The iconic Zik of Africa and Nigeria’s greatest political evangelist was officially the first Nigerian to read his obituary (while he was still alive). After the Zik’s rumoured death which caused a huge national embarrassment, other notable Nigerians, including Fela, IBB, Yar’Adua, Nzeribe, Obasanjo and even Buhari, have at one time or the other said to have kicked the bucket but it came out to be lie.
Last weekend, the social media platforms were awash with the agonizing obituary of the former legendary captain of the famous Rangers of Enugu and sensational Super Eagles of Nigeria, Christian Chukwu, who turned 70 on January, 4, 2020. People jumped up and down trying to confirm the veracity or otherwise of Chukwu’s death rumour. There was panic which gave way for pain in the inner soul.
As the seconds thick away, minutes slide into hours and hours into days, the true position became clearer – Chukwu, the man with four C’s (Captain Christian Chukwu, Chairman) is not dead. In fact as veteran journalist and editor, Vanguard on Saturday, Mr. Onochie Anibeze, said: “Chukwu is alive, healthy and hearty, dancing and kicking”.
Responding, Chukwu, perhaps, roundly perplexed even smitten, said: ““I am terribly embarrassed with this news that I am dead. Several people have been calling me from across the world since the news broke. I am still investigating the source of the story”. He advised journalists and social media influencers to always investigate and get their facts right before writing.
It was not the first time Chukwu was involved in death hysteria. During the 1976 CAF Champions League quarter final campaign against ASF Police of Senegal which Rangers won 2 -1, the Senegalese fans descended heavily on the Nigerian representatives. They never allowed the team to leave the stadium. Even security men deployed to protect the visitors joined hands with the fans in the obnoxious attack. In fact, Chukwu and two other Rangers players were dangerously stabbed. It took the supreme order of then military head of state, now retired General Olusegun Obasanjo who flew military plane to Dakar to rescue Rangers.
There was a dramatic display of irony for Chukwu between 1980 and 1981 which also caused people to fear for his life. On the final day of the 1980 African Cup of Nations which Chukwu led Eagles lifted for Nigeria for the first time, he, as the captain, was cheered and applauded when the then president, the late Shehu Shagari, handed him the Unity Cup.
Iwuanyanwu Nationale now Heartland FC chartered
an Oriental Airlines plane to fly home from Tunis the night of
the game in 1994, but upon landing at Tamanrasset in
southern Algeria, the plane hit a runway lamp and a fire
truck and crashed. Two players, defender Aimola Omale and
goalkeeper Uche Ikeogu, lost their lives in the accident. When
the news of the crash filtered out, the rumour was that all
aboard the aircraft, including Chukwu, perished. Again,
miraculously, Chukwu escaped death by the whiskers.
The following year, Nigeria faced the same Algeria in a 1982 Spain World Cup qualifier which ended disastrously for both Chukwu and Nigeria. It is remarkable to recall that the great Chukwu had announced his retirement from the national team. He was however recalled to duty on the day the Desert Warriors of Algeria came calling.
Following Chukwu’s, having captained the Eagles for six years, crowning it with the Nations Cup victory on home soil, an upcoming but dynamic player, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, had already and effectively stepped into Chukwu’s shoes. But on the day of the excruciating encounter on October 10, 1981, Keshi who had established a good understanding with the other defenders like Kadiri Ikhana and Tunde Bamidele in the central defence, was benched for a struggling giant, Chukwu.
As fate would have it, the two goals Algeria scored Nigeria came via Chukwu’s position. After the blunder had already been committed, Chukwu was pulled out and replaced with Keshi. As Chukwu was coming out of the pitch, the same Lagos spectators that had cheered and applauded him a year ago jeered and booed him. The hysteria was high and there was fear that Chukwu’s life was threatened and so security around him was beefed up.
Tragedy struck Heartland in the champions league in 1994. Nationale reached the Champions Cup quarter-final, losing 3–0 to Espérance of Tunisia in first leg tie, 18 September, in Algeria. Iwuanyanwu chartered an Oriental Airlines plane to fly home from Tunis the night of the game, but upon landing at Tamanrasset in southern Algeria, the plane hit a runway lamp and a fire truck and crashed.
Two players, defender Aimola Omale and goalkeeper Uche Ikeogu, lost their lives in the accident, along with the pilots and a flight attendant. According to striker Tony Nwaigwe, the plane broke into three pieces on landing. Due to the crash, the CAF shifted the return leg match in Owerri from 3 to 10 October.
Nationale would draw the return match 1–1, failing to advance in the competition. The connection here is, Chukwu was Nationale now Heartland coach. When the news of the crash filtered out, the rumour was that all aboard the aircraft, including Chukwu, perished. Again, miraculously, Chukwu escaped death rumour of death by the whiskers.
In view of Chukwu’s intimidating credentials as a coach, he was appointed the Super Eagles coach and he supervised the team to the Tunisia 2004 Nations and Germany 2006 World Cup qualifying campaigns. In Tunisia, Chukwu came home with a bronze medal. But in 2006, he could not qualify the country for the mundial. In the home game against Palancas Negras Angola in Kano, the Eagles shockingly got a 1-1draw and that effectively sealed the World Cup fate.
After the match, Chukwu’s life was once again threatened by the angry fans who blamed him for the World Cup ouster. On account of that, Chukwu and the other technical crew was given a police escort out of the stadium but was dismissed by his employers, NFF.
About two years ago, Chukwu was diagnosed with a life threatening illness. However, hope came from unexpected quarters when oil magnet, Femi Otedola doled out N50m and flew Chukwu overseas for proper medical attention. When he was healed, Chukwu declared, “after God, Otedola is the next in my life”. Chukwu still lives despite the death rumour hysteria.