Thoroughbred Stallion Of The Stables: A Tribute To Senator Professor Sandy Ojang Onor @ 57 BY DAVE IMBUA


It was day 14, second month, in the year 1966. Historians tell us that Nigeria was going through agonizing crises which prompted the massive acquisition of weapons by both the Federal Government and the Government of Eastern region. The hostility that was rapidly heading towards a war was brought about by such factors as the national census controversy of 1962, the general election crisis of 1964, the Western Region election of 1965, the January 1966 coup d’état and the belief by the Northerners that it was a calculated plot by the Igbos to annihilate their political fathers, the introduction of Decree 34 by Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi’s regime, the July 1966 coup and the pogroms perpetrated against the Southerners, especially the Igbos in the North. Because of all this, life in Nigeria had become extremely difficult and uncertain. In the midst of the drums of war throbbing across Nigeria, especially in the Eastern Region, a devout woman, Deaconess (Mrs.) Cecilia Ikwo Onor, was being urged to do some painful pushing at the Holy Family Joint Hospital in Ikom. She pushed so hard to the satisfaction of the nurses and, before long, a prodigy later to become one of Africa’s authoritative historians, courageous politician and astute administrator was crying out the night. The stars were beaming into light. At dawn, the news of his birth which spread quickly across forests and rivers threw Nsofang community into great ecstasy and jubilation. Ntufam Samuel Ojang Onor was hailed throughout the length and breadth of his community and beyond for proving himself a man. Being addressed as father for the first time gave him a sense of fulfilment in an environment where marriage was first and foremost for procreation. Ntufam Samuel Onor’s family was the first “stable” in which the child was cradled. Senator Professor Sandy Onor has repeatedly paid deserving tributes to his mother who, as commandant of the cradle, ingrained in him the virtues that have come to define his phenomenal life.

At a very tender age in 1971, he was enrolled at St Martin’s Primary School, Ikom, to receive formal education. This was the second stable, which continued at St. Francis Primary School, Obubra, to where he transferred in 1973. This was the institution that armed him with the First School Leaving Certificate. Beginning from the age of ten in 1976, St. Brendan’s College, Iyamoyong, Obubra, affectionately “mothered” him till 1981, when he sat for and passed the West African School Certificate Examination in flying colours. Teachers at Saint Brendan’s College were awe-inspiring and their broad minds and tall intellects contributed tremendously in cultivating and moulding Sandy Onor into an urbane personality. Fame was already enveloping Sandy Onor at St. Brendan. The period from 1983 to 1987 saw Sandy Onor breaking and setting new records in the Department of History at the University of Calabar. In a special symbiotic way, History was making Sandy, and Sandy was making History. At the University of Calabar, his brilliance made him a source of pride to his teachers and mentors who knew ahead of time that he was going to graduate top of his class and would ultimately become a hair-splitting analytical historian. Immediately after the completion of the compulsory National Youth Service Corps, Sandy Onor enrolled for an M.A. programme. Just barely a year into the programme, he was advanced to the Ph.D programme on account of his outstanding performance and aptitude for independent research. The expertise with which he chiselled out the rocks of history enabled him to produce a thesis that is still standing tall among the best theses produced by the History Department at the University of Calabar till the present. The final product more than justified the huge resources he expended in crisscrossing the Ejagham universe in Nigeria and Cameroon in search of materials.

From out of the crucible of training institutions, the racehorse was now on the starting line for further races. From the outset, Sandy Onor was determined to justify the exceptional confidence of his teachers, students, relatives, friends, well-wishers and the general public. This was the beginning of stable three. The determination not to disappoint anyone and the unceasing hunger to break records turned him into a modern day Jabez. Poised to challenge some long-standing distortions in History, including those made by established authorities – both white and black –his coast had to be enlarged.

From 1994, Sandy Onor became a publisher of seminal books. The publication of The Ejagham Nation in the Cross River Region of Nigeria was well-received and highly celebrated. At the time of its publication, the history of the Ejagham was all but terra incognita. We can extrapolate from Professor Onwuka Njoku’s recent assertion that: “There is no exaggeration in stating that few students and even scholars of Nigerian history can locate in a map of Nigeria the homeland of the Ejagham. Fewer still have even a nodding acquaintance with their history” to imagine what the situation would have been before Sandy Onor launched his pioneering research efforts on the Ejagham past. His researches and publications were not restricted to the Ejagham; he studied, researched and corrected distortions on the history of other ethnic groups in the Cross River region. As a young scholar, Sandy Onor took on Adiele Afigbo by challenging his faulty view on the Igbo origin of the Efik. Sandy said without mincing words that “Afigbo’s claim is … either a figment of his imagination or an attempt to create a theoretical basis for Igbo domination over the peoples of the Cross River region.” Being a respected doyen of Nigerian History, Professor Afigbo was surprised at the courage with which a young historian whom they had just awarded a Ph.D visited him with the sledge hammer of historical criticism. Afigbo wrote that “… Dr. S. Ojang Onor descended on us like the Hounds Baskerville and accused me of virtually starting a process of Igbo takeover of the Efik.” As a scholar who knows his onions, Sandy Onor was not intimidated into silence by Afigbo’s credentials and fame. He unapologetically stuck to the evidence and this has made his scholarship to stand the test of time. By the year 2019 when the University of Calabar promoted him to the rank of professor, Sandy Onor had become the author and editor of nine books, several book chapters and journal publications spread across reputable local and foreign journals. This list does not include the public lectures, keynote addresses and conference papers he has presented at several fora. The University of Calabar provided a platform for him to prove his worth as an erudite scholar.

