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Alex Ekwueme would have been 90

By Ejike Anyaduba
06 October 2022   |   3:28 am
Five years ago, almost to this day, the vacuum created by the death of Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme in the nation’s political life is yet to be filled.

Late Alex Ekwueme

Five years ago, almost to this day, the vacuum created by the death of Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme in the nation’s political life is yet to be filled. It is hardly to be imagined how low Nigerian democracy has been running, and to what weakness its riders have been reduced through avoidable crises. And it looks like there are no statesmen in the mould of Ekwueme to steer the ship ashore.

Until the military’s convoluted transition to civil rule which ended in fiasco on June 12, 1993, Ekwueme, Nigeria’s Vice President between 1979 and 1983, was almost in the background, never quite in focus. But he would be stirred to action the moment it was clear that the General Sani Abacha’s transition to civil rule was a ruse – a winding path that was leading nowhere.

Leading a group of patriotic Nigerians, known as G-34, Ekwueme openly and courageously confronted Abacha and his devious scheme to perpetuate himself in office. It was clear at the time that the monster of military impudence had no intention of disengaging from power unless forced. With no want of courage, the G-34, led by Ekwueme, decided to force him by engaging his government head-on. The battle would snap in the favour of the Group when, on June 8, 1998, Abacha suddenly died and the transmutation plot completely fell through.

The G-34 and a few other groups coalesced to form the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) just in time before the 1999 general election. Ekwueme became its first national chairman while Professor Jerry Gana was made the national secretary. He envisioned and midwifed PDP to be a truly national party with members from across the nation. He was later appointed the first Chairman, Board of Trustees (BoT) of the party; a position he held with so much dignity and respect. Many would also recall that during the Second Republic, he was the founding Chairman of National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and the first Chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees. This is no doubt a testament of his character and disposition.

Expectations were high that Ekwueme would lead the new formation to the election, but no sooner was the hope nurtured than it was dashed by mindless conspiracy. A group of retired military officers and a few politicians colluded to manipulate the party to sub-serve their purpose. At the famous Jos convention of the party, ex-Head of State, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, just released from Yola prison where he was held for holding contrary views to the Abacha junta, was foisted on the party as its flag bearer. Thus began the bastardization of the ideals for which the party was formed and the diminution of its chances of becoming the flagship political association it was intended by the founding fathers. Sadly, the abuse has been unremitting and may inflict greater damage on the fortunes of the party during the February 2023 general elections.

It is fair to argue that the current crisis, threatening to sink the party, has its root in the criminal violation of its principles of equity and fairness as enunciated by its founding fathers led by Ekwueme. The painful reality is that the PDP has as yet to pay regard to the principles of zoning whether in its elective offices or party positions. Even at the risk of losing a consequential election the party seems decided to carry on in error.

It was a measure of Ekwueme’s patriotism, ingenious political skill and painstaking effort that he contrived the six geo-political zone structures as the basis for power-sharing arrangement in Nigeria. He had argued, during the 1995 Constitutional Conference, in favour of devolution of power to these zones as the only equitable, fair and just arrangement capable of reducing tension in Nigeria. Though the arrangement may have come under serious threat of collapse due to the greed of a few politicians, but the relative stability it brought to the polity over the last twenty years cannot be glossed over.

A man of firm resolve with unwavering nationalist outlook, Ekwueme had huge political capital which the passage of time may never erode. Urbane and temperate, he was without the manners of a typical Nigerian politician and was never seen dipping his verbal arrow in flame. Even when he was wrongfully arrested and detained by the Major General Muhammadu Buhari junta and was later vindicated by Justice Sampson Uwaifo military tribunal, Ekwueme betrayed no anger. Rather he kept faith with Nigeria and contributed immensely to her overall development. Reinforcing this view, his boss and former civilian president of Nigeria, Alhaji Shehu Shagari said: “That was why in spite of the ordeals he went through in the hands of the military and the campaign of calumny against his person, his character remained impeccable and impeachable”. Ekwueme was mild of speech and of action, but firm and courageous. He was a man of ideas who knew how to put them into practice.

He should have been 90 years on October 21, 2022, but lost the battle to live five years ago. Born in Oko, Orumba North Local Government Area of Anambra State, on October 21, 1932, he attended King’s College, Lagos. He studied Architecture and City Planning at the University of Washington, earning a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning and a Doctoral in Architecture from University of Strathclyde, United Kingdom.

A man of great learning and uncommon knowledge, he majored in diverse disciplines, obtaining degrees in Sociology, History, Philosophy, and Law from University of London. Only a brilliant, indeed a studious person like Ekwueme could attain his height in learning and remained self-effacing. His multi-disciplinary background often reflected in his robust views and seminal contributions. Some of these contributions can be found in one of his books, ‘Whither Nigeria:  Thoughts on Democracy, Politics and Constitution (1999-2000)’.

Long before he joined politics and rose to become Nigeria’s Vice President between the period 1979 and 1983, he had a thriving career in architecture. He was easily one of Nigeria’s best and had some of the finest architectural designs that are dotting the country’s landscape. As a foremost indigenous architect and town planner, he headed the team that planned the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja even while serving as Nigeria’s Vice President. From the stable of the Ekwueme Associates, Architects and Town Planners, there are many landmark edifices like Universal Insurance Building, Enugu, United Christian College, Apapa, NNPC Administrative Building, Modotels range of hotels etc. He also had some impacts in the design of almost all the urban and town planning master plans of the old 19 states’ capitals at the onset of their creations.

Before his death in 2017, Ekwueme held the Grand Commander of Nigeria (GCON) honour and was well recognized within and outside Nigeria. Alex Ekwueme Federal University (AE-FUNAI) with student population of over ten thousand and staff strength of two thousand, three hundred, formerly Federal University Ndufu-Alike, Ikwo Ebonyi State, was renamed after him. Ekwueme was an outstanding Nigerian with unwavering interest in building bridges for a stronger and healthier nation. It is fortuitous that his landmark birthday of 90 is coming at uncertain political times to remind us of the path not taken. Remembering Ekwueme at 90 is a soft reminder to our politicians to rededicate themselves to the national ideals and ethos which defined his politics and public engagements.

Anyaduba wrote from Abatete.