A former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo and Senator Victor Umeh, on Wednesday eulogised the late Vice-President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, on Wednesday.
They spoke at a commendation ceremony organised in honour of Ekwueme by the South-East Governors Forum, at the Okpara Square, in Enugu.
A casket bearing Ekwueme’s remains was at the venue of the event, which was also attended by governors and deputy governors of the South-East states and many other dignitaries, including ministers, former governors and current and erstwhile members of the National Assembly.
Abubakar, in his remarks, described Ekwueme as a “fountain of knowledge and intellect.”
The former Vice-President said, “Between 1994 and 1995, Dr. Alex Ekwueme served in the constitutional conference that drafted the present constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“He was indeed a fountain of wisdom and intellect. He was one man who became a rallying point in the constitutional conference even though we also disagreed. I was one of those who disagreed with him on the restructuring of the country on the basis of geopolitical zones.
“He died at a time Nigeria needed his fountain of knowledge and intellect.”
Earlier, Ekweremadu had urged the Federal Government to honour Ekwueme’s memory by restructuring the country as he (Ekwueme) consistently suggested before his death.
“His suggestion on restructuring has yet to be heeded to save Nigeria from social, political and economic difficulties,” Ekwueme said, adding that “this nation owes it to his memory to restructure Nigeria.”
Noting that Ekwueme’s selflessness stood him out in the country’s politics, the Deputy Senate President said the former Vice-President displayed an uncommon level of integrity by remaining in the Peoples Democratic Party after losing the party’s presidential ticket in 1999.
He said, “Truth be told, not many politicians will lose the presidential ticket of a party they helped to build and still keep their cool. When many expected him to be bitter, he still worked for (Olusegun) Obasanjo’s victory in the election.”
Umeh noted that Ekwueme was on course to succeed the then President Shehu Shagari, when the military, led by General Muhammadu Buhari, struck and overthrew the democratically-elected civilian administration in 1984.
He declared that Ekwueme’s contributions to national development, even after his presidential aspiration was aborted in 1999, showed that Nigeria would have been better off if he had become the country’s President.
“Ekwueme was the best President Nigeria never had; from all his contributions it was clear that Nigeria would have been a better country if he had become the President.
“He won a second term with Shagari in 1983 and the expectation was that he would succeed Shagari but the army aborted that. Then, again in 1999, he was stopped by a conspiracy.
“His contributions after 1999 stood him out, even when he was denied the presidential ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party, he still continued charting a better course for Nigeria.
“In his last interview before he died, he parted with the words, Nigeria must be restructured,” Umeh said in an encounter with journalists at the event.
The Ohanaeze leader, Nwodo, in his remarks, disclosed that Ekwueme designed an airstrip in Uli, in Anambra State, through which supplies were sent to the defunct Republic of Biafra, after the Federal Government imposed a blockade on the break-away state during the civil war.
“Dr. Alex Ekwueme was the Head of Planning of the Biafran Airport Authority; he was the one that designed the airstrip at Uli, through which supplies were dropped for Biafrans after the Federal Government implemented the blockade during the war. He saved thousands of Biafrans from dying of hunger due to the blockade,” Nwodo, who spoke in Igbo language, said.
The Archbishop of Enugu Anglican Diocese, Archbishop Emmanuel Chukwuma, who led the service, said Ekwueme did not want to be flown abroad for medical treatment when he took ill.
Chukwuma, who was Ekwueme’s priest at the Cathedral Church of the Good Shepherd, Independence Layout, Enugu, when the elder statesman was alive, said, “Ekwueme expected to live up to 120 years. It is a shame to Nigeria that big men cannot be treated in Nigeria.
“When he was about to be lifted in the air ambulance to London, I was there, he struggled as if he did not want to go. Initially, he was supposed to be flown out on a Saturday but he became unstable and I had to talk to him, the following day, a Sunday, he stabilised and had to be flown out. But he did not want to go to London.”
The cleric noted that although President Muhammadu Buhari expressed sadness over Ekwueme’s death, the elder statesman died during Buhari’s administration, 32 years after Buhari had overthrown the Shagari government and put Ekwueme in prison.
He added, “President Buhari has paid tribute to Ekwueme but it is unfortunate that 32 years ago, Buhari put Ekwueme in prison, and 32 years later, Ekwueme died when Buhari was, again, in power.”
The Archbishop urged the South-East governors to demand ‘accountability’ over claims that the Federal Government had spent N1bn on Ekwueme, although he noted that the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chris Ngige, who reportedly made the claim, had denied saying so.
“When I earlier expressed doubts that N1bn was spent, I got a call from Abuja, saying ‘No, we never said so.’ I contacted the man that was said to have said it (Ngige) and he said he did not say so, that it was the press. Ekwueme is a man of accountability, so South-East governors, you should demand accountability,” he said.
Chukwuma, in the same vein, declared that any governor who approved the proposed cattle colony scheme in the South-East would be resisted by the people, as, according to him, the plan would not work in the geopolitical zone.
“The South-East has no room for cattle colonies, any governor that approves it must be resisted. The Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, should take it to Daura and Sambisa Forest,” he said.
The Chairman of the South-East Governors Forum, Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi, Enugu State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and Abia State Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, all paid tributes to Ekwueme.
Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, and Willie Obiano of Anambra, who were absent, were represented by their deputies, who also paid tributes.
The Anambra State Deputy Governor, Afam Okeke, explained that Obiano could not attend the ceremony because he was supervising preparations for Ekwueme’s burial at Oko, in Anambra State, on Friday (tomorrow).
Meanwhile, all is set to receive the remains of Ekwueme on Thursday (today) by the Anambra State Government.
The former VP died on November 19,2017 in a London hospital.
As of the time of filing this report, final touches were going on simultaneously at the Alex Ekwueme Square where Obiano would receive the remains of the late VP , and Oko his hometown.
The state government had declared Thursday (today) a work-free day.
When one of our correspondents visited the Ekwueme Square in Awka, the state capital, it was adorned with the colours of the Nigerian flag.
Large banners, posters of the fallen statesman were seen at strategic locations in the state capital; as tents were provided for mourners at the Ekwueme Square.
The Local Organising Committee Chairman of the Ekwueme Burial, Prof. Solo Chukwudobelu, told journalists that all was set to receive the remains of the former VP.
He said, “Final touches and meetings are being held to ensure a hitch-free ceremony.”
Chukwudobelu said the committee was satisfied with the level of preparations for the event and commended the efforts of both the federal and state governments’ in giving the late Vice-President “a burial that he deserves.”
He said internal roads had been provided for easy human and vehicular movements, adding that security had been put in place to ensure the safety of all and sundry during the period.
Similarly, the Federal Road Safety Corps had assured the people of their safety and smooth flow of traffic all through the period of the funeral.
The state Sector Commander of the FRSC, Sunday Ajayi, stated this at a press briefing.
Meanwhile, the Speaker of the Anambra State House of Assembly, Mrs. Rita Maduagwu, has called on Nigerians to emulate the virtues of the late former Vice-President.
In her tribute on Wednesday in Awka, the speaker commended President Mohammadu Buhari and the Anambra state Governor, Chief Willie Obiano; for their commitment towards giving Ekwueme a befitting burial.
She said Ekwueme demonstrated an asset in the governance of the nation by being highly committed to the growth and development of the country.
She urged the Federal Government to implement the resolutions and calls from different quarters to immortalise the former Vice-President.
Maduagwu urged politicians to emulate “Ekwueme’s qualities especially his humility and patriotism.”