Like the super architect that he was, Ekwueme adroitly redesigned the Fourth Republic house that we have today.

Ogbuagu Anikwe

President Muhammadu Buhari changed the Nigerian democracy day that his predecessor instituted. He cancelled 29 May, the day that the Fourth Republic berthed. And replaced it with the famous June 12 that late MKO Abiola made popular. Nigerians did not seem to mind Buhari’s tampering, one way or another. And the reason is simple – OBJ constructed the original Democracy Day (May 29) on quicksand. He chose the day he took the oath as president to be the Democracy Day.

This is not to suggest that May 29 was not a significant date to institute a national holiday. It is. However, there were three other republic that came before it. Both the first and second republics had the national day (1st October) as their start-off dates. Then there is this republic that started on May 29. If therefore Obasanjo arbitrarily chose May 29 as Democracy Day, the same can be said of Buhari’s June 12. The choice was also arbitrary and will hopefully become tamper-proof as administrations come and go.

The battle between the third and fourth republic dates will continue to be controversial partly because we have not given due recognition to all patriots that contributed to the democracy we enjoy today. There is one such patriot whose courage and intellect led to the ouster of the military and the founding of the Fourth Republic. Nigeria is yet to accord him his due based on the sheer amount of effort and courage he invested to birth this republic.

This patriot is the late Vice President, Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme.

It is not an exaggeration to say that one of the biggest factors that signposted the Fourth Republic we enjoy today is a college of nationalists that went by the name of G-34. Of equal significance was the yeoman efforts of National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), the pro-democracy group that mounted a robust battle with the usurpers of MKO Abiola’s mandate. NADECO’s long years of struggle, from Ibrahim Babangida through Ernest Shonekan to Sanni Abacha, prepared the grounds for the nationalists led by Ekwueme who staged the decisive battle. It is instructive that leading members of NADECO – including Chief Bola Ige of blessed memory – joined forces with the Ekwueme group for the final push and victory.

When the more nationalistic group met, the lot fell on Chief Alexander Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme (Alex Ekwueme) to lead this group to effectively oust the military and install the democracy that we enjoy today. NADECO was a southern-led effort while the Ekwueme Group that did the final damage to military rule involved political leaders nationwide.

I remembered Ekwueme on Monday when a friend reminded me that the late vice president would have celebrated his 90th birthday next week, precisely by 21 October. This friend wanted me to log on to www.whithernigeria.com to download Ekwueme’s book of speeches that traced his political odyssey from 1992 when he mounted a strategic challenge to the military cabal that was holding Nigeria hostage. There is no way that anyone will go through the book without thinking how unfairly we have treated the memory of this cerebral and honest politician and technocrat.

The Group of 18 (G-18) sounded the death knell for military rule with their plaintive cry against Gen. Abacha’s self-succession plans. The group was nominally a northern creation. Southern politicians reinforced the group and swelled its number to become Group of 34 (G-34). The G-34 gave the decisive push to end military rule when they ventured to convene what they called the All Politicians Summit. Dr. Ekwueme led the group that convened this meeting in 1997 to discuss a way out of the life presidency project that the dark goggle-wearing general was cooking for Nigeria.

Although Abacha’s security goons forcibly dispersed the meeting, this, however, did not deter Ekwueme and his group. They remained unyielding and continued to rally other key political figures under a platform of the Institute of Civil Society.

It was from the work of this Institute that Ekwueme fired an idea that demonstrated his vast understanding of what ailed Nigeria and how to cure it. The six-zonal structure that the country respects today was his seminal contribution to the Constitutional Conference that Abacha slyly convened to begin his push for life presidency. The idea firmly established the former vice president as a politician that combined his architectural, legal, and sociology training to solve a major national socioeconomic and political challenge, identified as inclusiveness in governance.

The solution that Ekwueme proposed (inclusivity) served Nigeria well in the first 11 years of the Second Republic, mostly because the ruling party (PDP) made this idea an article of faith in its constitution. Sad to say, it is typical of our powermongers to throw down an innovative idea and squash it with their jackboot of parochialism. There were two forces that destroyed the inclusivity that Ekwueme’s six-zone structure bequeathed to Nigeria. The first was the effort to institute a third-term presidency and the second was the foisting of a dying northern governor as president. Both actions spelled costly mischief. And Nigeria has continued to count the costs to this day, as inheritors also look for ways to continue to foist old and weakened persons to rule.

Nigeria has come to another crossroads and needs the sort of creative thinking that an Alex Ekwueme can pull out of the hat to navigate out of its challenges. But this does not mean reinventing the wheel. The overarching values that Nigeria needs to survive are justice and equity.

The conversation with my friend made me sad. I was not sad that the former Vice President is no more with us. Born on 21 October 1932, he lived to a ripe old age of 85 before he passed. What is saddening is this common, national angst about the loss of the twin values of equity and justice that he epitomized in his life’s work as a politician . It is this loss that daily chips away at the foundation of the Fourth Republic democracy that Ekwueme and his group of patriots carefully redesigned.

I like to think of Alex Ekwueme as the poster child for and undisputed champion of the current Republic that berthed in May 1999. Like the super architect that he was, Alex Ekwueme redesigned this house that Nigeria is finding uncomfortable to live in today. And he did in a fascinating manner that nevertheless reflected his calling as an architect. A great architect is one with specialist construction knowledge, garnished by high-level drawing skills. The goal of their designs is to achieve a structure that is functional, safe, sustainable, and of course aesthetically pleasing. He and his group bequeathed such a structure to us in 1999.

The first sign that our locusts will nibble at this foundation was in Jos where the PDP (which inherited the G-34 machinery) gathered to elect a post-military president for Nigeria. Ekwueme was clearly the best choice for the job. What happened in Jos however showed Nigeria’s continued disdain for the builders with capacity.

History will judge whether Nigeria’s failure to elect Ekwueme as the second post-military president (after the Abiola fiasco) was any of two things: an act of revenge aimed at his principled stand against bad governance, or the outcome of the perennial ethnic mistrust that continues to divert our country from the true path to development.