Ekwueme: The sage journeys home
Two months after he passed away in a London hospital, Alexander Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, Second Republic vice-president of Nigeria, began his journey home to his final resting place with a commendation service held in his honour at The Cathedral Church of Christ, Marina, Lagos on Friday, January 19, 2018, followed by an Evening of Tributes and Music on the same day at the Muson Centre, Onikan, Lagos.
The elder statesman died on November 19, 2017 at the age of 85. His death once again reaffirmed the timeless words of William Shakespeare in ‘As You Like It’, that “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.”
At the commendation service, which attracted notable Nigerians, including former and serving public office holders, the glowing tributes that had been flowing since the announcement of Ekwueme’s demise continued.
Very Revd Yinka Omololu, former provost of The Cathedral Church of Christ, who delivered the sermon, said Ekwueme exemplified integrity, selflessness and honesty unlike many politicians.
“Today, politicians take our money in the guise of community projects, they now distribute exercise books. Dr. Ekwueme spent his own money for the good of his own people of Nigeria.
“Dr. Alex Ekwueme was a selfless leader, a very humble man. To describe him as great was to belittle him. So, as you remember Ekwueme, how are you spending your life? Ekwueme loved God and he showed it.
“As long as Nigeria exists, the name Ekwueme will always exist. He will be remembered by what he has done. So, his family must keep this heritage going,” Omololu said.
Peter Obi, a former governor of Anambra State, said Ekwueme was one of the best in Nigeria.
“You could see from all that has been said and written about him. He was one of those who faithfully served this country, an example for today’s politicians to follow,” Obi said.
Orji Uzor Kalu, a former governor of Abia State, said Ekwueme was a perfect politician who had great love for Nigeria and Nigerians and detested politics of bitterness.
“He was a detribalised man. He did very well for the country and he played politics without bitterness. Even though people offended him, he overlooked all those shortcomings. So, I believe he would be resting in peace now. His soul will rest in peace.
“This is not really a time for people to talk. No matter how old one dies, it is very difficult to bear losses. So, I condole with the family and Nigerians at large,” Kalu said.
In a prepared text, Akinwunmi Ambode, Lagos State governor, who was absent at the event, described Ekwueme as a “creative political thinker, patriotic, modest, politically foresighted, incorruptible and an uncompromising democrat”, stressing that “it is to his credit that the idea of the six geopolitical zones we have today” was developed.
The commendation service had in attendance other dignitaries like Ogun State Governor Ibikunle Amosun, former Ogun State Governor Olusegun Osoba, former Commonwealth Secretary General Emeka Anyaoku, among others.
Following Ekwueme’s death, the Federal Government had in December set up a Burial Committee to set plans in motion towards giving the late elder statesman a befitting burial.
Similarly, the governors of the South East geopolitical zone met at the Government House in Enugu, where they also set up a committee headed by the director general of the South East Governors’ Forum.
On January 18, the committee set up by the Federal Government announced at a media briefing in Abuja that the government was working with the governments of the five South East states to give Ekwueme a befitting burial.
According to burial programme rolled out by the committee, the remains of the late elder statesman will depart arrive in Abuja on Monday, January 29, where there would be Parade of Honour at the Presidential Wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport. Thereafter, the body will depart to Enugu and will be received by the South East governors at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport.
Other funeral rites will continue until February 2, when there will be lying-in-state at Ekwueme’s residence in Oko, Anambra State, followed by funeral service at St. John the Divine Church, Oko. Interment will follow after the service, while outing service will hold on Sunday, February 11 at St. John the Divine Church, Oko.
Born on October 21, 1932, the late Ekwueme, who served as vice-president under the Shehu Shagari presidency (1979-1983), had his primary education at the St. John’s Anglican Central School, Ekwulobia, and secondary education at King’s College, Lagos. For his tertiary education, he attended the University of Washington under the Fulbright Scholarship and earned a bachelor’s degree in Architecture and City Planning. He proceeded to gain a master’s degree in Urban Planning and a PhD in Architecture from the University of Strathclyde. He also earned degrees in sociology, history, philosophy and law from the University of London and later gained the BL (honours) degree from the Nigerian Law School.
Variously described as a philanthropist, public servant, and a man of peace, Ekwueme was said to be an urbane politician and an intellectual who was to the field of architecture what Akintola Williams is to accountancy.
“He practiced from the platform of his firm, Ekwueme Associates, Architects and Town Planners, the first indigenous architectural firm in Nigeria. His practice flourished with 16 offices spread all over Nigeria with landmark structures across the country signposting his proficiency. In today’s parlance, he would have been called a local champion because of his active and passionate involvement in the socio-economic development of his community assuming the prestigious traditional title of Ide, not just of his native Oko Kingdom, but also of the old Aguata Division made up of 44 towns,” one report said about him.
“That was how close he was to his people. From that pedestal, he became a driving force in the educational and socio-economic strides that his community recorded in the area of self-help. Ekwueme’s Educational Trust Fund was in response to the yearning need to satisfy the educational aspiration of the youth of his community, which resulted in the sponsorship of hundred youths to universities in Nigeria and abroad.
“Before fate thrust him into the limelight of national politics that he dominated by the sheer presence of his intellectual acumen, the closest he came to any national assignment was as a member of the housing sub-committee of the Adebo Salaries and Wages Review Commission. He also served for many years on the board of the Anambra State Housing Development Authority. When the ban on politics was lifted, his aspiration was to be the governor of old Anambra State, a position he vied with the also late Dr Chuba Okadigbo. Both of them lost. But political fortune smiled on him when his party, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), chose him as the running mate to Alhaji Shehu Shagari. They won and served for four years and were re-elected for another four years before the military interrupted that democratic match,” the report further said.
Incidentally, that democratic process was truncated through a coup that brought to power a certain Muhammadu Buhari, who happens to be the current president of Nigeria.
When Sani Abacha’s dictatorship became unbearable in the mid-to-late 1990s, it was Ekwueme that mobilized the group of 34 eminent Nigerians who risked their lives to stand up against that military junta. He was the founding chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on which platform he vied for the presidency, which was eventually won by Olusegun Obasanjo.
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