Chief Sonwu Andrew Ifeanyi is renowned and accomplished educationist whose outstanding contribution towards the development of education in Delta State earned him the prestigious award of “Best School Principal in Delta State,” in 2007. Presently retired, Chief Sonwu now engages in full time agriculture and is in the forefront of promoting a cleaner and more sanitary Ika land through his campaign for the introduction of the Environmental Cleanliness experiment which saw his native Ute-Ogbeje community emerge as the cleanest community in Delta State.
In this interview, Chief Sonwu, also referred to as Iron-gate, takes us through his early years as a Physical and Health Educationist, his many contributions to societal development and his views on the state of the Nigerian economy.
WHAT IS YOUR NAME SIR?
Chief Sonwu Andrew Ifeanyi, fondly referred to as Iron-gate.
KINDLY TELL US ABOUT YOUR EARLY CHILDHOOD?
I am from Ute-Ogbeje, in Ika North East Local Government Area of Delta State, born to the family of Mr. John Sonwu Nwaefulu, from Ebigwai lineage that is the lineage where the Bishop Micheal Elue’s mother came from, Nwaefulu was the first born of Ebigwai, the grandparents of the maternal grandparents of the Bishop. I was born on 4th of February, 1950. I lost my father at a very tender age, I don’t know him facially, except through the picture. He was a dispenser by the name John Sonwu Nwaefulu from Imike Quarters, Ute-Ogbeje. My mum is Mrs. Christiana Nwakaego Sonwu, she was also from Imike quarters in Ute-Ogbeje. They had seven children, 2 females and 5 males, I am the fourth child of the family, and presently we are left with 3 males, while my other siblings are late.
Life was not easy during the period of my growing up, having lost my father at a very tender age. I was taken from one place to the other to stay with people, most especially those of my grandmother at Akumazi, until my primary School age, and then my senior brother who was employed as a teacher with Standard Six took me to Umunede, at Dr. Joseph Ukadike’s family circle. He taught at Umunede Catholic School II. From 1957 to 1962, I had my Primary education at Catholic School II, Ute-Ogbeje. After my primary education, I went to Catholic Modern School, Ute-Ogbeje between 1963 -1964, where I schooled for two years. Prior to the commencement of my Modern III, I gained admission to St. Columba’s Grammar School, Agbor, in 1965 and finished in 1969, where I was a boarder and the bell ringer and the punctuality perfect. Upon the completion of my Secondary education in 1969, in 1973, I had the opportunity of one year pivotal course at St. Thomas College Ibusa. Then pivotal used to be two years after your Secondary school, but they at this time now said they urgently needed teachers, and made it a crash programme. On November 10, 1973 they advertised the programme, I applied, went for interview and passed and graduated in 1974, I did read the Grade II course under seven months and passed and immediately I was posted to St. Joseph Catholic Schoo,l Oza-nogogo; where I was from 1974 to 1977. When another crash programme came up at College of Physical Education, Afuze, ACE programme known as Associate Certificate in Education for Physical Education Para Specialist, as soon as you finish you are automatically moved from the level you are to Level Six. Fortunately for me, by the time I finished the programme the then Bendel State Government issued a circular that anyone having an additional certificate should move to the next level; so I moved from Level 6 to Level 7.
