Dr Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme who served as Nigerias Vice President from 1979 to 1983, is no more.
His death in the early hours of Sunday, November 19, 2017, in a London hospital, wasn’t altogether unexpected, but it’s still jarring no less.
“The Ekwueme family regrets to announce the peaceful passing away of their patriarch, the former Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme GCON”, announced Laz Ekwueme on the family’s behalf.
“The sad event occurred at the London Clinic at 10:00 pm on Sunday 19th November 2017”, he added.
Ekwueme was 85 years of age.
By most accounts, the late Ekwueme was perhaps one of Nigeria’s finest politicians around.
Fresh from bagging his LLB and PhD degrees in Scotland in 1978, a handful of delegates from the old Anambra State beckoned on Ekwueme to return home and pick up the governorship ticket of his State.
Ekwueme told his constituents that he had no money for such an undertaking. Would they bankroll the process for him if he chose to run? It would appear that Ekwueme's kinsmen agreed to contribute significantly to his governorship ticket.
Ekwueme returned home barely a week before the governorship primary of the NPN.
Of course it was too little too late for the soft-spoken Ekwueme to chisel his political ground game and work the electorate, so certain defeat at the governorship primary was his lot to bear.
Like he has done throughout his political odyssey, Ekwueme took his defeat with equanimity and viewed the glass as half full rather than half empty.
TAKING IT IN HIS STRIDE
“This is where God comes into the affairs of men: I lost the governorship ticket at a time when NPN was quite popular here. But shortly after that, came into the picture and it changed all the dynamics and calculations when he became the presidential candidate of the NPP (Nigerian Peoples Party)”, Ekwueme said in an interview much later in his life.
“If I had won that (NPN) guber primaries, I would have also lost the election for the office of Governor,” Ekwueme added.
SHAGARI COMES CALLING
Weeks later, Alhaji Shehu Shagari was tapping up Ekwueme as his potential running mate for the 1979 election after the ban on politics was lifted by then Major General Olusegun Obasanjo.
Shagari immediately fancied Ekwueme during a campaign tour of the Southeast and took a liking for the young ivy league educated easterner.
At the Anambra-Enugu border, Ekwueme recalled how Shagari drew him aside and told him he was going to become his running mate.
There were several other interested candidates, but Shagari would settle for the lesser known Ekwueme.
“When we got to the border, the people from Benue State were waiting to receive Shagari and we parked, did some back-slapping and just while all that was happening, Shagari drew me aside and said he wanted to tell me himself and that he would like us to work together once the NEC approves, that he wants to work with me; but he said I should still keep it to myself.
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"I thanked him right there at the border; but again, something very interesting happened. As we were returning to our state, some people who were still interested in the job still went with him to Benue state and all along with the campaign until he came back to Lagos,” Ekwueme said during an interview with Vanguard in 2009.
Shagari won the 1979 presidential election with Ekwueme serving as his deputy until the military sacked them both in a coup and installed a certain General Muhammadu Buhari as president on December 31, 1983.
EKWUEME GOES TO PRISON
The Shagari administration was widely regarded as corrupt and the military claimed it was intervening to clean up the system and save the country from an imminent collapse.
Ekwueme was blamed for most of what went wrong in the Shagari administration by the Buhari regime. He was arrested and remanded in Kirikiri prison in Lagos for 20 months over allegations bordering on corruption.
It was during the Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB) era that Ekwueme got some reprieve.
An IBB panel headed by Justice Uwaifo ruled that: “Dr. Ekwueme left office poorer than he was when he entered it, and to ask more from him was to set a standard which even Saints could not meet.”
Ekwueme stayed out of politics and out of the limelight for a while until the Interim National Government (ING) set up by IBB; following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election, came on board.
The ING was headed by Chief Ernest Shonekan.
'MAKE ABIOLA PRESIDENT'
Ekwueme called a press conference and suggested that Nigeria should produce a new constitution wherein it would be ingrained that Chief MKO Abiola—presumed winner of the annulled 1993 presidential election—would become the next president of Nigeria whenever another election was held.
Of course he was scoffed at by the political elite of that era who regarded his position as ludicrous and his ideas were hurled into the trash basket.
Ekwueme made it into General Sani Abacha’s constitutional conference and was instrumental in the formation of the G-34 which morphed into the PDP following Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999.
Ekwueme had presidential ambitions of his own as well. He lost the PDP presidential primary ticket to Olusegun Obasanjo twice in 1999 and 2003.
Off the ballot box, Ekwueme continued to play the role of a statesman and remained a staunch member of the PDP even at moments when it was no longer convenient to so.
He took his defeats at the PDP conventions in his stride and continued to work for the party on and behind the scenes. He couldn't abandon his own 'baby'.
He never shied away from contributing to national discourse from time to time.
“Dr Alex and I were part of the 1995 Constitutional Conference, which recommended that Nigeria be restructured along six geo-political zones. We will miss his focused guidance”, said former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
“Saddened by his passing…he was a man of character and never faltered in his belief in Nigeria”, Atiku added.
Last December, at the behest of VP Osinabjo, Ekwueme joined other past leaders for a carol session at the presidential villa. He hinted he may not be around for the next such gathering of the country's leadership elite.
He was sadly right.