NIGERIA’S MISSED OPPORTUNITY FOR A PRESIDENT
-A tribute to Dr Alex Ekwueme, Nigeria’s first elected Vice President.
Nigeria’s former Vice President, Dr Alex Ekwueme, died at a London clinic on Sunday, November 19, 2017, according to a statement issued by his brother, Igwe Laz Ekwueme, the traditional ruler of his community.
Chief Alex Ekwueme
He was Nigeria’s first elected Vice President alongside President Shehu Shagari on the platform of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) between 1979 and 1983. The 85 year old native of Oko in Anambra State was born in Uga, miles away where he was the Ide, a high Chief. His father was a missionary.
Young Alex earned a bachelor’s degree in Architecture and City Planning followed by a masters in Urban Planning from the University of Washington USA. He also bagged degrees in Sociology, History, Philosophy and Law from the University of London UK, as well as a PhD in Architecture from University of Strathclyde, before he took the bar exams at the Nigerian Law School.
As an accomplished architect, he ran a successful private business with his firm, Ekwueme Associates, Estate and Town Planning, the first indigenous architectural firm in Nigeria established in 1958.
At some point, he presided over the Nigerian Institute of Architects and the Architects Registration Council of Nigeria, and also served for many years on the board of the Anambra State Housing Development Authority.
Dr Ekwueme was part of a group of 34 eminent Nigerians who rallied against the dictatorship of General Sani Abacha during the era of military rule. The group was instrumental to the formation of the People’s Democratic Party where he was founding Chairman. He also served as the first Chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees.
He was widely regarded as a dutiful public servant and a man of peace whose philanthropy included running an Educational Trust Fund responsible for sponsoring the education of several hundred youths to universities in Nigeria and abroad.
He became a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Council of Elders and was leader of the team assembled by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) for pre-election monitoring for the parliamentary election in Zimbabwe in 2000, as well as leader of the Organisation of Africa Unity (OAU) observer team to the Tanzanian Presidential and Parliamentary elections that same year.
He was awarded the Order of the Republic of Guinea, and in Nigeria the second highest national honours of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON).
A widely acclaimed gentleman, team player, loyalist and intellectual – Ekwueme was hailed as a great champion of fairness and balance in public life.
In early 1994, he participated in the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) in Abuja, where he served on the Committee on the Structure and Framework of the Constitution. It was through him that the country’s now widely recognised six-zonal structure was conceived. At the NCC, he proposed for a just and equitable power sharing in Nigeria based on the six geopolitical zones.
During the General Sani Abacha years, he mobilised a group of 34 eminent Nigerians – the famed G34, to stand up against the late dictator, they later became the nucleus of the PDP.
Upon Abacha’s death, the process of transition to civil rule began, and the G34 formed the nucleus of the emergent ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), where he served as pioneer chairman of its Board of Trustees.
In 1999 and 2003, Dr Ekwueme tried unsuccessfully to clinch the presidential ticket of the PDP. He lost out on each occasion to President Obasanjo.
In politics, he was both gentlemanly and fatherly, introducing mildness. An awardee of the Fulbright Scholarship in the United States of America – he was one of the first Nigerians to receive the award. A distinguished architect who 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.
Upon his return to Nigeria, he joined ESSO West Africa in Lagos, overseeing the Construction and Maintenance department. He would go on to found a successful private business with his firm, Ekwueme Associates, Architects and Town Planners, the first indigenous architectural firm in Nigeria.
His business blossomed with several outlets spread all over Nigeria, but was wound up in preparation for his assuming office as the first executive Vice President of Nigeria in 1979.
On the home front, he was actively involved in the socio-economic development of his community. He founded 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.
He left behind, his wife, Helen, children and grandchildren. He would be missed by many prominent Nigerians who had the privilege of working with him, especially former President Alhaji Shehu Shagari who describes him in very glowing terms.
May the gentle soul of IDE AGUATA, a quintessential statesman, complete gentleman and accomplished intellectual, rest in the bosom of the Lord.
Hajia Barr Fatima Bako
Director of Publicity
Nigeria Intervention Movement, NIM.