Agbasonu: No Igbo man nominated Ekwueme for VP
ELDER ADOLPH AGBASONU, is the chairman of Imo State Union of Elders, United Kingdom (UK) chapter. In this interview with Tunde Oyedoyin, provided the back story of how the architect turned politician became Shagari’s running mate.
Former second republic Vice President of Nigeria, Dr Alex Ekwueme, who passed away here in London, on November 19, never dreamt of becoming the country’s number two citizen, or even, of being among the three frontline Igbo candidates that Alhaji Shehu Shagari, was to pick from after securing the ticket of National Party of Nigeria (NPN), to contest the presidential election in 1979. “He –Ekwueme – was my personal friend, and the last time I saw him was around Bayswater, about five months ago. I think he came for treatment then and was with his wife. I said hello to him but he could not recognise me,” Agbasonu revealed the day after the former vice-president passed on.
Continuing, he said, “no Igbo man nominated Ekwueme to Shagari, it was –– the late Joseph S. Tarka that put his name forward.
“Tarka, was a very powerful politician and a close friend of General Gowon. To let you know how close they were, It was Tarka that suggested to Gowon that the country should be divided into 12 states, during a meeting at his – Tarka – Kingsway rd , Ikoyi, residence. We used to hang out and meet there,” so both “Tarka and Gowon were that close. Gowon used to come and visit him there.”
Ekwueme, Agbasonu continued, “ was relatively new in politics when he contested for the governorship of Anambra –under the banner of Nigerian Peoples Party, NPP –– with Jim Nwobodo and lost. ” He spoke further, noting that “ Ekwueme was not expecting anything when he decamped and joined NPN . But then came the NPN convention, where Shagari contested against the late Alhaji Maitama Sule – former Nigerian Permanent representative in the United Nations -for the party’s ticket.
Agbasonu narrated how Ekwueme’s journey to the nation’s second topmost position then began. “During the first round of voting, Maitama Sule drew with Shagari and they were to have a second run, but Sule was very nice and so agreed to step down for Shagari.” He revealed also that perhaps what made Sule step down could be the feelers from the Igbo delegates of the party, “who harboured the thoughts of the killing of Major General Aguiyi Ironsi. Sule felt he could not win in the second run, so he stepped down for Shagari. But I don’t know if he knew anything about what the Igbos were saying, I don’t know if it is true or not, I’ve always lived here –in London.”
Meanwhile, with Shagari now the NPN flag bearer, he had to choose a running mate from three Igbo politicians. “The vice- presidency was zoned to the Igbos (South East ) and the three front runners were ; J. I. J Okezie, Dr Kingsley Mbadiwe and Dr Dike Nwora. Ekwueme was never in the race, and besides, he was not long in politics before losing out to Nwobodo and joining NPN.” But the hand of fate picked him. He gave a first hand account of how Shagari then picked the architect who was never in contention for the vice presidency.
“During break time at the convention venue, I suggested to Tarka that why don’t you put Ekwueme’s name forward to Shagari, since he has done us a favour by loaning us money to run the company.” Tarka, he continued, never objected for a second. “He asked me to go and call Shagari, so, I went to Shagari’s chalet to get him.” When the NPN presidential candidate got to their chalet and Tarka mentioned Ekwueme, Shagari responded with: “Alex, I’ll go with Alex.” That sealed the fate of the trio of Mbadiwe, Okezie and Nwora.
Asked how Shagari knew Ekwueme, Agbasonu said he only knew the name because of his architectural practice. “He had designed many projects and was a known professional. “Ekwueme showed appreciation to the party by writing out a cheque.