Dr Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, Nigeria’s first vice president and one of the country’s best, both in private and public life will be laid to rest on Friday, February 2, 2018.
The statesman, aged 85, died on Sunday, November 19, 2017, at a London hospital, where he was being treated for a chest-related ailment.
Until his death, Ekwueme was the Ide of Oko, who was actively involved in the socio-economic development of his community. About 14,000 people are on his scholarship list.
Ekwueme was a holder of the prestigious title of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON).
So far, all the tributes on him are evidence that he was an unassuming politician, a quintessential democrat, visionary, courageous, intellectually deep, focused, philanthropist par excellence and totally patriotic to the Nigerian dream.
He was reputed to have brought class and panache to Nigerian politics with his brand of altruistic politics.
Born on October 21, 1932, Ekwueme contributed significantly to the socio-political and economic growth of the country.
The late politician had his primary education at St. John’s Anglican Central School, Ekwulobia, Anambra State, before proceeding to King’s College, Lagos.
He earned a degree in architecture and city planning from the University of Washington as a Fulbright scholarship recipient, a Master’s in urban planning, and a PhD in architecture from the University of Strathclyde.
Known to be an extraordinary scholar, he also obtained degrees in sociology, history, philosophy and law from the University of London. He was called to the Nigerian Bar.
His professional career began as an assistant architect with a Seattle-based firm, Leo A. Daly and Associates, and with the London-based firm, Nickson and Partners, before coming home to establish Ekwueme Associates, Architects and Town Planners, the first indigenous architectural firm in Nigeria.
While his professional legacies dot various Nigerian cities, he was at one time president of the Nigerian Institute of Architects.
At the international level, he was the leader of the Organisation of Africa Unity (OAU) observer team to the Tanzanian presidential and parliamentary elections in 2000 and also a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Council of Elders.
The late statesman was incorruptible, as affirmed in December 1985 by Justice Sampson Uwaifo, who headed a judicial tribunal set up by the military junta to try Second Republic politicians on corruption charges.
“Dr Alex Ekwueme’s wealth, in actual fact, had diminished by the time he was removed from office as vice president via a military coup,” Uwaifo said.
“I see no prima facie case being made here to warrant his trial for any offence known to law; and were he to be put on trial on the facts available, it would be setting a standard of morality too high even for saints in politics in a democracy to observe.”
Over the years, Ekwueme was a bridge-builder and stabilising political force in the country who brought his enormous intellect to bear on the country’s politics.
He would be remembered as a man whose ideas and interventions greatly and positively shaped the country’s political fabric.
The most remarkable example of such eclectic disposition to national discourse is the present six-zone geo-political structure, which he championed at the 1994-95 constitutional conference to create a more equitable system.
A politician with a steely resolve whenever he was convinced on the rightness of a political cause.
It is on record he gave the military a bloody nose by leading the G34, a starry-eyed group of 34 fearless political leaders who dared the murderous regime of Sani Abacha.
The G34 gave birth to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) with Ekwueme as the first national chairman and later chairman of the Board of Trustees.
On a personal level, he lived a long, accomplished and impactful life. But that cannot be said of the country left behind.
In one of his celebrated interviews he was asked what his visions are for the country and he said, ‘I would want to see Nigeria be a nation, not just a country’.
Those words would convey how patriotically committed he was to the unity of this country.
It is lamentable that 57 years after independence, there is no medical facility at home that could help at his most vulnerable moment.
It is good that the federal government will give him a state funeral. It is also heartwarming that many people and institutions, in appreciation of his contributions to Nigeria’s socio-political and economic wellbeing, are calling on the government to immortalise him.
But knowing Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme ideals well, the best way to immortalise him is to keep his legacies aglow. That is Nigeria’s surest way out of its self-inflicted quagmire.
Nigerians will always remember the late Ekwueme for his commitment to the timeless ideals of integrity, loyalty, selfless service and kindness to all.
The befitting burial he has continued to receive is not for nothing because his legacies are legendary.