In 1978, I was already on Level 7 and I was again posted to Oza-Nogogo in the newly established Oza-Nogogo Commercial Secondary School as the pioneer Games Master in 1978; I stayed there till 1980, when I had another opportunity for a crash programme by Governor Ambrose Ali of former Bendel State, who made it possible that all those who you had National Certificate of Education (NCE), School Certificate of Education; can now proceed to do their programmes free of charge and if you are already working, you will be on your salary, while in the school. This gave me an opportunity and I gained admission to College of Education, Warri (Afuze Campus), where I stayed from 1980 to 1982. It will interest you to know that I did not suffer as a student during the period of my NCE because of the little allowance I got from the State Government. I also had a type writer which aided me. With that machine I was getting money from the lecturers and students, either through preparing handouts for lecturers and typing assignments and projects for the students. So, while in the school I was able to build my house at Ute-Ogbeje. In 1982, I went for my National Youth Service Corps Scheme in Kano State and finished my service in 1983. Again, with my skills and potentials, I was retained after my youth service at Wudil Teacher’s College, Kano, where I served. We were 104 youth corpers that served in that school with 39 teaching staff, the school is one of the largest Teacher’s Colleges in the country at that time. As NCE graduates, they paid us N160 monthly allowance while the B.SC graduates received N200 monthly allowance. During our service year, I introduced Hand Ball game to that school and each time we come back after winning they usually kill one cow for us to celebrate because they have a ranch in the school. At the end of my service I was recommended for an award, where I got the Kano State Service Merit Award. Before I left Kano in August 1983, the principal of the school also gave me several gifts in appreciation for the services which I rendered to him and the school during my service year.
Upon arriving home after my National Youth Service Corps, I was posted to Ute-Ogbeje Secondary School, Ute-Ogbeje in 1983, where I created all the various sports activities; handball, lawn tennis, football, basket ball, badminton, e.t.c except hockey because there was no field for such game. While I was the Games Master, Ute-Ogbeje Secondary School girls represented Bendel State in Handball competition between 1986 and 1988 and they went to Minna, Enugu, Port-Harcourt and Owerri for Schools Sports Festival. I was at the school from 1983 to 1988. Sorry to take you back, in 1985 I never thought of going to the university in my life, because there was no money, but I was very surprised to see Professor Mbo my lecturer at Afuze in my house here at Ute-Ogbeje, upon inquiry on how he was able to locate my place he told me that he asked after me from Prof. Ajosafeh, about the young man who made that excellent record at Afuze and he was the one that told him, that I was teaching at Ute-Ogbeje Secondary School. Both of them came looking for me at Ute-Ogbeje and when they saw me, the professor asked why I didn’t further my education to University level. I told him that there was no money, but he assured me that I will be there and I laughed at the idea. He said there was a programme which he wants to introduce as the Dean of Education, though it is going to be a five year part-time programme during holidays. I told him that even if it is a twenty years programme provided they call it a University, I will have the patience to attend. As soon as they advertised for student’s admission for the programme, he bought the form for me and they brought it to me here at Ute-Ogbeje that I should fill and apply. After I applied, he said I should give the form to Ignatius Ebigwai my cousin, who was the Confidential Secretary then to the Professor. They gave me the admission that same year, 1985 to the University of Benin, where I graduated in 1989; with Bachelors Degree Certificate in Education (B.Ed). We had our convocation ceremony in University of Benin in 1990. However, I served at Ute-Ogbeje Secondary School, Ute-Ogbeje, from 1983 to 1988; from where I was transferred to Owerre-Olubor Secondary School, Owerre-Olubor in 1988 to 1992. In 1992, I was redeployed by the State Government to develop sports generally in the state and not only in schools; I was therefore moved to the Ministry of Education Office at Agbor, where I worked from 1992 to 2003. Then, there was crisis at Igbodo when two Principals were demoted at Comprehensive High School Igbodo and there was no person to handle the school. As a result, I was transferred as a Principal in 2004 to Comprehensive High School, Igbodo, during which period I was able to transform the school to an enviable height academically. Over 98% in their WAEC results was recorded and because of this great achievement, in 2007, I was honoured with an award as the Best School Principal in Delta State by the State Government. It was during the period of Mrs. Veronica Ogbuagwu, as the Commissioner of Education Delta State. I was at Igbodo; and when she came to commission the Library and the chairs, she said, “I’m sure I didn’t make mistake, Iron Gate is Iron Gate,” that was the comment she made. I was at Comprehensive High School, Igbodo from 2004 to 2009, where I retired after 35 years of meritorious service; as Principal Emeritus (PMG). At this juncture, it will be most pertinent to give a detailed outline of the various positions which I held during my service period; Classroom Teacher/Sports Officer, comprising primary and secondary schools, from 1974 to 1992, NSSF Zonal coordinator (primary schools) Agbor zone, from 1975 to 1977, Sports Officer and Physical Education Teacher (secondary school stations) from 1978 to 1992, NSSF Zonal Sports Coordinator Agbor zone A (Ika South, Ika North, Aniocha North and Ukwuani LGAs) from 1992 to 2003, 1st Aniocha North and Ukwuani LGAs from 1992 to 2003, 1st Vice President NAPHER – SD Delta State Chapter from 1996 to 1999, Deputy Chief Inspector of Education Ministry of Education, Agbor; from 1998 to 2003, Principal, Comprehensive High School, Igbodo, from 2004 to 2009, Deputy Chairman Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) Ika North East LGA chapter; from 2007 to 2009 and Delta State Chapter chairman, Nigeria School Sports Federation (NSSF) from 2008 to 2010.
