried to create a new timetable for democratic return.

More so, he released political prisoners detained by Babangida and tried to set a timetable for troop withdrawal from ECOMOG’s peacekeeping mission in Liberia. His government also initiated an audit of the accounts of NNPC, because of its many operational inefficiencies. Shonekan’s administration also introduced a bill to repeal three major draconian decrees of the military government.

Chief Shonekan has been involved in many more humanitarian activities. Happy birthday sir!

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