Former Vice-President and elder statesman, Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, turns 80 today. As usual, his friends and admirers will expectedly wish him a happy birthday and many happy returns of the day. Already, his political associates had on October 16 in Abuja organised a lecture entitled “International Colloquium on Nigerian Federalism: Building on the Ekwueme Legacy” in his honour, to usher him into the octogenarian club.
There is no doubt that as a national icon, committed politician and patriot, Ekwueme’s attainment of the great milestone of 80 years ought to be celebrated with great pomp and ceremony. Since assuming the position of Vice-President in 1979 during the Second Republic, Ekwueme has remained a reference point in Nigerian politics. He has, also, been a barometer to gauge the national conscience on burning issues. In addition, the well-heeled architect turned politician has always remained on the side of the people and history.
As a founding father of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Ekwueme ensured that the party remains intact despite occasional crisis of confidence and other intrigues that rear up from time to time. Twice, he has sought power at the presidential level, but none of the efforts came to fruition. Yet, he kept faith with his party and continued to contribute to national development. He is unlike other politicians who jump fence if they do not realise their ambition in a party. During the post-election crisis of 1993 following the annulment of the June 12 presidential election generally believed to have been won by the late business mogul, Chief M.K.O. Abiola, Ekwueme joined forces with other well-meaning Nigerians to protest the annulment.
He was in the group of 18 wise men that later metamorphosed into the G18 that pressed for Abiola’s release and subsequent installation as Nigeria’s president. While they did not succeed in seeing Abiola installed as president, the group later grew into the G36 that unconditionally demanded an end to military rule in the country. We recall that it was the G36 that later became the Peoples Democratic Party that clinched power in 1999 and led the country to another wave of democratic rule under President Olusegun Obasanjo. It is commendable that Ekwueme was found clean by the Justice Samuel Uwaifo Panel set up by the then military junta to try politicians. This amply testifies to his moral bearing while holding political office. By this, he demonstrated that those entrusted with leadership positions should not enrich themselves and their cronies. They should exercise power with restraint and in the interest of the masses.
They should eschew abuse of power which is rampant in this part of the world. Ekwueme, through his conduct at the time, showed Nigerians how politics should be played. Though, a well-established and reputable architect and town planner, Ekwueme’s foray into the nation’s politics has been of immense value. He is a consensus builder among the ethnic and religious divides in the polity. He is also an intellectual colossus having earned degrees in architecture, history, sociology and law.
Born on October 21, 1932, in Oko, Orumba North Local Government Area of Anambra State, the former Vice President started primary school at St. John’s Anglican Central School, Ekwulobia (1938-1944) and later proceeded to King’s College, Lagos (1945-1950). He went abroad and furthered his education in diverse fields but specialized in architecture and urban planning.
He was at the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA, 1952-1957 and University of Strathclyde, Scotland (1976-1978). Before coming back to Nigeria, he worked as assistant architect at Leo A. Daly and Associates, Seattle (1956-1957) and Nickson, Borys and Partners, London (1957). In Nigeria, he worked as a construction and maintenance coordinator, Esso (West Africa) Inc, Lagos. Later, he went into private architectural practice under his firm – Ekwueme Associates, Architecture, Town and Urban Planning, established in 1958.
His firm executed several landmark jobs relating to the planning and the design of some major cities in the United States, the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and Lagos including the National Arts Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos. Ekwueme was assistant secretary, Nigerian Institute of Architects (1958–1962), Vice-President (1963–1964), President (1965–1968), Fellow, since 1970. Ekwueme was appointed Chairman, Board of Trustees, Peoples Democratic Party, 1999, 2003. He was appointed Chancellor of University of Ado Ekiti in 2002. He holds the traditional chieftaincy titles of Ide Aguata, Ide Oko and Ide Okwulora, Orumba. He was conferred with the national honour of the Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger in 1988.
His publications include From State House to Kirikiri, Whither Nigeria? Thoughts on Democracy, Politics and the Constitutions. Ekwueme lived a good life in and outside government. We think that the best way to celebrate this patriot and firm believer in the unity of the country is to examine his political thoughts and use them to chart a new course for the nation. His treatise on restructuring of the nation along the six geo-political regional lines, especially, is worthy of consideration.
Let upcoming politicians emulate his sterling examples. We join his friends, admirers and all Nigerians in wishing the exemplary leader happy birthday and many happy returns of the occasion.