From early in his career, Sandy Onor has been opposed to the idea of the insular scholar, who is isolated from the public and works in a world of his own. At various times, he has answered the call for public service and this is the fourth stable. In politics and public service, he met and interacted with several people and the experiences from those interactions positioned him as a catalyst for the development of his community, Local Government, State as well as Country towards which he has exhibited uncommon and unstinted patriotism. He had served as the Executive Chairman of Etung Local Government Council; Chairman, Cross River State Local Government Service Commission; Commissioner for the Ministries of Agriculture and Environment. He tasted Nigerian challenges of national integration in a Political Reform Conference where he made significant contributions. In these positions and many others, Sandy’s noble deeds have become ossified. He remains one of the few tested politicians in our country that are difficult to indict by anti-graft agencies. Typical of a goldfish which has no hiding place, Sandy Onor quickly made headlines when he arrived the National Assembly as Senator for Cross River Central Senatorial District. His electrifying eloquence and robust contributions on the floor of the Nigerian Senate confirmed him as a square peg in a square hole in the hallowed chamber. The President of the 9th Senate, His Excellency, Dr Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan, GCON was so enamored of Sandy’s rare qualities that he could not help crowning him the Orator of the 9th Assembly of the Nigerian Senate despite such obvious limitations as the two of them belonging with different political parties and Sandy being a first-time senator. Sandy Onor still has much to offer Cross River State and Nigeria; he has indeed proven to be the first among equals in leadership and administration. Interestingly, the vast majority of Cross Riverians believe that he is the right man to clear the garbage heap of refuse and mediocrity that have taken over the veins and arteries of Cross River State.

Beyond his appreciation of the various agents of socialization that have profited his fortunes, Sandy Onor recognizes the role of the church in his upbringing. This is the fifth stable to which he has remained faithful despite his towering achievements in politics, administration and scholarship. As a way of giving back to an institution that played an important role in his character formation, Sandy Onor has been an instrument of great honour in the House of God. He has helped countless individuals, churches and communities to serve and worship God in a way that is befitting and acceptable to Him. His love for God and God’s people makes us appreciate some parables of the Bible better than what preachers and teachers do from the pulpit. In recognition of his commitment to Christianity in general and the Catholic Church, in particular, he was in May 2022 inducted into the Knight of Saint Gregory the Great by the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis. He has continued to serve God even with greater devotion after that calling. He has all his life supported the building of churches in various communities. In the discharge of this responsibility, he recently completed a church building in his community, Nsofang. The tastefully finished and furnished edifice, which is in a class of its own, has continued to attract deserving commendations from several quarters. Sandy’s love for God and humanity suggest that His birth on Saint Valentine’s Day was more than a mere coincidence of natural events. God created him as a harbinger of true love and affection, universal virtues which the world continues to celebrate on the day of his birth. He has always provided succour to people in distress. He has left no one in doubt that he is not content with being rich; in fact, his greatest ambition is to build a community of wealthy people who will in turn provide succour to the needy and by so doing reduce the disparity between the haves and the have-nots. This is why he has continued to live modestly, providing ladders for others to climb into prosperity and wealth.

Sandy Onor is married to a virtuous woman, the quintessential and indefatigable Ntunkae Barrister (Mrs.) Gertrude Manyo Onor, who has been a rock of stability and support to him. This is the last but not the least stable that we will highlight in this tribute that has already become longer than was expected. In a hundred ways, Gertrude has robustly given validity to the assertion that behind every successful man, there is a great woman. She has been a principal conductor of the orchestra of ideas that have blended to make Sandy Onor the colossus that he is. His success story would have been greatly lessened without Gertrude’s devotion to her roles as wife, helper, mother, friend, intercessor, confidant, and house keeper par excellence.

Let me end where I should have begun. The Thoroughbred is a breed of English mares and Arab Stallions primed for racing. The Thoroughbred is a symbol of emergence from highest social statistics. When we contemplate a life like that of Sandy Onor at fifty-seven, we are essentially rotating the patterns of that life in its route from obscurity to fame and achievement. A careful look at the stables out of which Sandy Onor’s life has been shaped gives credence to the fact that nothing is impossible for a man who upholds the values of integrity, persistence and courage in the face of daunting challenges. It is therefore to the glory of God that a chapter that began in-between Nigeria’s most bloody coup d’états on the eve of a devastating civil war has captured the story of an astute administrator, a consummate researcher, an accomplished scholar and a celebrated legislator, whose vision, foresight, courage and achievements, present and generations will continue to harvest and savour. It is thus only most fitting that a child born in the first of the most trying moments in the history of Nigeria has now readied himself for an interventionist service and mission during the very next most trying moment in the history of the same country. In the end, it will be most auspicious for Sandy Onor to say, I came into the world; I saw crisis; I conquered the crisis. Let me end by wishing Senator Prof. Sandy Onor a thousand more seasons of fruiting and propagation of exemplary life, good state of health, great and encouraging returns for every of his effort. I pray that opportunities should continue to open for him so that he will continue to mentor and reshape the destinies of individuals and communities.

Hurray! Distinguished Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Papal knight of the Catholic Church, Fellow of the Historical Society of Nigeria, a Worthy Ntufam of the Ejagham Nation, the Irunandu of Africa, committed Cross Riverian, exemplary Patriot and Champion of good governance – you are thoroughly blessed, a Thoroughbred among great men.

Dr Dave Imbua


Development Consultant, Writer, Editor-In-Chief/Publisher, Public/ Motivational Speaker, Public Affairs Analyst/Commentator, Social Mobilizer of high repute.

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