Dr. Ugorji O. UgorjiFriday, January 3, 2003
Princeton, NJ, USA


Dr. Alex Ekwueme
r. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme has finally indicated his interest in contesting the Presidential nomination of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). By so doing, he has chosen to attempt to accomplish something that has never happened on the African continent: a challenger defeating an incumbent President for the nomination of the President's own party. This feat, in of itself would almost certainly mean that come May 2003 (if the general elections hold) Ekwueme would be the next President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In this piece, I do more than argue that it would be historic on the continent, I respectfully submit that it is indeed imperative for Nigeria and for Africa.

I will preface this piece by saying that President Olusegun Obasanjo's record as a Nigerian patriot is not surpassed by anyone else's. The man and his current government have achieved a lot more than he has been given credit for (and this may be the topic of another article by me in the future). As a Nigerian, I am proud of my president, his shortcomings not withstanding. And I would be happy to salute him or serve under him any day. But there is something in the air in Nigeria that transcends the performance and the heart of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.


Meritocracy is an ideal shared by Nigeria's intellectuals in all corners of the country. To the extent that the ideal can be real, there can be no more meritorious candidate in 2003 for the office of President than Dr. Alex Ekwueme. It is on this point that every argument in favor of the candidacy of Ekwueme must be anchored. No Nigerian in the race, absolutely no one, has earned the right to be president more than him. This phenomenon of a man brings an awesome combination of intellect, leadership experience, sacrifice, and the type of entrepreneurial excellence that can only be possible in a market driven free enterprise. And before George W. Bush coined "compassionate conservatism," Ekwueme lived it and personified it in Nigeria.

His academic preparation is matched by no one else's in the race. He has put himself through the rigors of studying architecture, law, political science, and other subjects, to the point of terminal degrees. With the advent of the Second Republic, the miracle builder of Uli Airport resurfaced only a heartbeat away from the presidency. Ekwueme's emergence in 1979 as President Shehu Shagari's running mate and ultimately as the nation's Vice President remains one of the most stunning political accomplishments in Nigeria's history. Imagine what students in our universities across the nation would say: that this sound education, this desire to "know more and more, about more and more" is actually good and meaningful; that you could actually get to become president of the most significant Black nation in the world as an intellectual. Imagine! The Ekwueme presidency is an imperative!


There is no greater sense of "welcome back" to the Igbo, who remain traumatized by a war that was fought (on the Federal side) to preserve the unity of Africa's preeminent nation, than to remove the last vestiges of systematic penalty. That last vestige is the right for the sons and daughters of Nigeria, from every corner of the country, to dream, and feel realistic about the dream, to serve in the highest political office in the nation. The notion of a president of Igbo heritage in 2003 is a moral issue. It is indeed, a national character issue, as well as a national security issue. The Igbo is not begging for what it does not deserve, or for what it is not capable of handling.

Beyond the democratic right of every qualified Nigerian citizen to seek the highest office in the land, and beyond the right of an incumbent to seek affirmation for a job he considers well done, there lies a higher calling. There can not be any gain saying the fact that the historic handing over of power in 1979 (from the distinguished General Obasanjo to the distinguished President Shehu Shagari) was a power shift (from the West to the North). And in 1999, the handing over of power from the distinguished General Abdulsalami Abubakar to the internationally acclaimed African statesman, Chief Obasanjo, was another power shift (from the North back to the West). Great!. How about the rest of us? How about the East, and the South-south? There can be no greater guarantee for national security and unity than a power shift in 2003, the incumbent's performance notwithstanding. Post-war, Ekwueme has attained the highest level of political service among the Igbo candidates. The deck oug ht to be cleared for him. Imagine what the world would say. Imagine the instructions teachers and parents would give to their sons and daughters in Europe, America, and Asia, when they say "go to Nigeria and see how ethnic groups reconcile." Imagine! The Ekwueme presidency is an imperative!


There is no more fruitful political alliance and collaboration (at least for the North) than the age-long alliance between the East (and its leaders) and the North (and its leaders). In the 1960s, the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) led by the father of the nation, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, allied with the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) of the North to produce a federal government. The East remained faithful to its pledges, until the United Peoples Party emerged as a new partner in the West for the NPC. In 1979 and 1983, a significant segment of the East allied with the North again in the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). The other significant segment in the East at the time, found in the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP), went into an alliance (at least in 1979) to form the federal government. Again the East remained faithful.

