As a citizen of Enugu State, of the Enugu West senatorial constituency, Senator Ekweremadu is my Senator. He is someone I have known personally and we have many mutual friends. Therefore his indictment in the United Kingdom affects me more directly than it affects majority of other Nigerians. I empathize with the challenges his family faces as regards the health of his daughter, Sonia, and I pray for her healing.
However, we must look beyond Ekweremadu and try to understand the implications of the fate that has befallen him. The story of Ekweremadu is not the story of one man or one family, but rather the fate of a nation, the fate of a people, if you wish. Senator Ekweremadu is a person who rose from relative obscurity to the commanding height of the Deputy President of the Nigerian Senate within a period of less than twenty years. In his position as a ranking member of the Senate for a full electoral term of four years, Ekweremadu had the power to impact Nigerian health sector for the benefit of all Nigerians, if he wanted to. And it would not have cost him a dime of his own personal money. He could have put down his feet and said: “We need to have in Nigeria a standard of healthcare that would be at least one-fifth of that of Egypt, or South Africa or even Ghana”. But he did not.*
Like many other Nigerians in power and with opportunity, Ekweremadu failed to do what was needful and which would have served the needs of all Nigerians, including his own children. Rather, he was comfortable with a situation where only very few monied people like himself could afford state of the art healthcare, which involved them traveling overseas for their basic health needs. He was comfortable with a situation where he would fly his family to Europe for treatment when needed, even though he knew or ought to know that most of those who voted him into office could not afford such privilege. He failed to foresee that the greatness of a country is not measured by the wealth or comfort of any single or few individuals, but by the strength of the collective. Like other Nigeria leaders, over the years, Ekweremadu failed to realize that he has been living in a bubble, which could burst at the slightest impact. And that bubble burst for him the moment he was placed in handcuffs in London.
Today, as he stays, sleeplessly, in a British prison, I wonder what Ekweremadu would be thinking. He must have realized that the British prison warders do not treat him and cannot treat him with the same reverence he was normally accorded in Nigeria. For them, he is just another inmate. If he is shocked by that, it only confirms the naivete of the man. The British police, the British prosecutors and the British judges and even their warders know more about Ekweremadu than most Nigerians do. And what they know about him does not command their respect. He is another Nigerian leader who failed to lead his country in the right direction, who just enjoyed the exclusive pool of privileges, while ignoring the yawning needs of the average people in his constituency.
I dare to say that if there was one single state of the art public hospital, even a private one, in Enugu, that Ekweremadu had a hand in bringing about, the story today might have been totally different. Such hospital would have been able to test the kidney of David Ukpo for compatibility before flying him out of Nigeria. And if so, maybe, Ekweremadu would not be in prison today. But there is none. Ekweremadu built no hospitals. He built really nothing else. Yes, he is only a Senator and Senators may not be the main arm of Government for such projects. But we know in Nigeria that our lawmakers rake in a lot of money in the name of constituency projects. We also know that Senators, especially powerful ones like Deputy Senate Presidents, possess sufficient influence to cause the executive arm of government to pursue projects in their constituencies. Also, with twenty years in the Senate, Ekweremadu has been the longest serving politician in Enugu State. Yet, I cannot think of any major public infrastructure project that he brought to Enugu State. The only thing Ekweremadu craved was power, power and power in perpetuity. He almost got nominated as the governorship candidate for Enugu State in the next election, which would have cleared the path for him to be Governor for the next eight years, giving him a record of over 30 straight years in political office.
Don’t get me wrong: nobody here is happy per se with what is happening to Ekweremadu. After all, he is not alone. He has behaved as most Nigerian politicians behave. The President himself also travels overseas for basic healthcare for himself and his family because he failed to build state of the art hospitals in Nigeria. The Governors follow the same path – abandon Nigerians and seek to rely on foreign hospitals, foreign schools, foreign everything else. The only thing they do in Nigeria is to exercise power upon their beleaguered and miserable citizens. Are you surprised then to know that majority of Nigerian citizens are happy to see this kind of fate befall their leaders?
Regardless of the eventual outcome of the case of Ekweremadu, the message is clear. It is now whether our leaders will learn from the experience. The reason the people entrusted you with power is for you to use it for their wellbeing, and not for you to use it for your own aggrandizement or for primitive acquisition of money, wealth and more power. There comes a time when that wealth will not be enough to buy you honor and dignity. For Ekweremadu, who is estimated to have a net worth of tens of millions of dollars, money is not his problem. His problem is something more important than money – honor, dignity and legacy.
To see the small-mindedness of a typical Nigerian leader, you need to know how Ekweremadu planned his political retirement after the elections of 2023. About a month ago, he announced via Twitter that he had been appointed a “Visiting Professor of International Linkages” in one university in the UK. It was a thing of great joy to Ekweremadu. Why so? Because the said university is located in the UK, instead of Nigeria. That was actually the first time that Nigerians would hear that Ekweremadu had any real interest in promoting education. The position was a non-paying position, which meant that Ekweremadu would be spending money to hold that position. You would wonder how much Ekweremadu had spent on education in Enugu State over the years. How much did he contribute to his own alma mater in Enugu State? The University of Nigeria has its law faculty in Enugu city, where major streets were named after Ekweremadu. The Nigerian Law School has a campus in Enugu State. The Enugu State University has a law faculty in Enugu State. There are other educational institutions where Nigerian students could have benefited from Ekweremadu’s wealth of experience. But it is the British students that Ekweremadu chose to bequeath the knowledge he acquired in the Nigerian senate. It was a shocking irony that immediately after his arrest, the same British university where he aspired to be a visiting professor was the first to come out to distance itself from Ekweremadu, suspending him outright and making the world know they would not associate with a man facing allegations of human trafficking.
Let Nigerian leaders learn that the only enduring glory will come from their service to the people of their country. Every other source of glory is false. Since Nigerian hospitals are not good enough for Ekweremadus, apparently the Nigerian judiciary would not be available to them. We must look beyond Ekweremadu’s case and ask: Who else is in line to face similar fate. Our leaders should learn from this case.