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EDITORIAL COMMENTARY Farewell to a genius

EDITORIAL COMMENTARY Farewell to a genius

I will like to be remembered as someone who came into public office to render service and rendered that service selflessly-Ekwueme

On Friday February 2, 2018, all roads will lead to Oko Orumba North Government Area for the interment of an illustrious son of Igboland, Anambra and Nigeria, Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, former vice president and Grand Commander of the Niger (GCON), who died in London Hospital on November 29, 2017 after a brief illness.

Since the demise of the octogenarian genius from Oko, it has been outpouring of sorrow and tears just as the encomiums are pouring in torrents for the family of a great man whose life has been variously described as many things rolled into one by some commentators.

As a great elephant, we are humbled doing a complete bio on the late consummate democrat from our own perspective as a responsible media.  To many commentators, Alex Ekwueme was a consummate democrat, a legal luminary, a celebrated architect, an undisputed peacemaker and iconic statesman. He was an apostle of peace who could spare no cost to achieve it.

“My vision for Nigeria is that Nigeria should become a nation rather than a .”-Ekwueme

His story is that of a man of destiny, one would find himself modest and humbled while trying to unveil this man of fate whose life was like a lexicon. His role at the constitutional conference where he led the team from the east to present a master piece for true federalism anchored on the six geo-political zones is a testimonial of the glossy high quality the erudite scholar was made of.

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Ide loved his people. He was unarguably the architect of the new Oko. Many may not know that his educational foundation led to the training of of indigent students who could not afford school fees from his community and neighbouring Ndiowu abroad. Indeed, his philanthropy led to the birth of the new Oko community. He attracted the then NITEL to Oko, singlehandedly built the Arts and Science which was later converted to Anambra State Polytechnic, Oko and now Federal Polytechnic. He will forever be remembered for establishing Chalk Valley Hotel and numerous other projects that brought his town to limelight.

Ide was a man of inestimable brilliance. He hardly forgets and would always remember you on first contact. His biography is a classical example of a man with a humble beginning that rose to the summit of greatness.

His brief bio indicates that he was born in Uga when his late father a CMS Evangelist was at Emmanuel Anglican Church Uga in Aguata LGA in 1932. The late vice president started his primary education at the St John’s Anglican Central School, Ekwulobia, from where he proceeded to King’s College, Lagos. He also attended the University of London; Nigerian Law School; University of Strathclyde and University of Washington, from where he bagged no less than seven degrees in History, Philosophy, Constitutional Law, Sociology, Architecture, and LLB.

He was the Ide of Oko and later honoured by the council of Traditional Rulers from 44 communities in the old Aguata as the Ide of Aguata Government Area of Anambra State. Ekwueme as a distinguished architect who started his professional career as an assistant architect with a Seattle-based firm, Leo A. Daly and Associates, also with the London-based firm Nickson and Partners was the first to register an architectural firm in Nigeria– (Ekwueme Associates).

He worked briefly with ESSO West Africa, Lagos, overseeing the Construction and Maintenance department. 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 had an active educational trust fund with the of sponsoring the education of hundreds of youths to universities in Nigeria and abroad.  Benefactor and Patron of Alex Ekwueme Foundation, Alex Ekwueme 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 the leader of the Organisation of Africa Unity (OAU) observer team to the Tanzanian Presidential and Parliamentary election in 2000. Dr. Ekwueme co-led the 28-member NDI/Carter Centre sponsored Observer Team to the Liberian Presidential run-off election in 2005.

Ekwueme was also a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Council of Elders. He was the leader of the team assembled by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) for pre-election monitoring for the parliamentary election in Zimbabwe in 2000.

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On his role at the 1994/95 constitutional conference

What was exactly wrong with the structure of the Nigerian Federation at independence and thereafter? “We had three regions-the North, the East and the West. The drawbacks of that structure were that the north was bigger than the other two regions put together which meant that in a parliamentary system if all the other MPs vote together, they will always produce the Prime Minister. This meant that some parts of the will consider themselves second-class citizens if they cannot aspire to the highest office in the land. That was the first pitfall.”

Relationship with Shagari as Vice President

We had a very close working relationship. He is a person who is forthright and principled. I tell you one thing. The first cabinet council meeting we had, papers had been circulated earlier on but throughout the meeting, I didn’t say anything because usually memoranda were signed by the president and of course he didn’t draft them. It was drafted by civil servants but declared under his name. So as soon as the meeting ended, he invited me to his office. It wasn’t a very expansive office. From the council chambers to his office was just a flight of stairs. He asked me why I didn’t make any contribution to the discussion that went on at the council. I told him that the memoranda came under his signature and I found a lot of things I was not happy with and I didn’t think it would be tidy for me to come and start pointing out those issues because it would seem as if we were working at cross purposes.

So, I said that there are two ways of handling these issues. Either I see these memos and add my input before they come which would preserve the integrity of the presidency or not. He said that I should go ahead and add my views. He said he didn’t know that this problem was sometimes created by civil servants and sometimes they come so late, a day or two before council meeting and there won’t be to go through it. He said that I should be free to express my views on any of the items so I thought it was very unusual because most people would be sensitive about seeing a paper they signed being criticised by their deputy. So, we worked together amicably.

On his betrayal by his colleagues in Jos convention

…Now in my pocket in Jos, I had a copy of the decision and also the constitution of the party. The chairman of the party was like the chairman of the Board and Secretary of the party was like the Managing Director, so it was the Secretary who had powers, not the Chairman. When the result was announced in Jos and they said Obasanjo won, I had the option of saying I didn’t accept it or say I accept it, embrace it and work together to make sure the party wins. I could have said that of all the candidates that contested, it was only six that were eligible.

I had the highest number of votes so I expected the party to send my name to INEC and having said that and read the minutes of the NEC meeting it was incontrovertible that a person who did not win his local government area, he didn’t win his ward, he didn’t even win the polling station in front of his house so with the NEC decision he couldn’t be the party’s candidate. And this decision was mentioned at the screening committee when we applied to contest.

On corruption

…We can reduce corruption if we take just two steps. The first one is to allow an exception to our jurisprudence especially the part we inherited from Britain that says you are assumed innocent until you are proven guilty. And that puts the burden of proving you guilty on the person who accuses you so that can be very difficult burden to discharge. So, we need to give exception in some cases and say you are presumed guilty unless you prove yourself innocent. For instance, if you are a civil servant on level 10 and you are driving a Mercedes Jeep and you are living in a palace in Maitama and your lifestyle is such that cannot be justified or defended by your legitimate earnings then you are deemed guilty until you prove otherwise.

If the structure of that jurisprudence makes that exception, then the incidence of corruption will reduce. The second one is to have whistle-blowers protection act. Anybody who demands gratification from you, you are free to meet his demands provided you will blow the whistle on him immediately and whatever is been recovered from him, some of it would be returned to you and you will be protected by law from being accused of inquisitorial harassment. A slight change in our jurisprudential norms and promulgation of a Whistle-blowers Act will bring down corruption.

Fare thee well apostle of peace, consummate democrat, legal luminary, celebrated architect, undisputed peacemaker and iconic statesman.

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