By Eric Elezuo
If you have heard the fluency with which the Vice President pronounced the name of Dr Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme during the funeral service yesterday, you would realized that of a truth, the late Igbo sage was really a national figure. This is because it is only national heroes of importance that have their names pronounced without inhibition or accent. Alex Ekwueme was truly a national hero.
Born on October 21, 1932, Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme GCON was the first elected Vice-President of Nigeria, and stayed in office from 1979 to 1983 when the coup led by General Muhammadu Buhari sacked the administration he served under.
Ekwueme was the Ide of the Oko kingdom in Anambra State, where his younger brother Prof Lazarus Ekwueme, reigns as the traditional ruler. He was also honoured by the council of Traditional Rulers in the old Aguata as the Ide of Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State comprising forty-four (44) towns.
The respected politician started his primary education at the St John’s Anglican Central School, at Ekwulobia, before proceeding to King’s College, Lagos for his secondary education. As an awardee of the Fulbright Scholarship in the United States of America (being one of the first Nigerians to gain the award), he attended the University of Washington where he earned bachelor’s degree in Architecture and city planning. He obtained his master’s degree in urban planning.
A seasoned academic, Dr. Ekwueme also earned degrees in Sociology, History, Philosophy and Law from the University of London. He later proceeded to obtain a Ph.D. in Architecture from the University of Strathclyde, before gaining the BL (honours) degree from the Nigerian Law School.
As a distinguished Architect, he started his professional career as an Assistant Architect with a Seattle-based firm, Leo A. Daly and Associates, and also with the London based firm Nickson and Partners. On his return to Nigeria, he joined ESSO West Africa, Lagos, overseeing the Construction and Maintenance department.
He then went on to establish the first indigenous architectural firm in Nigeria – Ekwueme Associates, Architects and Town Planners. His practice flourished with 16 offices spread across Nigeria and was wound up sequel to his becoming the first executive Vice President of Nigeria. Dr. Ekwueme had presided over the Nigerian Institute of Architects and the Architects Registration Council of Nigeria. He was Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Nigerian Institute of Architects.
Before he gained national and international limelight as the Vice President of Nigeria in 1979, he was actively involved in the socio-economic development of his community. In addition to his many public service roles within his community, Dr. Ekwueme started an active Educational Trust Fund that has been responsible for sponsoring the education of several hundred youths to universities in Nigeria and abroad. Dr. Ekwueme was 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 On the national front as well as participated in the Nigeria National Constitutional Conference (NCC) in Abuja, where he served on the Committee on the Structure and Framework of the Constitution.
His famous proposals at the NCC for a just and equitable power sharing in Nigeria based on the six geopolitical zones have now come to be accepted as necessary for maintaining a stable Nigerian polity.
Dr Ekwueme mobilized the group of 34 eminent Nigerians who risked their lives to stand up against the dictatorship of General Sani Abacha during the era of military rule in Nigeria. He was the founding Chairman of the ruling party in Nigeria and was the first Chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees. He was a prolific philanthropist, public servant, and a man of peace.
He was a member of the Board of Directors of Canada-based Forum of Federations. He was also a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Council of Elders. Dr. Ekwueme was leader of the team assembled by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) for pre-election monitoring for the parliamentary election in Zimbabwe in 2000. He was the leader of the Organisation of Africa Unity (OAU) observer team to the Tanzanian Presidential and Parliamentary election in 2000.
He also co-led the 28 member NDI/Carter Centre sponsored Observer Team to the Liberian Presidential run-off election in 2005. Most recently Dr Ekwueme was called upon by the ruling party in Nigeria to head the Reconciliation Committee in the wake of intra-party discord and after the recent presidential election. He was honoured with the Order of the Republic of Guinea and Nigeria, second highest national honours of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON). He was, among many other things, the benefactor and Patron of the “Alex Ekwueme Foundation”.
At 10.00 pm on Sunday, November 19, 2017 at a London clinic, Dr. Ekwueme died. He had been flown there after his relapse to a coma which he fell into as a result of a fall in his Enugu residence. He was 85 years.
Ekwueme is survived by his brother, Prof Laz Ekwueme; his five children among whom is Apostle Goodheart Ekwueme.