On the occasion of his posthumous birthday, Chineme Okafor writes on the life of the late former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, also known as the ‘Ide’ of Oko Kingdom
Former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, who served alongside late former president, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, as his deputy between 1979 and 1983 was by all standards larger than life. He ‘lived his life, did his work, and then took his hat’ just as American essayist and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau suggested should be at the core of a well-spent life.
Born October 21, 1932, at Nawfija, in what is now Orumba South Local Government Area of Anambra State, Ekwueme would have been 87 years old but he passed on November 19, 2017 leaving behind an enviable legacy of brilliant service to humankind.
Soundly educated at the St John’s Anglican Central School Ekwulobia, Kings College Lagos, and the University of Washington (UW) where he studied architecture and city planning, leveraging a Fulbright Scholarship as one of the first Nigerians to ever gain such prestigious award, Ekwueme’s rise and relevance was inevitable.
He even studied law, sociology, history and philosophy from the University of London, and then a doctorate degree from the University of Strathclyde to confirm his wholeness as a man of many paths.
He was reported to have gained the Fulbright Scholarship and study opportunity to the University of Washington a month before his 20th birthday. While a UW student, Ekwueme was a member of the university delegation to a 1956 Model United Nations Conference held at Oregon State University, and was president of the Cosmopolitan Club, a group of foreign University of Washington students.
It was he who reportedly set up the first indigenous architectural firm in Nigeria – Ekwueme Associates, Architects and Town Planners; ensured a successful practice of his trade and actively buoyed the practice of modern architecture in Nigeria by presiding over the Nigerian Institute of Architects and the Architects Registration Council of Nigeria.
Actively involved in community services, Ekwueme reportedly started a functional trust fund to provide hundreds of young people in Nigeria with university education. He did this in addition to offering his insight on national development on platforms such as the Adebo Salaries and Wages Review Commission where he served on its housing sub-committee. He even served for many years on the board of the Anambra State Housing Development Authority, helping to shape the strategies, businesses and service delivery of the entity.
As a thorough-bred professional, Ekwueme was an assistant architect at Seattle-based firm, Leo A. Daly, and then at London-based Richard Nickson and Partners as well as a construction and maintenance coordinator at Esso West Africa Incorporated before he set up a hugely successful architectural firm where he was a principal partner.
Devotion to Nigeria
Serving as Nigeria’s first democratically elected vice president with Shagari between 1979 and 1983, Ekwueme, subsequently lived his life devoted to serving the Nigerian nation.
To achieve unity of purpose in the governance of the country, he proposed the now practiced equitable sharing of power among the country’s six geopolitical zones at a national constitutional conference, and this is now accepted as necessary for maintaining a stable Nigerian polity. His ideation of this roundly been applauded as a panacea to Nigeria’s ever-present wrangling for political power.
Testifying to the quality of his character, brilliance and commitment to Nigeria, his principal, Shagari, at a pre-burial event which was organised by the Office of the Secretary to Government of the Federation in January 2018, said he was a trusted ally.
Represented by his son, Aminu Shagari, the late former president said he chose Ekwueme to serve with him as vice president because of his impeccable integrity and character.
“I am not here no give undeserved praises on Ekwueme, whatever I say here I have told him so in his life. I never thought his last birthday was his last though he was younger than me. Death is a certainty and we will all face it one day.
“We worked harmoniously because we had the same vision. He was a deputy I trusted, and mischief makers could not drive a wedge between us. His character remain impeccable. Even in death his achievements cannot be diminished,” said Shagari at the event then.
In furtherance of his commitment to democracy, good governance and Nigeria, he it was who mobilised a group of 34 eminent Nigerians to risk their lives and stand up against the despotic reign of late military head of state, Sani Abacha.
The 34 eminent Nigerians in a 1998 audacious move, overlooked Abacha’s tenacious obsession for power and constant clampdown on dissenting voices and forwarded a petition to him, advising him not to succeed himself. This, in very profound ways contributed to the return of democracy in Nigeria after years of military governance and abuse of office.
The G-34 later transformed into the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and Ekwueme became the founding chairman of the PDP board of trustees. The party subsequently ruled Nigeria from 1999 when democratic governance returned until 2015 when it lost power to opposition All Progressives Congress (APC). He was also often looked upon to restore broken bridges within the party.
Further on the level of decorum he practiced in his management of public office, after his release from prison in 1989 due to military coup, his reputation as a civilian with a flawless record was proclaimed by the judicial tribunal that probed him after the 1983 coup. The tribunal reportedly said that, “Dr. 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.”
Even when he lost his quest to become president of Nigeria at the return of democracy in 1999, he remained committed to Nigeria and consistently contributed to its development, working hard for democracy and peace in Nigeria until he passed.
A Daughter’s Posthumous Birthday Thoughts
Sharing her thoughts about Ekwueme on the occasion of his posthumous birthday with THISDAY, his daughter, Chidi Alexandra Onyemelukwe, said his life embodied his middle name – ifeanyichukwu, which loosely translated to nothing was impossible for God in Igbo language.
“Daddym would have been 87 today. To God Almighty be all the glory for this opportunity to mark in thanksgiving, your 87th birthday on this 21st day of October 2019, albeit posthumously.
“May you continue to rest in the bosom of the Lord as we celebrate your legacy. You remain always ever green in our hearts, for ‘to live in the hearts of those you love, is never to die…’ We are indeed blessed and honoured to have had you,” Onyemelukwe said in her eulogy of Ekwueme.
She further said: “Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, was until his death, Ide Aguata n’Orumba. One of the first four Fulbright scholars from Nigeria, Alex Ekwueme was educated at Kings College, Lagos, and at universities in the USA (Seattle, Washington) and the United Kingdom (London and Strathclyde).
“A multi-talented personality of enormous intellectual endowments, Dr. Alex Ekwueme earned multiple degrees, and was an architect, town planner, attorney-at-Law, sociologist, philosopher, educationist, historian, politician, statesman and philanthropist.
“From very humble beginnings, he reached the pinnacle, of his architectural career, his political career, and very silently, his calling to the masses and to his nation Nigeria. Indeed, his life was a clear testament to the fact that ‘Ifeanyichukwu’ – with God, nothing is impossible.
Thank you Daddym, for the invaluable legacy left for us all and for the generations to come Ideeeeeeh, Nwoke n’Aasaa!”