The man who for decades was the only (former) vice president that Nigeria ever had, but who went about his life with such dignity and elan (ferrour) succumbed to death. Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, first executive Vice President of Nigeria, died in London on November 19, aged 85. The departed elder statesman, who earned one of the nation’s highest National Honours, Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON), was widely venerated for his decency, humility and unwavering commitment to the unity and progress of the country.
Ekwueme was an outstanding politician with unmatched virtues. He was a man of awesome intellect, who devoted his life to learning, which led him to obtain degrees in several fields. Young Ekwueme attended King’s College, Lagos, before he won the Fulbright Scholarship, which enabled him to attend the University of Washington, USA, to study for a bachelor’s degree in Architecture and City Planning. He not only completed his degree in record time, he also obtained a master’s degree in Urban Planning and, being adept at multi-tasking, he also earned multiple degrees in Sociology, History and Philosophy. He also studied Law at the University of London. Some years later, he obtained a PhD in Architecture from the University of Strathclyde before he studied for his BL (Hons) at the Nigerian Law School.
Culturally, Ekwueme was a leading light. He was to become the king of his community,Oko,but passed it over to his younger brother (Prof. Laz Ekwueme) as a result of public office interest. However, his interest in his community’s cultural development made him to accept the Ide of Okoh Kingdom title. Career wise, he had a distinguished career in architecture. He began his professional career as an Assistant Architect with a Seattle-based firm in Washington. He also worked with another architectural firm in London before he established Ekwueme and Associates, Architects and Town Planners, which was the first successful indigenous architectural firm in Nigeria. He had 16 offices spread all over the country. He was a technical consultant to the World Bank’s Educational Project. All these thriving ventures he wound up in preparation for his assumption of office as the vice president of Nigeria in 1979.
The late politician was a political thinker and problem-solver. He was reputed to have proposed Nigeria’s six geo-political zones, which is widely accepted as the just and most equitable power-sharing formula for Nigeria’s political stability. His other ideas about a single tenure of five or six years for the president, and a presidential council with six vice presidents (one from each of the country’s geopolitical zones, including the president’s), would have prevented the political turmoil and ill-will which followed the untimely death of President Umaru Yar’Adua and his succession by Vice President Goodluck Jonathan. Some politicians misread these proposals, but it would have provided the necessary reassurance and a sense of belonging to all regions of the country.
Furthermore, Dr. Ekwueme was a most courageous man for boldly challenging the Abacha murderous regime at a time other patriots were being killed or silenced by death or exile. His bold formation and leadership of the G-34, which was a group of 34 eminent Nigerians who insisted that military dictatorship must end and democratic rule must be established earned him local and international plaudits. This group became the nucleus of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which eventually became the ruling party and governed the country for 16 years. Although he failed to win the party’s presidential primary on two occasions, his team player attributes and elevation of country over self earned him respect and encomiums even among his harshest critics. Ekwueme had a way of rising above mundane, local issues.
His integrity and incorruptibility was second to none. When the Second Republic was toppled in a coup d’etat in 1983, Dr. Ekwueme was arrested and detained for 21 months in Kirikiri Maximum Prisons and a military tribunal was set up to probe him. The said tribunal reportedly returned the following verdict: “Dr. Ekwueme left office poorer than when he entered it, and to ask more from him is to set a standard which saints cannot meet.” Of which contemporary Nigerian politician can such eulogy be written? Indeed that statement is perhaps the fitting epitaph for a man so sure of himself that pecuniary benefits was in no way going to come between him and his conscience.
President Buhari has paid tribute to Ekwueme’s commitment to the improvement of the lives of the underprivileged and his service to the country and humanity. There have been many eulogies from different quarters and we align ourselves with them. Dr.Ekwueme’s immortality lies in his personal conduct and love of country. Yet, the Federal Government will not be doing too much if they go a step further so that younger ones can point to something of remembrance when the going gets tough. Rest in peace great man.