Nigeria’s first executive Vice President, Dr Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, left us with valid proof that it is possible to serve one’s country without stealing, writes Tobi Soniyi
â€ŽIn Nigeria, integrity is a rare quality among politicians. We struggle to find among our political elite people who place high premium on integrity. Until last Sunday however, the nation was lucky to have oneâ€Ž in Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme.
Last Sunday, Ekwueme, the first Nigerian elected vice president died in a London Hospital. A statement, signed by his brother and the traditional ruler of Oko in Anambra State, Igwe Laz Ekwueme, said Ekwueme died at 10:00 pm.
The statement reads in part: â€œEkwueme family regrets to announce the peaceful passing away of their patriarch, the former Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme GCON.
â€œThe sad event occurred at the London Clinic at 10:00 pm on Sunday 19th November 2017.â€
The former vice president, who turned 85 in October, reportedly collapsed in his Enugu residence few weeks ago and was taken to the Memfys Neurosurgery Hospital, Enugu, where he relapsed and went into a coma.
President Muhammadu Buhari subsequently directed that he be immediately flown abroad for urgent medical treatment. Buhari authorised the trip after being briefed on Ekwuemeâ€™s condition.
When the military overthrew the government under which he was vice president, he alongside other politicians were sent to jail. He spent 20 months in Kirikiri prisons. Their tormentor-in-chief was Muhammadu Buhari who was the head of the military junta that overthrew the Shagari government.
But Ekwueme’s stewardship as vice president saved him as the Justice Uwaifo panel, set up by the military government of Ibrahim Babangida, set him free with these famous words: â€œDr. Ekwueme left office poorer than he was when he entered it, and to ask more from him was to set a standard which even saints could not meet.â€ He established a thriving professional practice. He was successful in business. He however chose to serve the people and his country as vice president. He came out poorer.
Born October 21, 1932, Ekwueme was the first elected vice-president of Nigeria. He served as deputy to former President Shehu Shagari between 1979 and1983.
An Intellectual Power House
The late politician stated his primary school education at the St John’s Anglican Central School at Ekwulobia. He latter proceeded to the King’s College, Lagos.
An intellectual power house, Ekwueme had degrees in so many areas as he went about developing his capacities. As a recipient of the Fulbright Scholarship in the United States of America (being one of the first Nigerians to get the award), he attended the University of Washington, Seatle, where he earned bachelor’s degree in architecture and city planning. He later obtained a master’s degree in urban planning from the same university.
Ekwueme also earned degrees in sociology, history, philosophy and law from the University of London, before proceeding to obtain a Ph.D. in Architecture from the University of Strathclyde in England. Yet with these many certificates in his kitty, he still had the time to proceed to the Nigeria Law School and was awarded a Barrister at Law certificate.
Ekwueme was a distinguished architect. 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.
He then went on to create a successful private business with his firm – Ekwueme Associates, Architects and Town Planners, the first indigenous architectural firm in Nigeria. His practice flourished with 16 offices spread all over Nigeria and was wound up when he was about to resume office as the first executive vice president of Nigeria. Ekwueme had presided over the Nigerian Institute of Architects and the Architects Registration Council of Nigeria. He was Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Nigerian Institute of Architects.
Prior to his election as vice president, Ekwueme was actively involved in the socio-economic development of his community. In addition to his many public service roles within his community, he started an active educational trust fund that sponsored education of several hundred youths to universities in Nigeria and abroad. He was a member of the housing sub-committee of the Adebo Salaries and Wages Review Commission. He also served for many years on the board of the Anambra State Housing Development Authority.
Ekwueme was a member of the Nigeria National Constitutional Conference (NCC) in Abuja, where he served on the committee on structure and framework of the constitution.
At the conference, he proposed an equitable power sharing in Nigeria based on the six geopolitical zones which he said would help to maintain a stable polity.
Ekwueme mobilized the group of 34 eminent Nigerians who risked their lives to stand up against the dictatorship of General Sani Abacha during the era of military rule in Nigeria.
He latter joined others to found the Peoples Democratic Party and was the first chairman of the party’s board of trustees.
He was a member of the Board of Directors of Canada-based Forum of Federations. He was also a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Council of Elders. Ekwueme was leader of the team assembled by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) for pre-election monitoring for the parliamentary election in Zimbabwe in 2000. He was the leader of the Organisation of Africa Unity(OAU) observer team to the Tanzanian Presidential and Parliamentary election in 2000. He co-led the 28-member NDI/Carter Centre sponsored observer team to the Liberian Presidential run-off election in 2005. Most recently Dr Ekwueme was called upon by the ruling party in Nigeria to head the Reconciliation Committee in the wake of intra-party discord and after the recent presidential election.
Ekwueme died when her daughter, Alexandria Chidi Onyemelukwe, the running mate of the Peoples Democratic Party’s governorship candidate, Oseloka Obaze lost her bid to become deputy governor of Anambra state.
