It was a day of tributes as Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and governors of the South-east Monday received the body of former vice-president the late Dr. Alex Ekwueme, who died in London last November.
While Osinbajo took delivery of the body at the Presidential Wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, the South-east governors received the remains at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu.
Speaking on behalf of the federal government, Osinbajo, who led cabinet ministers and other senior officials to the reception ceremonies, described the late deputy to Second Republic President Shehu Shagari as a committed statesman who gave his best to the country.
He said: “I am deeply honoured on behalf of the President, Commander in Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, and government and people of Nigeria to receive the body of the first elected Vice President of Nigeria, Dr. Alex Ekwueme.
“As we receive his body this morning, we are reminded of his selfless service to the nation, to our region, to Africa and indeed the world.”
Osinbajo said Nigerians would be reminded of Ekwueme’s commitment to the timeless ideals of integrity, loyalty and kindness to all and thanked God for giving the country 85 years of his life.
According to the vice-president, “When he was asked what his visions are for the country, he said, ‘I would want to see Nigeria be a nation, not just a country’.
“Those words tell us how committed he was to the unity of this country and I pray that in death, and as we remember him, that this would not only encourage us but also cement the relationship between all of the people and nationalities of this country so that we could become and remain one.
“We thank the Almighty God for his family and all of us who he has left behind and we pray that his great wishes for this nation and all that he sacrificed for will not be in vein.”
Anambra State Deputy Governor, Dr. Emma Okeke, who represented the governor of the state, while speaking to newsmen at the Abuja airport, said: “I think what we all need is to be steadfast; if you believe in something do it and continue to stand out.
“Apart from the qualities, we all know he had as a Nigerian,” adding that the deceased was a man who always stood by what he believed in.
He said Anambra State would decide on what to do in terms of immortalising the former vice-president after his burial, adding that the governor would honour the late vice-president.
Ekwueme’s body was later in the day received at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, by governors of the South-east zone and the President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, even as the Archbishop of Anglican Church, Enugu Province, Dr. Emmanuel Chukwuma, faulted the federal government over its claim that it had spent N1 billion for the burial of the late elder statesman.
The body of the late former vice-president was flown from Abuja in a Nigeria Air Force plane marked NAF 918. The plane landed in Enugu at 2:08 p.m.
At the brief airport reception were the Chairman of South-east Governor’s Forum, Chief David Umahi of Ebonyi State, Dr. Willie Obiano (Anambra State), Chief Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu State), and Mr. Rochas Okorocha (Imo State).
Other dignitaries at the airport were Nwodo; Archbishop Chukwuma; the National Chairman of United Progressive Party, Chief Chekwas Okorie; Speaker, Ebonyi State House of Assembly, Mr. Ogbonnia Nwaifuru, who led all the members of Ebonyi assembly; and Secretary to the State Government of Ebonyi State, Prof. Bernard Odeh, who led the state’s cabinet.
The governors took turns to pay their last respects to the late vice-president.
The Enugu Chamber Choir led by Nonso Offiah and African Vocals led by Hyacinth Ogbu sang during the reception.
Bishop Chukwuma who prayed for the successful burial of Ekwueme, described the remarks credited to the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige, that the federal government had spent N1 billion on the burial as unacceptable and asked the government to explain the whooping expenditure, stressing that Ekwueme was a man of integrity whose death and burial should not be politicised.
Chukwuma described Ekwueme as a great politician that would never be forgotten. “We are happy that the government is giving him a befitting burial, but one thing is that people should emulate the legacies he left behind,” he said.
An interdenominational church service will hold in his honour Tuesday at the Good Shepherd Anglican Church, while a commendation service is scheduled for Wednesday at the Michael Okpara Square, Enugu.