I was not yet born when he assumed office as the civilian Vice- President, during the Shagari administration, and I was a toddler when the Buhari-led force gently edged out that administration. Did I say gently? Well, since the ouster was bloodless, I am forced to regard it as gentle. Besides I have come to intuitively perceive everything done by the handsome General Buhari as gentle. Take for instance, his “gentle” attempt to fight the “Gorilla” out of office, during the 2003 Presidential elections. Buhari forgot that where Gorillas fight are called jungles, and therefore fangs, claws etc are used in the battle, for it is always a fight to finish. But I have digressed!
I was talking about Shehu Shagari’s vice, the sagacious, and amiable Dr. Alex Ekwueme. I was saying that I was too young to have a physical experience of his administration. As such, my knowledge of the Ekwueme of the 79-83 eras was gleaned from history books. One of such knowledge is the assertion by a critic that Dr. Ekwueme leaped from a political nobody, to somebody, by investing the bulk of the proceeds from his steel industry, in the presidential campaign of the nondescript Mallam Shehu. With the corruption attached to the Shehu Shagari administration, I had dismissed Ekwueme as one of those blood-sucking politicians, and forgot al about him temporarily.
In 1998, during the Jos PDP Convention, when the Gorilla-like General was again invited to take-over the affairs of the Country,(as usual “against his wish”), Dr. Ekwueme aroused my interest in him, with his persuasive speech, calling on the delegates,(representing you and I, did I hear somebody say “not I”?), to cast their votes, bearing in mind the future of their children. Then, all I felt for him was pity. Pity, because I knew that like the great scrammble for Africa, the Hounds had shared positions, and Ekwueme’s was not to be the No 1 man in the country. He bore it philosophically, smiling sadly because he knew that our future had been mortgaged.
Then he finally won my heart: he did not take any political appointment, believing that after being the No2 man in the country, he cannot go below it. Then came the 2003 Abuja PDP convention, where Ghana-Must-Go-Bags bought the Gorilla a second tenure. I watched Dr. Alex Ekwueme, smiling sadly as if he was saying; “oh my people, how long more do you have to continue this way?” then a chord struck. I realized I have known this man almost all my life. Where? I kept asking myself. The gray hair was clearly familiar. The gray hair, yes, that symbol of sagacity. That emblem that straightforward people have always held in esteem, nurturing it, and proudly displaying it. Not Gorillas that shave theirs off because they know they do not deserve it. I remember Soyinka, Achebe, Gandhi, Madiba Mandela and even Abdusalam Abubakar (he was a soldier too, so why doesn’t he shave his hair too).
As I kept watching Dr. Ekwueme at Eagle Square that fateful-day, I found it difficult to remember where I had known this man. Then: “Teach him that a dollar earned, is worth more than a million stolen… he will learn…” it was a voice from my nursery school days. Good old Abe Lincoln. Then I heard Ekwueme’s muted pleas to us all, especially the youths (his sons and daughters) not to allow our future to be stolen from us, begging us to learn to fight unrelentingly, for what is ours. Then, Ekwueme just “failed” for the second time.
But so did Abraham Lincoln, the former U.S President. History records him as one of the most determined political fighters for the White House. Even though Abe Lincoln failed many times in his political quest (for the Senate, Congress, and the White House), he kept up the fight, believing that he was destined to make an impact in the destinies of many people. He fought well, and was assassinated. But his giant strides towards the emancipation of the blacks, which eventually triggered off the American Civil War, have continued to be felt. Today dark skinned pop artiste Usher Raymond, do not need to destroy his life as Michael Jackson did, to be accepted by the white community, one of the chains of events that followed Abe’s determined fight.
Like Abe Lincoln, Ekwueme is humble, unassuming, a dedicated family man, quiet. And like Abe, Ekwueme has deeply thinking eyes and a forehead that speaks of great wisdom. Just like Abe, Ekwueme leaped from a political nobody to somebody without any recognizable godfather. I have come to believe that like Abe Lincoln, our own Dr. Alex Ekwueme is destined to trigger off a chain of events, geared towards emancipation of the Nigerian hoi polloi. In him rests the sole duty of rescuing our wobbling giant of a country, from its supersonic speed plunge into the abyss of nothingness. I have never met Dr. Ekwueme all my life, neither does he know me, so I cannot possibly be advocating for him. My present position, I can only say was informed by a careful synthesis of facts, which the answers to this question (What does Ekwueme want in Aso-Rock?) try to grapple with. Let us try to evaluate this question.
Firstly, what is Ekwueme’s aim in contesting the presidency? I will answer it the Nigerian way, with another question; if Dr. Ekwueme’s aim, in contesting for the presidency is to go and “chop”, would he not have accepted other political appointments, which at least will give him “chopping” opportunities? At least from there, he will then caress the ego of the Gorilla, and gain his support for future political battles.
Secondly, was it ego that stopped him from kowtowing to the Obasanjo administration, and consequently getting rewarded with numerous contracts and political appointments? I will accept ego, if I is well defined. To me, the ego play comes in as a total proof of an upright man’s decision to descend to the level of a bootlicker, for a corrupt regime (yes, regime!).
Clearly, Dr. Alex Ekwueme has a vision for this country, and this vision is one that can only be properly made manifest, if he is the man at the helm of affairs. Indeed, various qualities in Dr Ekwueme point him out as different from the greedy lot of politicians that inhabit this country. His forthrightness, humility, vision and philosophical determination are qualities that differentiate him from our politicians, and clearly show that he is through and through a statesman.
Unfortunately, the political events in this country, especially the Ogbeh saga, and the monkey play in Anambra, have coalesced to force Dr. Ekwueme to start shying away from political activities. What do we expect from a man who is superfluously garbed with self-respect? But I must say that such withdrawal does not become him. Dr. Ekwueme, the hopes of many crest on you, and the totality of Nigerian youths throw back your muted advice to you; please do not let our future be snatched away from us.” Come out Alex and help us in this fight. Here at last is our own Abe Lincoln!
Nnaemeka Oruh writes from Port Harcourt