By Chioma Gabriel, Vincent Ujumadu & Chimaobi Nwaiwu
AWKA—AWKA, the Anambra State capital, stood still yesterday for the late Second Republic Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, during a commendation service organised in his honour by the Anambra State Government.
The body arrived the Amansea border community with Enugu State at about 12.30pm, accompanied by horse riders and colourfully dressed policemen, the procession marched through the heart of the town to the venue of the commendation service.
His remains will be buried today at Oko, his home town after a church service at St. John’s Anglican Church in the town.
Meanwhile, former President Shehu Shagari has described Alex Ekwueme as a vice- president he trusted while their service to the nation lasted. Shagari also said because of the deep trust he had for Ekweme, it was difficult for mischief makers to drive a wedge between them.
The Second Republic president said this in a tribute yesterday.
Also in Abuja and Enugu where similar commendation services were held earlier, eulogies flowed freely from speakers who described the late elder statesman as the beacon of modern Nigeria and the architect of Nigeria’s six geopolitical structure.
Over 200 priests, including Bishops from most Christian denominations, as well as most of the traditional rulers in Anambra State and Ekwueme family members attended the ceremony at the famous Ekwueme square named after the late Vice President.
Among dignitaries that attended the ceremony were Senator Ike Nwachukwu,former foreign affairs minister; Professor Uche Azikiwe, wife of the first president of Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe; former senate president, Senator Ken Nnamani; former secretary general of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku and wife; Dr Tim Menakaya, former Minister of Health; Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, former Governor of Anambra State; Dr. Sule Lamido, former Governor of Jigawa State and presidential aspirant of PDP and former secretary of the PDP caretaker committee, Senator Ndii Obi.
Also present were Professor Charles Soludo, former Governor of CBN; Dr. Alex Otti, former governorship candidate of APGA in Abia State; Chief Nnia Nwodo, President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo; Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju, former Governor of Anambra State; Senator Joy Emodi; Dr. Ottis Anyaeji, President of Nigeria Society of Engineers; Dr. Dozie Ikedife, former president of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and business mogul, Chief Cletus Ibeto.
In his homily at the commendation service, the Anglican Bishop of Awka diocese, Rt Rev Alexander Ibezim said Ekwueme deserved all the accolades he had been receiving since his demise.
Ibezim said the fear of death was the greatest fear facing mankind, noting that Ekwueme’s death was a big reminder that everyone was on a journey in the world.
He said: “Dr. Ekwueme has journeyed and his death is an inevitable reminder that life is a passage.Time is therefore precious and everyday we breath, we should glorify God and try as much as we can to impact those around us positively.”
Ndigbo needs unity—Cleric
According to the cleric, what Ekwueme experienced in life showed that there was need for Igbo unity, adding that the Igbo nation needed selfless fathers and elders who cared for the people as Ekwueme did.
“We need to study his humility and political pattern that made him unique. If he did not do well, people would not be eulogizing him the way they have been doing . Nigeria had indeed lost a gem,” Ibezim said.
Anambra State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano described him as the architect of modern Nigeria, recalling that he stood out as one of the few Nigerians that worked hard to ensure the growth and sustenance of Nigerian democracy.
Obiano observed that through his G34, he entrenched democracy and denied himself personal benefits so that Nigeria could enjoy unfettered democracy. The governor called on the Federal Government to immortalise the former vice president by naming a national monument after him.
Obiano said: “Indeed, if history is kind to Dr Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, his name should go down as the Pillar of Modern Nigeria. The facts before us indicate that only a handful of people may have sacrificed as much as Dr Alex Ekwueme to save Nigeria. And much fewer have devoted as much time and rigour to redesigning Nigeria into a workable federation as Ekwueme did.
Icon of democracy
“Ekwueme stands out today as one of the few Nigerians whose life and times graphically reflect Nigeria’s attempts to be greater than she is. In Ekwueme’s outstanding pursuit of knowledge, we are subtly reminded of the importance of knowledge in building a modern society.
“ In his fierce struggles with the military and eventual triumph with his colleagues in G34 to form the PDP, Ekwueme underscored the imperatives of entrenching democracy in Nigeria. In the ease with which he sacrificed his personal ambition to be president after being denied the party’s ticket in Jos in 1999 and swiftly turned around to support the preferred candidate, Olusegun Obasanjo,
“Ekwueme showed us that Nigeria should always come first before personal or ethnic interests. And in his resolute pursuit of the re-configuration of Nigeria into six geopolitical zones at the 1995 Constitutional Conference, he reminded us that no country can survive without paying attention to issues of fairness, balance and justice.
“It is a mark of the greatness of Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme that the ideals that he invested his youth and sagely old-age in have remained the dominant issues of our time and the resonant questions for the future generations. Indeed, there can be no truer mark of greatness! And this is what makes it compelling for the Federal Government to immortalize this great man by naming a national monument after him. This will not only strengthen the walls of national unity but also ensure that the sacrifices of this great patriot were not in vain.
“On a personal level, Ide’s death has been a huge blow to me. Having lost my dear mother in June last year, nothing prepared me for the loss of someone who was like my own father five months later. So, Ekwueme’s death is a pain I feel in the deepest recesses of my soul where no soothing word can touch. It is a raw pain which only God can heal.
“Dr Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme was my father, my mentor, my counsellor, my advocate, my motivator and the gentle voice of wisdom I could not ignore. We had an amazing father-and-son relationship that made me look forward to his private visits and his attendance of almost all our major events. His sagely presence was a silent stabilizer in the turbulent sea that is the politics of our dear state.
