Alex Ekwueme, statesman and former Vice-President of Nigeria, dies at 85

While there is a certain hypocrisy associated with the death of prominent politicians in our country, most Nigerians would agree that the late Second Republic Vice-President, Dr Alex Ekwueme, truly deserves all the encomiums that are being lavished on him. Until his death last week, Ekwueme brought to politics and governance in Nigeria an uncommon decency while his belief in democracy was founded on a strict adherence to the rule of law and abiding principles.

In a nation where political prominence goes with the smell of corruption, it can be safely said of the late Ekwueme that he towered above most of his peers and that stature remained untainted throughout his political career spanning four decades. As an accomplished professional and businessman before joining politics, Ekwueme demonstrated the point that any serious politician who genuinely wants to serve the people must always have a second address. Until he died, Ekwueme ran a successful business empire comprising his architectural firm, a hotel chain and real estate firm without involving himself in any scandals.

Indeed, what endeared Ekwueme to most Nigerians was his being able to stay above the fray in an environment where many go to public office to enrich themselves. In December 1985, a judicial tribunal headed by Justice Sampson Uwaifo, said of him: “Dr. Alex Ekwueme’s wealth, in actual fact, had diminished by the time he was removed from office as Vice President via a military coup. I see no prima facie case being made here to warrant his trial for any offence known to law; and were he to be put on trial on the facts available, it would be setting a standard of morality too high even for saints.”

While only few public officials (past and present) in Nigeria can secure such testimonial, Ekwueme would also be remembered for his politics anchored on principle and one that is devoid of bitterness. When, for instance, he and likeminded democrats felt the nation had had enough of military rule, Ekwueme defied the jackboot ferocity of the late General Sani Abacha administration to demand a return to civil rule. His political organisation in this regard was nationalistic in its spread. Yet, it is one of the curious ironies of Nigerian political contradiction that Ekwueme, who was the prime arrowhead of that move, never became the immediate post-military president.

In his lifetime, Ekwueme taught us many lessons. He was a party man par excellence. From 1999 till he died, he remained steadfast to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), of which he was a founder, despite series of intra-party turbulence at different epochs. His memory therefore deserves a bouquet from the PDP. Ekwueme was also imbued with an uncanny independence of thought and action because politics was never a means of earning a living for him. Besides, his relationship with President Shehu Shagari, throughout the Second Republic and after, is a model worth recommending to the contemporary situation in which a president or governor and his deputy hardly part on good notes.

Conservative and urbane, Ekwueme was among the few in his generation who placed premium on politics of ideas. Not for him the narrow ethnocentrism that has held the nation hostage for so long. In its place, he was reputed to have authored the current six geopolitical zoning arrangement that has been used to dampen ethnic pressure and ensure some balancing in the geopolitics of the country’s 36 states.

In the demise of Alexander Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, therefore, Nigeria has lost a most illustrious patriot, exemplary nationalist, political avatar and indeed a notable ambassador of that class of leaders that the nation desperately needs, especially at these perilous times.

May his gentle soul rest in peace.