Gov. Rochas Okorocha of Imo has described the late former Vice President Alex Ekwueme as an epitome of a detribalised Nigerian.
Ekwueme, 85, died on Sunday in a London hospital after a brief illness, according to a statement, signed by his younger brother Igwe Laz Ekwueme, a musicologist.
Okorocha, in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr Sam Onwuemedo, issued in Owerri on Monday, noted that Ekwueme launched the Igbos into national politics in the second Republic and refused to be cajoled into playing tribal politics.
He said that after the civil war, Nigerians re-enacted their faith and belief in the Igbos as one of the major tripods of the nation through late Ekwueme by electing him as the vice president to President Shehu Shagari.
The governor noted that until his death, the former vice president remained in the mainstream of Nigerian politics because of his firm belief in the oneness of the nation.
He said he was a good example of the kind of politics the Igbos should be playing at any given time, adding that he had left behind a befitting legacy.
The governor said the deceased’s peaceful and honest dispositions both in politics, public and private life were all worthy of emulation.
“The only regret about Ekwueme at the moment is that he died at a time his wealth of experience and wise advice will have been most needed and useful to Nigerians of goodwill.
“Nigerians and of course, Ndigbo in particular, will greatly miss Dr Ekwueme and I pray that the good Lord will grant his soul eternal rest,” Okorocha said.
In his reaction, Mr Mike Iheanetu, representing Aboh Mbaise in the Imo State House of Assembly, described Ekwueme’s demise as “the death of the Nigerian Dream”`.
Iheanetu told NAN that the Nigerian dream was encapsulated in Ekwueme’s brain when he formed the minority opinion which produced the current six geopolitical zones.
The lawmaker said that Nigeria, as a country, owed it to Ekwueme’s memory to ensure that the six zones come together to form a government that would strengthen the zones and reduce power at the centre.
He said this would make the centre less attractive, thereby reducing rancor and acrimony, as well as unite the country, adding that unity of the country is most important.
“I believe in development from bottom to top which was Ekwueme’s vision. I am proposing for the six regions.
“If we strengthen the bottom, it will make the centre weak and therefore less attractive; and if the centre is weak, there will be less rancor and acrimony and Nigeria will be united which is of utmost importance.
“He proposed rotational presidency and we are still looking forward to it. This is what we owe Ekwueme and God will grant us the grace to achieve this dream while he rests in peace,” Iheanetu said.
Also reacting, Dr Chima Onyekwere, the convener of Citizens for Progress and National Development, described the late Ekwueme as a “leader worthy of emulation”.
Onyekwere urged leaders to follow the example of the late Ekwueme by seeking the unity and progress of Nigeria.
“He was a dedicated leader and we will miss him dearly,” he said.
A political analyst, Fred Ibeawuchi, also described him as a true democrat, who played a major role in the development and growth of Nigeria with resources at his disposal.
He said the achievement of democratic rule in Nigeria was an offshoot of Ekwueme’s dedication.
“Ekwueme was a vanguard of one Nigeria, true federalism and nationalism.”
Mr Chikelue Nwoko, a businessman, described late Ekwueme as a good man and an astute politician, adding that he helped Igbos and ensured they received the respect and honour they deserved.
Nwoko also described him as a peace loving man and prayed for more leaders like him.
Okorocha recently erected Ekwueme’s statue at the Heroes Square of the state, welcomed him into the Imo Hall of Fame and gave him Imo Merit Award.