End of an Era: How Ekwueme Triggered Obasanjo’s Emergence in 1999
The ECOWAS council of elders has depleted further today. One of their own and Nigeria’s first elected Vice President (1979 to 1983) Alexander Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, has bowed to the blazing glory of eternity.
The journey that started on October 21, 1932 has ended on November 19, 2017. It is really the end of an era of statesmanship.
Nigeria will be grateful to Statesman Ekwueme, even at death, for playing the stabilizer role to Nigeria’s democracy since 1999. And before 1999 reality came on Nigeria, Ekwueme was one of the founding fathers of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Alex Ekwueme will always be remembered for his belief that “the south is one”. Ekwueme made the statement in a PDP caucus meeting in 1998 when the founding fathers were shopping for the best candidate to fly PDP flag in the 1999 general election. The slot had been zoned to the south and Ekwueme, given his pedigree as the Vice President of the country and his consistent political interventions, was asked to nominate any candidate from the south. It was at that same point that the name of General Olusegun Obasanjo came up as a neutral candidate and became popular among the PDP caucus members.
There were expectations at the meeting that Ekwueme would not support Obasanjo because Obasanjo is from South West while Ekwueme was from South-East. The expectation was that he would want either himself or anyone from the South-East to be PDP candidate. But Ekwueme consented to Obasanjo’s nomination, saying that the “South is One”. Ekwueme therfore paved the way for the emergence of Obasanjo as the PDP candidate in 1999.
Ekwueme was the Ide of the Oko Kingdom in Anambra State, where his younger brother Prof Lazarus reigns as the traditional ruler. He started primary school at the St John’s Anglican Central School, at Ekwulobia, then he proceeded to King’s College, Lagos.
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. He 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 was 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.
He also served for many years on the board of the Anambra State Housing Development Authority On the national front, he participated in the Nigeria National Constitutional Conference (NCC) in Abuja, where he served on the Committee on the Structure and Framework of the Constitution.
His famous proposals at the NCC for a just and equitable power sharing in Nigeria based on the six geopolitical zones have now come to be accepted as necessary for maintaining a stable Nigerian polity. Alex mobilized the group of 34 eminent Nigerians who risked their lives to stand up against the dictatorship of General Sani Abacha during the era of military rule in Nigeria. He was the founding Chairman of the ruling party in Nigeria and was the first Chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees. He was a prolific philanthropist, public servant, and a man of peace.
He was a member of the Board of Directors of Canada-based Forum of Federations. He was also a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Council of Elders. Dr Ekwueme was leader of the team assembled by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) for pre-election monitoring for the parliamentary election in Zimbabwe in 2000. 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. Most recently Dr Ekwueme was called upon by the ruling party in Nigeria to head the Reconciliation Committee in the wake of intra-party discord and after the recent presidential election. He has been 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). Dr Ekwueme is the benefactor and Patron of Alex Ekwueme Foundation.