Prominent Nigerians including President Muhammdu Buhari, former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan and former military president, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, have paid tributes to the former head of interim national government (ING), Mr. Ernest Shonekan, who died yesterday in Lagos at the age of 85.
In his tribute, Buhari said in a statement by his media aide, Mr. Femi Adesina that Nigeria owes the late head of ING a great debt.
The president who directed that the national flag be flown at half mast, said the deceased was a peacemaker “who even at the twilight of his lifetime never stopped believing and working for a prosperous and democratic country.”
The president said he received the news with profound sadness and extended his condolences to Shonekan’s widow, 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 transcend 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 lifetime 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,” Adesina wrote.
Obasanjo, in his condolence letter to the wife of the deceased said Shonekan was a unifying force.
“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 died in nobility. He was an achiever. Indeed, Chief Shonekan died at a time the country is in dire need of his leadership, wealth of experience and wisdom to tackle the multifaceted challenges facing the nation,” he added.
Similarly, Jonathan described Shonekan as “an elder statesman, well-loved for his sincerity and sense of purpose.”
“He left enduring legacies, part of which was his considerable effort towards mainstreaming the private sector in the development drive of the nation, especially institutionalisation of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), which he founded.
“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,” Jonathan said.
For his part, Babangida, whose regime gave birth to the ING, described Shonekan as one with a “cosmopolitan mind”.
“Nigeria has lost a patriot, an urbane and refined gentleman, a thoroughbred boardroom maestro and a cosmopolitan mind who was devoted to his country.
“As Head of the ING, 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,” he said.
Explaining the lead up to the ING, Babangida said: “It was timely for us to appoint him as head of the interim government to help stabilise the polity at a most trying period of our country’s political evolution. He was a calm personality whose managerial skills were foretold in the way and manner he managed a lot of blue chip companies.”
Also, the former vice president, Mr. Atiku Abubakar said Shonekan’s sad exit came at a time the country would need his skills and global connections in finding solutions to many of its intractable challenges.
He said either as a politician or boardroom guru, late Shonekan possessed a unique set skill of bringing stability to a tumultuous situation.
He said although his reign as head of state was interim, Shonekan’s contribution to the peace and development of Nigeria remains enduring.
For the former senate president, Dr Bukola Saraki, Shonekan played a remarkable role in the development of Nigeria and a lover of peace.
“In both his public and private capacities, our 9th head of state, Chief Ernest Shonekan, played a remarkable role in the development of Nigeria.
“Through his actions, he always demonstrated a strong commitment to the unity, peace and prosperity of our great country,” he said.
Senate president, Mr. Ahmad Lawan, said in his tribute said Shonekan rendered selfless service to save the ship of state from hitting the rock.
“Chief Shonekan was a lawyer, business captain, boardroom guru and statesman. 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 services as chairman of the transitional council and later as head of the ING were selfless and contributed greatly to saving the Nigerian ship from hitting the rocks,” he said.
For his part, the governor of Ogun State, Mr. Dapo Abiodun, said Shonekan is a colossal loss to Nigeria in general and Ogun State in particular.
Abiodun in a statement issued by his chief press secretary, Kunle Somorin, said the late lawyer, industrialist and traditional chief passed on at a period Nigeria needed his experience most as a technocrat.
The statement reads: “Chief Shonekan was a first-class administrator, boardroom guru and astute leader whose imprint in the business and political firmaments cannot be erased. His commitment to a peaceful resolution and patriotic fervour will live after him.
“Chief Shonekan, an Egba traditional chief (Babasale of Egbaland), was a true Nigerian who spent most of his life for the betterment of the country.
“While noting that his death has created a huge vacuum in Nigeria, and Egbaland, Abiodun prayed for the repose of the deceased’s soul and that God will comfort his immediate family and the Egba Traditional Council.
“He will be sorely missed.”