By Wale Adedayo
I had wanted to pay a tribute to Nigeria’s former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme. But each time I tried to, the words refused to flow. But Ike Abonyi’s piece on the old man today appeared to have assisted in ‘opening up’ my brain, thus these few lines in memory of a man that I copied something great from.
There are many sides to the former Vice President. He was a Nigerian, and he was an Igbo. He does not push things in your face. But he would say his mind, to let you know where you stand with him.
Without Ekwueme’s inputs, my MA thesis at Cardiff University, “Propaganda Tactics of Nigeria’s Military Government,” would have been delayed by another six months in 1998.
Looking at how Abacha sustained himself in power through playing the major ethnic blocs against one another, I had picked former Kaduna State Governor, Alhaji Balarabe Musa (Hausa-Fulani), late Chief Bola Ige (Yoruba) and Ekwueme (Igbo) as my interview subjects. The Guardian’s Political Editor at the time, Akpo Esajere, was picked as a ‘neutral’, being a journalist and from the South-South.
Musa received me warmly, and gave me quality audience. Esajere did same. But Bola Ige insisted on sending his responses to me in a written form, through Fax. And he wanted me to bear the expenses, as I was already late in getting back to Cardiff. A day before Ige was due to send the materials, he was arrested by Abacha.
It was to Afenifere Leader, Senator Abraham Adesanya I turned using the phone. My encounter with Adesanya over the phone, calling from Cardiff as a student, was an eye-opener for me. Once I explained my predicament, his answer was short and troubling: “Iwo mo wipe awa wa nibi lo lo m ba Bola Ige soro? – You ignored people like us to go and consult with Ige over your thesis.” That was way back in 1998 long before the feud between both men later blew open. The old man slammed the phone down!
There was no Yoruba input to my work. But my supervisor, late Geoff Mungham, accepted it with an explanation that since one is Yoruba, the perspective being sought should not be diffferent. He argued that I could not likely write against my own people.
Bringing Ekwueme last, do you know what he did? Ekwueme not only talked extensively with me when I was in Nigeria, he also pledged to Fax more materials in response to my questions. He did at his own expense, and you can contrast that with Ige’s attitude, who insisted I had to bear the cost of sending the Fax from Nigeria!
But Ekwueme, despite being exceptionally nice to me, pointed out in words and writing, he was angry. “How can you describe me, a former Vice President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, as an Igbo Leader?” I felt very stupid and small!
Meanwhile, the way he looked at it was not my intention at all. He was angry. Yet, he was gracious enough to assist me despite his anger. Meanwhile, it appears his surname came in handy there, because I never believed he would send the materials.
Many thanks to a friend, Chiawo Nwankwo, who explained to me that Ekwueme not only means a person who assists the needy, thus making the society better, its deep roots is firmly anchored in the popular saying, a man who walks his talk. That is who Ekwueme was in words and in deed!
I learnt a few things from Ekwueme. I also learnt from my Afenifere leaders. But that of Ekwueme was positive for me, and remains one of my guiding light till date. Yes, I could be angry. But I’ll not throw away the baby with the bathwater.
Ekwueme was a contended man. He was godly without the usual Nigerian show-off by ‘carrying it on his head’. He was deep, very deep. Our schools of Political Science lost a rich archive in his death.
My belief teaches that narratives like these assist the dead in the passage beyond. May the ancestors receive a son, who made them proud while on this side of the divide. May his loved ones receive multiple folds of all that he sowed in deeds and words while here.
In Yoruba, I’ll say, “Ipade di ohun.” We’ll surely meet on the other side, when it is time!
*This piece was first published on Facebook as a tribute to Nigeria’s Second Republic Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, on 1, February 2018.