Former Vice-President Alex Ekwueme
Victor Ndoma-Egba, in this piece, pays tribute to former Vice-President Alex Ekwueme who turned 80 years recently
The distinctive grey that marks out Dr. Alex Ekwueme, his measured gait, dignified visage and carriage have always exuded learning and wisdom- that priceless endowment that must be sought for through prayers and choice. As we celebrate him at 80, ten full years over and above the biblical promise to the faithful, the grey now confirms both age, and wisdom.
Dr. Ekwueme’s story is an open book and I believe his biography will be more appropriately handled by those who are better placed to tell his story; his life’s journey and its nuances, his highs and lows, trials and triumphs, challenges and victories. However the story is told, one thing that will certainly not be missed is that he excelled in every profession, calling or sphere he applied himself to. He is a renowned architect, successful lawyer- he chose law out of passion even as he was at the top of the social ladder- outstanding businessman, notable politician, and easily one of the most remarkable political thinkers and philosophers of our time.
He had at different times presided over the Nigerian Institute of Architects, the Architects Registration Council of Nigeria and Board of Trustees of the Nigerian Institute of Architects where he is perhaps, the longest standing and had run one of the most successful indigenous architectural practices. In the field of architecture, he had nothing more to prove. He therefore had to move on.
In 1979, the return of the military to the barracks which turned out to be temporary, presented the opportunity for Dr. Alex Ekwueme, the professional architect, town planner and lawyer to go into politics. He joined the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), became Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with Alhaji Shehu Shagari, a professional teacher, as President.
A professional in politics is one who has made a success of a chosen profession before venturing into politics as against the professional politician, whose livelihood begins and ends with politics. It is assumed that the professional in politics brings value to it as he or she is expected to bring into it, the practical, economic, social, legal viewpoints and values and ethics and discipline of his or her profession, since he or she would have already been successful. Politics is a rare opportunity for service rather than a do or die affair.
Dr. Alex Ekwueme’s thoughts aptly conveyed in his book: “Whither Nigeria? Thoughts on Democracy, Politics and the Constitution” have defined the political discourse of this age and generation. Seminal, focused, determined, diligent- he has shaped our political thoughts, lexicon and politics. The intellectualism, vigour and relentless search for the common good have given our politics today, perhaps, its only redeeming feature. Ordinarily, our politics is said to be crude, ignoble and for never-do-wells .This has been shown not to be exactly so. As demanded by the various professions, we must stand up firmly for our beliefs. This professional exhortation he met when he formed the G34’, along with 33 other very eminent Nigerians to demand democracy and human rights of Gen. Sani Abacha, at grave risk to their personal safety. He dared the tiger and got away with it.
His dignity and integrity remain unaffected even in situations of unmerited and unjustified travails. When he was detained by the Buhari regime when the military unconstitutionally terminated the democratically elected Shagari government, his visage and carriage did not betray the dignity of the elective office that he held.
He represented the hope democracy offered. Thorough investigations after the overthrow showed that he did not use his office to amass personal wealth. Indeed, politics and public office had made him poorer. This was not to discourage him for he believes that professionals who neglect politics cannot, and should not, be heard lamenting its outcomes. Politics may justifiably have earned itself and its practitioners a bad name with its divisiveness, intrigues and avarice.
Today, we celebrate the consummate professional, politician and thinker who had shown that the best should rise to the calling of politics; that politics can be played with intellectualism and character; that if the best don’t get involved, we’ll consign our future to adventurists and fortune seekers. We thank God for Dr Ekwueme’s life and his wife and children who gave him the enabling domestic environment to express his enormous endowments in the service to country and humanity. There has been the eternal argument on whether or not good men in politics would make any difference. His sojourn in politics provides an answer. He certainly has given politics a tolerable face.
Nigerians can only truly celebrate this icon by developing a democratic attitude, mindset, value system and culture- a culture of mental engagement, forthright debate, intellectualism and accommodation. This is the only way we can acknowledge his contributions and sacrifices. He has demonstrated clearly what value the professional can bring to politics which in our environment determines everything.
I thank the Nigerian Institute of Architects for honoring one who not only deserves honour but earned it; a man who has demonstrated that politics can be noble and that rectitude in public life is possible and established the paradigms for the professional in politics- a living legend, scholar and statesman.
I have been active in the 6th and7th Senate in the constitutional review process. I can say categorically that the issues canvassed and that are momentous or topical are issues that have always been canvassed by Dr. Ekwueme and issues that have defined his persona and politics. Until they are resolved, we will remain agitated. Congratulations author of six political zones, author of books, the ultimate professional, thinker and politician. You have earned your place in history, and in our hearts.
May God grant you life to see our democracy mature in form and substance, bring every Nigerian peace and prosperity, give us security and equity, give meaning to human life, give us rectitude in public life, make our public officials see their offices as sacred opportunities for service, give every Nigerian a sense of ownership of the Nigerian project, give us an indivisible country which gives each and everyone something for being Nigerian.
May you live to see our land healed of strife and hatred! May you live to see human life regain its sanctity in our land- a land where though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand.
•Ndoma-Egba, Senate Leader, represents Cross River Central Senatorial District