At a time when allegiance to regional political parties was in vogue, Ekwueme chose not to join the party of Nnamdi Azikiwe which was very popular in the south-east. Instead he opted for the National Party of Nigeria. His ability to see beyond his immediate environment eventually landed him the vice presidential job.
A Humble Man
At a time when the number of Nigerians with Ph D were very rear, Ekwueme agreed to serve as vice president under Shagari who only had a certificate in teaching. Some arrogant Ph D holders would have considered that as an assault.
Ekwueme, not only agreed to serve, he related with the president with deference.
Nigerians have continued toâ€Ž pay tributes to Ekwueme.
Using his twitter handle, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, paid tribute to Ekweume by commending his dedication and service to the nation.
He said: â€œToday, I join Ndigbo and the entire nation to mourn the passing of one of Nigeriaâ€™s most illustrious sons, H.E. Dr. Alex Ekwueme, our first elected Vice-President. As we mourn his death, we celebrate his dedication and service to the development of our country.
â€œI will always remember Dr. Alex Ekwueme for his exemplary courage in the face of overwhelming odds â€” when he stood up to past military regimes, and his dexterity in his personal pursuits as a successful architect, lawyer, businessman and philanthropist.”
In a statementâ€Ž, tâ€Žhe Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu expressed grief over the death of the former vice president.â€Ž
He described Ekwueme’s death as a sad event for Nigeria and her democracy, noting that Ide Oko,as he called him, was a pillar of the nationâ€™s democracy and the struggle for a restructured, just, equitable, and prosperous Nigeria.
He said: â€œDr. Ekwueme combined the uncommon toughness and courage of Heracles with the wits of Odysseus and Nestor. His fearless battle against military rule as the convener of the Group of 34 eminent Nigerians (G-34) can be likened to Heraclesâ€™ heroic encounter with the hydra-headed chthonic monsters.
â€œEkwueme was a fine gentleman and an epitome of politics without bitterness. Although he lost the presidential ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), an offshoot of the G34 and pan-Nigerian political platform he built from the scratch, he remained faithful to the party in thick and thin until his death.
â€œHe will be remembered as a public administrator per excellence and a soldier of conscience. He stood by his people during their most challenging and difficult time, knowing that politics has a local flavor most of the time. He offered his undiluted professional service in the design and development of access to the air for Ndigbo during the civil war 1967 to 1970. As the Head of Planning of the Biafra Airports Board, the late prodigy built two functional airports in Ulli and Uga, while the airport projects at Mbaise, Ntigha Ngwa, Umuleri, and Arochukwu were at various completion stages before the end of hostilities.
â€œYet, as a detribalized and pan-Nigerian, he joined the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) rather than the Dr. Nnamdi Azikiweâ€™s Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) in the journey to the Second Republic. He also did Ndigbo a great honour by facilitating the state pardon and eventual return from exile, and reunion of late Ezeigbo Gburugbu, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, with Ndigbo and Nigeriaâ€.
The senator added that Ekwueme bequeathed a legacy of integrity and strength of character as â€œhe was until his death reputed to have left office as the vice president of Nigeria poorer.”
The South-east Governors Forum described the death of Ekwueme as a great loss to the Igbo nation and the entire country.
The Chairman and Governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi, sad Ekwueme’s â€the end of an era.â€
Umahi, in statement signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Emmanuel Uzor, expressed shock over the death even as he described the loss as a great one to Ndigbo in particular and Nigeria in general.
He commiserated with the Government of Anambra State and entire Ekwueme family of Oko in Anambra State for the loss and prayed God to grant him eternal rest.
â€œThe death of our father and leader, Dr. Ekwueme is so devastating especially now that his fatherly advice is needed most. He was a great Nigerian and great believer in the unity of the country. As his children, we have learnt a lot from his deep political sagacity.
â€œAs the Vice President of Nigeria, Ekwueme was a great rallying factor of Igbo socio-political integration. He was a voice of reason and a man who toiled to place Ndigbo at the centre of mainstream politics. Indeed, we have lost a rare gem, a gentleman and a decent politician and academiaâ€, the statement said.
The governor said that the South-east zone through the governors would soon draw a programme on how to pay last respects to the fallen statesman.
Also,â€Ž a former Minister of Education and Co-convener of the BringBackOurGirls group, Oby Ezewesili said she was pained by the death of the corner vice president.
â€œReally pained that former Vice President Alex Ekwueme did not make it back home to us and has now gone the way of all flesh. We remember him with fondness for his strides in the Land. May our Gracious God comfort Aunt Beatti, Chidi and all the Ekwueme clanâ€, she said on Twitter.
A Lagos lawyer, Mr Festus Keyamo, (SAN) recalled that Ekwueme was at the Supreme Court two months ago for the swearing in of new senior advocates.
He said: â€œIt was just about two months ago that I last saw Dr. Alex Ekwueme. He was physically present at the Supreme Court for the induction of the new SANs. Such a fine gentleman. His passage is a big loss to the country as a whole. Deep commiseration to the Ekwueme family.â€
We struggle to find among our political elite people who place high premium on integrity.