A Man Without Bitterness: Tribute To Alex Ekwueme By Dan Agbese

The bells tolled for Dr Alex Ekwueme on November 19. And the former vice-president answered the call that no mortal has the power to reject. In his going, we have lost the most level-headed politician our country has ever produced. If you describe Nigerian politicians as gentlemen, you waste the word. If you describe Ekwueme as a gentleman, you nail the word. It is the word that best describes him as a politician and as a statesman.

I first met the then vice-president sometime in 1983. I was editor of the New Nigerian at the time. I sought an appointment to see him because I was increasingly worried about the allegations of corruption against the Shagari administration that had become disturbingly rife. He graciously received me in his well-appointed office. I did not go through a phalanx of protocol and security men to see him. He was alone in his office when he welcomed me with a moderated smile. He had not yet cultivated the grey mane of his later years. I saw a handsome man who, I thought, did not quite cut the picture of the expansive Nigerian politician. What he exuded was the air of political power but the cool, calm air infused with intellectualism. He was so disarming that I felt momentarily disarmed. He asked after my family. I found that both unusual and interesting. He said my newspaper was doing a good job with its editorial stand on national issues. I felt my head expanding with pride.

I then brought up what took me to his office. I asked him if they were aware of the allegations of corruption against the government. And if so, what were they doing about it?

He admitted they were aware of the allegations but that they found it difficult to do anything about them because no one was prepared to back up his allegations with verifiable facts. As I recall, he said, “Once you ask people to bring the facts, they either clam up or disappear altogether. No government can deal with corruption without facts. The opposition parties believe they have a duty to give this administration a bad name by making such wild allegations. It is all primitive politics. I think what they fail to realise is that they are not just smearing this administration; they are also reducing the prestige and the integrity of our country in the international community.”

He spoke calmly and from the heart. As he spoke, I could feel his pain, the sort of pain honest people feel when they helplessly watch their names being dragged through the mud.

I cannot recall the details of how our conversation drifted to India. Ekwueme seemed genuinely fascinated by the tremendous progress that country had made. “You see,” he said, “India has become a net exporter of food. Given its large population, it is a miracle that it cannot only feed its people but also feed people in other countries too. I believe there are important lessons we must learn from India to give muscle to our Green Revolution Programme.”

I could not agree more. He said he intended to visit India in 1984. And he gave me a standing invitation to accompany him on his planned trip. The trip never was. Early in 1984, the generals chose to abandon their barracks for the state houses across the land once more. Ekwueme as well as President Shehu Shagari and other leading politicians in the second republic were herded into detention for many months. And I am left dreaming of visiting the Taj Mahal. Khaki men kill dreams, you see?

In 2002, Ekwueme published a semi-autobiographical book, From state house to Kirikiri, in which he detailed his experiences during his detention in Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison, Lagos. I was most pleasantly surprised that he had such a high sense of humour and could make fun of his political misfortune in such a self-deprecating manner. He related the fascinating story of how he and his fellow VIP detainees engaged in a competitive shocking sport of ‘bombing.’ I won’t tell you what ‘bombing’ is. The one who released the loudest ‘bomb’ was declared the winner. One would not expect those very important people to engage in such a competition that engaged us as children in my village, Ikpeba.

In the book, he disclosed that he went into public richer in 1979 but was thrown out of it in 1984 much poorer than he went in. Ekwueme was an architect and a lawyer and had a very lucrative architectural practice before the lure of political office made him sacrifice his wealth for national service.

Ekwueme was cheated by the system but showed no bitterness in his account in his book. He spoke ill of no one. Men without bitterness are men with large hearts. They are rare.

The next time I saw Ekwueme was in Geneva in 2003. Both of us attended a conference organised by the Forum of Federations, a body that brings together all the 51 federated countries in the world. The conference usually discusses the various issues that individual countries contend with in politics. I first attended the conference in the company of Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu, governor of Nasarawa State, in Canada a year or two earlier. President Bill Clinton delivered the key note address at that conference. The Forum meets regularly to exchange ideas on best practices in federalism.

