Chief Joe Ifedobi Ijikara, Okosis Akpo, in an interview with CYRIACUS NNAJI reveals other parts of the late political prodigy, Ide Aguata and former Vice-President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme.
First contact with Dr. Alex Ekwueme
That was in 1959. There was the post office and water crises in Aguata. The 45 towns in Aguata, and again Ekwueme’s electoral contest with one Chief Ebo, from Isuoffia, for the Aguata Federal Constituency. In that election, Ebo narrowly defeated Ekwueme, because the Catholics voted en mass for Eboh.
Inspite of that, Ekwueme fought to see that Aguata had a post office, although K.O. Mbadiwe was working hard to site it at Aro-Ndizuogu. Because of Ekwueme’s efforts, Aguata was selected for the project.
Ekwueme in conjunction with Nze Philip N. Ubah from Uga, who was resident in Port-Harcourt brought in Israeli Water Engineers in 1963 and they installed one of the tanks in Akpo, another in Ekwulobia, Igbo Ukwu, Oraeri, and Isuoffia, so as to spread it. Nze Philip Ubah worked very hard with Ekwueme for that.
When Aguata Division was to be created, a hall had to be designed and built, that was the Aguata County Council Hall. The man on hand to make the architectural drawing and the building of that very hall was Alex Ekwueme.
Ekwueme also invested in education. He initiated the building of Aguata Community Grammar School. At a launching of that project, Nze Philip N. Uba, the father of Senators Ugochukwu and Andy Uba and Chief Chris Ubah, announced a donation of 1 Pound, 1, which was called 1 Guinea, at a time when others were donating 2 Shillings and 6 pence.
In 1957, there was this development of tarred roads, so Ekwueme made a lot of contribution towards that and he advised against the cutting down of the economic trees along the road so as not to create a very big problem for the very inhabitants of the area.
On one occasion Dr. Ekwueme visited my grand maternal cousin, Chief C.D. Jones Okpala of Akpo in 1968, to inquire how they would seek the release of our House of Representatives member and brother, Hon. F.U. Mbakaogu, who was detained during the war. Chief MZC Okpala, Eze Uda 11, who later became the Igwe of Achina, C.D. Jones and Ekwueme, and I took off to Umuahia.
When we saw Ikemba Odumegwu Ojukwu, Head of State of the defunct Biafra, he frowned at that and asked who might have detained him, and if he gave order for the detention? He thereafter directed that Mbakaogu be released
Role of the Aguata Progressive Union
People thought that Aguata Progressive Union was only a cultural union. But within us we were praying that let one of us become Premier or President or Vice President, to enhance our development. In 1981, I can remember vividly that Aguata Progressive Union Federated of which I was the chairman, initiated a meeting. We called Ekwueme then Vice President and Engr. Roy Umenyi, Deputy Governor then, so that they would address Aguata on what we would enjoy under their respective governments. Ekwueme and Umenyi came; the 45 Aguata 45 communities were all represented. That day, Ekweme announced that the road to Ibinta-Okigwe had been awarded to NCC. The next day Satellite Newspaper, a publication belonging to Jim Nwobodo wrote that Ekwueme stole Federal Government money to build a road that pass through his house. It was during this period that all the trunk B roads in our area became Federal roads.
Ekwueme’s major contributions
Ekwueme attracted so many things which include Federal Poly Oko; Federal College of Education Umunze and Asaba, he influenced University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Ituku Ozala in Enugu State. He influenced the road that passed through Nnewi-Nnobi-Ekwulobi-Umunze and Ibinta in Okigwe Abia State; Oba-Nnewi-Amichi-Uga- Arondizuogu- Okigwe; and Onitsha- Otuacha-Adani-New 9th Mile-Obolo-Afor-Oturukpo.
Ekwueme influenced the Meteorological Training Institute; Sea Port at Onitsha, Lower Niger Irrigation Project at Ifite-Ogwari and Omor in Ayamelum LGA of Anambra State; Creation of Anambra-Imo Basin Development Authority; FUTO Owerri.
In fact Ekwueme in politics was very consummate, very, very comported. When you see Ekwueme you see human being; that is, great Aguata man.
Lessons from the life and times of Ekwueme
Ekueme should be emulated in every form or shape. He was an industrialist, an entrepreneur. He was everything in human life. Ekwueme would have been President of this country if not for the intrigue that played out at the PDP Convention in Jos. If Ekwueme had been allowed to rule this country, this country would not have found itself in this mess it is today. Ekwueme left a legacy for us. He is fulfilled.
