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CHESS: A National Legacy

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By Tony Nwankwo

Book Review
THE above book, written by Iyase, Dr. Sylvan Olisanye Ebigwei, is a compilation of materials sourced from media mentions since the formation of the game of Chess in Nigeria, from the time he was a student at St. Patrick’s College, Asaba, Delta State. It is published by Worldwide Controls Nigeria Limited and its for public launch on Thursday, April 25, 2013, at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Victoria Island, Lagos.

The book tells how a meeting with an American Peace Corps tutor at school raised Ebigwei’s curiosity of the game and helped create awareness in Nigeria and Africa.

His early contributions earned him a place in the Encyclopedia of Chess by Bats Ford Publishers, London.   This is quickly followed by Politics in Sports – Chess, as the author relives his experience in the administration of Chess as a sport in Nigeria. As a founding member of the African Chess Federation in 1975, the author brought the Nigerian Chess Federation into the World Chess Federation.

Together with Englishman, Chess Grand Master, Raymond King (OBE), the author started a 38-member Commonwealth Chess Association and became President, Nigerian Chess Federation in January, 1981.  Soon thereafter, the World Chess Federation Bureau confirmed his appointment as an international arbiter of Federation Internationale Des Echess (FIDE). The same month, Ebigwei was elected Vice Chairman of the Commonwealth Association at the end of the association’s meeting in Valetta, Malta.

CHESS: A National Legacy
CHESS: A National Legacy

The book  also describes how Ebigwei used his position as a pioneer of the game in Nigeria to battle apartheid in South Africa.  He  spearheaded the motion for the removal of South Africa Chess Federation and the FIDE permanent fund located in Lebanon Gold Mining Company, an apartheid South Africa registered company.

The request ensured that it was moved to another country.. This fight  affected the Chess Federation, FIDE, until a far reaching decision was taken at the World Chess Olympiad and Congress in Dubai, United Arab Emirates in 1986. Peace returned when the company was sanctioned leading to the recall of an expelled South Africa. And at the election that followed, the author emerged ACF President.

The fight for Chess in Nigeria was also fierce.  Ebigwei identified the then National Director of Sports, Mr. Isaac Akioye as the stumbling block between his passion, Chess, and national recognition.   He had concluded that the Nigerian government was not showing enough interest in Chess, so while the game was growing in other countries, the rate of growths in Nigeria was poor.

A chapter is devoted to Muamar Ghadaffi of Libya whose contributions to Chess and its acceptance in the continent is given a prime of space.  The Libyan strongman played the game and encouraged its spread in Africa. For instance, after being denied admission into the World Chess Federation, it was  Ebigwei who proposed the nomination in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1978, and Libya was admitted.  So, as pay back, Ghadaffi made funds available for the formation of the African Chess Federation through the Libyan Chess Federation.

The book is a celebration of the author and his contributions to society. An accomplished man, the President Emeritus of the apex Igbo think tank organisation, Aka Ikenga, his regrets is that the game of Chess, like other sports has been politicized.  “You can see today, you have a chess federation or chess association of which the secretary does not know how to play chess.  It’s all politics.  Most of the board members were brought through political avenues. That way you can’t grow the game”, he told journalists, recently.

“They are interested on how to collect estacode. This dampens the spirit and enthusiasm of serious players.  And because of this negative politics, many African countries who are noble and business minded surpassed us, even though we brought them into the world body, paying their affiliation fees”, he said.

“I went into chess as an undergraduate of the College of Medicine, University of Lagos, from where we formed the University Chess Association in 1973. I was able to organise all the existing universities in Nigeria to form what was known as the Nigerian Universities Chess Association.  I was the first president. When I qualified, I met people like Dr. Pius Okigbo and the rest, and we teamed up and formed the Nigerian Chess Federation with Pius Okigbo as president and myself as the organising secretary.  After two years, I took over as the president of the national association and was there for more than 10 years until I got chess into the national commission recognised as a sport.

“When I was forming Chess, my intention was not just for us to play it, but to win laurels, both nationally and internationally. Yet, today, Nigeria has no single grandmaster of Chess. And I regret it. Some of the other countries in Africa we helped now have grandmasters of Chess. So, we should try as much as possible to play down on politics in games like Chess.  Politics cannot be everything.  We should seek our best, and when we find them, we should celebrate them.   We should not be celebrating the worst among us.

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