Ekwueme and I served on the same syndicate at the Geneva conference. I found him rather reticent. I expected him to talk about our peculiar national problems with the nature of our federalism. He simply chose to listen to other countries’ problems. I then noticed that he was quietly amused when an Indian member of our syndicate recounted a recent experience in his country in the conduct of their general elections earlier in the year. The Indian said they had eight million polling stations to which they posted four million policemen during the election. I cannot pretend to know why this amused the former vice-president.

Ekwueme was accompanied to the conference by his lovely wife. He introduced her to me later in the evening when we went on a boat cruise. I asked him why he chose to say nothing about own national problems with our federal system. I thought we had enough problems with the system worth airing at the forum. Ekwueme told me he believed that the talk shop would not offer us any solutions to our problems. He said, “I prefer to talk about our problems at home, not outside the shores of our country.”

He was there, he said, to learn whatever lessons worth taking away from other countries and see how he would modify them and apply them to our situation. “In any case,” he said, “these countries know enough about our situation.”
I think he was loath to washing the mess we had made of our federalism in full view of the rest of the world. He was right even if I felt disappointed that he did not appear to accept to lead the Nigerians at the conference. It was the last time I saw him at close quarters.

Throughout his political career, Ekwueme refrained from controversies. He consistently offered sober views on issues that agitated the polity. He chose to be a statesman rather than a tribal champion. I think that was wise. Championing tribal interests would have diminished him as a statesman. Ekwueme was humble and self-effacing. At the Geneva conference he always introduced himself simply as Alex Ekwueme. Humility was wired into his DNA.

Ekwueme: Aregbesola Signs Condolence Register At NEC Meeting In Abuja [PHOTOS]

Governor of Osun, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola on Thursday joined the growing list of eminent personalities to pay last respect to former Vice President, Dr Alex Ekwueme by signing condolence register opened at NEC meeting in Abuja.

Dr Ekwueme died in London hospital on Sunday at age 85 after he was said to have chest infection.

Aregbesola in a statement recently released to media described the elder statesman as architect of Nigeria democracy whose patriotism is unquestionable.

Photos by: Bayo Omoboriowo


Alex Ekwueme: Nigeria Has Lost A True Architect Of Democracy – Aregbesola

Governor of Osun, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, has described the demise of former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, as the end of an era for one of the finest politicians the nation has produced.

Aregbesola, in a statement signed by his Media Adviser, Mr.  Sola Fasure, said Ekwueme’s exit is a big blow to the nation, which wounds will linger for a very long time.

Aregbesola stated that until his death, the former Vice President served the country in the highest capacity with such untiring gusto uncommon among politicians of his age bracket.

The statement also averred that though Dr Ekwueme finally succumbed to death after battling with old age related illness, he had a glorious exit, having lived for 85 fulfilling years.

The Governor noted that Ekwueme was one of the architects of the democracy we now enjoy, being a prominent member of a group of 38 elders who stood firmly to confront military dictatorship and demanded the exit of the soldiers from government.

According the governor, the deceased politician believed in the oneness of the country and exhibited the coolest of temperament never expected of a politician during the power struggle in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) when the nation returned to democratic rule in 1999.

The statement said inter alia: “The death of Dr.  Alex Ekwueme is a huge loss to the country.  The former Vice President was a sound academic and politician who stood for the highest ideal in politics.

“A complete gentleman, urbane,  well-read, temperate and good-natured politician,  Dr.  Ekwueme would never play politics of bitterness.

“He cherished and preferred dialogue to politics of do-or-die. This he exhibited almost to a fault in the ensuring power struggles to select the presidential candidate in his party in 1999 and 2003.

“He was a politician with a large heart and spirit of sportsmanship. He would never rock the boat of his party but would rather forego his ambition in order to have peace.

“Dr.  Ekwueme was also a team player. His working relationship with President Shehu Shagari in the Second Republic was a clear testimony to this.

“He was a stabilising force of uncommon hue, who was always ready to mend fences with anyone willing to associate with him.

“It is this same conciliatory approach he employed in all his political dealings and to the nation’s problems as well. His wealth of experience and erudition in social and political affairs and participations will certainly be missed by the entire country.

“On behalf of my family, the government and good people of the State of Osun, I send heartfelt condolences to the immediate and extended family of Chief Ekwueme, the government and people of Anambra State and the Federal Government of Nigeria through President Muhammadu Buhari.  May the good Lord grant the repose his soul in his next estate.”

Alex Ekwueme Was Committed To Unifying Nigeria – Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari has sent condolences to Nigerians, and to the government and people of Anambra State, on the passing away of former Vice President Alex Ekwueme.

Mr. Ekwueme died on Sunday in the United Kingdom.

A statement by Mr. Buhari’s spokesperson, Femi Adesina, on Monday said the president “commiserates with the entire Oko Kingdom, the Aguata Council of Traditional Rulers, and the Ekwueme family, over the loss of the family’s patriarch, whose regular counsels on national issues and mediations for peaceful co-existence would be sorely missed”.

The president said Mr. Ekwueme’s unwavering commitment to the unity of Nigeria had been a major encouragement to many governments, recalling the personal sacrifices he made in helping to lay the foundation for sustainable democracy in Nigeria.

“President Buhari believes Dr Ekwueme worked assiduously to improve the livelihood of many poor and underprivileged people through the Alex Ekwueme Foundation, describing him as a man who served his country and humanity.

The president prayed that the almighty God will receive the soul of the former Vice President, and grant his family the fortitude to bear the loss,” the statement said.

Ex-Nigerian VP, Alex Ekwueme Is Dead

Nigeria’s former Vice President, Alex Ekwueme, has passed on.

According to a statement from his family said he died at a London clinic on Sunday.

The statement, signed by his brother and the traditional ruler of Oko in Anambra State, Igwe Laz Ekwueme, said Mr. Ekwueme died at 10:00 pm.

The statement reads in part: “Ekwueme family regrets to announce the peaceful passing away of their patriarch, the former Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme GCON.

“The sad event occurred at the London Clinic at 10:00 pm on Sunday 19th November 2017.”
The former vice president, who turned 85 in October, reportedly collapsed in his Enugu residence few weeks ago.

He was immediately taken to the Memfys Neurosurgery Hospital, Enugu, where he relapsed and went into a coma.

President Muhammadu Buhari subsequently directed that he be immediately flown abroad for urgent medical treatment.

Mr. Buhari authorised the trip after being briefed on Mr. Ekwueme’s condition.

Born October 21, 1932, Mr. Ekweme was the first elected Vice-President of Nigeria.

He served as deputy to former President Sheu Shagari between 1979 and 1983.

SGF Visits Ekwueme In London Hospital

The newly appointed Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr Boss Mustapha has visited Dr. Alex Ekwueme in his London hospital.

Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, disclosed this in a statement in Abuja on Monday.

Shehu said that the SGF, who was in London before Dr Ekwueme’s arrival, was received by his wife, Mrs Helen Ekwueme, on behalf of the Ekwueme family.

Mustapha told the Ekwueme family that the President and Nigerians were praying for his speedy recovery, adding that he believed that the doctors were doing their best.

Shehu said that the SGF, who was in London before Dr Ekwueme’s arrival, was received by his wife, Mrs Helen Ekwueme, on behalf of the Ekwueme family.

Mustapha told the Ekwueme family that the President and Nigerians were praying for his speedy recovery, adding that he believed that the doctors were doing their best.

President Buhari had approved immediate medical treatment of the former vice president outside the country, following a brief he received over his health condition.

Ekwueme, had collapsed in his Enugu residence few weeks ago.

Buhari Orders Ekwueme’s Treatment Abroad

President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the immediate medical treatment of former Vice-President, Dr Alex Ekwueme, outside the country.

Malam Garba Shehu, the President’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, in a statement issued in Abuja, said the President’s approval followed a brief he received on Friday over the medical condition of the former Vice-President.

Shehu said the approval covered the immediate charter of an Air Ambulance for the emergency movement and the cost of treatment.

“President Buhari prays that God will grant the elder statesman speedy recovery,” the statement said.

Ekwueme was reported to have collapsed in his house on Sunday and is currently receiving treatment in a private hospital in Enugu.