Were he alive, Friday the 21st of October would have seen Dr. Alex Ekwueme mark his 90th birthday.
As one of Nigeria’s foremost statesmen, Dr. Ekwueme’s birthday would have made national headlines, Full page adverts would have been taken by politicians as well as by family and friends, while the statesman would have featured heavily in news reports and interviews, sharing his golden thoughts on the state of the nation.
Ekwueme, however passed on in 2017 at the ripe age of 86 as an accomplished scholar, author, businessman, thinker and politician with his imprints flying like flags at full mast. Ekwueme distinguished himself in all spheres that he sought participation in, that it is still a mystery that he never got the opportunity to lead the nation as its president, twice seeking his party’s ticket and twice losing it, owing to a classical conspiracy amongst the ex military class to entrust power with one of their own.
A one time Vice President of the Federal Republic, Ekwueme was the intellectual linchpin of the Alhaji Shehu Shagari administration and despite its dismal first term performance as well the heavy allegations of graft and mismanagement of the nation’s economy it is indeed remarkable that Ekwueme who was sent to kirikiri on charges of corruption was exonerated by the same judicial tribunal set up by the Buhari administration and headed by Justice Sampson Uwaifo, which admitted that to have done otherwise in Ekwueme’s case, based on the facts available “would be setting a standard of morality too high even for saints.”
As a technocrat, Ekwueme is credited with the creation of the Ministry of Science and Technology while he served as Vice President as well as the design of the Federal Capital Territory. The nation’s geopolitical structure as present is also credited to his thinking.
I recall reading some of his ideas as a university student in 2003 which had a roadmap for the restructuring of the Nigerian federation. Had the leadership at that point in time heeded his calls then perhaps the incendiary situation presently witnessed within parts of the federation may have been totally avoided, sadly those who scoffed at Ekwueme’s ideas and even empowered thugs and enfant terribles to spite him are now all over the place masquerading as champions of the same restructuring.
How can we forget his brilliance at the 1995 Constitutional Conference which produced what many now refer to as the ‘Ekwueme Constitution’ which had a constellation of brilliant ideas such as the concept of single term as well as rotational presidency, establishment of a judicial commission and the increase of the derivation principle from 3 to 13 percent.
When General Sani Abacha was running Nigeria like his personal fiefdom, employing the use of violence, detention and murder as his tools for suppressing the opposition to his plans for self succession as well as the demands for the restoration of Chief Abiola’s mandate Ekwueme was one of the few voices that had summed up the guts to demand that Abacha leaves office as a military man.
Ekwueme was also a thoroughbred democrat, as his style of politics embodied such ethos, as a team player he was always ready to sacrifice for the greater good of others. I had mentioned how he lost the 1999 PDP ticket to Obasanjo,a party he had helped form and was sure to nick the ticket until the very last minute of the convention. Ekwueme could have cried foul, gone to court to annul the process or at least declare himself winner of the exercise but he chose to accept the results and remain with the party rather than leave it. Even after the 2003 primaries which saw the use of pre marked ballot papers and forced a number of party faithfuls to vote in a particular manner, Ekwueme remained faithful to the party, refusing to ditch it even in the face of the numerous provocations shown to him by President Olusegun Obasanjo, which were mostly to undermine the former’s status as a statesman.
A detribalized Nigerian, Ekwueme championed ideals that stood him out from much of the political class of his era. Placing one’s capacity over tribe or religion.
Lastly, Ekwueme was a polymath in every right and had the trappings of what Plato described as that of a Philosopher King, asides from being a renowned architect, he also obtained degrees in urban planning, philosophy, history, sociology and law. Ekwueme was also one of the first awardees of the renown Fulbright Scholarship.
Almost five years since his departure from this earthly station of ours and on the event of his 90th as well as 4th posthumous birthday Nigerians all over the world have continued to miss this sterling statesman who left indelible marks on the nation’s political firmament as a professional, intellectual and bridge builder who’s passion for this nation and the uplifting of its resilient people towards the greatness that we deserve will remain unparalleled for years to come.
Author: Arinze Igboeli