By Emmanuel Aziken
Many Nigerians were understandably outraged by the news that the Federal Government had as at last week spent N1 billion in the burial arrangements of Dr. Alex Ekwueme.
Dr. Chris Ngige who was reported to have given the information was so shocked by the outrage over the disclosure that he was forced to make a rebuttal.
However, there is little doubt that by the end of the day that quite more than N1 billion would have been spent by both the federal and the Anambra State governments in the burial of the former vice-president.
Late Alex Ekwueme Oko, Ekwueme’s birthplace, now has the kind of infrastructure, including paved roads with street lights that the town could not have dreamt of in the lifetime of its most famous son. The hypocrisy and the mockery nonetheless, Dr. Ekwueme undoubtedly deserves his place in history.
President Shehu Usman Shagari, the man under whom he served in the Second Republic, gave a fitting tribute when he described him as a trusted deputy and a courageous man who espoused the true values of democracy.
Shagari lauded him over his courageous role in mobilising other politicians in forming the Group of 34 politicians who confronted Gen. Sani Abacha at a time when many other politicians had turned to clowning around Abacha.
President Buhari What President Shagari did not say was Ekwueme’s leading role in the postulation of the six zonal geopolitical architecture of the country.
The inspiration for the six zones was formulated by Ekwueme and Chief Olabisi Onabanjo, the Second Republic governor of Ogun State when they spent time in prison after they were removed from power.
Shagari’s unflinching trust for Ekwueme ensured that he was besides Atiku Abubakar, arguably the most influential civilian vice-president since the advent of the presidential system of government in Nigeria in 1979.
It has remained in the realm of speculations that the trust that President Shagari had in him, and his own relationship with some elements among the Kaduna Mafia, had positioned him as one of the leading successors to President Shagari in 1987.
That much was espoused in the last convention of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN sometime in November/December 1983.
That permutation of power going to an Ibo man, just 17 years after the civil war, it is alleged among some conspiracy theorists, was one of the unstated reasons that prompted the December 31, 1983, military coup that brought General Muhammadu Buhari to power.
When your correspondent met Dr. Ekwueme in his Oko residence sometime in September 2016, and the issue arose, the former vice-president did not particularly endorse the theory that his aspiration instigated the coup that derailed the Second Republic.
It was also instructive that he did not totally throw out the theory, particularly given the cavalier treatment he received from the military regime despite his acquittal on allegations of corruption.
The Justice Uwaifo tribunal indeed affirmed that Ekwueme came out of government poorer than he entered.
Shagari’s testimonial and the incident of history that made Buhari to be civilian president at the time of Ekwueme’s decease have inevitably thrown up the issue of a comparison of the Shagari-Ekwueme era and the Buhari-Yemi Osinbajo era.
President Shagari was a civilian president whose highest education qualification was the Teachers Grade 2 Certificate. His vice-president, Ekwueme was a man with a Ph.D. in architecture and degrees in several disciplines including law, sociology, and philosophy.
President Buhari who attained the rank of general in the Nigerian Army also has WASC as his highest educational certificate; and has Osinbajo, a professor of law as his vice-president.
Both Presidents Shagari and Buhari were perhaps gifted with loyal deputies despite their educational differences. However, significantly different is the change in the complexities and social tensions between the Shagari/Ekwueme era and the Buhari/Osinbajo era.
It could now be a shock to some to know that nearly all of the service chiefs who served President Shagari seemed to have been almost all Northern and Yoruba Christians. His Chief of Defence Staff were Gen. Alani Akinrinade, (Osun State) and Gen. Gibson Jallo (Adamawa State).
The chiefs of Army Staff were Akinrinade, Jalo and General Inuwa Wushishi (Niger State) who was probably the only Muslim that served as a service chief.
Shagari’s Chief of Air Staff for most of the time was AVM Dominic Bello (Adamawa), while the Chief of Naval Staff was Admiral Akin Aduwo (Ondo State.) The Fulani did not murmur being that they had the president.
The Ibo also did not murmur being that they had the vice-president and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. That is now a far cry from the situation and the complexities that have lately clouded the polity in the present dispensation.