Standing L-R: Emeka Onyedika, Christian Chukwu, Chimezie Ngadi, Charles Okoroigwe, Dominic Ezeani, Kenneth Abana, Foster Ikeagu, Matthias Obianika, Ernest Ufele, TM Eze-Udoye, Coach Dan Anyiam; Squatting L-R: Kenneth Ilodigwe, Ogidi Ibeabuchi, Godwin Ogbueze, Emmanuel Okala, Harrison Mecha, Luke Okpala, Nwabueze Nwankwo[/caption]
“From The Ruins Of War, The Rubble Of Adversity, Dejection Of Defeat Etched In Despondent Faces, Such Signposts Of Wasted Existence Propelled The Desire For A Redefinition Of Life, Enter An Idea The Year 1970, A Dream Is Born,…Rangers International” –Sam Mbah’s, Preface On A Book On Rangers
“These Igbo self, why are they making noise about this Rangers victory as if its the World Cup or a feat no other club in Nigeria has achieved. What is the big deal in something Kano Pillars and Enyimba have won severally” Most Nigerians of the later generation or even history challenged older generation persons are understandably likely to reason the same way as this my friend who posted the above statement in reaction to the jubilation across the country that greeted the decoration of Enugu Rangers International, otherwise called the Flying Antelope, as the Champion of the 2015/2016 Professional football season. This club is not just a commonplace football outfit; it’s a child of necessity.
What you see being celebrated is the history behind this great club and this victory coming at this time of the sociopolitical and economic history of Ndigbo has an enormous significance that you would appreciate if you follow the narration below.
Shortly after the civil war, a dream came through to Chief Jerry Enyeazu who was in the midst of a people grossly weighed down by the outcome of the 30 months brutal civil war. A people from the trauma of defeat and who were clearly knocked down largely due to the preceding economic hardship occasioned by the unjust conversion of all Biafran monies into 20 pounds to each person irrespective of how much you had. The people were searching desperately for what to do to burn out the stress and lift their fatally wounded morale.
Then came the thought of raising a football club to be called “Enugu Rangers”, a name that helped to tie back to the people the “Rangers”, the unique spy group with a lot of Igbo ingenuity that helped the Biafran intelligence persecute the war for 30 months.
On 25th February, 1970 Chief Enyeazu’s dream came through as he combined with some philanthropic Igbo to form the club. In his introduction to a book “Rangers International-the story of Nigeria’s all conquering Clubside’ authored by the trio of very close friends of mine, Sam Mbah of blessed memory, Ikechuckwu Okoye and Okey Ezea (APC gubernatorial flag bearer in Enugu state in 2015), one of the philanthropists, who became life President of the Club, Chief A. W. Ibe wrote “In agreeing to be a part of the idea of the formation of Rangers, I was impelled by a desire to see our people overcome the prevalent feeling of dejection in the aftermath of the war,” That indeed was the spirit that informed the formation of the clubside that did not allow the trauma of war to affect it but instead was propelled to dominate the nation’s football stage for fourteen years at Club and National level.
That was the period Ndigbo needed to come out of the shackles of the brutal war and Rangers provided it. For the past 32 years, even though it remains the only club in the premier league that has not gone on relegation, Rangers never won any trophy.
Reason perhaps being that Enugu State, its current sponsors, had not been too supportive. But on May 29, 2015, a new Governor Hon. Ifeanyichukwu Ugwuanyi mounted the throne and made the difference on Rangers.
The result of his dogged effort is what the club and its numerous supporters are reaping now. Even though following the creation of states, some other clubs were established like Spartans which later turned to Iwuanyanwu Nationale and now Heartland and Enyimba including the Pentecostal clubs like Abia Warriors and Ifeanyi Uba FC all took their inspiration from Rangers who became the Catholics of the game from whom they drew their history.
The symbolic significance of this victory which must not be overlooked is the renaissance of Rangers at this time in the life of Ndigbo. Since the end of the civil war in 1970, Ndigbo have never been as estranged from the Nigeria project as they are under the new dispensation.
Less than ten years after the civil war, Nigeria found it necessary to make an Igboman the number two citizen with Dr Alex Ekwueme emerging as the Vice President in the Second Republic in 1979. In addition, even when Ndigbo did not vote for the then ruling National Party of Nigeria NPN, the position of Speaker of the House of Representatives was still given to an Igbo, late Hon.Edwin Umezuoke. Since then every regime, even the military who fought the war respected the tripod upon which the political foundation of Nigeria was laid.
But today Ndigbo are in the receding tide of national politics, a development not unconnected with the way they voted in 2015 general election, a similar position they took in 1979 yet they got Vice President and Speaker of the National House. But today they are cut up in the 95/5 per cent voting compensation theory. In the executive arm, the situation is even more precarious. They are nowhere near the top positions in the hierarchy.
On security, if the over ten military and para military chiefs, army, Airforce, Navy, Police, Civil Defence, Road Safety, Prisons, Immigration, Customs, Fire service, and DSS meet to discuss national security issues, an Igbo, one of the largest ethnic groups would be conspicuously missing.
The Ministers who had to find a place because it is statutory that every state must be in the cabinet are just nominal in their roles. For instance the real reason that would make a Professor, a former Vice Chancellor of a University serve under an Accountant in Ministry of Education as a Minister is because one is from “95 per cent area” the other from “5 per cent region” and such is obviously not based on competence, qualification or suitability to the function.
As the appointments roll out, whenever you hear an Igbo name, be sure his portfolio is going to be the least in viability. My brother, Osita Okechukwu, all he could get for all the years of shouting Muhammadu Buhari to Ndigbo is Director General of VON, a near moribund Organisation whose budget is not up to a department in NTA.
You may wish to google to find out who got the others. NTA, FRCN, NAN, NBC, NOA. Against this backdrop therefore and added to the economic recession in the land with the level of graduate unemployment in the region, the highest so far, the mood and level of despondency of the people in the region at the time Rangers victory came can be likened to what it was in 1970 soon after the war when this Club was formed.
So for such a moral lifting outfit coming after 32 years to remind the people of their survivalist spirit, the Rangers championship this year should be seen from its allegory. No wonder Senator Ekweremadu said “For us, this is more than just a league title. This is a huge revival, morale booster, and comfort.
It is one great achievement that refreshes memories and our survival instincts as a people. It is a reminder to all our people that though sorrow may endure for a night; joy surely comes in the morning”.
As an Enugu lad who grew up alongside this Club during its ups and downs, I can appreciate the mood within the “Cathedral” and beyond. My felicitations go to the coach and his players who now are on the same honours roll as other Rangers greats, Godwin Achebe pioneer captain 1970 to 1971, Dominic Nwobodo, Kennth Abana, Ernest Ufele, Chairman Christian Chukwu, the longest serving captain from 1974 to 1982, Emmanuel Okala, Jay Jay Okocha, Aloysuis Atuegbu, Christian Madu, Slyvanus Okpara etc. Governor Ugwuanyi who has become the jinx breaker also deserves a special mention for showing extra ordinary interest that produced this extra ordinary result at an extra ordinary time. Up Rangers.
Photos: Uzor Maxim Uzoatu (Facebook)