Ekwueme, near encounters

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IF Nigeria needed a poster boy of the post-war recovery of Ndigbo, it would have been Dr. Alexander Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme. Only nine years after the war, he was Vice President of Nigeria. The surprise was that little was known about him, politically, before the war. How did he survive a field that was populated by ranking Igbo politicians, some of them Ministers and juggernauts before the war?

Dr. Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe, KO, one of those highly speculated to be the Vice President to President Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari, uttered the famous, “KO is OK” quote that became a newspaper headline the day after Shagari chose Ekwueme above the others. He remains the most loyal Vice President in our history.

He did not deploy his intellectual fecundity to upset the system. He was hardly heard. He knew who was boss. Not for him the intrigues of putting the President under pressure. His Office did not claim credit for ideas that emanated from it.

The story was that political forces that were affronted that by 1987, when Shagari would have completed his tenure, Ekwueme would have been President hatched the 31 December 1983 coup that expelled civil rule in Nigeria for 16 years, the longest stretch of military rule in Nigeria. It was enough time for Ekwueme and his successor to have completed two terms each.

A man who made his money, when it was something to be a millionaire, Ekwueme remained humble, patient, and endures the tides and trials of political relationships until he passed on in London on 19 October 2017. He was afraid of taking risks, saying his mind, including leading the group that told General Sani Abacha, to forget his planned transmutation to a civilian President.

On 7 October 2017, Ekwueme made one of his final public outings for the final day of the 50th anniversary of the Asaba Massacre. His entry into the hall was greeted with shouts of “Ide”, his traditional title. He decided to take one of the front seats, saying it was adequate for him. It was at the insistence of the organisers that he moved to the high table.

He made a few remarks about the imperatives of Nigeria remaining one, but prefaced it was the importance of equity and justice as foundations of the unity.

As he was being led away after the event, on unsteady feet, to his vehicle, one was tempted to get a word from him. What was the point bothering him? He was clearly tired and his minders shielded him to the car. There would be another opportunity.

The next opportunity was nine days on, 16 October 2017. The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, of which he was a founding father, was flagging off the campaign of its governorship candidate at All Saints’ Cathedral field, Onitsha, a walking distance from the office.

It afforded another opportunity to see Ekwueme. One thought little of it. Weeks after he had the fall. Two weeks on, he was gone.

Adieu Dr. Ekwueme, who was everything most people are saying about him, and more. Yet they stood against him the President of Nigeria, and driving the ideas he generously espoused for the sustainable future of Nigeria.

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