• Tribute to Sylvan Ebigwei – Punch Newspapers

    Tribute to sylvan ebigwei punch newspapers - nigeria newspapers online
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    The late Dr Sylvan Ebigwei stands as an indomitable figure and a man whose life was proof of genuine love, wisdom and dedication to his family and community. His recent passing has left a void not only in the hearts of those who were fortunate enough to know him personally but also in the broader community that benefited from his wisdom, leadership, and untiring commitment to the betterment of humanity.

    Ebigwei was not merely a man of stature; he was a living embodiment of wisdom and integrity and had a way of making those around him feel valued, cherished and loved. His life was evidence of the enduring power of moral principles and ethical conduct.

    He distinguished himself in the domains of academia, business, and community leadership and stood as a steadfast pillar, an inspiration of light guiding others toward the path of virtue and excellence. His years were filled with experiences that had been distilled into nuggets of insight that he willingly shared with others. His guidance was sought after and cherished by many who sought his counsel, and his words of wisdom continue to resonate in the hearts of those he touched.

    Ebigwei, the Iyase of Obodogbo Okpanam and the Diokpa Isi of Umuobi Odogwu Clan, hails from Okpanam in Oshimili North Local Government of Delta State, was born in Jos, Plateau State, to Sir and Lady Paul Ebigwei. He finished his first leaving certificate with distinction at ENDC Primary School Ezza, Abakiliki, in Ebonyi State in 1959 and thereafter proceeded to St. Patrick’s College Asaba in 1960 on a Western Government Scholarship from where he obtained his WAEC Grade 1 certificate in 1964 and HSC in 1966.

    He won the Marist Gold Medal as the best graduating HSC student of SPC in the combined fields of zoology, physics, and English. It was in this college that he was taught the art of chess game by the then American Peace Corp tutors. He later spread to the nation and Africa.

    In 1967, Dr Ebigwei was employed as a science and mathematics tutor by the late Premier of the Midwest region, Chief Dennis Osadebay, in his new school, Osadenis High School Asaba.  During the civil war, Dr Ebigwei ended up in Lagos in 1968 where he was employed first as a Customs officer and later as an immigration officer and sent to the South Police College for training by the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs.

    Between 1969 and 1974, Ebigwei studied dentistry at the College of Medicine, University of Lagos under a Federal Government scholarship. He later enlisted into the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria, from where he obtained his Fellowship in General Dental Practice.

    Ebigwei is better known in Nigeria and Africa as “Mr Chess”, having spent about two decades of his life to pioneer and promote the intellectual game of chess.

    To ensure that every African child plays chess, Dr Ebigwei among other enthusiasts from Tunisia, Morocco, and Libya pioneered the African Chess Federation which he presided over as the Africa Chess Federation President for many years, leading to the introduction of chess as a scoring medal event in the All African Games.

    He and his friend, grandmaster Raymond Keene, OBE of England, pioneered the Commonwealth Chess Association, of which he was elected the vice president in Valetta Malta in 1980. He also served as the Chairman, World Chess Federation Commission on Apartheid South Africa 1986-1990 with the sole duty of excluding South Africa from the world body and divesting all shareholding monies of the world body from South African companies.

    Ebigwei’s chess odyssey started at St. Patrick’s College Asaba, where he was taught the art of chess by the American Peace Corps in 1964. He became the President of the College of Medicine, University of Lagos Chess Club in 1973 with Boniface Oye-Adeniran as his secretary. Both of them piloted the formation of the Nigerian Universities Chess Association in 1973, in which he was elected the first president.

    NUCA influenced the introduction of chess as a multiple medal event in the Nigerian Universities Games Association.

    In 1975, he collaborated with notable Nigerians such as Dr Pius Okigbo, Chief Harry Nwanna, John Holmes, and others to form the Nigeria Chess Federation. He was elected the first Organising Secretary with Dr Pius Okigbo as the First President. In 1977, he was elected the President of the Nigeria Chess Federation. Nigeria was admitted into the FIDE World Chess Federation through the application filed by Dr Ebigwei.

