By Francis Onyeukwu
In recognition of his immense contributions to the social, economic and political development of the country, the Federal Government announced a state burial for Dr Alex Ekwueme, former Nigeria’s Vice-President, who died on Nov. 19, 2017 in a London hospital, aged 85.
Alex Ekwueme (Oct. 21, 1932 – Nov. 19, 2017)
Ekwueme was Nigeria’s Vice-President to former President Shehu Shagari from Oct. 1, 1979 to Dec. 31, 1983.
Since the announcement on his burial arrangements from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Nigerians have continued to comment on contributions of the late elder statesman from Anambra to nation’s building and his life styles.
In most of the tributes, the inspiring roles of Ekwueme in community, religious and political service are outstanding, political analysts observe.
“The late Ekwuene was an epitome of wisdom, humility and a rare gift of nature not only to his people, but to Nigeria as a nation.
“He was everything to Oko community of Anambra; a peace maker, philanthropist, visionary leader and community builder.
“Ekwueme contributed to the development of Oko community from a rural community to a developed town, his death is the end of an era.
“With the money he saved while in the U.S., Ekwueme, on his return to the community, constructed the Oko Community Hospital to provide healthcare services for the people.
“He also led the community to construct the College of Arts and Science in Anambra, a college that later became Federal Polytechnic, Oko.
“Ekwueme was later elected the pioneer National President of Oko Progressive Union now Oko Peoples Union’’, Mr Cyprian Nwammuo, the National President Oko Peoples Union, said.
According to Nwammuo, the presence of the polytechnic has facilitated the development of education, social life and commerce in the community.
He further said that Ekwueme established Ekwueme Memorial Foundation for the purpose of sponsoring sons and daughters of Oko community to overseas country for study, describing his death as shocking and devastating to Nigerians.
Ekwueme’s younger brother, Prof. Laz Ekwueme, the traditional ruler of Oko, recalled that Ekwueme collapsed in his Ezikwo Street residence, Independence Layout area of Enugu, few days after celebrating his 85th birthday.
“He was immediately taken to a hospital in Enugu from where he was moved to London for further medical attention on the directive of President Muhammadu Buhari.
“`He was a good brother whose personality provides a shield to the family and the community,’’ he said.
In his tribute, Chief John Nwodo, President-General of Ohaneze Ndigbo, described the death of Ekwueme as a colossal loss to the Igbo and the nation, observing that he made significant contributions in his public service that guided the country.
“I served as a minister when the late Ekwueme was vice-president and his contributions were outstanding,’’ he said.
Nwodo said Ekwueme’s contributions during the National Constitutional Conference that led to the creation of six geo-political zones in Nigeria were great.
Similarly, former National Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party Vincent Ogbulafor said Ekwueme, irrespective of his age then, was very useful at anytime if you engaged him on any national issues.
Describing him as a pious worshiper, retired Rev. Eugene Nduka, from St. John the Divine Anglican Parish Oko, where Ekwueme worshiped before his death, said the late elder statesman’s Christian living was exemplary.
Nduka, who was the clergy in-charge of St. John the Divine Oko till Dec. 31, 2017, said Ekwueme’s death was a great shock to the church.
“Ekwueme was a simple and accessible man who had time to listen to everybody in spite of his status.
“He respected men of God and loved things of God; Ekwueme invested his time, treasure, and talents to serve God,’’ he said.
Corroborating Nduka’s view about Ekwueme, Rev. David Okparaonouju, Archdeacon, St. John the Divine Anglican Church, Oko, said Ekwueme was created with great memory.
“My first encounter with Ekwueme was when I was a priest in one of the churches at Umunze Archdeaconry; his candour and humility remain evergreen.
“The leadership of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, has decided to accord him full Anglican burial rites.
“The leadership of Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion insists that Ekwueme’s body should be brought to the church for full burial rites,’’ he said.
In the late elder statesman hometown, Mr Ogonna Asuzu, a native of Oko, said, “people’s comments on the life and times of Ekwueme indicate that he was a colossus with enormous value to Nigerian politics.
“Comments about Ekwueme are quite encouraging, he is a hero even in death and everybody talk good about his contributions to Nigeria’s unity and politics.’’
As burial arrangements for Ekwueme are ongoing, sympathisers note that it is essential for Nigerians to emulate his attributes for national development.
They note that if the younger ones in the society promote and sustain his views on development, peace and unity, Nigeria will grow stronger.
The funeral for Ekwueme began on Jan. 19 with commendation service at Cathedral Church of Christ, Marina, Lagos, followed by evening of tributes and music at Muson Centre, Onikan, Lagos.
On Jan. 20, there was a memorial service in his honour at St. Marylebone Parish Church, London.
Also, there will be service of songs and evening of tributes in Abuja on Jan. 28 at International Conference Centre, to be followed by a parade of honour at the Presidential Wing of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja on Jan. 29.
Similarly, service of songs will hold for him on Jan. 30 at Cathedral Church of the Good Shepherd, Independence Layout, Enugu, followed by South-East zone commendation ceremony at Okpara Square, Enugu, on Jan. 31.
There will be Anambra State Commendation on Feb. 1 at Ekwueme Square, Awka by noon, where the body will leave for Oko in a motorcade for service of songs to be held in Oko by 5p.m, same day.
On Feb. 2, Ekwueme will be lying-in-state in Ekwueme’s compound, Oko, from 8 a.m, to be followed by a funeral service by 11 a.m at St. John the Divine Church, Oko, before his burial in the compound which will be followed by a reception in the compound.
Outing service is at St. John the Divine Church, Oko on Feb. 11
Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme was born on Oct. 21, 1932 in Oko, Orumba North Local Government of Anambra and had his primary education at the St. John’s Anglican Central School, Ekwulobia, Anambra, before he attended King’s College, Lagos.
He got Fulbright Scholarship in U.S., being one of the first Nigerians to gain the award and attended University of Washington where he earned bachelor’s degree in Architecture and City Planning.
He also obtained his master’s degree in Urban Planning and degrees in Sociology, History, Philosophy and Law from the University of London.
In addition, he obtained a Ph.D. in Architecture from the University of Strathclyde, UK, before attending Nigerian Law School.