SIR, WHAT IS THE MAGIC BEHIND THE “MIDAS TOUCH” THAT MAKES EVERYTHING TURN AROUND FOR THE BEST, WHERE EVER YOU ARE POSTED TO SERVE?
I will say that it is the Grace of God added to determination.
WHAT THEN, WILL YOU SAY INTERESTS YOU MOST IN YOUR CHOSEN CAREER?
Even till now, it is the love of children to develop them in order to make this world a better place by grooming children from their tender age, in catching them young. Also too is the moral talks on the Assembly and understanding the rudiments in making the pupils and students to flow along in your teachings.
AS A RENOWNED EDUCATIONIST, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE MAJOR FACTOR THAT CONTRIBUTED TO THE FALL IN THE STANDARD OF EDUCATION?
A lot, the students, the teacher, the government, that is the ministry, the parents, and then the environment. There is no one person that can take up all the blames or all the glory. Before, while in the primary school, we were helping the teachers with all our might, then parents were also cooperating with the school authorities. When a child is absent from school, the teacher will visit the parents and ask to know why the pupil was not in school. Then we had interest in the children but now parents are angry that their children are helping their teachers and the slightest correction that the teacher gives, parents will come to the teacher’s house to fight. With such, how would the teacher be committed to the job and help? Again, in the kind of education that was in place then; teachers were committed and satisfied with their jobs because they were encouraged in the society; there was respect and honour for the teacher.
Now, the Government on its part is not playing her role in creating jobs for the people. Due to so much dependence on oil, we abandoned many things that were giving us money. There was even a time when you talk of farming, they will bluff and run to the cities, but now, most of them are running to the village from the cities to cultivate cassava. This recession they are talking about, is not affecting farmers, a basin of garri which use to sell for Two Thousand Naira is now between Nine to Eleven Thousand Naira and palm oil which use to sell for Three Thousand to Four Thousand Naira went up to as high as Twelve Thousand Naira. What I am saying is that the over dependence on oil disappointed many people, including the government and most people who went into agriculture are now the people gaining it. I think we should retrace our step not to be putting all our eggs in one basket, so diversification is what we really need. In those days, parents did not have money for the training of their children and the children were crying, but now there is money to use to educate the children, but the children are not willing to learn, they are all after money.
WHAT DO YOU THINK SHOULD BE DONE TO IMPROVE THE STANDARD OF EDUCATION
Government is even destroying education the more. They spent all our resources renovating schools, equipping them to standard, all of a sudden they said they should transfer everything to the missionaries, the rightful owners of the schools and these missionaries will look for money and only the children of the well-to-do parents attended such schools. In Ika nation, five schools were taken away, five of the best schools; it means to go to all these local schools the standard of education has been seriously eroded. Government caused a lot of confusion by returning the mission schools after spending a lot in renovating and equipping them without allowing our students to benefit from those facilities.
SIR, ARE YOU A CHRISTIAN?
Yes, I am
OF WHICH DENOMINATION?
