By Olisemeka Sony
Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, Nigeria’s first democratically elected Vice-President and quintessential elder statesman died on November 19, 2017. Coincidentally, Ekwueme, a former Board of Trustees (BoT) Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and architect that built the party gave up the ghost barely hours after the results of the Anambra governorship election was announced and Governor Willie Obiano was declared winner.
His daughter and deputy governorship candidate of the party in the just concluded poll, Mrs. Chidi Onyemelukwe may have been grieving over PDP’s crushing defeat in the election when the news of her father’s demise reached her. It was a terrible anti-climax for her and the party’s flag bearer, Oseloka Henry Obaze, who had billed to fly on the crest of Ekwueme’s credibility to win the election. But fate had alternative plan.
Ekwueme’s death on the night PDP lost the governorship of Anambra for the straight-fourth time in fourteen years may be a devastating blow for the party seen more misfortune since 2015 than fortune. Despite suffering the worst political treachery in the party’s history during the infamous Jos Presidential primary where his presidential ticket was hijacked at the eleventh hour by northern political forces and handed to General Olusegun Obasanjo, a relatively unknown political player in the wake of the 1998 presidential election, Ekwueme had not only remained in the party but played an exemplary leadership role for the party till death whisked him away.
Although the Ekwueme family had kept sealed lip over the actual cause of his health relapse and eventually death, unconfirmed rumours has it that the 85-year-old elder statesman suffered a health crisis following his participation in the PDP governorship campaign activity in Anambra. Those who are conversant with old age and frail health say that participating in such dramatic and noisy political activity may have been too dangerous for him. Ekwueme too, was aware that he was no longer the tireless political war horse that he used to be, but he was too passionate to decline to help his party return to power in the state. He was willing to give his all for the PDP, without asking for anything in return, including risking his life at advanced age. And he paid the supreme price on November 19, but it was a passage unto a blaze of eternal glory.
It was in early October that Ekwueme made his last political gamble and sacrifice for the greater good of the PDP– endorsement of Oseloka Obaze, candidate of the PDP for the November 18 governorship poll. It was a dramatic political U-turn that equally forced him to join the campaign fray for PDP. Until that fateful Wednesay of October 4, 2017, Ekwueme was regarded as apolitical and an admirer of Governor Willie Obiano. Shortly before that, he was quoted to have endorsed Obiano in an interview with Paul Nwosu, of the ‘Anambra Times Magazine’ saying that “the people of Anambra South cannot afford to wait for eight years; Governor Obiano deserves to be returned for the second term because of his commendable performance in office.”
However, as he staked his gamble for Obaze and his daughter that fateful Wednesday, Ekwueme declared that time had come to unseat Obiano and enthrone a PDP government in the state. “Anambra State is a PDP state from inception. We shall now continue with the PDP. Time has come for us to take away power from APGA,” told PDP members at his family house at Oko, Orumba North Local Government Area of the state.
The Ide of the Oko kingdom could have easily gave the party his backing in a close door meeting and still retain his relationship with Obiano, but he decided to pitch his tent to the party that he helped sired and propelled to power. Despite his widely acclaimed role during the heydays of the PDP, Ekwueme, has largely found himself with short end of the stick while others who contributed next to nothing for the party take home the larger share of the spoil.
Five years earlier, Ekwueme had voiced his frustrations over the manner the leadership of the party had been treating him, claiming that he had been subjected to “humiliation and neglect” by PDP. He was particularly piqued by refusal of the then president, Goodluck Jonathan to attend his 80th birthday celebration despite being invited.
“It (his relationship with Mr. Jonathan) is cordial, but maybe he doesn’t appreciate that without my risking my life there would have been no PDP and the popularity that made it possible for him to become the President of Nigeria,” the octogenarian said.
“Okay, I know, for instance, my friend Braithwaite of NAP had his birthday, the President went to Lagos to celebrate with him but I had my 80th birthday and he did not come.”
Ekwueme eventually declared that the then ruling party- PDP had been hijacked by people who are not in tune with the original ideal of the party. Hear him: “The truth is that the PDP as it is today was not the PDP we founded in 1998; that is the truth; It is not the PDP I risked my life to found in 1998. Now, PDP has been hijacked by people who have no philosophical or spiritual attachment to the precepts that informed formation of the party in 1998,” he said.
While disclosing that the injustice in the party was the reason some prominent members of the party had defected to seek their political ambitions elsewhere, Mr. Ekwueme said had chose to remain in the party because of his emotional attachment as the founding member of PDP. “People who founded and worked for the party are alienated by poor management of success, and those who do not have the patience, some of us have decided to find new channels to fulfil their political ambitions. I, for instance, the chairman of the party, first chairman of Board of Trustees, first chairman from the civil society to G34 and so on, if I was not myself, I’m not bragging, I am being modest, I have no reason to be in PDP today. All I have received throughout the years is humiliation and neglect.”
According to him, party only does the bidding of those he described as political “noisemakers” while neglecting gentle-politicians like him who desired to play by the rules. “I am not created to be a noisemaker or to create trouble, they are using it to deny me whatever is due to me. Because you are a gentleman, you won’t disturb, rather the people who shout and make noise, they try and accommodate themselves so that they don’t create problems,” he said while describing it as very unfortunate.
He predicted that PDP would not make another breakthrough, especially in the South East geopolitical zone that it swept in 1998 until its leadership takes proactive measures to reconcile all aggrieved members. “My worry is that many of them in the leadership of PDP don’t even realise that there is this danger, they think it is business as usual, so they take South-East for granted that they will vote that same way they voted, 90 per cent of vote to President Jonathan, it may not happen.”
Amidst cacophony of glowing tributes and eulogies that had flowed freely from Nigerian leaders since his exit, it was a former governor of Delta state, James Ibori that had drawn public attention to the mistreatment of Ekwueme by his contemporaries. Ibori took a veiled swipe at the Nigerian leaders for shedding what he called ‘crocodile tears’ over an Alex Ekwueme they stopped on his tracks from becoming the president and rescuing the country from “political and economic morass”.
In a statement signed by his media aide, Tony Eluemunor, said Nigeria was the biggest loser in Ekwueme’s death. “Even those who betrayed the very effort to make Ekwueme President, may begin to, hypocritically, of course, bewail the fact that Ekwueme or the Igboman or woman, never ruled Nigeria.
At the peak of his political career and the reign of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN), Ekwueme was the face Nigeria’s political gentleman, a voice of reason that the government chose to tell the world that the Igbos have been re-admitted back into the mainstream of Nigerian politics after the gruesome Civil War of 1967- 1970. Unfortunately, that would be his first and last elective position, as he was prevented from reaching the pinnacle of power despite being the most qualified leader at the return of fourth republic in 1998. As Ekwueme had died, there are growing fears that he may have taken with him the original masterplan of the PDP. Will the party and indeed Nigeria ever find another political player like Ekwueme?
The guy Alex:
Alex Ekwueme started primary school 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), Alex 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. 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.
Alex is 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.
Alex then went on to create a successful private business with 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 and was wound up in preparation for Dr Ekwueme assuming office as the first executive Vice President of Nigeria. Dr. Ekwueme had presided over the Nigerian Institute of Architects and the Architects Registration Council of Nigeria.