Late Alhaji Shehu Usman Shagari, the first executive president of Nigeria, who died Friday, December 28, picked Alex Ekwueme, a relatively unknown and young man to be his vice president in 1979.
Why Alhaji Shagari picked Dr. Ekwueme is still a mystery and only him can explain. His name was never speculated. Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu was 46 at the time. He was unknown in the political arena.
The choice of Ekwueme as Shagari's deputy came as a shock to many who expected him to pick Kingsley Mbadiwe, Dr. Josiah Onyebuchi Johnson Okezie or several other well known members of the National Party (NP).
Some events occurred before the late Ekwueme became the vice president of the country during the administration of Shehu Shagari in 1979.
The National Party of Nigeria at the helms of affairs in 1979 to 1983, was formed on September 20, 1978 at a hall at the Satellite Town in Lagos. The party would later appoint its officers.
The party made Alhaji Aliyu Makama Bida, the acting chairman and patron of NPN.
Those who formed the NPN were members of the Constituent Assembly of 1977-1978, members of the Old Northern People’s Congress, members of the Council of National Unity and members of the National Movement. Alhaji Muhammed Aminu Kano was made interim publicity secretary. But he had other plan in mind. He left the party to form
The People’s Redemption Party (PRP) along with Samuel Gomsu Ikoku, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, Kanmi Ishola Osobu, Alhaji Sule Lamido, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, Dr Junaid Muhammed, Alhaji Sabo Barkin Zuwo and a host of others.
Six political party parties were approved by the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) on September 30, 1978, to contest the 1979 elections. The commission was headed by Chief Michael Ani.
The parties approved by FEDECO under the leadership of Chief Ani were Unity Party of Nigeria led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Nigeria People’s Party led by Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, and the People’s Redemption Party led by Mallam Aminu Kano.
Others were the Great Nigerian People’s Party led by Alhaji Waziri Kolo Ibrahim, the Nigerian Advanced Party led by Dr Tunji Braithwaite, and the National Party of Nigeria.
The commission also announced that the presidential election would hold on August 16, 1979.
The NPN had an emergency meeting in Lagos on October 5, 1978. During this meeting, the party zoned the presidency to the north, the vice presidency to the east central zone which is now made up of Imo, Anambra, Ebonyi, Abia and Enugu states.
The speakership of the House of Representatives was zoned to the middle belt. Of course, this did not come to pass following the NPP/NPN accord. The Senate presidency was zoned to Bendel, Cross River and Rivers state, while the chairmanship was zoned to Lagos, Oyo, Ogun and Ondo state.
The NPN held its convention in Yaba, Lagos, to nominate its presidential flagbearer, on December 12, 1978. Chief Anthony Eromosele Enahoro was the chairman of the convention that was attended by 2,235 candidates and covered by over 500 journalists.
As the NPN’s convention was going on in Yaba, the NPP was also having its own convention in which it appointed key officers and nominated candidates for the elections.
Doctor Nnamdi Azikiwe was adopted as the presidential candidate, while Professor Ishaya Shuiabu was selected as his running mate Chief Christopher Oluwafunmi Akinfosile was adopted as the national chairman of the party.
At the convention of the NPN in Yaba, Alhaji Shehu Shagari polled 978 votes while Alhaji Maitama Sule polled 564 votes. Alhaji Adamu Ciroma scored 293 votes, Doctor Abubakar Olusola Saraki polled 214 votes, Chief Joseph SarwuanTarka scored 104 votes and Professor Muhammed Iyi Abubakar scored 93 votes.
Alhaji Shehu Shagari became the flagbearer of the NPN by virtue of scoring the highest votes at the convention, and Alex Ekwueme was adopted as his running mate. The party would later win the presidential election of 1979.
The government of Shehu Shagari and Alex Ekwueme would later be overthrown by General Muhammadu Buhari in a military coup on December 31, 1983.
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