Christopher Isiguzo and Muhammad Bello
Encomiums flowed in torrents Saturday in Enugu as Igbo leaders, including governors of the South-east states and President General of the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohaneze Ndigbo, Ambassador Raph Uwechue, celebrated the 80th birthday of the Second Republic Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme in grand style.
The leaders, who thronged the Michael Okpara Square, Enugu, venue of the celebration, used the occasion to reiterate some of the political issues that have bothered the Igbo nation of late. They insisted on the emergence of a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction and the creation of additional states in the South-east to address the current imbalance between the number of states in the zone and those of the other geopolitical zones.
Ekwueme, who was born on October 21, 1932, turns 80 tomorrow.
President Goodluck Jonathan was represented at the ceremony by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim. The president reassured the people of the South-east of his commitment to the cause of the Igbo race, describing Ekwueme as the “living symbol” of the nation whose birthday should be used to mark the beginning new things for the people.
The birthday celebration attracted the crème de la crème of the Igbo society from the political, traditional, religious and other socio-cultural groups.
In Abuja, Jonathan described Ekwueme as “a living personification of the highest ideals of patriotism and selfless service.” In a statement by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr Reuben Abati, the president called Ekwueme, “A thorough-bred professional, an accomplished administrator and leader of men, an epitome of the highest ideals of selfless service and unwavering patriotism, your unassailable integrity and consummate diligence have combined to make you one of our most respected national icons today.
“Over the years, you have consistently invested the benefit of your inspiring attributes in dedicated service to our dear country, while continuing to avail our generation of leaders of your enduring wise counsel. It is my prayer that Almighty God continues to keep and prosper you even as He blesses you with robust health and a life of perpetual fulfilment.”
Among leaders that attended the Enugu event were Governors Peter Obi (Anambra), Theodore Orji (Abia), and Rochas Okorocha (Imo) and Acting Governors Dave Umahi (Ebonyi) and Sunday Onyebuchi (Enugu), former Senate President Ken Nnamani, Dr Okwesilieze Nwodo, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, and Professor Chinedu Nebo.
Others included Dr Igwe Aja Nwachukwu, Professor Chukwuma Soludo, Igwe Laz Ekwueme, Chief Dubem Onyia, Professor Joe Irukwu, Mrs. Arumma Oteh, Senators Jim Nwobodo and Anyim Ude, and National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, Chief Victor Umeh.
Speaking on behalf of the president, Anyim commended the Igbo leaders for the honour done to the former vice president, saying that the event affords them an opportunity to chart a new leadership and followership approach in the South-east.
“I encourage us to rally behind Ekwueme to lead the Igbos to the Promised Land as a national symbol of service and a statesman. I wish to use this opportunity to urge Nigerian politicians to emulate the virtues in Ekwueme because that’s the only way to secure the future for Nigeria ,” he stated.
Also speaking, Obi, Orji and Okorocha praised Ekwueme as a worthy statesman who had made enormous sacrifice for the unity and progress of the Igbo nation, in particular, and Nigeria, in general. They said the best birthday present for the elder statesman was for the federal government to initiate an executive bill asking the National Assembly to create one more state for the South-east.
Okorocha said that the governors of the five states of the zone had resolved to work in unity and, therefore, urged other Igbo leaders to imbibe the spirit of sacrifice in order for them to realise what God had destined for the race.
“Igbo nation is carefully created by God. We are a great people and nothing is wrong with us in any manner. Unity is never our problem. We are a great nation waiting for the appointed time. Nigeria is waiting for us. We are simply passing through temptations as easterners and at the appointed time, we are going to assume that position God has prepared for us,” Okorocha said.
Obi said, “We have come to felicitate with our leader, Ekwueme, and use it as a mark of unity. Once we work together, such issues as Igbo presidency and the creation of additional state can be taken for granted. We are the true Nigerians and time has come for us to insist that as Igbos, we must be allowed to seek for political positions wherever we find ourselves.”
Other speakers at the event, which attracted different cultural groups and traditional masquerades from the states of the zone as well as Delta, were Ezeife, who is a former governor of Anambra State, Nwobodo, Ambassador Uwechue, Chairman of the South-east Traditional Rulers Council, Eze Cletus Illomuanya, Senator Joy Emordi, among others.