“In Ekwueme’s death, we have lost the soul of the season. We have lost a foremost thinker and philosopher, a visionary leader, a pragmatic statesman and more importantly, the beacon of modern Nigeria. Our loss is immense. But so is our heritage. Yes, Ekwueme left us a proud heritage. So, rather than grieve and mourn over his passage, I urge you all to celebrate the life and times of a man who was clearly ahead of his time and did his very best to make Nigeria a better place for all of us.”
Minister of labour and employment, Dr. Chris Ngige said Ekwueme was a total Nigerian and a great unifying factor. Describing the late former vice president as also his political mentor, Ngige observed that the problem facing Nigeria was that many people often refuse to undergo political tutelage.
Ngige said: Ekwueme was never involved in political bribery and corruption even though most Nigerian politicians were deeply involved in it. Ekwueme suffered a lot of betrayals in politics, especially from Igbo politicians, but the good thing is that he forgave all of them during his lifetime.
Former senate president, Senator Nnamani, in his tribute said Ekwueme raised the bar of politics so high, adding that it had always been very difficult for the new generation of politicians to meet. “He did a good job and he was among the very few politicians not haunted by anti graft agencies. Our younger generation of politicians should learn from him by ensuring that they do not make politics their only means of livelihood,” Nnamani said.
President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo said Igbo people should thank God for giving them someone like Ekwueme and giving him a long life.
He urged Igbo people to use their God-given talents to contribute towards the development of their area as Ekwueme did in his lifetime.
Ekwueme was a trusted deputy—Shagari
Alhaji Shehu Shagari served with Ekwueme, the first democratically elected vice-president of the country between 1979 and 1983, under the National Party of Nigeria (NPN).
Shagari in his tribute said “Dr. Ekwueme was a deputy I trusted. We understood each other well and it was impossible for mischief makers to drive a wedge between us,” he said.
“He was a loyal lieutenant and because of his excellent contributions to the success of our administration during our first tenure, I had no hesitation to nominate him to run with me again for second term.”
Shagari recalled how their administration was infamously terminated through a military coup in December 1983.
The former president said the deceased was a very courageous man, who suffered several months of imprisonment and house arrest with a number of politicians who served in the Second Republic.
“This great democrat dared the military government of Gen. Sani Abacha, by demonstrating against the infamous agenda to transmute from military head of state to civilian president via a contrived political transition programme,” he said.
“Taking a great risk, Dr. Ekwueme, together with other nationalists under the aegis of G34 doggedly withstood the military rule of Gen. Abacha, and later midwifed the People’s Democratic Party, PDP.”
Shagari described the late Ekwueme, as a selfless leader and a contented man not given to crass corruption and primitive acquisition of wealth.
“That was why in spite of the ordeals he went through in the hands of the military and the campaign of calumny against his person, his character remained impeccable and unimpeachable,” he said.
“He has served Nigeria diligently. He has done his bit. In life, he was a great man; a patriot; a statesman. Even in death, his many achievements and greatness cannot be diminished.
“It is considered socially inappropriate to speak ill of the dead. So often those who pay tribute to the dead shower on them undeserved praise. I stand not to give undeserved eulogy to this hero.
“Whatever I say here today, I have said of him in his lifetime.”
Shagari said though his worthy lieutenant was no more, “I will continue to relish the memory of the good times we shared together.
“Dr. Alex Ekwueme has finished his own race and has gone to rest. It is left for those of us still alive to emulate the virtues he exemplified especially serving humanity with the fear of God,” he said.
Markets, schools, commercial activities close in Anambra for Ekwueme
In a related development, markets, commercial and business activities, including financial institutions in Onitsha, Nnewi, Awka, Ekwulobia, Ihiala, Aguleri, Idemili and other notable towns in the 21 Local Government Areas in Anambra State yesterday, shut down activities to participate in welcoming the body of the late former Vice President of Nigeria.
Vanguard went round various towns in the state including Onitsha, Nnewi, Awka and some towns where major markets are located in the state and other private business outfits, including street shop and observed that all of them closed shops in honour of the former vice president.
Some traders who spoke with Vanguard, said they unanimously agreed and approved the closure of markets and businesses in the state in honour of Dr Ekwueme, just as civil servants and bank workers in their respective comments agreed that it is worth doing for the late illustrious Igbo son and former vice president.
Roads in Onitsha, Nnewi were free from normal heavy traffic but those leading to Awka, the state capital where Dr Ekwueme was received and those leading to Oko his home town were in heavy traffic, as many people want to see for themselves how he will be received both in Awka and Oko.
Upgrade Oko Polytechnic to university in honour of Ekwueme, Obi urges FG
In honour of Ekwueme, a former governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi has called on the Federal Government to upgrade Oko Polytechnic to a University of Technology and name it after Dr. Alex Ekwueme. Obi said this at Okpala Square, Enugu, during the burial ceremonies of Dr. Alex Ekwueme.
Speaking to newsmen during the ceremony, Obi said it was gladdening how Nigerians trooped out to honour Ekwueme, who he described as an “astute professional, a finished scholar and a great politician that recognized that politics was about service to the people.”
Recalling some of the many infrastructural projects Ekwueme spearheaded at various times, Obi specifically requested one of them- the Polytechnic at Oko not just to be upgraded to a University of Technology, but to be named after him.
Justifying the call for re-naming of the higher institution after Ekwueme, Obi said: “Naming of the epistemic institution after Ekwueme is not only a compliment to his contributions to the the growth and development of Nigeria, but also in recognition of his great learning, spanning many disciplines.”