• Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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Tribute to Chief (Dr) E.A.O. Shonekan

Tribute to Chief (Dr) E.A.O. Shonekan

When General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) became Nigeria’s President and Head of State on August 27, 1985, a group of his friends came together under the chairmanship of Chief (Dr.) Ernest Shonekan to offer advice or counsel on a range of issues then bedevilling the Nigerian economy and society.

The members were as follows: Chief (Dr.) E.A.O. Shonekan, chairman/chief executive, UAC of Nigeria plc; Alhaji A.O.G. Otiti, deputy governor, Central Bank of Nigeria; Chief Olusegun Oshunkeye, MD/CEO, Nestle Nigeria plc; Bashorun J.K. Randle, KPMG; Senator Kofo Akerele-Bucknor, National Assembly; Chief Maan Lababidi, chairman, Crown Flour Mills Limited; Captain Wole Buknor; Nigerian Navy; Chief Joe Obuseh, and Nigerian Security Organisation.

The gospel truth is that the Gold Medal Lectures were meant to bring both government officials and the captains of Industry and Commerce together to deliberate on economic and financial matters. Period.

The ninth member was a Brigadier in the Nigerian Army. He later became the Chief of Army Staff and subsequently National Security Adviser.

We provided selfless advice across a broad range of issues – deficit in Public Trust; the floundering economy; the lingering/ festering political crisis; the crumbling financial system; simmering ethnic/religious rivalries, and safety of lives and property as well as health; education and infrastructural challenges.

We urged the government to fix the four oil refineries and launch mass transit in Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt and Abuja. We were also concerned about the jobless and the homeless. Hence, we pushed for agriculture as the salvation.

The message we consistently delivered was that the liberalisation of the economy and the empowerment of the private sector were of paramount importance and compelling urgency. Additionally, we championed the cause of Small and Medium sized enterprises (SMEs) as the backbone of the economy.

Nobody was paid for his/her services regardless of the long hours (sometimes stretching late into the night).

It was a period of glorious service to our beloved nation and all of us (without exception) foreclosed on political appointments – as ministers, ambassadors, chairman of juicy government parastatals, etc, or financial rewards such as oil blocs, banking licences; import licences; allocation of foreign exchange; contract award etc.

We served because we were called to serve at a time when the nation was in peril. Hence, we strove to reconnect our beloved nation, Nigeria with civilisation. We derived inspiration from the stirring command of the old National Anthem:

“Though tribe and tongue may differ…”

Our Mission was to galvanise entrepreneurship as the counterforce to our pathetic dependence on oil. Our nation’s mono-economy was clearly unsustainable.

For me, it was quite a revelation when late Senator Onyeabo Obi repeatedly alleged that I had been promoting IBB as the next Head of State through “The Gold Medal Lectures.” Furthermore, Colonel Dotun Gbadebo (now His Royal Highness Oba Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo, Okukenu IV, Alake of Egbaland) who had served as Principal Staff Officer to Major-General Tunde Idiagbon, Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, confirmed recently without mincing words that had the Babangida coup d’etat failed, I would have been roped in!!

Read also: Ernest Shonekan’s burial in pictures

The gospel truth is that the Gold Medal Lectures were meant to bring both government officials and the captains of Industry and Commerce together to deliberate on economic and financial matters. Period.

However, to further compound matters, shortly before the coup d’etat I was the Guest Speaker at the Chief of Army Staff Conference in Minna, Niger State, at the invitation of then Major-General Babangida, Chief of Army Staff. Colonel David Mark, governor of Niger State was the chief host with late Brigadier-General Anthony Ukpo as the master of ceremony.

The only other civilians who attended were Chief M.K.O. Abiola and Professor Isawa Elaigwu of the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna. I had no inkling that a coup was in the offing. Maybe Chief Abiola and/or Professor Elaigwu were in the know!! It turned out that the conference was only a smokescreen or decoy.

It was when then Brigadier Joshua Dongoyaro followed by General Sani Abacha announced IBB as the new Head of State – at Bonny Camp Military Cantonment, Victoria Island, that I recognised the faces that were prominent around the new Commander-In-Chief, General Ibrahim Babangida.

They were all there in Minna – Colonel Raji Rasaki; Major Abdulmumuni Aminu, General Sani Abacha, Brigadier Aliyu Mohammed (head of military intelligence), Navy Commander Murtala Nyako, Lt-Col Ahmed Abdullahi (Minister of Communications), Lt-Col Tanko Ayuba (commanding officer – Nigerian army signal corps), Lt-Col John Shagaya (commanding officer – 9th Mechanised Brigade, Ikeja), Brigadier-General Anthony Ukpo, Major Abubakar Umar (administrator of the Federal Housing Authority).

That was when the penny dropped. In the course of delivering my lecture, I had placed myself in mortal danger. Major-General Ibrahim Babangida was 44 years old and I was approaching my 42nd birthday.

The Almighty has been uncommonly faithful.

Chief (Dr.) Shonekan demonstrated outstanding leadership which left no room for conflict of interest; for reputational damage or doubtful integrity. We played no part in his emergence as the chairman of the Transition Committee or Head of the Interim Government; or the events that ensued thereafter.

Now that the Chief has departed, may his soul find peace in the bosom of the Almighty who we beseech to grant Chief (Mrs) Margaret Shonekan and the family the fortitude to bear the painful loss of their beloved patriarch.

Hail to the Chief !!