Alexander Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, in his lifetime, was urbane as he was intellectual. As a pioneer in the field of architecture, he was said to be to the profession what Chief Akintola Williams is to Accountancy.
He practiced from the platform of his firm, Ekwueme Associates, Architects and Town Planners, the first indigenous architectural firm in Nigeria. His practice flourished with 16 offices spread all over Nigeria with landmark structures across the country signposting his proficiency.
In today’s parlance, he would have been called a local champion because of his active and passionate involvement in the socio-economic development of his community assuming the prestigious traditional title of Ide, not just of his native Oko Kingdom, but also of the old Aguata Division made up of 44 towns.
That was how close he was to his people. From that pedestal, he became a driving force in the educational and socio-economic strides that his community recorded in the area of self-help. Ekwueme’s Educational Trust Fund was in response to the yearning need to satisfy the educational aspiration of the youth of his community, which resulted in the sponsorship of hundred youths to universities in Nigeria and abroad.
Before fate thrust him into the limelight of national politics that he dominated by the sheer presence of his intellectual acumen, the closest he came to any national assignment was as a member of the housing sub-committee of the Adebo Salaries and Wages Review Commission. He also served for many years on the board of the Anambra State Housing Development Authority.
When the ban on politics was lifted, his aspiration was to be the Governor of old Anambra State, a position he vied with the also late Dr Chuba Okadigbo. Both of them lost. But political fortune smiled on him when his party, the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), chose him as the running mate to Alhaji Shehu Shagari. They won and served for four years and was re-elected for another four years before the military interrupted that democratic match.
Ekwueme was one of the politicians arrested and detained by the military. But in the trial for corruption that followed, it was confirmed by the tribunal that his engagement in politics left him poorer, a testament to his unimpeachable integrity and transparency in public service while in office as Vice President.
Ekwueme participated in the Nigeria National Constitutional Conference (NCC) in Abuja where he served as member of the Committee on the Structure and Framework of the Constitution. His famous proposals for a just and equitable power sharing in Nigeria based on the six geopolitical zones have now come to be accepted as necessary for maintaining a stable Nigerian polity.
Even more significant is his selfless dedication to the cause of democracy in Nigeria. Dr Ekwueme mobilized the group of 34 eminent Nigerians who risked their lives to stand up against the dictatorship of General Sani Abacha during the era of military rule in Nigeria.
He was the founding Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on which platform he vied for the Presidency against eventual winner, Olusegun Obasanjo and was the first Chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees.
Ekwueme started primary school at the St John’s Anglican Central School, at Ekwulobia, after which he proceeded to King’s College, Lagos. As an awardee of the Fulbright Scholarship in the United States of America, he attended the University of Washington where he earned bachelor’s degree in Architecture and city planning. He obtained his master’s degree in urban planning, earned degrees in sociology, history, philosophy and law from the University of London. He later proceeded to obtain a Ph.D. in Architecture from the University of Strathclyde, before gaining the BL (honours) degree from the Nigerian Law School.
For his services, first to the nation as Vice President, he had conferred on him the second highest national honour of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger (GCON). Similarly, he was honoured with the Order of the Republic of Guinea. Born on October 21, 1932, Ekwueme, a prolific philanthropist, public servant, and a man of peace, died on November 19, 2017 at the ripe age of 85. He is survived by wives and children. May his gentle soul rest in peace.