By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
It is reasonable for some to assume that Dr. Alex Ekwueme’s sterling role in nation building arose from his pioneering role in the practise of architecture in Nigeria. Dr. Ekwueme who opened the first Nigerian architectural practise ironically closed down the business as he made his first steps in political office.
Days before his inauguration on October 1, 1979, as the country’s first elected vice-president, Dr. Ekwueme closed down the flourishing practice known as Ekwueme Associates, Architects, and Town Planners. It was the first architectural practise opened by a Nigerian and which at its peak in the seventies had offices in 16 cities across the country.
Dr. Ekwueme’s grace in building was to be subsequently showcased in the way and manner he played in the “restructuring” of Nigeria during the 1994 Constitutional Conference convened by Gen. Sanni Abacha’s regime. Ekwueme did not mind that Abacha who announced the coup that removed him from office as vice-president in 1983 and cut short his presumed 1987 presidential aspiration was the convener of the Constitutional Conference.
He looked beyond man and malice in leading the fight for the entrenchment of the six geopolitical zones in the report of the conference.
Though the zones have till date not been stamped in the constitution, they have since his advocacy become the imprint for power and geopolitical relationships in the country.
Before then, power distribution in the country had been dispensed on the premise of North and South. With the South fixated on an elemental rivalry between the Yoruba in the Southwest and the Igbo in the Southeast, the united North almost always had its way by oscillating alliances between the two regions in the South.
However, the division of the North into three distinct geopolitical zones inevitably put the sword to the unity that had from colonial times projected the North as a single entity against the discordance that was the singsong down south.
The feudal North was particularly peeved by Ekwueme’s role in dividing the North castigating him as that clever one that would work to dismember the House that Ahmadu Bello built.
It was thus no surprise that despite the old alliances he built from the days of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN that the North almost with one voice stood against his presidential aspiration in 1999 and 2003.
Whatever setback he had in his aspiration, Ekwueme still stands in the hall of fame for his trenchant role in mobilising fellow politicians to stand against Gen. Sani Abacha’s self-serving transition programme.
Despite his heroic ascension to the country’s number two position just nine years after the civil war, some dare to underestimate his political accomplishment. They point at his two failed presidential campaigns in 1999 and 2003 and the way he was shoved aside after those the two elections by the party he helped to found.
After rejecting Obasanjo’s offer of the office of Senate President at the beginning of the Fourth Republic, he was seemingly ostracized by the new administration. President Goodluck Jonathan, the nearest to an Ibo president, was no better. Unlike many who did not play half of the role he played in the formation of the PDP, he took the seeming humiliation with characteristic equanimity. He did not join the clamorous founders to ‘take back our party.’
Whether his level-headedness was the product of his many educational qualifications is an issue that would one day be re-examined. Besides the doctorate in architecture, Ekwueme also has degrees in law, sociology, philosophy, and history.
Neither his international exposure nor his prominent role in national discourse clouded his attachment to his kinsmen in his Oko Community in Anambra State. The legacies of his good works through scholarships, community projects, and other helps abound among his people in Oko.
Dr. Alexander Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, born exactly 85 years ago today would always be remembered as the sturdy, stern and steady man who always desired the best for all those around him.