I am deeply honoured this morning on behalf of the President, Commander- In- Chief, President Muhammadu Buhari to receive the body of the first elected civilian Vice President of Nigeria, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger.
As we receive his body this morning, we are reminded of his selfless service to nation, our region, Africa and indeed the world. We are reminded of his commitment to the timeless ideals of integrity, loyalty and of kindness to all.
We thank the Almighty God for giving us, 85 glorious years of Dr. Alex Ekwueme. When he was asked what his vision was for the country, he said, I would like 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, this will not only encourage us but also cement the relationship between all of the peoples and nationalities of this country so that we become and remain one.
We thank the almighty God for his family, and for all of us he left behind. We pray that his great wishes for this nation and all that he sacrificed for, will not be in vain.
Dr. Alex Ekwueme GCON, first elected civilian Vice-President of Nigeria, is perhaps one of the most remarkable persons to have served our nation.
Despite being probably one of the most thoroughly educated persons anywhere in the world, with degrees in disciplines as distinct as Architecture, Philosophy, Sociology and Law, he possessed the profound humility that comes from understanding how much more there was to learn. And he demonstrated it by his evident willingness to listen and to learn at all times. As Vice President, he set an excellent example of loyalty, discipline, team spirit and fidelity to the nation.
He was fearless! Armed with the courage of his convictions, he led the G34, the group of eminent Nigerians who confronted military dictatorship in its darkest and most fearsome days in Nigerian history. Their roles significantly contributed to the return of democracy in 1999.
In public discourse, nationally and regionally, as an elder in ECOWAS, even on the most emotive subjects, he spoke truthfully, but maintaining a thoughtful balance, ensuring that his words built rather than destroyed. He worked tirelessly to build and maintain the bridges established across ethnic and religious lines by so many through the years. He never once doubted the validity of one indivisible Nigeria.
Indeed when he was asked what his vision was for Nigeria, he said “My vision for Nigeria is that Nigeria should become a nation rather than a country”.
Your Excellencies, whether it was in spending 20 or more unjustified months in detention after the 1983 coup, or the eventual conclusion that he had not abused his office in anyway, or his principled and fearless leadership in confronting the military dictatorship when it chose to succeed itself, or his principled intervention in many national debates, Dr. Ekwueme epitomized impeccable integrity, courage, and selflessness.
His values, like himself, remain relevant in every age and time. Almost a year to the date of his sad passing, he graciously responded to my invitation to join other former Nigerian heads of State and their deputies, to record for broadcast the hymn “O lord our help in ages past” which we have just seen.
As a man of depth, he understood the symbolism of leaders of our nation, honouring God as we affirmed that we and our beloved nation owed everything to His grace alone. When he was teased about his voice as he delivered a line of the hymn in Igbo, because there was a lot of teasing and joking that afternoon at Aguda House, he said he was “just warming up”.
When he was asked in an interview some years ago how he would want to be remembered he said “My music teacher in secondary school said you have to blow your own trumpet because if you don’t, no one will blow it for you until it gets rusty. But I will like to be remembered as someone who came into public office to render service and rendered that service selflessly”.
Of course, Alex Ifeyinchukwu Ekwueme, Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger, the Ideh of Oko, never had to blow his trumpet and will never have to, his service to country and people is the assurance that he would have many trumpeters, amongst the high and low.
Our nation will miss his calm dignity and wise words even in the most turbulent circumstances.
But we thank God for giving us for 85 years, such an exemplar of decency, kindness and integrity.
God bless his memory and God bless his family.
Late Dr. Ekwueme, Ide of old Aguata, was the Vice President to Shehu Shagari under the then ruling National Party of Nigeria, NPN. He was the Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, but lost to Olusegun Obasanjo.