It was indeed a happy end to an eventful life as the remains of late Second Republic Vice President of Nigeria, Dr Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme were laid to rest in his compound in Oko, Orumba North Local Government area of Anambra state at exactly 2:30pm yesterday, in a blaze of Glory.
The internment took place shortly after a funeral service at the St. John the Divine Church of the Anglican Church where President Muhammadu Buhari formally named the Federal University, Ndufu Alike, Ikwo, in Ebonyi State after the departed leader.
Ekwueme was the nation’s first elected Vice President from 1979 – 1983. He was born on October 21st, 1932 and died on November 19, 2017.
His funeral service witnessed the presence of notable Nigerians from virtually all the geopolitical zones including Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who represented the president; former President Goodluck Jonathan and wife Patience; former Vice Presidents Namadi Sambo and Chief Ebitu Ukiwe; Governors of Gombe, Ibrahim Damkwambo, Delta, Ifeanyi Okowa, Lagos, Akinwunmi Ambode, Abia, Okezie Ikpeazu, Imo, Rochas Okorocha, Ebonyi, Dave Umahi and Anambra, Willie Obiano.
In his message at the burial, President Buhari, said the former Vice President was being celebrated because he practiced a kind of principle that sets 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, bravery in the face of terror.
“As Vice President, he set an example of loyalty and dedication with the love of the nation in service. After the coup that ousted the government which he served, while his finances were thoroughly combed for evidences and he was imprisoned unjustly, he went on to demonstrate the power of principle which only one man can have.
“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 those who are not prepared are immortal; immortal because from the heart 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.
“No amount of commendation can be enough from a nation which is greater for the services of one of her own. We therefore offer only a token. And so it is my pleasure to announce that in commemoration of the life and contribution to the nation by Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme GCON, the President of the federal republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari has approved and directed that the federal University Ndifu, Alike Ebonyi State be now renamed and become known as Alex Ekwueme Federal University.
“To the illustrious Ekwueme family and people of Oko, we thank you for sharing this moment with us, we pray that you and your siblings will enjoy and that many among you will be greater than he was in the service of the federal republic of Nigeria,” the President who spoke through Osinbajo, noted.
Earlier in a homily, the Primate of 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 were 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’s not deep, we must deliver ourselves from over-dependence on other nations for our healthcare,” he said.
In his tribute, former Commonwealth Secretary General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku said Ekwueme left remarkable legacy in politics, national and international service as well as private life.
Anyaoku who recalled how Ekwueme led a group of 34 Nigerians to challenge the military and later played a central role to the formation of the PDP, said the departed leader was a true patriot and champion of democracy in Nigeria.
“He conceived and introduced the idea of six geopolitical zones during the 1995 Constitutional conference. He played a principled politics without bitterness when he was denied the Presidential ticket of the PDP in 1998, he accepted the outcome and still went round to campaign with Obasanjo,” he recalled.
The entire Oko town was shut down as all the shops were under lock and key in deference to Ekwueme.