Ernest Shonekan

•Gowon: Late Head of State chose to tread where many would not dare

By Kennedy Mbele

As tributes continued to pour in for Chief Ernest Shonekan, the nation’s 9th Head of State, who died on Tuesday, January 11, a former Nigerian leader, General Yakubu Gowon, says the deceased chose to tread where many would not dare.

It also emerged why the deceased read law instead of agricultural science he had planned to read in the university.

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Chief Akin Disu, a childhood friend of Shonekan, gave this hint in an interview with Sunday Vanguard.

According to Gowon, Shonekan’s death “is a great personal loss to me, my wife Victoria, and our family”.

The deceased had succeeded Military President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida as Head of Interim National Government (ING) in the wake of the crisis generated by the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election won by the late Chief MKO Abiola, Shonekan’s kinsman from Abeokuta, Ogun State.

His acceptance of the position was interpreted in many quarters as a betrayal of Abiola.

In a letter to the Shonekan family, titled, ‘We mourn our dear friend, His Excellency, Chief Ernest Adegunle Shonekan, GCFR’, Gowon said, “The passing of our friend, Chief Ernest Shonekan, Nigeria’s 9th Head of State, on Tuesday, January 11, 2022, is a great personal loss to me, my wife Victoria, and our family.

“For several years, we interacted at deeply personal levels, not just between ourselves but with members of our respective families. Our official public service relationship was also borne out of a deep mutual respect.

“Chief was a true captain of industry who actively supported the drive of successive governments for the economic development of Nigeria.

“He achieved global renown on account of his achievements in business.

“His extensive contribution to the growth of the nation’s economy on the platform of his chairmanship of the United African Company of Nigeria (UACN), one of Africa’s largest conglomerates, remains a watershed in enterprise management.

“Chief Shonekan was a patriot, albeit a deeply misunderstood one. At the height of the political crisis in Nigeria in 1993, he was called upon to serve his country.

“In accepting to head the Interim National Government (ING), he knew he had chosen to tread where many would not dare. He gave his best to the office for the good of his Fatherland.

“Though he paid a heavy personal price for his selfless decision, I hope that history will be kind to him.

“His robust contributions to debates at meetings of the National Council of States are worthy of commendation because he truly put the national interest ahead of any secondary considerations. Nigeria will surely miss him.

“On behalf of my dear wife, Victoria, and the entire Gowon family, I pray that God will comfort everyone that Chief Shonekan has left behind and grant eternal repose to his soul”.

Shonekan abandoned agric to read law – Disu, childhood friend

Meanwhile, a childhood friend of Shonekan, Chief Akin Disu, has described the deceased Nigerian leader as God’s gift to the nation, saying he sacrificed so much for Nigeria.

The Bobagunwa of Lagos, who was among the numerous very important personalities, VIPs,  that paid condolence to the family of the deceased, Wednesday but were denied entry by security agents who cited President Muhammadu Buhari’s proposed visit, told Sunday Vanguard  that the deceased  served the country very well as Head of State and will always be remembered as someone who kept her unity at a time of heavy distress.

According to him, Shonekan was never a politician and made integrity his watch words”.

Recalling that their friendship started when he and the late Nigerian leader were kids, the 86-yr-old legal icon said his mother and Shonekan’s were classmates.

“We attended the same primary school and later CMS Grammar School together. We lived in the same boarding house and slept on the same bed.

“We were to study agricultural science together but, somehow, we changed our minds after visiting Chief Bode Thomas (First Republic top politician).

“Both of us later studied law.

“We had always lived next to each other. Even here in Ikoyi, his street is next to mine. We both lived in GRA Ikeja and Ogunlana Drive, Surulere.

“When he saw that I had married, he immediately ran and got his own wife.

We did virtually everything together. I was school parents to his children”.

John Abdulahi, photojournalist: Daddy called me Omo Ghana

A Ghanaian photojournalist with Celebrity News Magazine, who was among journalists assigned to cover the beat but also denied entry also spoke to Sunday Vanguard on the life and times of Shonekan, said he served as family photographer to the former number one citizen.

He said he simply called Shonekan daddy.

According to him, he had been close to the former Head of State for over 20 years and that Shonekan took him like a son.

Abdulahi said he got to know the deceased after he was recommended by a friend to cover his birthday party as a photographer and that they also attended the same church.

The photojournalist described Shonekan as a lovely man who always solved every problem presented to him.

“If you met him one-on-one, he will solve your problem no matter what it was”, Abdulahi said.

He recalled how he brought a photo album to him after covering his 80th birthday and how he always sat down with him, a situation, he said, always forced him to wonder who he was to be sitting down with such a personality.

His words, “Whenever I sat down with him, I always asked myself who was I to be sitting down with a former Head of State and always concluded that it was God’s favor”.

On her part, Aliko Justina, horticulturist/neighbor of Shonekan, said she never really had any contact with him but “I have been working here (very close to his house) for the past five years during which I always heard good stories about him”.

Justina added, “He used to pass here on foot but for a long time now he had not been doing that probably because he took ill.

“His workers, especially his cook, described him as a very nice man, that he was always ready to assist whenever there was the need.

“His children are nice too, they always greet. They said baba and his wife always assisted their workers. I pray that his gentle soul rests in perfect peace”.

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