It is time for our Northern brothers and sisters to give back to the East what the East had readily given to them all these years. That time is 2003. A give back delayed is a give back denied. Moreover, should the North support the East this time, it will retain its much beloved, and perhaps accurate mystique as the power brokers in the world's most significant Black nation. Imagine what the East and the rest of the world would say: That our Northern brothers and sisters are fair, and keep to their promises (past permutations not withstanding). Imagine! The Ekwueme presidency is an imperative!


Zik and Awo are no longer with us. The sins of the fathers can no longer remain with us. With the exception of the attempt to enter the West during the war (led by brother Banjo), the East has kept faith with the West politically and economically since the war. The East supported General Olusegun Obasanjo when the national tragedy of the assassination of the immortal General Murtala Muhammed propelled him to Head of State. When Basheron M.K.O. Abiola ran in 1993, the East backed him overwhelming, against their own son who was on the ticket of the National Republican Congress (NRC) as a vice-presidential candidate. The East did not take a back seat to the struggle against the annulment of June 12th., the actions of some our more colourful brothers not withstanding.

And when Chief Obasanjo took a leave from his busy farming schedule in Ota in 1999, Ekwueme, the leader of the G34 that merged with other groups to form the PDP, raised his hands after the PDP primaries. Ekwueme proceeded to campaig for him, and once again, Obasanjo won, with a reported overwhelming support of the East. Can the Igbo be faulted if they now ask our brothers and sisters in the West to show us some political love for a change? Imagine what the sires of Oduduwa and the children of Chukwu would say this year: that the jinx of mistrust and debilitating competition between two of the most gifted ethnic nationalities in the world, has finally been buried. Imagine the scene of Obasanjo raising Ekwueme's hands in Abuja and what it would do for the expiation of the sins of the fathers. Imagine! The Ekwueme presidency is imperative.


Let us be frank, the Igbo has not been very good at managing its relations with its Delta brothers and sisters. Mistakes have been made, but the inescapable reality for our brothers and sisters in the South-South is that our fates are intertwined. There is no other group positioned by geography, anthropology, political orientation, and economic necessities to protect the genuine group interests of the Delta than the Igbo, past mistakes not withstanding. The Igbo is neither a stranger nor an alien in the Delta. And there is no individual who has worked harder and has been more honest about repairing the ties that bind the Igbo and the Delta, than Ekwueme. You will not find a kinder and more gentle a Nigerian leader, nor a more compassionate arbiter in matters of resource control and oppression. He is perhaps the last chance the generation that went to war has to right things again.

The ecological devastation of the Delta can no longer wait to be ameliorated. The right of the folks, in whose neighborhood the riches of the country are mined, to sit at the table of the sharing, and to receive an equitable share, can no longer be ignored. Imagine the hand that has kept PDP from blowing up in crisis, actually getting a chance to work on resource control and revenue allocation. Imagine everyone walking away from the table saying justice has been done, equity has been achieved, and the youth and women can get to getting education and jobs, rather protesting and dying. Imagine! The Ekwueme presidency is imperative!


Of course, President Obasanjo was a civilian when he was elected in 1999. Of course, everyone in the Senate, and in the House of Representatives, is a civilian. But we all know, or at least have this feeling that this government is a half-way house between prison (military government) and freedom (civilian democracy). It is, nonetheless a necessary half-way house. But the people are now ready to leave the half-way house and return to true civilian democracy. Although the late Major General Joe Garba once said that there was no school that people go to become politicians, and that the issue of governance is too important to be left to civilians alone, the fact still remains that the orientation, training, and skills of the distinguished soldier (albeit retired) are markedly different from those of a scholar and civilian operative. The Ekwueme candidacy presents us a clear and distinguishable break from the half-way house. Imagine the message that the picture of the gray-haired man, taking salute from soldiers as Commander-in-Chief, would send about the constitutional subordination of the military to civilian government? Imagine! The Ekwueme presidency is imperative!

Dr. Ugorji O. Ugorji, Ed.D., is the author of Tall Drums: Portraits of Nigerians Who Are Changing America (Sungai Books, Princeton, NJ), among other books.