    From 1977 to 1989, during which he led the NCF, he accomplished quite a lot for the growth of chess in Nigeria. He was the first chess player to represent Nigeria in an international chess event. He was influential in the emergence, grooming, and mentoring of many notable chess players in Nigeria. From 1975 to 1985, Ebigwei administered the Chess Federation from his clinic at 43 Ogunlana Drive since the then National Sports Commission refused to admit chess as a sporting game.

    This denial ended in 1985 when Air Commodore Emaka Omerua, a friend of Ebigwei, was appointed the Minister of Sports. The NCF was instantly recognised as a sporting association under the sports ministry. The minister invited Ebigwei to form the first NCF board, of which he was appointed the first chairman.

    Ebigwei leveraged this status in the NCF to expand the scope of chess in Nigeria. Eventually, chess became a multiple medal event in the All African Games, National Sports Festival, NUGA games, etc. He was instrumental in the many national and internal chess championships that were held in Nigeria.

    Many African countries such as Libya, Uganda, Kenya, Senegal, etc. became FIDE members via his influence. He equally paid the affiliation fees of some of these African countries. Internationally, Ebigwei is a well-known figure in FIDE where he served as Chairman of the FIDE Commission on Apartheid South Africa, member of Ethics Commission, member of Computer Chess. He was the first badge International Arbiter south of Sahara and pioneer Vice President of Africa Chess Federation, and later the President of Africa Chess Federation from 1986 to 1989, and then the pioneer Vice President of the Commonwealth Chess Association.

    Ebigwei also left his patriotic footprint and legacy at the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria, Ijaninkin, Lagos. As the President of the Nigeria Dental Association, he, among others, resuscitated the moribund Faculty of General Dental Practice for the fellowship training of postgraduate dental surgeons.

    For many years, he served the college as the faculty chairman, leading to the development of a sound training curriculum. He also influenced the establishment of many residency training centres in accredited teaching Hospitals and federal and state medical centres such as the University College Hospital, Ibadan; University of Benin Teaching Hospital Benin city; University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital Enugu; Federal Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki; Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Lagos; Central Hospital Benin among others.

    Today, many dental centres and hospitals in Nigeria are manned by consultants groomed by the faculty. He was a member of the Court of Examiners of the National Postgraduate Medical College. Ebigwei headed many important national governing boards of the Federal Government agencies where he left some indelible legacies. Notably, he was the immediate past Chairman of the Governing Board of Nnamdi Azikiwe University Hospital, Nnewi; Chairman of the Governing Council Federal School of Dental Technology and Therapy Enugu; Chairman of the Faculty of General Dental Practice, National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria; a member, Governing Council National Post Graduate Medical College of Nigeria; Chairman of the Nigeria Chess Federation under the Federal Ministry of Sports.

    In 20I4, Ebigwei was conferred with the prestigious National Honours Award of the Member of the Order of the Niger by former President Goodluck Jonathan in recognition of his selfless service to the nation.  Dr. Ebigwei was a Paul Harris Fellow of Rotary International and the President Emeritus of the Prestigious Aka Ikenga world Igbo professionals. He was also Emeritus President of Ohaneze Worldwide.

    Dr. Ebigwei was a family man, married with children and grandchildren. Ebigwei died on Friday, November 3, 2023. His departure leaves behind a legacy that transcends the limitations of time. His legacy is one of excellence, compassion, and a resolute belief in the transformative power of education and service. The seeds he planted in the hearts and minds of those he touched would continue to bear fruit for generations to come.

    As we bid farewell to a noble patrician, a paragon of wisdom, and a beacon of integrity, let us remember Ebigwei not with sorrow but with gratitude for the profound privilege of sharing a part of life’s journey with him.

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