Of the Roman Catholic Church
ARE YOU MARRIED?
I am married to Mrs. Helen Sonwu and the marriage is blessed with eight children; five boys and three girls.
SOME SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT ARE OF THE VIEW, THAT FOR NIGERIA TO COME OUT OF THE CURRENT ECONOMIC RECESSION, THE LEADERS HAVE TO FOCUS ON INDUSTRIALIZATION AS A MEANS OF RESUSCITATING THE ECONOMY OF THIS COUNTRY. WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THIS SIR?
Who are our leaders? I want to ask, who elected them? Many of them are there without being duly elected because before the end of the voting exercise they have already called the results. Who elected them? If they were elected they would be coming home for town hall meetings with their people. It is most unfortunate that most of the so called leaders instead of using the resources available to develop their place, they are busy developing Abuja and buying lands in Asaba and other urban cities, but their village is left not cared for, when they come around they will go to the hotel and sleep, then they begin to talk of witches and wizards. We can talk of leaders when during elections the communities are involved in the selection, not telling us that it is whoever the party brings out. The people they are bringing out are not the choice of the communities. Please, during election period, they should allow communities to participate actively in the selection of viable candidates that will represent them; not candidates who never come home to give account of their stewardship.
ive account of their stewardship.
Talking about recession, it is being caused by the people you call government. If what they are saying is correct, somebody embezzling over One Billion Naira, imagine if those persons are to use the looted fund to develop their communities and states; we will not be talking of recession.
Coming out of this recession in the first place, in related to agriculture we are still deceiving ourselves because it is now that they are bringing out fertilizers when the farming season is almost gone and when they talk of fertilizers it is the same big men that are hijacking it. The fertilizers are not reaching the actual farmers, how then do we get out of recession? Coming to Industrialization, fine, we have all it takes in Ika land to become industrialized but how many industries do we have? Everyone is a farmer. Everybody is clamoring to be a government worker, I think I wasted a whole thirty five years in serving government, I call it waste because from 2009 when I retired to now, I have benefited more, because I have free time to cater, for myself and my family. What I am saying in effect is that in Ika nation, we have all it takes to provide most of our youth employment. The idea of giving a youth Five Hundred Naira to vote or fight for me to win election will not help. Ika nation is known for the production of cassava, tomatoes and pepper. Imagine if all these, even maize have their own industries? With all these would we be talking of unemployment? If for instance, we have tomatoes canning industry, wastage disappear, many more people will go into farming to produce and feed their families effectively, there will be enough food to export to other countries. Many industries will be established. Such as cassava processing mills, Imagine a recent empowerment programme, somebody whom they gave oil processing machine, sold it and pocketed the money; something that would have been of great service to the community. Let Ika indigenes in government build industries in Ika land, so that our tomatoes and cassava will not be wasting away. For example, most parts of the Northern State do not eat fresh corn, the whole farm will get dry, one farmer will have a farm land of about the size of Ute-Ogbeje to Owerre-Olubor, mechanize farming with irrigation the same opportunity would have been given to our own people if all these money they are pocketing were being utilized in developing our Ika Nation; with the semovita, corn meal, corn flakes, also they use them to make fertilizers and poultry feeds. There are no storage facilities for us here. However, if they are sincere with us, if they want to change things, they should come back home and establish the industries not giving us fish but teaching us how to fish; so that we can feed forever.
SIR, WHAT IS YOUR PERCEPTION ABOUT LIFE?
I see life like a dream. Life is nothing but give and take. Give; not get and swallow, get and store. Make life a better place than you met it by making all around you comfortable; that is life.
WHAT ARE YOUR LIKES AND DISLIKE?
I don’t like people who deceive others or pretend. Tell me my fault not that when you see me you praise when you go out you back bite. Meanwhile I appreciate people who make life better for others.
DO YOU HAVE BEST AND WORST MOMENTS?
For now, I don’t have any moment of sadness. Everything is simple to me. I take life easy.
WHAT LEGACY DO YOU WISH TO LEAVE BEHIND?
