January 3, 2016

Ekwueme: The Architect as statesman

Alex Ekwueme

Dr Ekwueme

By Dapo Akinrefon

HE is a distinguished architect, who rose to become the first elected Vice President of Nigeria from 1979 to 1983 during the Shehu Shagari tenure. A native of Anambra State, Dr Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme is a house hold name as far Nigeria’s polity is concerned.

Born in October 21, 1932, Dr Ekuweme started his primary school at the St John’s Anglican Central School, at Ekwulobia, after which he proceeded to  King’s College,  Lagos.

Instructively, he was one of the first Nigerians to awarded the Fulbright Scholarship in the United States America, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture and city planning. Besides, he obtained his master’s degree in urban planning.

Fulbright scholarship

Having distingushied himself as an academia, Dr Ekwueme earned degrees in sociology, history, philosophy and law from the University of London.

Dr Ekwueme

Dr Ekwueme

Not satisfied with this, Ekwueme later proceeded to obtain a doctorate degree in architecture from the University of Strathclyde, before being honoured with a law degree from the Nigerian Law School.

With architecture being his first love, Ekwueme started his professional career as an Assistant Architect with a Seattle-based firm, Leo A. Daly and Associates, and also with the London-based firm Nickson and Partners. Upon his return to Nigeria, the one time Vice-President joined ESSO West Africa, Lagos, where he was in charge of the construction and maintenance department. Having the itch to go into private practice, Ekwueme created a successful firm, which went on to become the first indigenous architectural firm in Nigeria. His firm called the Ekwueme Associates, Architects and Town Planners flourished with 16 offices spread all over Nigeria.

Having recorded successes in his firm, he ventured into politics in the Second Republic where he joined the National Party of Nigeria, NPN, securing a joint ticket with Alhaji Shehu Shagari.

The NPN won the presidential elections in 1979 and Ekwueme emerged the Vice-President of the country.

Prior to his venturing into the political terrain, Dr. Ekwueme had presided over the  Nigerian Institute of Architects  and the Architects Registration Council of Nigeria. Also, he was actively involved in the socio-economic development of his community in Anambra State. Presently, he is chairman of the Board of Trustees of the  Nigerian Institute of Architects.  Sensing the importance of impacting in the lives of people at the grassroots, Ekwueme was involved in the Educational Trust Fund, a feat that has seen to sponsoring the education of several hundred youths to universities, both home and abroad.

Furthermore, Dr Ekwueme was a member of the housing sub-committee of the Adebo Salaries and Wages Review Commission.

Having served for severally years on the board of the Anambra State Housing Development Authority, the former VP was actively involved in National Constitutional Conference, NCC, in Abuja, where he served on the Committee on the Structure and Framework of the Constitution.

His famous proposals at the NCC for a just and equitable power sharing in Nigeria based on the six geo-political zones led to the acceptability of the present structure being operated in the country.

Acceptability of the present structure

Also on the national front, Ekwueme was the arrowhead of the a group of 34 (G-34) eminent Nigerians who risked their lives to stand up against the dictatorship of General Sani Abacha during the era of military rule in Nigeria.

The G-34 later metamorphosed into the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. With his help, the PDP went ahead to contest, win elections and formed the ruling the party in 1998. Ekwueme also sought to vie for the presidency at the party’s Jos Convention in 1998 but lost out to former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who emerged the party’s presidential candidate. Due to his contribution to the formation of the party, he was made the first chairman of the PDP’s Board of Trustees.

Considering his contribution to nation building, the Elder Statesman sits on the board of several companies. The London trained architect led a team known as the National Democratic Institute, NDI, which was involved in the pre-election monitoring for the parliamentary election in Zimbabwe in 2000.

Run-off election

Aside from being the leader of the Organisation of Africa Unity, OAU, observer team to the Tanzanian Presidential and Parliamentary election in 2000, Ekwueme co-led the 28 member NDI/Carter Centre sponsored Observer Team to the Liberian Presidential run-off election in 2005. In the wake of intra-party logjam in the PDP, he was called upon to head the Reconciliation Committee.

Following his track record to nation building, he has been honoured with second highest national honours of Grand Commander of the  Order of the Niger  (GCON) as well as the Order of the Republic of Guinea and Nigeria.

He is also the benefactor and patron of Alex Ekwueme Foundation. Currently, he is a member of the Board of Directors of Canada-based Forum of Federations and a member of the  Economic Community of West African States  (ECOWAS) Council of Elders. Dr. Ekwueme is a renowned and prolific philanthropist, public servant and a man of peace.