Requiem for political icon, Alex Ekwueme

Alex Ekwueme. PHOTO: AFP

The coincidence is instructive. The passage of the former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme at the ripe age of 85 in a London hospital last Sunday night coincided with electoral victory of Anambra State Governor Willie Obiano on the platform of the political party, All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) established by the late Ezeigbo gburugburu Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegu Ojukwu.

Certainly, if the myth that, in the ancestral world the dead interact, Dr. Alex Ekwueme would have a piece of good news to relate to Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegu Ojukwu.

By 10.00pm last Sunday, when the former Vice President in the Second Republic reportedly breathed his last in a London Hospital, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), the political party that Ojukwu founded, while alive, was consolidating its grip on Anambra political landscape with the second term victory of Governor Willie Obiano.

This coincidence is better appreciated considering the major role Dr. Ekwueme played in facilitating the state pardon and eventual return from exile of late Ezeigbo Gburugburu in 1982.

But before he finally transited on Sunday, Dr. Ekwueme, who served along with the erstwhile President Shehu Shagari, under the platform of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) during the Second Republic, had been rumoured dead two weeks earlier.

Some media organisations (not The Guardian) went to town with news of his demise, which the family members immediately refuted.

Following the death rumour on November 7, the family and official of Memfys Neuro-surgical Hospital in Enugu State, where he was admitted for chest infection denied his death news, saying he was stable and also responding to treatment.

Although, President Muhammadu Buhari immediately ordered he (Ekwueme) should be flown abroad for upscale treatment, the former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) founding father finally succumbed to the cold hands of death on Sunday. And the passage has thrown the country into a state of mourning given his larger than life accomplishment in the Nigeria’s political space.

At age 85, the former vice president had seen it all in politics. He spent the later part of his life canvassing, along with other notable Nigerians for the restructuring of the current system of government, which he considered lopsided.

Since his demise, many Nigerians have continued to extol his virtues, saying, Ekwueme lived a life of absolute integrity and commitment to the progress and development of Nigeria.

A unique aspect of his life was the ability to blend and interact easily, peacefully with politicians across other regions in the country. In 1979, he successfully travelled the political journey along with the north on the NPN platform while he did not also find it difficult to extend a cordial handshake with the Southwest on the platform of Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly (SNPA).
Ekwueme and the National Party of Nigeria (NPN)

The erstwhile vice president is one of the founding pillars of the defunct NPN. His role in ensuring peaceful transition from military to civilian rule in 1979 created a space for him when former president, Alhaji Shehu Shagari was to select a running mate.

In the buildup to the 1979 presidential election, former President Shehu Shagari defeated the erudite Yusuf Maitama Sule (Dan Massanin Kano) by a slight margin of three votes, requiring a run-off between the two presidential aspirants. The convention went on a brief recess, ostensibly to allow for further consultation and horse-trading.

Surprisingly, Sule stepped down for Shagari, although it was expected that given Sule’s social standing and oratorical skills, his anticipated emergence would have thrown up the bombastic wordsmith, Chief K. O. (Kingsley Ozumba) Mbadiwe, as his natural running mate.

But, because Mbadiwe did not canvass that arrangement coupled with reservations by northern delegates about Sule’s roots, Shagari garnered more votes. The scenario changed and with that came the alteration of political equation in the north and Southeast. Instead of Mbadiwe, who represented the old political brigade came a fresh entrant, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, who had weeks before the convention lost the governorship ticket of Anambra State to Chief Christian Chukwuma Onoh. If Shagari was chosen because of his simple mien and lack of political baggage, the fact of Ekwueme’s fat financial contribution to the party recommended him for the Vice Presidential ticket.

Few years ago, when Shagari was eulogizing the virtues of the former vice president, he had remarked: “I and Vice President Ekwueme worked very closely together, bound by shared purpose and vision for a united and prosperous Nigeria. We usually had a tête-à-tête at about one o’clock each workday. To my long and wide experience of national politics, he brought with him wide experience of national politics, wide academic background and others.”

Ekwueme, the architect of PDP
Dr. Ekwuemem was not only an elder statesman; he equally employed the veritable weapon of emerging opposition against military regimes, particularly that of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and late Gen. Sani Abacha from 1993 to 1999 when Nigeria eventually returned to democratic government.

Ekwueme was the chairman of the group of 18 wise men (G18), which first championed the release of the acclaimed winner of the June 12 Presidential election, Chief MKO Abiola from prison and also insisted that he (Abiola) should be sworn in as president.

While the military junta rejected the position, Ekwueme, unlike others who jettisoned the June 12 struggle, moved ahead to form another stronger opposition to the military government known as G34. This new group turned the heat against the military regime of Abacha after which the five existing political parties then had adopted (Abacha) as their presidential candidate.

