By Dayo Johnson, Dapo Akinrefon, Henry Umoru, Olasunkanmi Akoni, Gabriel Enogholase, Levinus Nwabughiogu, Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Omeiza Ajayi, Dirisu Yakubu & James Ogunnaike

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, General Ibrahim Babangida (retd), former President Goodluck Jonathan, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar; Senate President, Senator Ahmad Lawan; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila and state governors, yesterday, mourned the death of the former head of the Interim National Government, Chief Ernest Shonekan.

Shonekan, who died at a Lagos hospital, was 85 years old. The cause of his death could not be ascertained as of press time but it was learned that Shonekan, a native of Ogun State, had been treating an undisclosed illness before his death. He was the interim head of the Nigerian Government between August 26 and November 17, 1993, before he was subsequently kicked out in a bloodless coup led by late General Sani Abacha.

Born on May 9, 1936, Shonekan was a British-trained lawyer and industrialist.

The late leader was head of the interim government after Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, former head of state stepped down from office.

Babangida refused to hand over power to MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the annulled 1993 presidential election, but the military ruler “stepped aside”. Shonekan who took charge of the government was in office for only three months. The late Sani Abacha, the former military ruler, ousted him through a coup. He hailed from Abeokuta in Ogun state.

He attended the CMS grammar school and Igbobi College, Lagos, and obtained a law degree from the University of London. 

 FG orders national flag to fly at half-mast

Meanwhile, following the death of Shonekan, the Federal Government has ordered all institutions in the country to fly the national flag at half-mast from Wednesday 12th to Friday 14th, January 2022.

In a statement by Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Mr Boss Mustapha said the action is to honour the deceased.

The SGF said: “Following the death of the former Head of the Interim Government, late Chief Ernest Adegunle Oladeinde Shonekan, President Muhammadu Buhari, has directed that the national flag be flown at half-mast, effective from Wednesday 12th -Friday 14th, January 2022 as a mark of respect for the former Head of State who died on Tuesday 11th January 2022 at the age of 85.”

 Nigeria owes him great debt of gratitude —Buhari 

President Buhari, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Chief Femi Adesina, described the late Shonekan as a peacemaker and that Nigeria owes a great debt to him.

The statement reads: “On behalf of the Federal Government, the President extends deepest condolences to Chief Shonekan’s wife, Margaret, loved ones, as well as the government and people of Ogun State.

“As an internationally-respected statesman, President Buhari affirms that, with courageous wisdom, Chief Shonekan left his flourishing business career to become the Head of Government, at a delicate time when the country needed someone of his calm mien and pedigree to save the ship of state from sinking.

“The President notes that Chief Shonekan demonstrated to all that the love for country and commitment to her development, peace, and unity transcends the trappings of office and the transient nature of political power.

“President Buhari believes that Nigeria owes a great debt to Chief Shonekan, the peacemaker, who even at the twilight of his life never stopped believing and working for a prosperous and democratic country.

“The President prays that the memory of the departed Head of Government will remain a blessing to Nigeria even as he finds perfect peace with Almighty God.”

 He was a unifying force for Nigeria —Obasanjo

Also paying tribute to Shonekan, former President Olusegun Obasanjo described him as a unifying force for the nation.

Obasanjo, in a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Kehinde Akinyemi, said: “He would be remembered as a man of sustained strong will to succeed. Coming from a humble background, rising, stepping and peaking at the topmost plum in corporate management, and the very top of the giant United Africa Company, UAC, ladder, attest to his sagacity, tenacity and steadfastness.   

“He was a unifying force for the nation and his contribution to the growth and development of democracy in Nigeria cannot be forgotten in a hurry. In all situations, he lived nobly and he died in nobility. He was an achiever. Indeed, Chief Shonekan died at a time the country is in dire need of his leadership, a wealth of experience and wisdom to tackle the multifaceted challenges facing the nation.”

 He was an uncommon patriot —IBB

Also, former Military President, Gen. Babangida (retd) described Shonekan as “an uncommon patriot.”

IBB, in a condolence message by his media aide, Kassim Afegbua, said: “The shocking news of the death of one of Nigeria’s finest brains and patriots came to me this morning with helpless awe. I hadn’t the faintest idea that Chief Ernest Shonekan would depart this sinful world too soon, even at 85. 

“He was a man, a leader and an uncommon patriot who had a presence of mind and whose understanding of Nigeria was profound and remarkable. It is indeed a personal loss to me.

“Chief Ernest Shonekan was one of our cerebral minds during our time in government. He was the architect of our principle of a free-market economy which helped to open up the system for robust participation by the private sector.

“The liberalization of the economy, the investment and boost in the agricultural sector and budget management approach were part of his brainchild. I recollect very vividly how he used to give us tutorials on budget, planning and management of national resources, each time he was invited to our session.

“He was a man of ideas and ideals. He was prudent and preached so much about fiscal discipline. It was, therefore, time for us to appoint him as head of the Interim Government to help stabilize the polity at a most trying period of our country’s political evolution. 

“As Head of the Interim Government, he was able to consult with a broad spectrum of the Nigerian populace in charting a roadmap out of the political impasse at that time. His brilliance and meticulous interrogation of situations helped in large measure to forge ahead during the period. I owe personal gratitude to him throughout his sojourn on earth as we maintained a very robust mutual relationship after his exit from the corridors of power.”