I want to leave a legacy of truthfulness in all circumstance and again I want to be remembered that in any place you are, make the environment clean.
UTE-OGBEJE, WAS ONCE AWARDED THE CLEANEST COMMUNITY IN DELTA STATE, ARE YOU STILL MAINTAINING THE RECORD?
It is most unfortunate that the community has derailed from the concept of cleanliness which earned us the award. Even the state and local government have also not assisted the community in sustaining the campaign of environmental cleanliness that gave us the recognition. Why is it that if they constitute environmental taskforce they never pick anybody from our community, to tell them the magic on how we were able to get the award? In Ika Weekly Newspaper, I wrote something for six weeks then on Ute-Ogbeje Environmental Experience. We gave the Blue print to the chairman of Ika North East when the late Buzugbe was the council chairman, also to George Ugbome when he was the Commissioner for Environment Delta State, we also gave it to Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa when he was the Commissioner for Health, Delta State; the Blue Print on how we can manage the environment at the rural and township level, as a result of lack of incentive and reinforcement. Ute-Ogbeje Secondary School which was adjudged then as the neatest school in Delta State is now nothing to write home about.
WHAT DO YOU THINK SHOULD BE DONE TO IMPROVE THE SANITATION SITUATION IN IKA LAND?
It is going to start from the villages because that is where the orientation should start. In that when those in already aware of the dangers inherent in polluting their environment, if such a person migrates to the town he will not also pollute the town.
HOW WILL YOU ASSESS THE ADMINISTRATION OF DR. IFEANYI OKOWA, GOVERNOR OF DELTA STATE?
Like I said, even Buhari, I do not condemn anyone. It is a problem they met and the situation; but all they are trying now to make a mark. Since Governor Okowa came on board, there have been some improvement, most especially in the road construction but what we want apart from this road is that they should establish industries in Ika land not in places where they can collect tenement rate; let them put food processing industries in Ika land. Any where they want land for such projects; we have enough land areas in Ika land.
SOME SCHOOL OF THOUGHT IS OF THE VIEW THAT COLLEGE OF EDUCATION, AGBOR, SHOULD BE UP GRADED TO UNIVERSITY OF EDUCATION AGBOR. WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THAT?
Many Ika people wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity of going there because they are poor, so if they convert it to University of Education we stand to benefit; we will thank God. Because during the time of this government if what he can do now for Ika, he cannot do it during his tenure; people will say oh you had a governor he didn’t do it, so why are you asking us? So let him summon the boldness to tackle some of those challenges that has been affecting us, the people of Ika Nation.
NOW THAT YOU ARE RETIRED, WHAT ARE YOU INTO?
I have a garden, but that garden is in quote because most farmers are not richer than me in production; most especially in yams and I have palm plantation, I also have an oil mill. Well, I am into full time Agriculture.
APART FROM YOUR GIANT STRIDES IN EDUCATIONAL SECTOR, HOW HAVE YOU CONTRIBUTED TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF YOUR COMMUNITY AND BY EXTENSION IKA LAND?
Well, I have played several active roles towards the development of my community which include; being the initiator/programme coordinator of the award winning Ute-Ogbeje Sanitation Experiment Courtesy NEST/Ford Foundation West Africa in 1993. In 2006 I was elected the chairman of Ute-Ogbeje Electricity Committee, a position which I still occupy till date. In 2014 I emerged chairman of Ute-Ogbeje Primary Health Care committee, a position which I still occupy till date. In 2012, I was elected, chairman of Ute-Ogbeje Security Outfit, same year 2012, I was elected chairman Ute-Ogbeje Secondary School Management Committee Ute-Ogbeje, all the three positions I have been occupying from 2012 till date
HAVE YOU RECEIVED ANY AWARD FOR YOUR OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENTS AND CONTRIBUTIONS TOWARDS COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT?