Following the death of Abacha and when his (Abacha) successor, Gen, Abdulsalam Abubakar announced its transition programme to civil rule, Ekwueme’s (G34) quickly transformed into the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which eventually won the 1999 presidential election.

Ekwueme and the Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly (SNPA)
Another significant chapter in the life of the former vice president was his role in the struggle to correct the imbalance in the political architecture of Nigeria. He was a co-chairman of Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly (SNPA) with Bishop Bolanle Gbonigi. The assembly emphasised the need to address the lopsidedness in the current structure of the country and also called for a dialogue. One of the achievements of the assembly was the 2014 National Conference organised by erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan.

Rain of tributes
Among those who extolled the virtues of the former vice president were: President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki; immediate past President of the Senate, David Mark; Senator Gbenga Ashafa, the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere; the Nigeria National Summit Group (NNSG); Senator Anthony Adefuye and others.

Saraki in a condolence message yesterday said the former vice president was a man committed to service to the nation.

To former Minister of Education and co-convener of the BringBackOurGirls group, Oby Ezewesili, it was really painful that the former Vice President, Ekwueme did not make it back home.

“We remember him with fondness for his strides in the land.”

In the reckoning of the South-east Governors Forum and the Igbo socio-political and cultural organisation, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Ekwueme’s death was a great loss to the Igbo nation and the entire country.

Its Chairman who is also Governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi, described the death of Mr. Ekwueme as, “the end of an era.”

He commiserated with the Government of Anambra State and the entire Ekwueme family for the loss and prayed God to grant him eternal rest.

In like manner, the Nigerian community in South Africa says the passing away of Ekwueme was a big loss to the nation.

President, Nigeria Union, South Africa, Adetola Olubajo said Nigerians in the country received the news with rude shock.

He described the former number two man as a politician with exceptional policies, adding that likes of Ekwueme are rarely seen among “the political gladiators in our present day politics.”

Governor of Delta State, Sen. Ifeanyi Okowa commiserated with Governor Obiano and the people of Anambra on the death of Ekwueme.

He also condoled the family of the deceased. Okowa described him as a committed patriot who served our nation at the highest levels with an uncommon sense of patriotism and unwavering dedication.

According to Okowa, “I am deeply saddened by the death of elder statesman and former Vice President of Nigeria, Dr Alex Ekwueme (GCON), who passed on at the age of 85 years. He was a committed patriot, an astute politician and altruistic Vice President who worked assiduously to better the lots of his people and Nigerians in general.”

“Through his purposeful leadership and development strides, the late Ekwueme influenced the establishment of the Federal Polytechnic Oko, which brought about unprecedented development of the Oko Kingdom in Orumba North Local Government Area of Anambra State.”

He added that as a democrat, Ekwueme etched his name in the annals of Nigeria’s democratic advancement by working courageously for the emergence and consolidation of the Fourth Republic in 1999 when he joined forces with other leaders to form the PDP.

“Before venturing into politics Ekwueme brought great pride to the country through his exemplary and pioneering efforts as the Doyen of Architecture in Nigeria.” “His good works as a dedicated family man, accomplished professional, selfless politician and great philanthropist would continue to live after him.”

On his own part, the senator representing Lagos East, Mr. Gbenga Ashafa said the deceased would always be remembered as an elder-gentleman who displayed a brilliant appreciation of National issues and always maintained a high command of reason and temperance in the face of issues that stirred passion among many others.

“He was also an advocate of a well balanced Nigeria where the rule of law and equity prevails.

“Nigeria would surely miss his wealth of experience, knowledge and influence which he made readily available at every moment.”

National Secretary, Nigeria National Summit Group (NNSG), Mr. Tony Uranta said the sudden passage of Ekweme was indeed a very painful national loss. “The former Vice President was a genuine patriot, an outstanding statesman whose total fixity was predicated on the growth and the development of the Nigerian State. He was a gentleman, a thoroughbred, civil, humble but yet radiated a powerful intellect and a scholarly presence, stripped of arrogance.”

One time Deputy National Chairman of the PDP, Chief Olabode George said he joined the majority of enlightened Nigerians to sincerely mourn the passage of Dr. Ekwueme, a great elder statesman of Africa, “who I had the honour of working closely with during his tenure as Vice President to Alhaji Shehu Shagari in the Second Republic.”

The ruling All Progressives Congress also eulogized the virtues of Ekwueme, while Speaker, House of Representatives; Mr. Yakubu Dogara also expressed rude shock over the death of the former vice president.

In similar vein, Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal of Sokoto described the former vice president as a true statesman whose selfless and meritorious service to God, country and humanity was felt by all.

Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State also commiserated with Nigerians, the government and people of Anambra State and the family of the Ekwueme over his passage.

Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, his predecessor Idris Wada and the Kogi State Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) extolled the virtues of Ekwueme as the bridge that held Nigeria together for a very long time.

Others who sent in their condolence yesterday include, Senator Anthony Adefuye,

Generally, Dr. Ekwueme lived an outstanding life as an administrator, a foremost nationalist leader and politician, a distinguished architect and an urban planner by training as well as socio-political engineer who excelled in almost all his endeavours.

He was born on October 21, 1932 in Oko, Aguata, Anambra State. He attended the Anglican Schools in Oko and Ekwulobia at the St John’s Anglican Central School in Aguata between 1934 – 1944 and later proceeded to the King’s College, Lagos, 1945 – 1950.

Being an awardee of the Fulbright Scholarship in the United States of America and as one of the first Nigerians to gain this academic privilege, he attended the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA, from 1952 to 1957, where he earned the Bachelor’s degree in Architecture and City Planning. He returned to the same University in 1976 to obtain his Master’s degree in Urban Planning.

Dr. Ekwueme did not stop there but followed up with more degrees in Sociology, History, Philosophy and Law from the University of London and later moved to obtain a Ph.D in Architecture from the University of Strathclyde, before gaining the BL (honours) degree from the Nigerian Law School.

He started his professional career as an Assistant Architect with a Seattle-based firm, Leo A Daly and Associates, and also with the London- based firm Nickson and Partners.

On his return to Nigeria, he joined ESSO West Africa, Lagos, overseeing the Construction and Maintenance department between 1957 -60.

During the period, he established the Ekwueme Associates (Architects and Town Planners) and served also as Head of Planning, Biafra National Airport road. He was a member of the former East Central State Housing Development Authority between 1970 – 1975; chairman, Oko Community Planning and Development Committee between 1970 – 1979; member former East Central State Advisory Committee on Exercise of the Prerogative of Mercy between 1971 – 1975.

He was chairman, Board of Governors, Oko Community Hospital from 1972 to 1975; an Assistant Secretary, Nigerian Institute of Architects from 1958 to 1962. He was Vice President, President of the Institute and also President, Architects Registration Council of Nigeria (ARCON) between 1975 and 1978; Chairman Board of Trustees, Nigeria Institute of Architects; Member, Board of Directors of Canada based Forum of federations 2000- 2006 and member, ECOWAS Council of elders.

Internationally, he was leader NDI pre-election monitoring team to the Tanzanian presidential and parliamentary elections, 2000; Co-Chairman of the 28-member NDI/ Carter Centre sponsored observer team to the Liberian presidential run-off election in 2005.

Popularly called the Ide of Oko Community, the Ekwueme Associates which he established, at a time, flourished with 16 offices spread all over Nigeria and was wound up in preparation for his assuming office as the first Vice President of Nigeria.

He established the Alex Ekwueme Foundation to promote his ideals, values and principles, offering scholarship to numerous students.

Before he gained national and international prominence as the Vice President in 1979, he was actively involved in the socio-economic development of his community. In his capacity as Vice president, he played a major role in facilitating the state pardon and eventual return from exile of late Ezeigbo gburugburu, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu.

He served as a member of the Housing subcommittee of the Adebo salaries and wages review commission and several years on the board of Anambra State housing development authority.

He participated in the Nigeria National Constitutional Conference (NCC) in Abuja, where he served on the committee on the Structure and Framework of the constitution.

His famous proposals at the NCC for a just and equitable power sharing in Nigeria based on the six-geo political zones have now come to be accepted as necessary for maintaining a stable Nigerian polity.

He mobilized the G34, a group of eminent Nigerians who risked their lives to stand against the dictatorship of late General Sani Abacha. He was founding chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and was the first chairman of the party’s board of Trustees.

He married on December 19, 1959 to his heartthrob; Beatrice and they are blessed with three sons and a daughter.

Until his transition last Sunday night at the ripe age of 85, Ekwueme was the Knight of the Good Shepherd of the Anglican Communion, Enugu. He was conferred with Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON); He was conferred with the Order of the Republic of Guinea. He was awarded honorary degrees by the Abia State University (D.Litt); Federal University of Technology, Owerri (D.Tech); Babcock University (D.Sc); Nnamdi Azikiwe University (LL.D); Bayero University (D.Sc); University of Nigeria (LL.D); and Ebonyi State University (LL.D).

The list of awards included Fellow of Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, Unwana; Fellow of Federal Polytechnic, Nekede; Fellow of Federal College of Education (Technical), Umunze; Fellow of St. Paul’s University College, Awka; and Distinguished Fellow of the Nigeria Law School.

His publications include From State House to Kirikiri (2002) and Whither Nigeria (2002).



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