Shonekan was well loved for his sincerity — Jonathan

On his part, Dr Goodluck Jonathan described Shonekan as “an elder statesman, well-loved for his sincerity and sense of purpose.”

The former president said: “As a leader, Chief Shonekan was well respected because of the enormous goodwill he brought into governance. He was a compassionate and determined administrator, a peacemaker and a bridge builder who stepped in to lead the nation at a very difficult time in the history of its political evolution.

READ ALSO: Shonekan: Ortom mourns, says he’s an icon, outstanding role model

“He will be remembered for his great wisdom, peaceful disposition, the goodwill he extended to all as well as his significant contributions to the growth of the economy of the nation.”

His death saddening, shocking — Atiku

Similarly, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar said: “Either as a politician or a boardroom guru, Chief Shonekan possessed a unique set skill of bringing stability to a tumultuous situation.

“That was the consideration that made him become Head of the Interim National Government following the crises that greeted the events after the June 12 Presidential election.

“Although his reign as Head of State was interim, Chief Shonekan’s contribution to the peace and development of Nigeria in those days and latter years, remain enduring.”

  He’ll be remembered for heeding nation’s call—Senate President

In his tribute, President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan in a statement by his Special Adviser, Media, Ola Awoniyi, said: “My condolences go to the family of Chief Shonekan, the Government and people of Ogun State and entire Nigeria over this great loss.

“But he will be most remembered for heeding the nation’s call to duty at a very turbulent period in the history of Nigeria.”

His death painful— Gbajabiamila

Also, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Gbajabiamila, described the death of the former head of Nigeria’s interim government as a painful loss. 

Gbajabiamila said Chief Shonekan’s death has created a vacuum among the league of elder statesmen in the country. He recalled how Shonekan was called to serve his fatherland at a critical time in Nigeria’s history, noting that the late elder statesman did so with patriotism, zeal and commitment.

  He was a nationalist — S-West govs

In their tributes, South West governors described Shonekan’s death as a huge loss to the country.

The chairman of the Southwest Governors’ Forum and Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu said: “The governors received the news of the death of elder statesman and former Head of the Interim National Government, Chief Ernest Shonekan with a heavy heart.

“Chief Ernest Shonekan was a Nationalist per excellence. His belief in a United and Peaceful Nigeria was unparalleled. He was dedicated to the progress and development of the county. He will be sorely missed. 

“His historic and patriotic role in maintaining the unity of the country was one of the many things that endeared him to many.

“He was true, an asset, his counsels were useful for national cohesion and progress.”

Shonekan was a man of peace — Tinubu

In his tribute, the APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, in a condolence message by his Media Office issued by Mr. Tunde Rahman, said: “I received, with great sadness, the news of the passing of the former Head of the Interim National Government, Chief Shonekan, at the advanced age of 85.

“With his passing, the country has lost another important elder-statesman; a man of peace who tried to bring unity and concord during one of the nation’s most trying moments.

“Chief Ernest was a technocrat and boardroom guru. He performed excellently as Chairman of  United African Company, a vast Nigerian conglomerate.  Indeed, were the circumstances of his ascension to the top position in our country different, I have little doubt that Chief Shonekan would have led Nigeria with the same vision and skill with which he guided the UAC.

“He had the character, competence, capability and the technical background to undertake the job. In his brief time as Head of State, Chief Shonekan tried his best to advance peace, stability and development in Nigeria.

“Chief Shonekan will be remembered as a peacemaker and Head of State who took office at a most difficult time.”

He was an unassuming leader — Obaseki

Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State said: “I am saddened by the passing of Chief Ernest Shonekan at the age of 85.

“Shonekan was an unassuming leader and a cerebral lawyer, who helped to steady our nation during the turbulent years of Nigeria’s Third Republic.”

“He was committed to the good of our dear country, he played his part, making sacrifices to set Nigeria on the path of progress even with the dark clouds that hovered over our affairs in the 1990s. As the founder of the Nigeria Economic Summit Group, his commitment to private and free enterprise remains indelible in the annals of our history.” 

Giant of the private sector gone — Segun Osoba

In his tribute, former governor of Ogun State, Chief Segun Osoba, described the late Ernest Shonekan as a giant of the private sector who made his mark in Nigeria.

While reacting to Shonekan’s death, Chief Osoba said: “One of the giants of the private sector is gone, he made his mark as a corporate guru in the then UAC where he rose to be the chairman and Chief executive. May God bless his soul.” 

He was a committed private sector player— NESG 

On its part, the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, NESG, in a statement by its Chairman, Board of Directors, NESG, Mr. Asue Ighodalo said: “We join the entire nation to mourn the passing of our founding father, Chief Ernest Shonekan, who was for us, not just an elder statesman but also a visionary thought leader, patriot and reform advocate.

“Chief Shonekan’s keen intellect and tireless efforts helped birth the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, NESG. He was also an astute and committed private sector player who joined the United Africa Company of Nigeria in 1964 and rose through the ranks in the company to become Chairman and Managing Director in 1980

“Chief Shonekan was notable for his vision of a Nigeria without ethnic or religious prejudice that is secure, peaceful and prosperous. He contributed to this by leading diligently and serving passionately in the national interest throughout his lifetime of service.”

“At the NESG, we rededicate ourselves to advancing Chief Shonekan’s mandate in the national interest. Despite the odds, we remain committed to his enduring legacy. We find inspiration in his forthrightness and tenacity, which continue to pave the way for a globally competitive and inclusive Nigerian economy.”

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