Anambra is one of the few states in Nigeria that are blessed with many distinguished statesmen and women. A little over five years ago, the Ezigbo Gburugburu, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu was still with us. Dora Akunyili was still with us. So were Chinua Achebe, Ben Obumselu and Onuorah Nzekwu. On November 19 last year, Alex Ekwueme joined the ages. These are all historical figures whose legend transcended their time and environment.
Today, Anambra is still blessed with Emeka Anyaoku, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Chief Mbazuluike Amaechi, Peter Obi, Virgy Etiaba, Chris Ngige, Victor Umeh, Ben Ndi Obi and Emmanuel Egboga among several others too many to mention. Some of these men and women are rightly seen and treated as statesmen. Some have set high standards in their private and public lives and have become the totems of a forward-looking society. The thing to cherish about them is that dead or alive, they continue to enrich our lives. They continue to serve as beacons; guiding our footsteps to the hilltops of greatness.
Until he drew his last breathe on November 19 last year, Dr Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme was a highly adored father to Ndi Anambra and Ndigbo and a pillar of support to his people. There was no doubt that he loved Anambra and was more frequently seen in his country home in Okoh than anywhere else. The only other places his presence was also felt were the Church and the Governor’s Lodge in Amawbia. Yes, nna anyi Ekwueme was especially close to Governor Willie Obiano.
I sincerely do not know if Ekwueme was close to other governors before Obiano but I am a witness to the special fondness that existed between him and Governor Obiano. I am aware that Governor Obiano held Ekwueme in the highest esteem and never forgot to show humility whenever he was in his presence. That is why in almost every photograph of his encounter with Ekwueme, he is seen bowing in total reverence to him. Each time Obiano bowed before Ekwueme in deep respect, the subliminal message is “I treasure what you have done for our people.” It is a little gesture that carries so much weight.
Governor Obiano always ensured that Ekwueme was treated with all the respect and dignity he deserved. He was adequately consulted on landmark decisions and duly carried along on issues that required delicate handling. This must have been the secret to their closeness because Ekwueme and his dear wife Beatrice attended every major event that Governor Obiano had organized in the state in the past three and a half years. No one looked as distraught with a deep sense of loss as Ekwueme did at that Biafran memorial known as Ozoemezina organized three years ago by Governor Obiano. As he sat beside Obiano and Prince Arthur Eze at the Ekwueme Square to receive condolence messages as one of the chief mourners, his face mirrored the sadness of his people. Ozoemezina was one initiative that Igbo leaders who wanted to curry favours from Abuja distanced themselves from. But it was also one project that resonated across the entire spectrum of the Igbo world; generating emotional reactions across Nigeria, on the continent and in the Diaspora. While other prominent Igbo sons and daughters avoided it so as not to offend Abuja, Ekwueme embraced it wholeheartedly and took ownership of it. And that’s the difference.
Although it cannot be gainsaid that Ekwueme had a very special relationship with Obiano, it is also obvious to anyone with the power of discernment that Ekwueme has had a tremendous influence on Obiano. Any time I reflect on the growing charisma of governor Obiano, his near infinite gracefulness, his calm and sagely approach to matters that would have made many people in his position lose their heads; I am reminded of Alex Ekwueme. When I try to wrap my mind around the rather strange idea of a sitting governor with the fullness of his executive powers tendering a public apology and asking for forgiveness so that peace would reign, I remember Ekwueme. I remember how he stoically accepted the collusion between the military and some buccaneering politicians that wrenched the PDP presidential ticked away from him and handed it over to Obasanjo so that peace would reign. Anybody in Ekwueme’s position who had invested his resources and emotion in building a party up would have harboured unending bitterness for the people who schemed him out. But Ekwueme did not only get over his disappointment with ease, he in fact, chaired the fundraising held to support Obasanjo’s campaign efforts the following week in Abuja. That is the power of forgiveness. That is how to be graceful.
Thankfully, Obiano is growing along this line every day. Anyone who knew him when he was in banking would be surprised to see how much he has changed. He is certainly wiser, more intensely focused, difficult to distract, more strategic in his vision and more accommodating of otherness. And it is all easy to explain – those rare moments spent alone with Ekwueme, the Ide of Aguata must be behind it all.