Anything that has a beginning, they say, must end some day. So it was yesterday for former Vice-President, Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, as he was interred in a blaze of glory at his country home, Oko, in Orumba North Local Government, Anambra State.
Ekwueme, who was Vice-President between 1979 and 1983 was lowered to mother earth at about 2.30pm in his compound, thus marking an end to an era and funeral rites that began about two weeks ago. Ekwueme died at the age of 85 years on November 19, 2017, in a London hospital.
But to keep his legacies going and in appreciation to the services he rendered to the country while he lived, the federal government has renamed the Federal University, Ikwo, Ebonyi state as Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ikwo.
The crowd at the colourful funeral ceremony, which held at St John’s the Divine Anglican Church, Oko, erupted into wild jubilation the moment the pronouncement was made over the University. It was greeted with a 21-gun salute by Oko community who had shunned businesses and other personal engagements in solidarity for the burial of Ekwueme.
President Muhammadu Buhari stated that renaming the university was the country’s “little way of showing appreciation to Ekwueme”, whom he said distinguished himself in service both in and out of government.
According to the President, whose speech was delivered by the Vice President, Yemi Osibajo, the late Alex Ekwueme should be “celebrated because he practiced a kind of principle that set him apart from his peers whether they are rich, poor, unknown or known-the principles of personal sacrifice to others, service to those who cannot offer one, the courage of one’s conviction and bravery in the face of terror.”
He stated that Ekwueme exemplified loyalty and dedication with the love of the nation in service, adding that former President Alhaji Shehu Shagari (GCFR), whom Ekwueme served, spoke of him as “a man competent of his role as he offered great service to him and the nation.”
Buhari stated that despite being imprisoned “unjustly” after the coup that ousted the government he served, and leaving him poorer, Ekwueme’s love and service for the country never dimmed.
“While many hid their ideas and thoughts even in the darkest days following the dictatorship in our country, he came out and offered himself as the face and voice of the people and by so doing showed that the beauty of democracy was more than the platitude of wealth, he showed that nations are built on ideals and trusts. It is in death that we are confronted with the futility of affluence, wealth and power, no matter how it is confronted. It is also in death that we are left with the immortal legacies of those who by their selfless deeds, courage and service to the people etched themselves in the hearts of men and God. Ekwueme lived in the hearts of those who are not prepared and those who cannot speak for themselves in tangible ways,” he stated.
Stressing that no amount of commendation could be enough for Ekwueme, he prayed that members of the family “will be greater than he was in the service of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and God.”
Earlier in a homily, Primate of the Anglican Communion, Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh, lamented that integrity and honesty, which were the most cherished virtues of Ekwueme, had taken flight in Nigeria, insisting that for the nation to make progress, it must enthrone integrity in its system.
Okoh who spoke on the theme “Get into the Ark” and drawing his lesson from Genesis chapters 6 and 7 said: “If you are in politics and you engage people that lack integrity, you will not make any progress. Integrity is the key and it has taken flight in Nigeria”.
He urged the new generation of Nigerian politicians to imbibe Ekwueme’s virtues especially his humility and constant contact with his community in their dealings. The Primate also decried the alarming rate at which Nigerians patronise foreign hospitals each time they are sick, and therefore appealed to the nation’s leaders to help the country by addressing the failing healthcare delivery system.
“We spend so much in America, Dubai, Britain, India and other parts of Europe and we can reduce this by 70 per cent if our leaders do the needful. Our leaders must deliver us from health tourism. Our independence is only on paper, it is not deep, we must deliver ourselves from over-dependence on other nations for our healthcare,” he said.
The former Secretary General, Commonwealth of Nations, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, praised Ekwueme as a “true Nigerian patriot”, saying he was committed to restoring democracy by leading the G34 that confronted the military and formation of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
“He at the 1995 constitutional conference conceived and introduced the idea of six geo- political zones for the country among many others and played politics of bitterness as exemplified in the 1998 Jos Convention of the PDP where he was denied the Presidential ticket of the party and he went on to campaign for the party”, Anyaoku recalled.
Governor Willie Obiano enjoined the Ekwueme family not to weep but be happy that they and the people of Oko were associates of the late saga, whom he said would live in the annals of history.
There was a tumultuous crowd at the burial ceremony that included former President, Goodluck Jonathan and his wife, Patience, former Vice President, Namadi Sambo, Secretary to the Government of the federation, Boss Mustapha, Governor Akinwumi Ambode (Lagos), Ifeanyi Okowa (Delta), Ibrahim Dankwambo (Gombe), Rochas Okorocha (Imo), Okezie Ikpeazu (Abia) and David Umahi (Ebonyi).
Others were Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, PDP chairman Uche Secondus, APC chairman, John Oyegun, Chief Bisi Akande, Afenifere group led by Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Middle- Belt led by Bala Takaya and South-South forum led by Francis Diokpala among others.