Shonekan: A different kind of leader

Of the 16 different governments Nigeria has had since 1960, Chief Ernest Shonekan‘s Interim National Government (August to November 1993) stood out as the most misunderstood.

The manner he came in was unique. All other heads of governments were either elected, or shot their way to power or inherited the reins of government from the misfortune that befell their predecessors.

Shonekan was none of this. He was not elected, in fact, was not even a member of any political party; he also did not carry out a coup to rise to the position of head of government, neither did his predecessor die or was shoved out of office.

His situation was quite different from that of Murtala Muhammad in 1975, who stepped in when the man occupying the seat traveled out of the country to attend an OAU meeting in Uganda.

It is also different from that of Muhammadu Buhari in 1983 and that of Ibrahim Babangida in 1985 whose predecessors were spared but shoved out in well organised coup de tats.

In the case of Shonekan, it could be said that he innocently inherited the reins of government from his predecessor, IBB, who stepped aside.

But the question is what does it mean exactly to ‘step aside.’

Understanding that defines the depth of the difference between what happened to Olusegun Obasanjo in 1976 and Goodluck Jonathan in 2011.

In the circumstances mentioned above, it was clear that the men before them died and were clearly out, hence whatever their successors did with the mantle was up to them.

But in the case of Shonekan, the man before him did not die, neither was he toppled.

His predecessor, to make matters worse, was the one that invited him to be head of government.

The man did not say he had resigned which would have meant he has relinquished any tie with the government and be left alone.

No. The man said he was stepping aside and this was interpreted in different ways.

Some said it meant that he was still in charge but only standing nearby like a foreman observing what was going on.

Others said it meant that he was only giving was temporarily leaving the office for Shonekan to take care of before he returns.

Shonekan was in a dilemma and so were other Nigerians.

It was his government but did not belong to him. He was the head of the ING but was not the head.

His situation, though secured through the act of benevolence by another, was also different from that of a person who marries for another, because in the end, the groom, who did not contribute a penny to getting the wife would still know what to do with her.

Not Shonekan. He could not do even the easiest task of reshuffling his cabinet.

Some of his ministers, who were called secretaries then, knew this and did as they liked and not as he commanded.

There were stories of how he would walk into the cabinet meeting and some of the secretaries would refuse to stand up as is the tradition when the head of government comes in.

It would have been better if that was the only burden he carried.

One of the secretaries, who wore dark goggles with the benefits of history was a bigger burden.

Many could not understand why he was left behind. He was more like the head prefect in the ING while Shonekan was looked like academic vice principal.

True to fears, the man would later asked Shonekan to resign and excuse himself from government and hand over to him.

Shonekan would refuse to resign but not wanting to be caught up in a set up he did not understand, cleared his desk and boarded the jet that took him to Lagos!

It was a wise decision as resisting the toast of the trio of Generals Oladipo Diya, Aliyu Gusau and Sani Abacha who met him with that demand would have required more than his experience aa a technocrat to withstand.

Surprisingly, most people understood with Shonekan when he left the government. He clearly had no choice. Even those that accused him of selling out to deny MKO Abiola his mandate later forgave him.

His quite mien and avuncular disposition also added to his aura after leaving office.

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