Ekwueme and Nigeria’s Celebration Hypocrisy and Mediocrity

Ekwueme and Nigeria’s Celebration Hypocrisy and Mediocrity 

By Azuka Onwuka

Alex Ekwueme, former Vice President of Nigeria

Last week’s exit of Dr Alex Ekwueme, former Vice President of Nigeria, was another opportunity for many Nigerians to say wonderful things about him – much of which was hypocritical.  He was praised for his depth of education, versatility of ideas, his integrity, patriotism, loyalty and consistency.

Ekwueme had bachelor’s degree in architecture and city planning from the University of Washington; master’s degree in urban planning; degrees in sociology, history, philosophy and law from the University of London; a Ph.D. in architecture from the University of Strathclyde; as well as a BL (honours) degree from the Nigerian Law School. He became the vice president of Nigeria in 1979. In spite of being far more educated than his principal, President Shehu Shagari, he worked under Shagari with loyalty and no haughtiness. He never tried to outshine Shagari, neither was he desperate to outsmart Shagari and take over power from him.

When they were overthrown, the military dictatorship of Major General Muhammadu Buhari kept Ekwueme in Kirikiri Maximum Prison, even though he was only a deputy with no known executive powers, while Shagari, who was the man with the executive powers, was kept under house arrest. Ekwueme endured his fate with equanimity until he was released by the military dictatorship of General Ibrahim Babangida.

When he was tried by the Babangida regime, Justice Sampson Uwaifo, who headed the judicial tribunal, gave a wonderful testimonial about Ekwueme in his judgment: “Dr. Alex Ekwueme’s wealth, in actual fact, had diminished by the time he was removed from office as Vice President via a military coup. I see no prima facie case being made here to warrant his trial for any offence known to law; and were he to be put on trial on the facts available, it would be setting a standard of morality too high even for saints in politics in a democracy to observe.”

When General Sani Abacha took over power and began to clamp down on Nigerians, Ekwueme and some prominent Nigerians formed the G-34 which he led. They stood firm in their opposition to the military dictatorship of Abacha. When Abacha eventually died in 1998, that group transformed into the Peoples Democratic Party, and he was made the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the PDP.

Ekwueme was so deep in vision and ideas that the 1994-95 National Constitutional Conference was more or else his show. He churned out point after point on how to make Nigeria better. The current six geo-political zonal structure was his idea. He championed rotational presidency and devolution of powers. He fought for a better deal for oil-producing states.

In 1999 he contested the presidential ticket of the PDP. The mood of the nation was that someone from the South–West be allowed to rule Nigeria, given that the 1993 presidential election won by Chief MKO Abiola from the South-West was inexplicably annulled by Babangida, leading to national crisis and the eventual death of Abiola in detention. It was obvious that the powerbrokers, especially the military, had decided that the person they would hand over power to was General Olusegun Obasanjo. Even though Obasanjo was not part of those who formed the PDP, he won the primary, and Ekwueme acted in good faith by congratulating him and joining his campaign train round the country.

In return, Ekwueme was told by Obasanjo to run for the Senate, so as to be made the Senate President, since that office was zoned to the South-East. But Ekwueme refused. He said that he became the Vice President (the number 2 citizen) in 1979 when he was 46 years old, and that he would not want to become the Senate President (the number 3 citizen) in 1999 when he was 66 years old. Even though the Senate President position is head of an arm of government, unlike the Vice President position, which is only an assistant to the President, Ekwueme rejected that offer made to him because he was not desperate for power.

Ironically, in spite of all the sterling qualities of Ekwueme, like many giants before him, Nigerians did not consider him good enough to be President. However, in death, he was celebrated – as many before him had been celebrated – even after being seen as not good enough to rule the nation.

If such people were bypassed for more qualified candidates, it would have been comforting: a sign the nation was aiming for excellence. But in Nigeria’s case, inferior candidates have been repeatedly elected as presidents since 1960 despite the existence of many brilliant and visionary candidates. Those with less education, less intelligence, less patriotism, less energy, less zeal, less vision, and less managerial and leadership capability have been preferred to rule Nigeria – either rigged in by the powerful cabal who organised the elections, or voted in by a populace that is more concerned with ethnicity and religion than with the progress of the nation. The consequence has been backwardness and disappointment. A mediocre leader cannot transform a country. It is worse when the country is such a diverse and complex one like Nigeria.

Ironically, Nigerians celebrate brilliant leaders of other countries. They know those who have the capacity to transform Nigeria and those who do not have such capacity. They know those who they can appoint as CEO over their companies, if they were among the directors, and those who whey would not. Sometimes it is the military dictator that decides to choose a mediocre person to succeed him; sometimes it is a civilian president that chooses a mediocre person to succeed him; sometimes it is the decision-makers of a party that choose a mediocre person as their presidential flag-bearer. Occasionally, it is the electorate that chooses the mediocre person as the president.

In spite of knowing the shortcomings of the chosen candidate, Nigerians soon begin to expect miracles from the candidate. The only way to explain this is that Nigerians believe in magic, which they cover up with Christianity and Islam. Most Nigerians believe that it is possible to sow maize and reap yam, if one prays really hard!

What happened to Ekwueme has also happened to many people before him. It happened to Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe as well as Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Mallam Aminu Kano: they were fully prepared and endowed to lead Nigeria to prosperity, but they were not considered good enough. If the seed of visionary leadership was sown at Nigeria’s independence, many of those who became Nigerian presidents or military heads of state would not have had the opportunity to lead Nigeria. For example, if the leadership of Nigeria were rotated among Azikiwe, Awolowo and Kano, each of them would have done eight years between 1960 and 1984 when the Second Republic was truncated again by the military. Definitely, Nigeria would have fared much better. There would have been less tension and friction among the parts of the nation.

That same fate is befalling many visionary minds in Nigeria today who have a desire to lead Nigeria and transform it. They exist in different parts of the nation. One can point at people like Mr Donald Duke, Mr Peter Obi, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, Mr Babatunde Fashola, Prof Pat Utomi, Prof Charles Soludo, Dr Akinwumi Adesina. These are people whose ideas and records have shown that they are excellence-driven. But sadly because Nigeria wallows in mediocrity and hypocrisy, these people will come close to power but may never have it, while the mediocre ones are foisted on the nation. The result can only be predictable.

Like it was said after Mahatma Gandhi was denied the Nobel Peace Prize, it was not Gandhi that lost by not being given the Nobel Peace Prize; rather it was the Nobel Prize that lost by not having Gandhi as a recipient. Similarly, it was not Ekwueme that lost by not being the President of Nigeria; it was Nigeria that lost by not benefiting from his sterling ideas and skills.

Adieu, Ide Oko!

 

2 Comments

  1. Sanusi November 29, 2017 Reply
    • Azuka Onwuka November 29, 2017 Reply

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *