Alex Ekwueme: A benevolent African bourgeois personified
Human beings created in the image of God exhibit two existential traits. They are either benevolent or malevolent in their rapport with fellow humans and the habitat available to them, the way the original garden, planet earth, was meant to be before Cain and Abel arrived. Hence, they work to beautify the garden or expand the garden. A bourgeois works to expand the garden while the peasants work to beautify the garden – either for ecology or for the aristocrats who live by the sweat of the peasants.
Architect, Barrister, Dr. (Ph.D not honorary Causa) Alexander Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme was a benevolent African bourgeois who lived to expand whatever he met on ground that was good, notwithstanding the obstacles, (a myriad for that matter), placed on his way in his immediate habitat designated as Nigeria. He came, he saw, he worked like a bourgeois – applying a subtle approach to convince and get work done, fought his wars with great equanimity not on “aluta continua” basis, conquered for those who are still alive to continue the battle like Nehemiah did for the Israelites, like De Gaulle did for the French people, like a group of women did for South Korea, like Powel did for Great Britain, like Guillaume and Ouattara did for Côte d’Ivoire. So also for others who believe in the bourgeoisie tenets. Even among the non-bourgeois, the mentality of tilling the soil and beautifying the garden still has its great humanistic goals and people like J. J. Rawlings (a.k.a Junior Jesus) continued from where Kwame Nkrumah stopped for Ghana and re-enacted the humanism era planned by Nkrumah. In Nigeria Aminu Kano, Murtala Muhammed and Balarabe Musa have their followers they had conquered battles for, so as to trudge on.
Unlike other Nigerians of Igbo extraction who seemed to be eulogized by other Nigerians, either on selfish basis or on chop-I-chop basis, Alex Ekwueme is a true nwa afo, nwa amadi, Ikenga and, above all, the type of Nze originally known to the Igbos. Note that being a bourgeois is not evil and those who expanded the garden Earth acted on the challenges of bourgeoisie principles – make the world a better place than you met it; or, on individual basis, create more wealth for your progenitors than was bequeathed to you. Alex did that for his family and Nigeria; even when he joined politics that ate into his wealth, it did not make him poor, he rose above the burden created by the NPN (National Party of Nigeria) which wanted to reduce him to a pauper. Shehu Shagari is still alive to tell that story. Both Shehu Shagari as the President of Nigeria and Alex Ekwueme as the Vice President remained integrity personified; they are yet to be rivalled by any tested Nigerian who had occupied those positions.
Being nwa afo is also a parlance in Igbo language that makes a person distinct from a hireling or a mercenary. The truth is that the system is bigger than an individual and what makes a nwa afo is when you reject anything that is known as NSO ALA – hara-kiri. Before any nwa afo embarks on a service delivery engagement, he/she craves not to offend the system, and what it means not to offend the systems is to act within the bounds of the law and the Igbos would say “Iji kwa Ogu” – do you have evidence to convey, justice on what you are doing; that is, the gavel to stamp on it as the ofo. Alex Ekwueme never offended the system; this, Nigerians could attest to.
To be nwa amadi is to respect the principles set by your ancestors who preceded you on the land. If you relocate and never to come back there again, you might decide to be “tokunbo” or “onye ije” and the principles of onye ije is that you do not make yourself enemies; you must obey the alternative – rolling stone gathers no moisture.
Alex decided to be more a Nigerian than being the king of Oko; he made no enemy of any Nigerian and fought the worst perceived enemy of the progress of Nigeria to a standstill. Prof. Jerry Gana and friends are still alive to tell that story. It shows how someone can transit from local interest to a greater global and humanitarian interest.
To be Ikenga in Igbo parlance is to be faithful to what is true and never giving right to what is wrong. A musician once put it in song captioned: “Ikenga no go marry me.” To marry an Ikenga, perceived ugly by human beings who are struggling to just eat or too greedy to acquire material things, could be daunting; because, Ikenga does not mind dying, no matter the carrot you dangle to him/her to betray the truth. In all the political prostitution, some Nigerian politicians attune themselves to, Alex Ekwueme remained consistent with any political affiliation he found himself in; and they were political parties in tune with his bourgeoisie principles – give to Nigerians, after you, more than you inherited from your predecessors.
Finally, to be an Nze in Igbo land, not chief; or to be an Ozo title holder, Ichie, not like someone who usurps it with paying money and cowering the people, the upper chamber of the “Lords” for the United Kingdom type, is where you belong. When taking decisions becomes difficult for the commons or people who find it difficult to uphold principles, the Nze group becomes the last resort.
In Nigeria, people like Alex Ekwueme are “Ijere masquerade”, even when the masses admit their presence with awesomeness, they do not seem comfortable with what the outcome of their humanistic and enduring actions and decisions could do for them. See people like Balarabe, see people like Aminu Kano, see people like Awolowo outside south west, see people like Bala Usman… Alex Ekwueme suggested six geopolitical zones to allow each zone grow and develop at its own pace; and call for help anywhere for the sustenance of its growth, without dragging other parts of the federation behind, and some Nigerians saw it as evil. Alex Ekwueme lives on and what he stands for should not be allowed to die. In Igboland, Nze is laid to rest standing upright or sitting on the stool of Nzeship, never buried so as to remind people who see his sculpted resting body that, what he stood for remains relevant.
Ariole is professor of French and Francophone African Studies, University of Lagos.
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