Alex Ekwueme @ 80: Celebrating an uncommon Nigerian, By Kanu Agabi

Kanu Agabi: "Alex Ekwueme (pictured above)  is man who keeps his word, a man of excellence, a pre-eminent Nigerian, a man of character and discipline"
Kanu Agabi: "Alex Ekwueme (pictured above) is man who keeps his word, a man of excellence, a pre-eminent Nigerian, a man of character and discipline"

I write to congratulate you on this occasion of the celebration of your eightieth birthday anniversary. Your durability gives us hope. Enduring men and women like you make our nation durable. Eighty years have come and gone leaving not a trace upon you.  Congratulations.

Your name alone is suggestive – a good man – a man who keeps his word, a man of excellence. You are a pre-eminent Nigerian, distinguished in every respect, a man of character and discipline, a worthy ambassador of our nation and of God, fearless, courageous and upright. Unlike the other Alexander, who also like you, great, you set out not to conquer the world but yourself. That we celebrate your life in your lifetime is proof indeed that you conquered yourself. The modesty and austerity of your life is a worthy example in this age of ostentation. At a time when men of your rank and position have come under justifiable suspicion, you have lived above suspicion. Your outstanding achievements, rather than make you proud and distant, have made you the common property of all. In this, you are an example to all our leaders – “Remember that thou art but a man.” There being little that we can add to the blessings that God has showered upon you already, we can only add our humble prayers, that He bless you even more and grant you a place in that other kingdom appointed for those who make God their strength and put not their faith in their eminence or in the abundance of their riches. Those who are mindful that the things of the spirit are the only realities that time cannot ruin.

As you continue to serve, even at your age, may He who is the strength of those who labour continue to grant you steadfastness and patience. That you have never fretted over our ingratitude makes you very remarkable, indeed. In your humility and your benevolence, you did not condemn or become unkind to those who failed to meet your expectations. Now more than ever, we look up to people like you to overcome despair and pray for the grace to live in accordance with the rigid principles, which have governed your life.

We do not honour you as an Ibo man. We do not honour you as a dignitary from the South-East. We do not honour you as a Christian. We do not honour you as a Nigerian. We do not even honour you as a former vice president of our country. We honour you as a humble, faithful child of God, who spoke for Christians as well as Moslems. We honour you as one who spoke for the north as well as the south, for the east as well as the west. Indeed, we honour you as one who spoke not only for our generation, but also for generations to come. Because you did so, you shall be remembered and honoured, not only by this generation but also by generations to come.

And we are consoled that, however, uncertain it becomes in our country, there will never be a shortage of men and women like you to plead our cause and to lead us out of the darkness we find ourselves in. We will always have faith in your leadership. It is with that faith, that we shall leave this darkness, obeying your injunction that we stand not still. If we are going to get out of this darkness, this is the time for us to move. And if we choose to persevere in this darkness, as we have always done, we must then do as the plants do – grow in the dark.

As it is never ever late to acknowledge our parents, a tribute to you is a tribute to your father and your mother. We remember them and honour them for the pains they took to make you, by God’s grace, see who you have become. A tribute to you is a tribute to your tribe – a worthy, hardworking and persevering people. You and many others of that tribe are a proof of the stern stuff of which the tribe is made of. A tribute to you is a tribute to the nation. A tribute to you is a prayer of gratitude to God from whom all things proceed. We thank him for our country. We thank him for the hope that we have that our unity shall not be broken simply because we speak different languages or worship God in different ways or belong to different political parties.

Honour came to you very early.  And it has resided with you to the end. May God grant that it outlives you. We yearn for, but often never get the acclaim of family, friends, and kinsmen. You have been acclaimed not only by family, friends and kinsmen but also by the entire nation. Indeed, the entire world. We bear witness that once power was entrusted to you; you used it to advance the cause of our nation. You were able to lead successfully because you had yourself experienced the adversities from which you sought to save the people. Unlike many of us, you learnt to lead by first learning to serve.

You have been consistent.  You have been outspoken in your condemnation of the ills of our society and you have never relented in urging us to move out of our narrow confinements into the political and economic mainstream of the world. Even though we are still a long way from that goal we are consoled that there are still many men and women who, like you, have faith in the nation and do not regard it as an artificial creation – men and women who are struggling and sacrificing to unite the nation and who continue to propagate those principles, which alone enabled the men and women of your generation to rise to eminence and to bequeath to us the great heritage, which we are now dissipating. May the spirit that guided the men and women of your generation guide us too.

We celebrate your life because you worked for peace and justice. The fact that both peace and justice continue to elude us is not owed to anything that you failed to do. It is in spite of all that you and others with you have done and continue to do. We celebrate you because you labored and sacrificed for a just nation – a nation where peace and justice reigns. Convinced that your labours shall not be in vain, we shall continue to live, not by our fears but by our hopes. Those hopes, rooted as they are in God, shall not be disappointed forever.

We commend your sense of family. We do so at a time when our affairs are characterized by a total disregard for life. No time is more appropriate than now to commend those who respect life – now when the nation is proliferating with assassins and murders – none of whom are ever called to account. No one is at liberty to take the life of another. This celebration of your life is an appropriate opportunity to urge the nation to resist violence and not to stand helpless in the face of nihilism. I do not know of anything that peace and non-violence cannot achieve. I know of nothing that violence can achieve. We must come together as brothers and sisters and resolve our disputes amicably. God has called us to be one, to live in peace and harmony. We ought not to be divided, State from State, tribe from tribe, faith from faith, the rich from the poor. Let us begin now to break down the walls that separate us and to tear down the fences of differences and hatred. We cannot do so until we free ourselves from pride and self-seeking, and overcome our prejudices and fears. The time has come when we must cease to treat one another as strangers in our own land. Peace is not going to spring out of the ground. We shall have to make it. All hands must be on deck to raise our country from the valley of humiliation, of uncertainty, of violence and of corruption. This is the time to go to the house of mourning. At this time, God calls us to surrender all and to follow him. The nation needs to repent and to return to God. Whether we live in the east or the west, whether we live in the north or the south, whether we are Moslems or Christians, whether we are rich or poor, whether our lands have resources or not, we are one people and one nation our duty is to share our fortunes with one another and to share in the distresses of those who are less fortunate.

As we celebrate the life of this child of God let us bear in mind that God created one man, one woman and one world without boundaries. There shall be one man and one woman and one world without boundaries. The lion shall lie down with the lamb. The Christian and the Moslem shall lie down together. Nations shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Christians and Moslems shall not lift up the sword against one another neither shall they learn war anymore. That is the ideal to which we must aspire.

Now more than ever before, we look up to our leaders to speak. As important as infrastructures are, let our leaders be reminded that they shall not be remembered for the roads and bridges and hospitals they build if at the same time they do not speak, pointing out the direction in which the nation ought to go. Time shall wear out the roads and bridges that we build but the words of our leaders shall never be forgotten. The nation is yearning to hear from her leaders. Which way shall we go?

Let us acknowledge that we all have, in various ways, contributed to the decline of our country. Let us acknowledge that we all share in the guilt of corruption and dictatorship. Let us repent and work together for the transformation of our nation. I know of no better way of honouring Dr. Alex Ekwueme who has been steadfast in advancing our nation.