A review of From State House to Kirikiri by Alex I. Ekwueme; Nwamife Publishers, Enugu; 2002
Ekwueme simply means a personage who does what he says. Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme is without any shadow of doubt a man who lives up to the exact letters of his name. The first ever Vice-President of Nigeria, he can be said to be straight as a pin. An architect of the first order, town planner, educationist, philosopher, attorney-at-law, sociologist, historian, philanthropist, politician, statesman per excellence, he is above all else a human being, a very remarkable one. He literally backs up every discipline with a well-earned university degree.
He was barely three or so months into his second tenure as the Vice-President of Nigeria in the Second Republic Regime of President Shehu Shagari when the military overthrew the government on December 31, 1983. This book is Ekwueme’s candid account of his multiform experiences in detention for about 30 months, to wit, from December 31, 1983 to July 3, 1986. The military goons who took over power detained Ekwueme in the following Lagos addresses, namely: Bonny Camp, Victoria Island; Temple Road, Ikoyi; Kirikiri Maximum Security Prisons; Ikoyi Prisons; Hawksworth Avenue, Ikoyi; Barlow Street, Ikoyi; Ruxton Road, Ikoyi; and Milverton Road, Ikoyi.
When he was eventually released from detention, he was ferried to his country home in Oko in the then Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State where he was mandated not to travel farther than his local government in the first 18 months. Then gradually, he was allowed to venture within the state, and later other parts of the Nigerian nation. It was in 1989 that he earned the special permission to travel outside Nigeria for some two weeks. Not until 1991, that is, about eight years after his detention was he allowed the full freedom of movement as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution.
According to Ekwueme in the preface of From State House to Kirikiri, “The story was written between 1984 and 1986 and, for the most part, smuggled out of prison. I took the decision at the time of writing that it would be published only when the civilians had finally and firmly taken over the reins of democratic governance in Nigeria. The idea was that it might point civilians to the danger and consequences of playing into the hands of the military. I had thought that the waiting period before publication would be a matter of a few years.”
Ekwueme’s optimism could not be borne out as the military stayed put in power, and the book could only be published some 16 years after it was initially written.
It was in the wee hours of the last day of 1983, at 4:00 a.m., that the military coup-makers came knocking on the then Vice-President’s door. Four guns were pointed at him, and he was told by the gun-toting soldiers that their mission was to bring him to the Army Headquarters. Ekwueme thought he was being taken to the Independence Building at that ungodly hour only to be told by the Army Major that Army Headquarters was now at Bonny Camp. He had no suspicion that a military coup was imminent, as the coup broadcast was a surprise, thusly: “Fellow countrymen and women, I, Brigadier Sani Abacha of the Nigerian Army, address you this morning on behalf of the Nigerian Armed Forces…”
Ekwueme took note that of the 15 members appointed to the Supreme Military Council by the new Head of State General Muhammadu Buhari, 12 were from the North while only three were from the South. While being detained at No. 4 Temple Road Ekwueme took to abstinence from food. It was on January 17, 1984 that Ekwueme saw the inside of a prison for the very first time in his life, and it was the dreaded Kirikiri Maximum. It dawned on him that not all who found themselves in prison were actually criminals. When he overheard the ACP of Kirikiri Maximum discussing the matter of confining him in a cell, Ekwueme said: “I mentioned the matter of my claustrophobic propensities to the ACP and suggested half threateningly that it might be wiser for him to leave my cell door unlocked if he expected to find me alive the following morning.”
Of course the Justice Samson Uwaifo Tribunal set up by Military President Ibrahim Babangida to try the detained politicians eventually set Ekwueme free, stating that punishing Ekwueme would amount to “setting a standard of morality too high for saints in politics in a democracy to observe.” The ultimate testimonial for Ekwueme came from the erstwhile Communications Minister Audu Ogbeh who stressed that “ministers and key government officials with frivolous memoranda at Federal Executive Council meetings usually feared Dr. Ekwueme,” revealing that Ekwueme saved Nigeria a loss of N800 million in 1983 alone.
In short, in not having Ekwueme, who just turned 80, as the President of Nigeria the country lost the great opportunity of having another Nelson Mandela.