The Anambra State government spared nothing to give erstwhile Vice President Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, GCON, a deserving funeral, which lasted days and went beyond the burial on Friday, February 2. The state government fixed several roads, including those leading to Oko, Dr. Ekwueme’s hometown, and environs; installed streetlights in the town; purchased very large bales of Nigerian-made fabrics with Ekwueme’s photographs, which were distributed free to thousands of people; declared a public holiday to honour the great 85-year-old statesman; organised obsequies for the former Vice President; and assisted the family in ways, which I need not mention here.
Given the exceedingly partisan manner in which we conduct politics in our nation, most Nigerians might think that both Dr. Ekwueme and Governor Willie Obiano belonged to the same party. They should be forgiven if they assume that Dr. Ekwueme was the leader of Gov. Obiano’s party, which is the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). But Dr. Ekwueme belonged to a different party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which, unfortunately, played a minimum role in the burial. During the November 18, 2017, gubernatorial election in Anambra State, Dr. Ekwueme’s first child, Dr. Chidi Onyemelukwe, was the running mate of the PDP governorship candidate, Oseloka Henry Obaze. In other words, Dr. Ekwueme’s daughter ran against Gov. Obiano.
So, if Nigerians are looking for a place where politics is played without bitterness, they should not look further than Anambra State. Under Chief Obiano’s leadership, Anambra has become not just the safest state in Nigeria, which is a very important achievement considering that it was almost overrun by vicious kidnappers, the deadliest robbers and other very violent criminals only four years ago. Anambra has now become the most peaceful and harmonious state in Nigeria. That was why there was no political violence during the election campaign of the recent gubernatorial election. This fact explains why the Anambra State governorship vote became the freest, fairest and most transparent election ever organised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
This is a state where, only a few years ago, the sitting governor was kidnapped. Thousands of thugs were used to carry out mayhem for three days, burning the Government House, the state House of Assembly, the State Judicial Complex, the Governor’s Guest House in Onitsha, and the state broadcasting service, among other key government establishments. The organisers wanted a state of emergency by all means so that they could take over the government.
The state has become so peaceful that none of the several candidates defeated by Gov. Obiano in the November 18 governorship polls bothered to go to the Election Petitions Tribunal. That development must have surprised many observers. Going to court and election petition tribunals even over frivolous matters was seen until now as the second nature of Anambra politicians. In an interview to Olusegun Adeniyi, chairman of Thisday’s editorial board, when he was gathering material for the book on why and how a sitting President was defeated for the first time in Nigeria’s history, ex-President Goodluck Jonathan noted that Anambra State PDP members seeking party nomination would have up to three court orders each recognising them as the party’s candidate for the same office! Yet, the same party members who have been fighting themselves so viciously could not go to the Election Petitions Tribunal this time against a governor from a different political party who got reelected in a sensational way by winning by a landslide in every of the 21 local government areas in the state. No sitting governor in the South East geopolitical zone has been reelected so overwhelmingly.
What all this means is that Anambra State has been transforming not only in the areas of infrastructure, education, security and industrialisation but also in politics. Obiano inherited a divided state, but the state has become synonymous with peace, unity and tranquility. Given the governor’s policy of inclusiveness and his personal virtue of tolerance and large-heartedness, it would not surprise Nigerians if he rewards some of those who campaigned against him in the last November election with high public positions when he is sworn in for a second term next month. Obiano is more interested in the competence than in the political leaning of those willing to work for the state. After all, the majority of those in his administration are not politicians but technocrats, including those who were bank executive directors and professors from internationally-recognised universities overseas. The result is a much better state.
Perhaps, it need be stated that it is not only Gov. Obiano from whom Nigerians should learn the values of tolerance and peaceful co-existence. Dr. Ekwueme’s forgiving heart was legendary. The whole nation knows he practically founded the PDP with such great Nigerians as Chief Solomon Lar, Prof. Jerry Gana, Dr. Iyorche Ayu, Chief Bola Ige, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi and Alhaji Sule Lamido. Ekwueme’s fantastic personal qualities gave the PDP the credibility it needed to become a truly national party, but it betrayed the exemplary former Vice President when he sought to become its presidential candidate in 1999. Rather than show bitterness or rancour, Ekwueme campaigned vigorously for the party and its presidential candidate, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, leading the campaign in the South East and chairing the fundraising event in Abuja.
It is not surprising that Dr. Ekwueme and Gov. Obiano got on well. Anytime the governor called a meeting of Anambra people to give an honest evaluation of progress, policies and projects, Dr. Ekwueme was among the first to attend. His views were always forthright and full of wisdom. He left no one in doubt that Gov. Obiano’s record was impressive. It is most likely that, if Dr. Ekwueme had been alive when the November 18 governorship result was announced, he would have been the first person to congratulate Chief Obiano and publicly commend the transparent polls, even though his daughter was the PDP deputy governorship candidate.
Dr. Ekwueme worked tirelessly for the common good all his life. He was the kind of statesman Nigeria needs now. Willie Obiano is not doing badly in the Ekwueme kind of politics.
•Honorable Okechi, former Anambra State House of Assembly Committee chairman on Information and of the Committee on Public Petitions, is leading a movement to reform the All Progressives Congress in the state. [email protected]