Yes, I have received so many awards, which include, Environmental Action Award from NEST/Ford Foundation West Africa in 1993, Ute-Ogbeje Development Union (UDU) Merit Award in 2008, Ute-Ogbeje Development Union (UDU) Special Contributions Award 2011, Conferment of the Eleme of Ute-Ogbeje Chieftaincy title in 2011, Special Remarkable Roles Award from UDU Women’s Wing Lagos Branch in 2012, Patron Catholic Youth Association of Nigeria, Ute-Ogbeje parish in 2016 till date and Ute-Ogbeje Community/SEEFOR projects committee in 2016 to 2017. While in service, I also received several honuors and award which such as; most Principal Student Award in 1969 from St. Columba Grammar School, Agbor, Best Behaved Student Award from St. Thomas College Ibusa in 1974, Best student Award from College of Education, Afuze in 1982, Kano State NYSC Merit Award in 1983 and Best, Honest and Hardworking Principal Award in 2007.
SIR, DO YOU FEEL FULFILLED OR DO YOU HAVE ANY REGRETS?
In fact, I want to say that I don’t have any regret knowing that God created me for a purpose which is what I am trying to fulfill. Formerly, I was in an esteemed position but now I want to remain in the level of self actualization. In self actualization you don’t think about yourself any longer; but what you can do to make life better and meaningful for mankind, that is why I have it there as my motto: “Service to Humanity”. Before, I thought I had knowledge and you are usually proud when they say you have knowledge, but if you have wisdom you become humble, that humility makes you remember that you know no more.
HOW DO YOU RELAX?
I relax by having people around me and watching Television and sharing reasonable ideas in company of friends.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE PHYSICAL EDUCATION AS A DISCIPLINE?
What you are is what you will become. In the secondary school I was a footballer and while at St. Thomas College Ibusa if I, was not around for defense, that football match will not hold. I got the name Iron or one word gate because I was very prominent in all that I do. The interest started as a youth. What made me more into Physical Education was because while I was in the secondary school, I was a member of the Red Cross Society and you combine Physical and Health Education and Red Cross.
IF YOU HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY OF LIVING LIFE ALL OVER AGAIN, WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO DO?
For me I am not praying to come back to this world again.
SIR, DO YOU HAVE ANY COMMENT ABOUT THE ANTI CORRUPTION CRUSADE OF PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI?
Yes, I love what they are doing but with some caution, sometime it is not all the flies you see in the soil that you will have to kill. In the first place, where it gets to witch hunting is not good because those who live in glass house should not throw stones. But it is a good pursuit if it is objectively carried out and not sectionally done because you want to catch enemies or opposition; they should be straight forward in the anti-corruption war.
DO YOU HAVE ANY WORD FOR THE NIGERIA YOUTHS?
I have always told my students that there is no hurry in life and what will be will be, if you rush too much you will crash and if we hadn’t the patience we wouldn’t have survived all the turbulent world that we met; but nowadays, children don’t want to suffer. They want to rush, rush, and rush. Many of them have died while trying to cross to Europe, who are you going to meet there? What are you going to do? Is that placing place thriving? You don’t know. The youths should not take the world the way they see it, they should be very patient and work hard because greatness they say does not come easy; some people are born great but many people achieve greatness through hardwork. I advise them to get themselves involved in positive ventures and earn a trade.
WHAT IS YOUR FINAL WORD TO NIGERIANS?
Nigerians should be very careful, many things that are happening now we never expected it, most especially the current menace of Fulani herdsmen who are destroying farmlands, raping and killing the people. I hope that Boko Haram is not introduced in the southern part of our country by this act? If Nigerians want to avoid this present situation, they should retrace their steps and come back to God, which means you have to have your hands clean, free from any bad thing, because most of these children that are doing these bad things in some cases are from the blood. So Nigerians should not talk of enemy; we should talk of friendship, brotherliness, so that we should continue to remain as one. But where some Nigerians continue to be marginalized, people will always continue to protest. Even in Ika Nation, people should not discriminate both in appointments, so that we will all be working as a team.