Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme: A life worthy of national admiration
Usually, it is the death of a very close blood relative that invokes in most men a deep sense of loss and grief. But Libanius, the ancient Greek rhetorician in his funeral oration upon his sovereign and friend, the Roman Emperor Julian, had helped put in the appropriate words an occasion such as this, which invokes universal mourning over the loss of one individual whose unique life helped define his epoch.
Hear Libarnius: “O thou that dost fill but a little spot of earth by thy tomb, but the whole inhabited world with admiration…. O thou that art more to be regretted by fathers than their own lost sons, by sons than their own fathers, by brothers than their own brethren.”
The admiration and appreciation of the unique life you chose to live will forever inhabit the hearts of many of this generation, even unto the coming generations of Nigerians. Your passing away prompted an unsurprising deluge of commiserations that bespoke of a colossal life lived to its fullest and marked by imitable achievements. The tragedy of death is that some losses reveal the tragedy of life and the imperative to live more urgently.
That urgency manifested in all stages of Dr Ekwueme’s life, as he was the Ide of the Oko Kingdom in Anambra State, where his younger brother, Prof Lazarus Ekwueme, reigns as the traditional ruler. He was also honoured by the Council of Traditional Rulers in the old Aguata as the Ide of Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State, comprising 44 towns.
Suffice to say, some men are born to be leaders and Dr Ekwueme never failed to man his troops with ultimate distinction, setting a peerless example for the importance of strong Nigerian leadership – a lesson sorely underappreciated these days.
Dr Ekwueme was blessed with and diligently cultivated a ferocious intellect, a fact apparent in his early days at St John’s Anglican Central School, at Ekwulobia and subsequently at the prestigious King’s College, Lagos. As an awardee of the Fulbright Scholarship of the United States of America (being one of the first Nigerians to gain the award), he attended the University of Washington where he earned Bachelor’s degree in Architecture and city planning. He obtained his Master’s degree in urban planning.
Dr. Ekwueme also earned degrees in Sociology, History, Philosophy and Law from the University of London. He later proceeded to obtain a Ph.D. in Architecture from the University of Strathclyde, before gaining the BL (Honours) degree from the Nigerian Law School.
To say his academic career was impressive would be a criminal understatement as he is arguably one of, if not the most, well-learned public servants in Nigerian and African history. His unquenchable thirst for knowledge and dedication to intellectual enrichment suffused a cerebral quality into Nigerian politics, and marked him as a relic from a bygone era in which elitism was something to be proud of when earned and used to edify others. His professional career was equally as stellar as his academic tenure.
Dr Ekwueme was a distinguished architect who began his professional career as an Assistant Architect with a Seattle-based firm, Leo A. Daly and Associates, and also with the London-based firm Nickson and Partners.
Armed with his global experience and forever motivated to give back to his community, Prof Ekwueme returned to Nigeria and created a successful private business with his firm – Ekwueme Associates, Architects and Town Planners, the first indigenous architectural firm in Nigeria. His practice flourished with 16 offices spread all over Nigeria and was wound up in preparation for Dr. Ekwueme assuming office as the first executive Vice President of Nigeria.
His service and dedication to the public good far predated his sterling tenure as the Vice President of Nigeria in 1979. He was Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Nigerian Institute of Architects, and was actively involved in the socio-economic development of his community. In addition to his many public service roles within his community, Dr. Ekwueme started an active Educational Trust Fund that has been responsible for sponsoring the education of several hundred youths to universities in Nigeria and abroad. Dr. Ekwueme was also a member of the housing sub-committee of the Adebo Salaries and Wages Review Commission. He also served for many years on the board of the Anambra State Housing Development Authority.
On the national front, Dr. Ekwueme participated in the Nigeria National Constitutional Conference (NCC) in Abuja, where he served as Chairman of the Committee on the Structure and Framework of the Constitution. His famous proposals at the NCC for a just and equitable power sharing in Nigeria based on the six geopolitical zones have now come to be accepted as necessary for maintaining a stable Nigerian polity.
Dr Ekwueme mobilised the group of 34 eminent Nigerians who risked their lives to stand up against the dictatorship of General Sani Abacha during the era of military rule in Nigeria. He was the founding Chairman of the ruling party in Nigeria and was the first Chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees. Dr. Ekwueme was a prolific philanthropist, public servant, and a man of peace.
The ease with which one can luxuriate further in the astounding accomplishments of Dr Ekwueme is a testament to his remarkable, selflessness and greatness, which was marked by an acute sensitivity towards engendering public good. He embodied the ideal of the quintessential Igbo man: dogged, replete with unshakable convictions and passionate about his fellow man.
Today, we honour Dr Ekwueme for his tireless public service. But we also pay tribute to him for much more. We pay tribute to the fine human being, father, husband, leader and friend he has shown himself to be time and time again, through his words and his actions.
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