We need selfless leaders not looters – Ekwueme

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By CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, DEPUTY POLITICAL EDITOR

AFTER touring all parts of the country attending about 10 events organized to mark his 80th birthday, former Vice President, Dr Alex Ekwueme said he thought the celebrations were over and was preparing to travel abroad for a deserved rest until his Orumba, Anambra State kinsmen, told him no, penultimate week.

Gathering on the banner of Orumba Forum, his kinsmen held a birthday luncheon for him at the Lagos residence of their President, Dr Raymond Obieri. At the occasion, an elated Ekwueme, told his hosts, which included Sir Jonah Eze, Professor Laz Ekwueme, Engr S Okoli, Dr Emma Nwankwo, how the efforts of Orumba people led to the emergence of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as president in 1999. He also told reporters after the event the kind of leaders Nigeria needs to disentangle her from the snarl of socio-economic and political underdevelopment.

My nomination to 1994 national conference paved way for power rotation

Speaking in Igbo language, Ekwueme said: I wanted to go abroad to rest but shelved it to attend this ceremony. At times people praise me for my roles in G-18, G-34, which later metamorphosed into the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP without knowing the origin. We started it in 1994. When late General Sani Abacha said there would be a constitutional conference in Abuja, the people of Orumba North and Orumba South were to present one candidate. I was in America then but they selected me unanimously.

“I went to the conference. In my minority report, we talked about six geo-political zones and rotational presidency between the North and South. We said since the North had been in power for a long time, the rotation should start from the South. That was how Chief Olusegun Obasanjo became the president in 1999.

I thank the people of Orumba for giving me the opportunity to go and represent them at the conference. At the conference, we talked about rotation of the Presidency, six geo-political zones, G-18, G-34 and PDP. If late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had not died he would still be in power because of the rotation principle. So, I thank you Orumba, for sending me.

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File photo: From left; Anyim Pius Anyim, SGF, Dr. Alex Ekwueme and Gen. Gowon, former Head of State.

How he feels at 80

I feel energetic and physically fit. God has been very good to me. I am sound and healthy. It is not only a matter of being old but a matter of being old and strong. I cannot thank God enough.

The secret of his good looks and energy

I don’t know about good looks. Energy, I think is as a result of contentment. Once you are satisfied with what God has given you, you don’t need to stress yourself. Most of these things are through God’s grace.

On his striking retentive memory at 80

I don’t recall as much now as I used to. When I was younger, and in school I had a photographic memory; if I read a book I could virtually repeat everything in that book. But now, age has come in, I can’t recall as much as I used to do. Though I don’t have retentive memory like when I was younger but still I manage to recall past events and it is a gift one has to be thankful to God.

How he sees the state of affairs in the country

I don’t think there is anybody who was here in 1960 when the Union Jack was lowered and the Nigerian flag raised up that will not be concerned with the state of things in the country. Those of us who were there at Tafawa Balewa Square when the Nigerian flag was raised are disappointed with the current state of Nigeria.

We had very high hopes of what Nigeria would be as the leader of Africa, the economy would grow exponentially, it would be a model among the British former colonies and there will be high quality of life for all the citizens.

But that has not happened. I cannot apportion blames now as why it happened but that is the reality. Those of us who were here on September 30, 1960 are not happy with the state of Nigeria today.

Where Nigerians started getting it wrong

I don’t want start apportioning blames because you have to do a complete analysis, which is not what you can get in a few sentences from me.

How Nigeria can begin to get it right

To get it right all our leaders must be committed and determined to render service as of choice, altruistic service not what they can get but what they can give. That is the starting point going forward.

On threat of Nigerian languages, especially Igbo, dying

It is Igbo language in particular that has been threatened. If you read the UNESCO report Igbo is one of the languages they said might be extinct in 15-25 years. Igbos of my generation speak the language but our children discuss in English. They go to secondary schools where English is the medium of expression.

If it comes to normal Igbo gathering, they communicate in English because it is easier for them to speak in English than in Igbo. But there is a campaign promoted by Professor Peter Ejiofor, the former Vice Chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University to encourage people to speak Igbo in Igbo gatherings so that the language will not die.

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