Second Republic Vice-President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme
Across the country, Second Republic Vice-President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, was celebrated when he turned 80 years on October 21. But none of such celebrations elicits as much passion and nostalgia as the one by his kinsmen from Orumba, in Anambra State, writes Shola Oyeyipo
Penultimate Sunday, Second Republic Vice-President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, was accorded a reception by his people from amongst whom he had set out for various national assignments.
Although, the elder statesman who turned 80 years on October 21 was literally given a state honour, his kinsmen topped the celebrations that marked his 80 years on earth. Coming under the auspices of Orumba Forum, the event provided a platform where accolades were poured on the politician. They particularly dwelt on qualities that made him a worthy representative.
Orumba Forum is a foremost elitist non-political organisation for people of Orumba extract in Anambra State from which Ekwueme popularly referred to as Ide hails. Orumba community comprises of two local government areas of the state.
However, the reception which held in the sitting room of Orumba Forum President, Dr. Raymond Obieri, in Osborne Estate, Ikoyi, Lagos, paraded accomplished members of the forum.
The event conducted in the Igbo language had a pep of Igbo tradition setting with Igbo foods and palm wine served along with assorted drinks. But beyond the glamour and pomp, the lesson of the day was that those who know Ekwueme were confident and proud to say: “He served us meritoriously and very well.” They were ready to reiterate this.
Obieri, while setting the tone for the speeches at the occasion, noted that “Ide is a special person because in his own case, charity began at home. What he did in his hometown is unparalleled; the Oko Polytechnics that you see today was set up by him, the hospital at Oko, the breweries plus several scholarships he gave the indigenes. By extension, what he did covered all the two LGAs that make up Orumba. We are very proud of him, which made us believe that he deserves this particular celebration and thanksgiving ceremony.
“To underscore that this is a family affair, we also decided to make it a truly home affair by hosting the party in our house. That is why our parlour is transformed into a boutique dining room. We are very pleased to note all the encomiums poured out on you (Ekwueme) during the nationwide celebrations of your 80th birthday. You have been indeed appreciated by the nation and we, being your people, are rejoicing that at last you have been given a befitting honour that you rightly deserve.
“You may not realise how dear you are to us. The entire Orumba people derive huge respect and honour by the fact that Ekwueme is from our place. Though they say that ‘a prophet has no honour in his country, yours is complete opposite because in your life you really began charity at home- by the numerous ways you impacted the lives of Oko people and town in particular and the entire Aguata and Ibo nation in general,” Obieri stated.
Orumba’s Financial Secretary and Chairman, Organising Committee of the birthday celebration, Mr. Obi Okafor, said: “As the foremost elitist organisation for people with Orumba background, we are joining the rest of Nigeria to celebrate him so as to crown all other celebrations, as the people that brought him out in the first place. Without Orumba, there is no Ide. And we believe that he served the people meritoriously.”
During the event that lasted just about three hours, there were attempts to name the special things that make Ekwueme dear to his people.
One of the speakers, Prof. Titus Okereke, who traced the post civil war efforts of both late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ekwueme painted a vivid picture of a people who are genuinely committed to the well-being of their people and who saw any opportunity to lead as an opportunity to serve the people, which are some of the values that are openly missing in recent politicians who see such opportunity as avenue to amass wealth.
“After the war, going around and seeing the roads getting bad, Ide embarked on some projects; he wasn’t a Vice-President then. He built committee hospitals, tarred roads and built the Oko Polytechnics. He zeroed on some very important aspects, especially health. Though, people are looking at him as a politician, before he came to political lime light, he was already a philanthropist.
“Forty years ago, he was not promising, he was acting but now we hear people talking about infrastructural development, they talk about what they would do for the people in a future date such that now when people are sick, they are flown out of the country. But he was not talking about the future; he did what had to be done. They (Ekwueme and Azikiwe) were not imitating anybody,” Okereke stated.
Chief Jonah Eze, Anaelihaku of Umuze who relived the dynamics that threw up Ekwueme as the eventual VeePee, noted that he was never really in the permutation as Shagari’s veepee. He said it was K.O Imbadiwe that was being considered but that at the 12th hour, it was considered that Imbadiwe was much more politically savvy and cleverer than the man he was going to deputise and that in order not to upset the apple cat and unknown to ide, his name came up as substitute.
He also noted that the exemplary character of the politician were what was considered in putting him forward for the position.
Responding, Ekwueme noted that though he had witnessed numerous birthday celebrations across the country since he turned 80 years, none could have evoked as much emotion as the one organised by the Orumba Forum.
But while later fielding questions from journalists, Ekwueme said: “I feel very privileged to be 80 and still physically fit. God has been kind to me. The energy in me is as a result of contentment and I live my days by God’s grace. I feel honoured to be celebrated by my people because as you know it, ‘a prophet is not respected in his town’ but that my own people consider me worthy, I think it is a great honour.”
He, however, attributed his achievements to the people of his immediate constituency who gave him the opportunities to represent them.
“In 1994, when Abacha said there would be Confab in Abuja, Orumba was to select one representative, though I was in America, they selected me unanimously.
Although, a minority, he proposed at the confab that there should be six geopolitical zones and rotational presidency. It was also from the conference that G18 and G34, which later became the PDP emanated.
His views on geopolitical zones, rotational presidency and the eventual agreement that since the north was the power base was believed to have made it possible for Chief Olusegun Obasanjo from the west to emerge president in 1999.
“I thank Orumba for giving me the opportunity to go and represent them,” Ekwueme reiterated.
But Ekwueme expressed regrets on the level of backwardness in the country, stressing: “No one present when the Union Jack was lowered in 1960 would be happy with the present level of development in Nigeria.”
He said as a former British colony, expectation was high that the country would be one of the greatest countries in Africa but now that such dreams are yet to be realised, “determination and commitment to serve” on the part of the leaders are some of the major steps to be taken to reverse the downward trend in Nigeria’s quest for sustainable development.
Others present at the event included Vice-President of Orumba Prof. Laz Ekwueme, Sir and Lady Sylverius Okoli, Sir and Lady Emma Udoye, Dr. And Mrs. Jerry Nwankwo, Chief and Mrs. Emma Okechukwu, Dr. And Mrs. Emma Nwankwo, Chief and Mrs. Elias Unachukwu, Chief and Mrs. Peter Nwankwo, Chief and Chief Mrs. Ben Ohakwe and Justice Gloria Okeke.