On this day, the military Armed Forces, headed by Defence Minister General Sani Abacha, forced Interim President Chief Ernest Shonekan to resign in what can be regarded as a bloodless Palace Coup. At about 10 am on the said day,as judges from 11 nations were being sworn in at the inaugural session of theUnited Nations Yugoslavia War Crimes Tribunal and Zaire was celebrating its Armed Forces Day, Generals Sani Abacha, Oladipo Diya and Aliyu Gusau arrived at the Presidential Villa in Abuja accompanied by truckloads of fearsome looking soldiers under the command of Colonel LawanGwadabe of the National Guard and Brigadier Bashir Magashe of the Brigade of Guards.
They ousted Chief Ernest Shonekan, the Head of the 82-day-old Interim National Government (ING), in order “to save Nigeria from imminent disintegration” and appointed General Sani Abacha to take his place.
It happened quickly and in broad daylight. All relevant military units and conspirators in Lagos, Abuja and Kaduna were quietly placed on alert. Under protective cover provided by a detachment of the National Guard led by Colonel LawanGwadabe, three very senior officers, motivated by different instincts and with no consensus on what would happen thereafter, flew to Abuja from Lagos. They calmly walked into Shonekan’s office at the Presidential Villa and asked that he resign. It should be noted that Shonekan, in his 82 days as head of interim government, never had operational control of the Armed Forces during his controversial tenure. He wisely chose not to resist.
Following a ‘private meeting’ with Chief Ernest Shonekan, he was graciously allowed to deliver a farewell speech to the ING after 82 days of controversy, following which he was flown to Lagos.
Shonekan’s resignation address read:
Fellow colleagues of the Interim National Government, I have summoned you this evening on an unusual occasion. Earlier today, I met with the secretary of defence in company of the Chief of Defence Staff and the Chief of Army Staff, and we discussed the state of the nation.
They expressed serious concern about the general uneasiness in the country and the apparent lack of stability over the past three months. They spoke about the restiveness of the rank and file in the military. You will recall that today is our eighty second day in office, having been sworn in on August 26, 1993. Needless to say that we have all worked together to the best of our ability, and as a coherent team. I want to put it on record that I have enjoyed the period we worked together in the Interim National Government. It is common knowledge that the ING is a child of circumstance. It was conceived in crisis and born in crisis.
If I may recount some of the achievements of the Interim National Government to which you have all been witnesses, we may not have recorded landmarks, but we have taken the first step. In the social sector, we have brought back normalcy in the institutions of higher learning. On human rights, our records are impeccable and perhaps, unbeatable in the annals of our country. We freed all jailed human rights activists, we pardoned all political offenders both dead and alive, allowed all politicians in exile to return home, and we have not restricted the free movement of any activist in and out of the country. We also took the appropriate steps de-proscribe the newspapers proscribed by sending the Bills to the National Assembly to be repealed.
On the political arena, we have continued to work ceaselessly towards full democratization of our dear country. We have extended our right hand of fellowship to the legislature and have put in place the machinery for local and presidential elections next February.
On the economic scene, we were able to put in place an Economic Action Agenda for the nation in conjunction with the private sector operators. Let me assure you that our seemingly tough policies have received commendation from far and beyond. Ordinarily, I would have wished that the Interim National Government would be saddled only with economic problems. This derives from my belief that our country faces more economic challenges than anything else. Although we have not been able to implement some of our policies, nonetheless we have started out in the right direction by curbing frivolous expenditure and working closely with the private sector of the economy. I can only hope that the successor administration will take off from where we are leaving and continue courageously with the budgetary and other reforms we have adopted as well as our campaign for debt relief.
Distinguished colleagues, most importantly the Interim National Government has tried very hard to bring honour to government and has taken steps to campaign against the incidence of corruption and indiscipline in the society. Several times, I have publicly acknowledged the collective transparency and integrity of this cabinet. Let me say loud and clear that here that we have all made sacrifices for these past 82 days in the strong belief that our country deserves the best. I have an unshaken faith in the promise of Nigeria and I believe that the best is yet to come.
However, I regret to inform you that in the light of recent events and after due consideration of all the facts, I am left with no alternative but to take the most honourable and dignified step of resigning, with immediate effect, my appointment as Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria.
Once more, I thank you very much and hope that the fellowship we have shared in this past period will continue to be the basis of good memory for long.
May God bless and long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
It would be recalled that the annulment of the June 12 election same year provoked a series of strikes and protests and resulted in General Babangida’s resignation under pressure on Aug. 26 and named Mr. Shonekan, an ally, as his successor. But General Abacha, a prominent figure in the coup that ended the civilian Government in 1983 and in the rise to power of General Babangida two years later, was believed by many to be behind General Babangida’s resignation as well, an act that led to widespread dissension in the military.General Abacha quickly purged top loyalists of General Babangida from the military in the weeks after his resignation.
During his brief term as Interim President, Mr. Shonekan tried to win public support by freeing political prisoners, lifting press restrictions and dismantling the oil industry bureaucracy, which had often been accused of siphoning off the nation’s vast oil wealth. He also had promised to hold a new presidential election on February 19.
With the resignation of MrShonekan, General Sani Abacha, assumed power.