When the news of his demise broke late Sunday night, it was received with subdued caution. This was because of false information that went viral some weeks ago, claiming that Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme had joined his ancestors. The current sad news however, began to sink in when a statement from his family, authored by Professor Laz Ekwueme, his younger brother and a traditional ruler of Oko in Anambra State, authenticated it.
Ekwueme was said to have slumped in his Enugu residence, and immediately taken to the Memfys Neurosurgery Hospital, Enugu, where he relapsed and went into a coma. A Federal Government intervention saw the elder-statesman flown abroad for closer medical attention.
Ekwueme was an outstanding patriot and a political juggernaut whose selfless contributions led to the evolution of Nigeria’s true democracy that defined the country’s detribalised political spirit of the Second Republic in which he served as vice president of the Federal Republic.
A member of the G-34, a sagacious political movement that later metamorphosed into political organisation known today as the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Ekwueme was known for his forthrightness and impeccable gentility.
“I was close to Ekwueme. I sought his advice on so many things and he was always ready to help; he attended every major event we have held in the past three years in our efforts to make Anambra a better place. You always knew where you stood with him on any issue. His death is a big personal loss to me,” affirmed Willie Obiano, governor of Ekwueme’s home state, in a condolence release.
According to him, “ The elder-statesman was ‘architect’ of a balanced Nigeria and only few Nigerians, living or dead, could match Ekwueme’s contributions to a fair and just federation in the nation’s seemingly endless search for peace and equity.
“His life is an open book that should inspire generations of Nigerians who need a beacon to guide them into evolving as true patriots; who are willing to make sacrifices for the greatness of the country. He is an icon whose place is assured in the hearts the people, especially those of Anambra people.
Expectedly, there has been an out-pouring of emotions and messages from notable Nigerians who see his death as a great loss not only to Nigeria but also to Africa which he bestrode like a Colossus while he lived.
In their separate letters of condolences, Bukola Saraki, Ike Ekweremadu, and Godwin Obaseki, Senate president, deputy Senate president, and governor of Edo State, respectively, described the late Ekwueme as a visionary, peace-loving and a creative Nigerian who contributed immensely to the advancement of Nigeria’s democracy.
Saraki said: “Today, I join the entire nation to mourn the passing-on of one of Nigeria’s most illustrious sons, Alex Ekwueme, our first elected Vice-President. As we mourn his death, we celebrate his dedication and service to the development of our country.
“We remember his unique and exemplary courage in the face of overwhelming odds – when he stood up to past military regimes in the struggle for restoration of democracy and his dexterity in his personal pursuits as a successful architect, lawyer, businessman and philanthropist.
“Ekwueme was a rare man and a great leader. He will be sorely missed. I pray for God’s strength for his family at this difficult time. May the Almighty God in his infinite wisdom and grace continue to guide the family and the nation that he has left behind”.
In his condolence, Ekweremadu said: “Ekwueme was a fine gentleman and an epitome of politics without bitterness. Although he lost the presidential ticket of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), an offshoot of the G34 and pan-Nigerian political platform he built from the scratch, he remained faithful to the party in thick and thin until his death.
“He will be remembered as a public administrator per excellence and a soldier of conscience. He stood by his people during their most challenging and difficult time, knowing that politics has a local flavour most of the time. He offered his undiluted professional service in the design and development of access to the air for Ndigbo during the civil war 1967 to 1970. As the Head of Planning of the Biafra Airports Board, the late prodigy built two functional airports in Ulli and Uga, while the airport projects at Mbaise, Ntigha Ngwa, Umuleri, and Arochukwu were at various completion stages before the end of hostilities.
“Yet, as a detribalised and pan-Nigerian, he joined the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) rather than the Nnamdi Azikiwe’s Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) in the journey to the Second Republic. He also did Ndigbo a great honour by facilitating the state pardon and eventual return from exile, and reunion of the late Ezeigbo Gburugbu, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, with Ndigbo and Nigeria”.
According to Obaseki, “specifically, his role in the struggle to return Nigeria to civil rule during the military era, under the dictatorial regime of General Sani Abacha is worthy of note. May the good Lord grant the Ekwueme family, the good people of Anambra State and all Nigerians, the strength to bear the loss of a worthy son as Alex Ekwueme,”
Oby Ezekwesili wrote: “Really pained that former Vice President Alex Ekwueme did not make it back home to us and has now gone the way of all flesh. We remember him with fondness for his strides in the land. May our Gracious God comfort Aunt Beatti, Chidi and all the Ekwueme clan.”
In his twitter handle, Festus Keyamo (SAN) wrote: “It was just about two months ago that I last saw Dr. Alex Ekwueme. He was physically present at the Supreme Court for the induction of the new SANs. Such a fine gentleman. His passage is a big loss to the country as a whole. Deep commiseration to the Ekwueme family.
Zebulon Agomuo, Chuka Uroko & OWEDE AGBAJILEKE, Abuja