NIGERIA’s Second Republic Vice- President, the late Dr Alexander Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme (GCON), who departed the mortal plane on November 19, 2017, will be committed to mother earth today in his home town, Oko in Anambra State. Though relatively advanced in years at the age of 85, Nigerians will for long miss a highly revered elder statesman who occupied a central place in the evolution of our democracy and the search for a stable, progressive nation.
Soft-spoken and amiable, Ekwueme did not cut the picture of a political firebrand. But he never failed to seize the political limelight whenever he ascended the political stage. Like a bolt from the blue, he emerged as the country’s first Vice-President, having been elected to that position along with President Shehu Aliyu Shagari in 1979 on the platform of the defunct National Party of Nigeria, NPN.
The duo had brushed aside the odds, defeating more charismatic and better fancied political heavyweights, including Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
Born on October 21, 1932, Ekwueme obtained his primary education at St John’s Anglican Central School Ekwulobia, from where he proceeded to Kings College, Lagos. He became a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Washington in the United States of America where he bagged bachelors and master’s degrees in Architecture, City Planning and Urban Planning. He also earned degrees in Sociology, History, Philosophy and Law from the University of London and topped a vigorous academic pursuit with a Ph.D in Architecture from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow in the UK.
His firm, Ekwueme Associates, Architects and Town Planners, was the first Nigerian indigenous architectural firm which made a fortune with investments in many parts of the country. He emerged as the President of the Nigerian Institute of Architects, NIA, and the Architects Registration Council of Nigeria, ARCON.
After the Shagari regime was overthrown by the military led by Major-General Muhammadu Buhari on December 31, 1983, Ekwueme was sent to the Kirikiri Maximum Prison, Lagos. He was later cleared by the Justice Sampson Uwaifo panel, which famously ruled that putting a person on trial based on available facts would be “setting a standard of morality too high even for saints in politics and in a democracy to observe.” Ekwueme was found to have come out of public office “poorer than he went in.”
After a lull from the public limelight, Ekwueme went to General Sani Abacha’s Constitutional Conference in 1994 to 1996 where he came out as the most outstanding delegate. He led debates which wrought a lot of changes in order to make a return to democracy feasible after the military had annulled the presidential election won by Chief Moshood Abiola.
After the Conference, Ekwueme fronted the G-34, a group of prominent politicians opposed to the continuation of military rule. When Abacha died on June 8, 1998 the G.34 transformed into the People’s Democratic Party, PDP. Efforts by Ekwueme to vie for the presidency on the party’s platform were twice truncated in 1999 and 2003, with Olusegun Obasanjo being the preferred choice of the military and power brokers in the system.
Ekwueme, who emerged as a symbol of the Igbo nation’s early reintegration into the Nigerian polity (as Vice-President barely nine years after the civil war) was a great nationalist who was respected across the various primordial and ideological divides of the country.
The Federal and Anambra State governments are fully involved in today’s state burial organised in honour of a man who shone like a million stars on our democratic firmament.