Look at the six zonal structure, it was Ekwueme’s IDEA while in the prison. He he took up the idea this from M.I. Okpara. Okpara had 12 provincial structure, the minority had 6; the Igbo area had 6.Ekweme has left a legacy for us, we pray we have another person like him. During his lifetime, he was a thorough diplomat, a quintessential intellectual, philanthropic and religious. Ekwueme was great
Now the Igbo race has a problem. Okpala, Ekwueme, Zik has gone, Ojukwu have gone, they were the thinkers. There is nobody again.
His role in Ekwueme becoming the Vice President
I remember, in 1977-78, we met at one of my late friend’s office, Mr. K.C. Okoro, who was Deputy Secretary of Public Complaints Commission at No 25 Norman William Street.
One day I and K.C. Okoro went together to see Maitama Sule who was a good friend of ours. Maitama brought up a discussion based on what was going on in NPN, specifically regarding Anambra. It was at Maitama’s house at No 10 Club Road, Ikoyi. Already Maitama Sule was with the following people: Chief Howson Whrite, Prof. Babatunde Fafunwa, after some time Chief G.S. Maina, former Secretary, Benue/Plateau State, came in. By then Maina was narrating to Maitama how they toured both Rivers and Imo and how people from Imo and Anambra were lobbying to be made Vice President with the exception of Ekwueme.
Then Maitama asked me if I am from Anambra? I said yes. He said could you tell me something about this Ekwueme, that he does not know him. He asked if he is involved in the Model School that is being built by Mr. Ukpabi Asika Government, I told him no. I began to reel out what Ekwueme had done. I told him he never enjoyed government appointment in any form. Then after this narration, he picked up phone and called Shehu Shagari and he was mentioning Ekwueme to him and later we dispersed. After some days he called me that I should come and accompany him to Jibowu Street, Fadeyi, Yaba, Lagos. The place belonged to K.O.Mbadiwe.
It was a mini delegate convention to choose a Vice President. I took him in my Fiat 124 and I continued opening up on Alex Ekwueme till we got to the venue. The only agenda was selection of the Vice President.
So when we got there, Maitama was asked to present whoever would be the Vice President, Maitama Sule who died in 7th of July last year, there is nothing he did not say that represented Alex Ekwueme. He went right to where Ekwueme was sitting and brought him to the centre of the convention. He said ‘This is the man; this is the success of NPN; this is the success of our manifesto.’ Nobody believed it, there was jubilation, Ekwueme never contested for it.
On the detention of Ekwueme in 1983
When the military struck, they rammed him into the Kirikiri Prison and Shagari was given a House Arrest. Now they heaped on him terrible charges, that he stole all the petroleum money and every trumped-up charges against him. Not only was Ekwueme a member of the Federal Executive Council as the Vice President, he was an expert in construction analysis and contract awards. So most tenders were always on his table which were awarded to anybody that was competent. Also as Vice president, he introduced what is called ecological area
The Six Zonal structure of Nigeria was Ekwueme’s thought in the prison yard. And that reminds me what he went through in Kirikiri and since Alex came out of Kirikiri, he was no longer the Alex I used to know until he died. Alex was taken to prison unconstitutionally, without committing any offence, about 20 months he spent in detention, nobody ever came to ask him questions.
February 23, 1984 was a very bad day; there was riot in Kirikiri, teargas, canisters were hauled into the prison. Myself and one Engr. Emma Agu and Mrs. Onajide, were inhaling the teargas as we made efforts to see Ekwueme. Ekwueme had nowhere to run to.
In an interview Gen. Buhari, then Head of State, granted Dele Giwa, Editor of Sunday Concord then, claimed that 80% of corruption in the administration was committed by Ekwueme through award of contract and oil revenue.
Unfortunately there was a malicious publication by Satellite Newspaper owned by Jim Nwobodo, attacking Ekwueme, making false revelations which were untrue, and we decided in our meeting to sue the newspaper.
It is this same Buhari who, I am not happy, as I am granting you this interview, I feel like sobbing, because Ekwueme was detained, humiliated, and dealt with, before Babangida struck Thank God, God will continue to keep him, When he took over power in 1985 he instituted a tribunal on those in detention, there was no charge levelled against Ekwueme and he released him.
What Justice S.O. Uwaifo said about Ekwueme
Justice S.O Uwaifo, a retired Judge of the Supreme Court on the charges brought against Ekwume in 1985 said that Ekwueme’s wealth in actual fact has diminished by the time he was removed from the office as the vice president via a military coup. I see no prima faci case made against him to warrant his trial for any offence known to law. And were he to be put on trial, on the fact available, it would be setting a standard, a standard of morality that would be difficult for even a saint to observe.
Naming Oko Poly after Ekwueme
Ekwueme build the school on his own as a remedial school and later Master Moora representing Njikoka raised a bill on the floor of the Anambra State House of Assembly and it became Anampoly. So I am surprised people are calling for the school to be name after the person that built it. They should name another institution after him and not Oko Poly.