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 Nigeria (GCON), was widely venerated for his decency, humility and unwavering commitment to the unity and progress of the country.
Ekwueme was, indeed, an outstanding politician with many uncommon virtues. He was a man of awesome intellect, who devoted his life to learning, and obtained degrees in several fields. He attended the elite 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 Ph.D. in Architecture from the University of Strathclyde before he studied for his BL (Hons) at the Nigerian Law School.
Ekwueme, who was the Ide of Okoh Kingdom, 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 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.
Dr. Ekwueme was a most courageous man for leading the campaign for the exit of the military at a time it was exceedingly dangerous to do so. This led to the formation 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. This group became the nucleus of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which eventually became the ruling party and governed the country for 16 years. Ekwueme was denied an opportunity to serve as president in 1999 owing to the hegemonic influence of the military in Nigerian politics. He was defeated at the primaries by the military’s favoured candidate, General Olusegun Obasanjo.
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?
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. Former President Obasanjo noted that with “his exemplary lifestyle and commitment to noble and worthy causes, he came to be regarded as one of the titans of Nigerian politics and an illustrious elder statesman.” Former military president, Ibrahim Babangida, also observed that “his simplicity is a rare virtue, despite his intellectual depth…Nigeria needs people like him more than ever.” Prof. Jerry Gana, a member of the PDP Board of Trustees said: “Dr. Ekwueme gave courageous leadership and paid an invaluable price for the restoration and deepening of democracy in Nigeria. His effort as an experienced political leader and founder of the G-34 contributed immensely to laying the foundation of modern democracy in Nigeria.” The Ohaneze Ndigbo noted that Nigeria has lost in Dr. Alex Ekwueme, one of the foremost advocates of a restructured federation. The association also said of him: “As a politician, he was courageous and original in his ideas. Ndigbo have lost a genius, a father and an intellectual giant.”
We identify with the above sentiments. However, no better tribute can be paid to such a worthy man than to immortalise him. Let the Federal Government seize this occasion of his demise to reward this deserving man of learning and ideas, an epitome of hard work and a man of unimpeachable integrity with a befitting honour.