I have received a number of messages from across the country; Igbo and non-Igbo. Something consistent in their comments is Alex Ekwueme as a man of honour. One of such came from Professor Emmanuel Oladipo of UNILAG, who asked: “How do you feel to have your university named after such a man of honour?” Another Professor wrote: “We should look at the pedigree of the man. His iconic status in the Igbo nation and Nigeria, and the respect the name would attract to the university. To equate Dr. Ekwueme to Abiola in the case of UNILAG is to miss the point.”

Like you wrote and as many enlightened minds also agree, Alex Ekwueme was an excellent man. He had at least seven degrees from a diversity of disciplines including Architecture, Law, and Sociology. Of everyone who has had a university named after in Nigeria, he was the most educated, and perhaps most deserving. Obviously well-bred and well educated, he was Senior Prefect at the Kings College Lagos.

He was at a time Chancellor of the Ebonyi state university. He was an early entrepreneur establishing perhaps the first firm of Architects in Nigeria, in the late 1950s. He went on to establish hotel businesses in Enugu, Owerri, and Abakaliki among others. The timing and locations of his hotels may tell something about his Igboness. He built the school that became the Federal Polytechnic Oko, and for decades was responsible for the education of so many persons in and outside Nigeria.

He was the leader of the Igbo to the 1995 Abacha constitutional conference. He gave voice to the Igbo position at that conference two of which are worthy of mention. The first is a President with two Vice-Presidents, one of whom must be from the President’s home zone, so that in case the president is unable to function, the Vice-President from his/her zone will take over. How do you see that in the light of what happened to President Yaradua, and the ill-feelings in some places about the emergence of President Jonathan? The second which has become accepted in Nigeria is the six zone structure. This has subsisted despite not making it into the 1999 constitution, and some sections being suspicious of that, and would want to wish that away. This is one of the things held against Alex Ekwueme in certain quarters.

In protocol he is the most successful Igbo politician post-1970. He was the first elected Vice-President of Nigeria. Through all the trials of politicians that followed after the 1983 coup, he shone like a star, as he was cleared of any corrupt practice. Certainly this is rare, and we should be proud of this, and be glad to be associated with Alex Ekwueme.

He was a courageous man. He was chairman of the G-34 that told Abacha not to become a civilian president. This may seem easy to persons who have forgotten what 1998 was like. The G-34 was the major plank of the PDP. His sacrifice at the Jos convention that produced Chief Olusegun Obasanjo contrary to the position of the PDP that one needed to come from a ward won by the PDP in the preceding elections to be so nominated is worthy of note. I had the privilege of visiting and hearing from him in 2001 what transpired in Jos and why he let the sleeping dog lie. The concession to him was for him to be Senate President which he declined and asked that it should be zoned to the southeast. That zoning led to the subsequent emergence of Enwerem (Imo), Okadigbo (Anambra), Anyim (Ebonyi), Wabara (Abia), and Nnamani (Enugu) as Senate Presidents, a position not initially zoned to the south east. It may be important to state this for those who need to be shown something at this level which he achieved for the southeast. Of course other things he achieved may be at level not easily appreciated by simple minds.

Do we really need to interpret this event to any Igbo who can read and write, and who is able to follow the trend of events in Nigeria? That would really be a sad commentary to have this event interpreted to some of our people? One reason many non-Igbo do not take the Igbo serious is that many Igbo do not understand who loves them, and what is important, spatially and temporarily.

In my university FUNAI, we love the acronym and the sound. We truly love FUNAI and the sound of the name. We also love our anthem, and at least two other songs about FUNAI. Unlike other Federal Universities named after persons, ours is the only one with the word Federal retained, as announced by the Vice-President today at Oko. ABU, OAU, NAU, MAUTECH, are all Federal but do not have that in their name. We still have our beloved FUNAI, with AE added in front. Our anthem and all our songs remain as we sing them with AE-FUNAI.

But all this is beyond such level of commentary. Our university has as name a man and a legacy we truly can be proud of, and I dare say, well ahead any other.

We should be at peace with this, and if we truly understand, be excited.

Some may ask why not rename the Polytechnic at Oko. That is for those unfamiliar with protocols and rankings in governance. Some may ask why not upgrade Oko to a university. Government is reluctant to have two federal universities in a state.

The twelve new universities with such simple names as Federal university…, are bound to be renamed at some time. If not Alex Ekwueme in the southeast, who is more accomplished?  FUNAI is already ahead of the other eleven in many ways. What has happened further puts us ahead in public consciousness and I also expect some tangibles.


To God be the glory.

Professor Chinedum Nwajiuba


Leave a Comment