Alex Ek­wueme (1932-2017)

Daily Trust - - OPINION -

The death last Sun­day, Novem­ber 19, 2017 of Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ek­wueme, GCON in a London hos­pi­tal was another big blow to the ranks of em­i­nent states­men, ded­i­cated pub­lic ser­vants and prin­ci­pled politi­cians in Nige­ria. He was 85 years old and had re­port­edly suf­fered from a chest in­fec­tion. Af­ter col­laps­ing at his res­i­dence in Enugu on Oc­to­ber 28, he was rushed to the hos­pi­tal and was later flown to London in an air am­bu­lance with as­sis­tance from the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment.

Dr Ek­wueme was the only Vice Pres­i­dent of Nige­ria dur­ing the Sec­ond Repub­lic, 1979-83. Born on Oc­to­ber 21, 1932, he at­tended King’s Col­lege, Lagos and was one of the first Nige­ri­ans to re­ceive the Ful­bright Schol­ar­ship to study at the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton in the US. He earned a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in ar­chi­tec­ture and city plan­ning and a Master’s de­gree in ur­ban plan­ning. Ek­wueme re­ceived his LLB and a sec­ond PhD in Scot­land in 1978, about the time that the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment led by Gen­eral Oluse­gun Obasanjo lifted the ban on po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties. Though most peo­ple in his na­tive east­ern Nige­ria sup­ported the Nige­ria Peo­ples Party [NPP] led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ek­wueme joined the more broad based Na­tional Party of Nige­ria, NPN and con­tested to fly its ticket for the gov­er­nor­ship of Anam­bra State.

Even though he lost the gu­ber­na­to­rial pri­maries con­test, NPN’s pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Al­haji Shehu Sha­gari later chose him to be his run­ning mate, over and above more “heavy­weight” politi­cians such as Dr. J.O.J. Okezie and Dr. Jerome Udoji. NPN ticket won the sub­se­quent pres­i­den­tial elec­tions and Ek­wueme was sworn in as vice pres­i­dent on Oc­to­ber 1, 1979. As vice pres­i­dent for four years Dr. Ek­wueme was self-ef­fac­ing, ef­fi­cient, non-con­tro­ver­sial and also up­right. He brought his rel­a­tive youth and high ed­u­ca­tion to bear in as­sist­ing the gov­ern­ment through its food and shelter pro­grams. Sha­gari again nom­i­nated Ek­wueme to run with him in the 1983 elec­tions and even though they won, the Sec­ond Repub­lic was over­thrown by the mil­i­tary three months later.

Lead­ers of the Sec­ond Repub­lic in­clud­ing Sha­gari and Ek­wueme were herded into de­ten­tion af­ter the mil­i­tary coup.

Ek­wueme spent 20 months in de­ten­tion at Kirikiri Prison in Lagos. He was never ar­raigned be­fore the Spe­cial Mil­i­tary Tri­bunals but the Jus­tice Uwaifo panel, set up by the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment of Gen­eral Ibrahim Ba­bangida, later ex­on­er­ated him with the words, “Dr. Ek­wueme left of­fice poorer than he was when he en­tered it, and to ask more from him was to set a stan­dard which even saints could not meet.”

Ek­wueme lived a quiet life af­ter his re­lease from de­ten­tion and did not show much in­ter­est in pol­i­tics dur­ing the long IBB tran­si­tion pro­gram. How­ever, he grad­u­ally re­turned to po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity in the run up to the 1994 con­sti­tu­tional con­fer­ence con­vened by Gen­eral Sani Abacha. At the con­fer­ence of east­ern lead­ers to pre­pare for that con­fer­ence, Dr. Ek­wueme made far reach­ing pro­pos­als, in­clud­ing for the cre­ation of six re­gions [the six geopo­lit­i­cal zones of to­day], ro­ta­tional sin­gle term pres­i­dency, three vice pres­i­dents etc.

He later joined hands with other pa­tri­ots to form a group of 16 [G-16] em­i­nent per­sons that spoke out against dic­ta­tor­ship and for a full re­turn to civil­ian rule. When Abacha died in June 1998 and Gen­eral Ab­dul­salami Abubakar started another tran­si­tion pro­gram, the G-16 chaired by Ek­wueme ex­panded to G-34 which fathered the Peo­ples Demo­cratic Party, PDP. In 1999 and again in 2003 he sought PDP’s pres­i­den­tial ticket but lost on both oc­ca­sions to Pres­i­dent Oluse­gun Obasanjo. He turned down Obasanjo’s of­fer to be­come Se­nate Pres­i­dent and was in­stead chair­man of the PDP Board of Trus­tees.

In the run up to the 2015 elec­tions Dr. Alex Ek­wueme led a group called South­ern Nige­ria Peo­ples As­sem­bly which caused ten­sion in the coun­try by al­leg­ing that INEC was plot­ting to rig out Pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan. Oth­er­wise he served this coun­try with zeal and ded­i­ca­tion and would be re­mem­bered for his sim­plic­ity and up­right­ness. May his soul rest in per­fect peace.

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