I want to start looking at modern-day clear examples of Nigerian Genuine Nationalists, starting from a man from my own Region and State, former Vice President Alex Ekwueme. In later series on this column, I will pick up great men like Col Abubakar Umar (Rtd): a real officer and a perfect gentleman. These are not conjectures!
Dr Alex Ekwueme needs no introduction. When he wanted to get into politics, his goal was to serve his people in Anambra State as a Governor, but providence set him into becoming Vice President to Alhaji Shehu Shagari, without any lobby. No desperation was in it.
It is believed that his choice of VP was informed by Shagari’s magnanimous attempt to further re-integrate the Igbo nation into the Nigerian system once again, which gladdened Dr Ekwueme. They were bent on seeing the spirit of “no victor, no vanquished” agenda of General Gowon begin to shape up, so that we can once again be a nation indeed. A genuine nationalist.
Dr Alex Ekwueme, remained unassertive, to the level that people labelled him a VP who was contented to be part of photo-ops and with no visible job, but they were ignorant of what he was doing for his boss, the President, unsung! He didn’t want to outshine the man who hired him! That is pure loyalty!
The desire was to set up a real democratic Nigeria then, using discussions, debates and consensus to arrive at decisions, all working together as a group in unity for the success of every part of the country, so that nobody in the administration felt he was on the periphery or left behind.
When it came to the award of contracts, Ekwueme distanced himself from it and all the associated kickbacks. He refused to chair any tenders board and was therefore the only member of cabinet who never awarded any contracts! He let the Permanent Secretaries, tenders’ boards and directors handle and award contracts within their assigned limits, insisting that all big ones go to the Federal Executive Council.
Alex Ekwueme always insisted at meetings that contracts should be awarded on merit! He never cornered any to the South-east of Eastern Region. The result is that he left office poorer with his honor intact. A genuine nationalist!
By the time of the 1983 coup, he had no fears because he had no skeleton in his cupboard, but was surprised to hear false accusations on his person. Most touching was General Buhari’s claim that Shagari was ignorant of what was happening in the Federal Government, holding Ekwueme responsible. He was particularly shaken to hear the claim that Abuja and Petroleum Ministry was under the VP’s charge, when indeed the President was the minister of petroleum and had a minister for Abuja! The result was 20 months in prison for no just cause. He never made noise about it, until IBB overthrew Buhari, releasing him from solitary confinement. He developed no hatred, but like Mandela used the time to reflect on how to ensure the unity of the nation. A genuine nationalist!
He stayed away from Politics during IBB’s Transition, on clear principles until the MKO Abiola’s injustice compelled him to call a press conference during Shonekan’s Interim Government (ING), suggesting an Abiola Presidency with 6 Regional VPs from the 6 geo-political zones. This was rejected. He sustained this position somehow during the 1995 Abacha Constitutional Conference, looking for what would guarantee stability for the country and not one that would throw the country into wanton take over by the army. A genuine nationalist!
He was the first person to suggest what looked like regional policing, that was misinterpreted as a call for regional armies. What he suggested was one Nigerian Armed Forces organized under regional commands, that the GOCs of the divisions would come from that geo-political zone, which would ensure that nobody would take the nation for a ride again, as it would stop all the buccaneering tendencies of some disgruntled elements. A genuine nationalist!
To further make the Presidency unattractive to looters, he suggested a more than four year single term to avoid where a sitting President will supervise is own elections. It was turned down by vested interests. All these were aimed at introducing zoning and rotation to give us assurance of a nation and not just a country, because everybody needed to have a sense of belonging, without the presidency being seen as the birthright of a section of a country. But some willful ignorant cheats stressed that it would enthrone mediocrity than meritocracy. That is a lie, because each of the six zones is bigger than Ghana, so that a worthy candidate can always be produced from any zone. A genuine nationalist.
The risk he took during the Abacha’s sit tight regime is legendary, but we all know how it gave birth to G-9 and finally the G-38 to formed the first truly national party in the present Republic. When the retired Generals and other vested interests snatched the Party from his grips, he didn’t put up a fight, sabotage or de-camping or forming another party like many have been doing in desperation. He stayed put in quietness, working peacefully on how to restore the Party to we, the people. A genuine nationalist.
I’ll pause here to see people’s reactions.
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