Tribute to Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, by Atiku Abubakar

His sudden death has robbed Nigeria of one of its great leaders, one of its great thinkers, one of its great achievers, and one of its committed democrats

I was deeply pained by the news of the passing to eternal glory of Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, GCON, a former Vice President of Nigeria.
His sudden death has robbed Nigeria of one of its great leaders, one of its great thinkers, one of its great achievers, and one of its committed democrats. As you all know, Dr Ekwueme was one of the architects and great leaders of the democracy we have enjoyed in Nigeria since 1999.
In every important respect, Dr. Ekwueme was a great man and one who truly loved Nigeria.
He was well prepared for the important roles that he played in our national life. His pursuit of education and scholarship was legendary and helped in shaping the fine mind and refined gentleman that he eventually became. He was a very accomplished person and a philosopher of repute. Let me say more about three dimensions.
On Courage and commitment to democracy, the late Ide was among the initial 14 courageous leaders, who at great risk, wrote to the then Head of State, Sani Abacha urging him to vacate office and restore democracy in Nigeria. That group under Ekwueme’s leadership would later expand to 34 and ultimately formed the nucleus of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
On Loyalty and Patriotism, Dr Ekwueme was fiercely loyal to our country, to our Constitution and to the government that he served. Although he had much more formal education and wealth than the man he served with, President Shehu Shagari, you could never tell that from the way they worked together and the mutual respect and admiration they had for each other. As Shagari himself said, Ekwueme was a simple man whose views and contributions he highly valued and respected.
The loyalty and simplicity can also be seen in the way that Dr Ekwueme responded to adversity, even when he felt done by. He was swept up in the anti-corruption frenzy that gripped our country beginning in 1984 after the government that he served had been overthrown in a military coup. He spent over 20 months in detention although official probes found nothing against him. Indeed he is said to have become poorer while in government than when he got in. Yet he showed no bitterness. His love of country and respect for constituted authority and his abiding faith in the ultimate triumph of democracy and the truth were more important to him. He displayed the same attitude when he contested in the Presidential primaries of the PDP in 1999 and lost.
On Deep Thinking, Dr Ekwueme demonstrated that he was a deep thinker. He just did not engage in crass political manoeuvring. He gave deep thought to our challenges and proffered solutions. One instance will suffice. At the 1994 Constitutional Conference, Dr Ekwueme proposed the use of geo-political zones as the federating units as one of the ways to deal with our perennial divisive ethno-religious and regional politics. I have acknowledged on a number of occasions that I was one of those who misunderstood his motivations at the time and opposed his suggestion. Events and developments since then, including the continued regional and ethnic agitations for inclusion as well as our unhealthy dependence on revenues from crude oil, show clearly that he was more farsighted than some of us at that time.
Although the country has not been restructured along the six geo-political lines, his proposal which was adopted by all delegates, is currently in use by all Nigerians as a convenient way to easily capture and categorize the 36 States and the FCT, into which Nigeria is divided.
And many more Nigerians now recognize that his restructuring idea would help to reduce our excessive concentration of power and resources in the federal government which is stifling our growth and development, breeding political and economic corruption and fueling regional agitations. Such as restructuring would make the federating units more viable, reduce our bickering over scarce resources, and reduce our dependence on and struggles over the sharing of revenues from oil, an energy source that is increasingly losing in importance.
Even when his ideas were not accepted, the late Ide never ceased to love Nigeria and helping its leaders to resolve thorny conflicts. Up to 2015, on the numerous occasions when there were problems in the then ruling party, the PDP, most of its leaders and patrons sought Dr. Ekwueme’s counsel in the search for a solution. And the late statesman always delivered to ensure that the problems were resolved.
And before the formation of the PDP, Dr Ekwueme had played a central role in the formation and government of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) on whose platform he served as our Vice President in the Second Republic.
He will undoubtedly be sorely missed especially because many issues on which he stood and fought, including national integration and a viable and genuine federal structure, remain unresolved. Thus one way to immortalize this great architect, businessman, politician, thinker, and statesman would be for us all to address, in good faith, the issue of political restructuring and devolution of powers which he stood for before his sudden death. I believe this will make him turn with joy where he is and bless the country.
My family and I extend our heartfelt condolences to Dr Ekwueme’s beautiful family the good people of Oko and Anambra State, and the fraternity of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
As we mourn the passing of this great patriot, I pray the almighty God to receive the soul of Dr Alex Ekwueme in paradise. May God continue to raise for the country, wise and responsible men and women of vision, honesty and integrity who will take the nation on the right path of progress and development. And may God help our people to recognize these quality persons to make good use of them while they are alive.
GCON [Ide] (1932- 2017)
. Abubakar, former Vice President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, gave the tribute at the South-East Zonal Commendation Ceremonies in memory of late Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme at the Okpara Square, Enugu.