Ugwuanyi, Enugu Rangers and dignity of Ndigbo
By Louis Amoke
My recent encounter at Agubuowa, in Ezeagu Local Government Area of Enugu State, where I attended the funeral rites of a friend's elder brother, was not only nostalgic but also a memorable one.
It was a day I had the rare opportunity of meeting an array of ex-Rangers International Football Club players, who gathered at the ancestral home of the Anibezes, in Ogwuosha Onuata, Agubuowa, Ezeagu L.GA., to sympathize with them over the demise of their brother, Thomas.
The encounter was a worthwhile experience as it pulled my memory back to the glorious days the pride of the Igbo man was tied to the anthems of the Enugu Rangers International Football Club. The club’s performances then brought tremendous joy and excitement not only to the fans of the club, but also to the Igbo man who appreciated the commitment, zeal and tenacity of the players.
When I arrived at the venue of the event, I sighted the ex-Super Eagles player and Coach, Christian Chukwu, seated with other guests under a canopy adjacent to the entrance of the family's compound. His presence drew my attention to the canopy. I exchanged pleasantries with him and had to sit there. Apart from Chukwu, I was not familiar with any other person under the canopy, until the Master of Ceremony (MC) started the introduction of dignitaries.
I was amazed to realize that the people seated under the said canopy were ex-players of Enugu Rangers International Football Club. I was thrilled when the MC recognized Arthur Egbunam. As I eagerly looked around, I saw him as he stood up beside me and greeted the crowd. When the MC announced the presence of Sylvanus Okpala, I anxiously peeped through the crowd and equally saw him standing up to greet the crowd. The rest of the episode continued the same way until I was able to have a glance of a legion of the ex-Enugu Rangers football players, such as Harrison Okagbue, Francis Nwosu (German War), Stanley Okoronkwo, Mike Ogbuodudu, Fancy Ewulu, Dr. Johny Egbonu, Ikenna Obu, among others including Louis Igwilo who later joined them at the event.
I appreciated their presence and the opportunity to meet them on a face value. The reason was not only because they brought dignity to the Igbo man through their outstanding performances that lifted Enugu Rangers to an enviable height in the country and beyond, but also for their unifying roles that brought joy and unity to the entire Igbo nation. They gave the easterners a sense of belonging and left footprints that were worthy of emulation by the new generation footballers.
One can only appreciate the strong bond that has kept these great warriors together and the secret of their success story. One can equally appreciate the joy the ex-players brought to families, among peers and friends, even enemies each time they played and won their matches.
While seated at the event with some of these gallant warriors, I remembered vividly those days of my tender age when my dad happily analyzed Rangers matches at the end of each day with our neighbours. They would engage the entire compound with sensational analysis of the matches, echoing their voices to the mountain of Kilimanjaro in appreciation of the impressive performances of the Rangers players, such as Christian Chukwu, Emmanuel Okala, Louis Igwilo, Arthur Egbunam, Sylvanus Okpala, Francis Nwosu, popularly called the German War, Mike Ogbuodudu, Dr. Johny Egbonu, among others.
These names have not left my memory and one could imagine how I felt when I saw myself seated with some of these great players at the event. My heart thawed and I couldn't hide my feelings as I devoted most part of my stay appreciating their presence. I saluted their gallant efforts towards the success story of the Rangers International Football Club, during their time. I appreciated God for keeping them healthy and together as one strong and united family with all the attributes of statesmanship.
I left the venue of the funeral ceremony a fulfilled man but saturated with so many worries in my heart concerning the club’s fate since the departure of this set of players over 30 years ago.
As the younger brother to the deceased, Onochie, narrated in a piece he wrote on his encounter with the ex-Ranger players at his village during the elder brother’s burial, entitled, 'Day Chukwu, Okpala, Egbonu led Rangers to my village', Enugu Rangers Football Team was named by the easterners after the end of the civil war and became a movement that gave the Igbo people their identity and boosted their ego which was deflated by the war.
He added that 'it was therefore, very exciting to the Igbo man that Rangers became a hit on formation in 1970, winning the league in 1974, 1975, 1977, 1981, 1982 and 1984 and five Challenge Cup victories'
Currently, there is no doubt that since the inception of Gov. Ugwuanyi's administration in Enugu State, a lot has been done to reposition Rangers International and return it to its original form of winning glory. The governor has shown tremendous interest in the progress of the club and has demonstrated his commitment towards its success. One appreciates the interventionist moves made by the governor shortly after his inauguration towards the amicable resolution of the dispute that erupted between the management of the club and its players over the non-payment of their salary arrears and other incentives.
Gov. Ugwuanyi did not only instruct the Accountant General of the state to take necessary action to ensure that the two months' salary arrears of the players were taken care of, he equally informed the team of his administration's commitment to do everything possible in spite of the drastic drop in the state’s revenue due to the challenges in the oil sector to ensure that the players earn their salaries as a way of motivating them.
At the round table discussion, the governor reminded the team of the symbolic nature of the Rangers' jersey which he said represents 'the soul of an Igbo man'. He charged them to tackle their responsibilities with all seriousness so that their promise to bring a trophy and break the jinx of not winning a trophy in the past 32 years will be actualized.
In a bid to further boost the morale of the team and demonstrate his commitment to the success of Rangers, Gov. Ugwuanyi added 'from the little we have every month, we will consider your arrears in line with other brothers and sisters in other government establishments. We have decided to step down on many activities to ensure that Rangers, IMT, ESUT and other workers are paid their salaries. I understand the difficulties, but it is all because the economy of the country is in bad shape due to the lull in the oil sector.
'We assure and reassure you of our total support at all times. May the support of our forefathers stand behind you always, we cherish you and you are our diamonds. When you win matches we are happy. When you lose matches the economic activities in the state suffers because our people will not celebrate and patronize our joints. May the roads continue to rise ahead of you and may your collective and individual efforts bring the long expected positive result to Enugu State'.
Recently, the Governor through the State Executive Council approved the sum of N30 million for the club as sign on fees for its players and officials beginning from 2012 till date as part of its requirements for registration this 2016 football season.
All these, and other efforts by the governor and his administration, are to keep the dreams of these ex-players of Rangers I stumbled into at the ancestral home of the Anibezes alive. They are also intended to promote the dignity of the Igbo man and rekindle our hope in good governance, perseverance, vision and sustenance of enduring legacies that would drive Enugu State on the path of socio-economic advancement.
With the club's recent impressive performance in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), there is no gainsaying that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It is therefore imperative that the players and the management of the club remember where Rangers was coming from and what the club stood for in the eyes of the Igbo nation. It is also important that the team appreciates the sacrifices and untiring efforts of the present Governor of Enugu State to return Rangers to their winning glory, by raising their performance bar and sustaining its current winning formation to be able to bring trophies to Enugu State this football season.
It is a clarion call that is realizable through dedication, discipline, sacrifice, good tactics and absolute faith in the God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob and awesome God of David. Amen.
Amoke, the Senior Special Assistant to the Enugu State Governor on Media Matters writes from Enugu.