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Tribute: Nigeria Has Lost A Crusader, A True Champion Sonnie Egbe

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by Nkanu Egbe

Sonnie Egbe 1951 - 2014
Sonnie Egbe 1951 – 2014

“WHO declares Nigeria guinea worm free.” This was the gratifying headline which one had stumbled upon rummaging through some old newspapers.  In this case, just three days old. There was indeed one of those who would be so glad, who had been part of the fight against guinea worm especially as it had previously ravaged his homestead – Sonnie Egbe, my brother.  Alas, his phone number was not going through, so the matter had to die momentarily.

The fight against the guinea worm disease by Sonnie was quite early in the national crusade which became very intense in 1988 when under the erudite Professor Olikoye Ransome Kuti, the Federal Ministry of Health high pointed the disease as part of its primary health care campaign.

Sonnie’s guinea worm battle was specifically between 1991 and 1993, when he served as the first elected Chairman of Abi Local Government Area of Cross River State. Then, the Jimmy Carter and General Yakubu Gowon Foundations, jointly leading the fight against guinea worm eradication, gratuitously sank an average of two boreholes in every LGA in the country.  But this was grossly insufficient for the many communities which could not access potable water but had to resort to getting water from the polluted brooks and streams in their neighbourhoods.

Egbe reasoned that if potable water could reach every community in his constituency, the problem of guinea worm could be wiped out in Abi. He went ahead to sink a total of 59 boreholes.  Indigenes of these communities no longer had to scrounge for contaminated brook water for drinking and cooking purposes.

Guinea worm was soon wiped out in Abi LGA and its communities as a result of Sonnie’s intervention with hardly any fresh reported case of guinea worm occurrence after he left office. His administration was relatively short as a result of the political crisis of 1993. But it is with gladness that one can say that boreholes are around to this very day. Even then the 59 boreholes that Sonnie had sunk are quite inadequate compared to the many homesteads that still need to have potable water running in their homes; albeit, his contribution has been most remarkable.

Dracunculiasis also called guinea worm disease (GWD) is a skin disease produced by the dracunculus parasite, or guinea worm. The parasite enters the host by way of ingestion of stagnant water contaminated with water fleas infested with the guinea worm larvae.  It takes about one year for the disease to present, with a painful burning sensation as the female worm forms a blister usually on the lower limbs.  Sometimes, the disease can lead to a deformation of the limbs.

Egbe Sunday Egbe, aka Sonnie Egbe, was indefatigable as Local Government Chairman. In that short spell of twenty odd months, apart from the provision of potable water to his local community, he made great in roads into various areas including primary school education, providing assistance to teachers through training and provision of teachers’ guides and resources.  He also established a mass transport service – Abitrans – which still traverses the country to this very day. In the provision of rural electricity, Sonnie ensured that transformers were procured for each community in the LGA. Sadly, most of those transformers were not installed before he left office. But that most of Abi LGA would be connected to electricity would be a direct consequence of this action. One of his most ambitious projects would be Abimart, a commodities market, which initially was a sellers’ market for the wholesale exchange of primary food crops from one market to another market. He had plans to introduce beneficiation for these crops to prepare them for export in addition to cultivating and introducing other cash crops like cocoa. When he left office, the market could not be continued.  Then, Sonnie would introduce a football club, Abiwaves, which still exists till this day. Egbe was that archetypal visionary leader and administrator. Like his father, late Enyi Egbe, who was an astute civil servant – Divisional Officer and eventually Permanent Secretary – Sonnie had truly served his people. He provides a reference point for Local Government administration today.

When the Minister of Health Dr. Onyebuchi Chukwu, presented the WHO certificated to the Nigerian President, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan on January 14, 2014, Sonnie Egbe would have been proud to have been part of a project which was so close to his heart.

Alas, he was fighting the battle of his life at the Ikom General Hospital.  He could not take calls.  He was in the throes of his final moments on earth fighting the illness that he had been combating intermittently for over two years.

Born on Sunday 2 September 1951, Egbe Sunday Egbe, attended Presbyterian Secondary School, Abakiliki as well as Hope Waddell Training Institute (HOWAD). He read Crop Science at University of Nigeria, Nsukka and obtained an MBA from the American International University, London. On return to Nigeria, in 1983, he had a short stint with the Nigerian Palm Produce Board as Senior Agricultural Officer. In 1985, leaving civil service, he presented a proposal to the Cross River State government for the environmental clean-up of Calabar, the state capital and was selected as one of the consultants on Calabar metropolitan environmental sanitation, a function he carried out till he ran for the office of Abi LGA Chairman. He breathed his last on Sunday, 19 January 2014.  He had fought his many battles and had won. He definitely was not a saint in many ways but when he did, he died a Christian.  Rest in peace, Sonnie.

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