Nigeria has not been very appreciative of the marvelous and wonderful contributions of the Igbo region even before independence.
Almost in all ﬁelds, Igbo sons and daughters have been contributing immensely towards the growth and development of the country. Ndigbo live in all the cities and villages in Nigeria equally play major roles in their development and growth.
The last Igbo head of government was Major General Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi Ironsi who reigned for only six months and that was 54 years ago. 1966. Since then Ndigbo has produced only one army chief, Azubuike Ihejirika., one secretary to the federal government, one inspector general of police, while the zone suﬀers an unprecedented high scale of marginalization from successive administrations from the centre.
Devastated, dejected and depressed, Ndigbo who were bombarded, blockaded and dehumanized by the murderous Nigerian Army, boldly and courageously bounced back to reckoning just immediately after the needless and senseless civil war otherwise known as Nigeria, Biafra war, that consumed about two million Igbo souls.
This story is about the giant strides of Ndigbo after the war. It is South East’s beautiful attitudes and fortitudes in post war Nigeria. As a matter of fact, the ﬁrst wonder was the continental brand called Rangers. The team put together by the irrepressible sports guru, Chief Jerry Enyeazu, and technically guided by Nigeria’s ﬁrst ever certiﬁed football coach, Dan Anyiam, took the country’s soccer scene by storm.
Within the ﬁrst ﬁve years, Rangers had lifted the Federation Cup, then known as Challenge Cup thrice and were about the number, Premier League Champions. Had the ﬁnal of the 1975 CAF League Champions been decided in Enugu as it was originally billed, Rangers, certainly, might have won the most prestigious African club title that year. But the ﬁnal was taken to Lagos and Rangers lost gallantly to Haﬁa of Guinea! The import here is, Rangers were the ﬁrst Nigerian club to play in the ﬁnal of any CAF organized championship – just ﬁve years after the tragic civil war. Therefore, the suﬃx, International to their name. Two years later, in 1977, Rangers, after seeing oﬀ Shooting Stars of Ibadan in an all Nigeria semi ﬁnal game in the CAF Cup, went ahead to be crowned Champions in that category. Rangers were African champions only after seven years.
Still on football, we are proud to state that our own Chairman Christian Chukwu, was Super Eagles captain when Nigeria hosted and won the African Nations Cup for the ﬁrst time in 1980. Other Igbo wards in that glorious squad were Emma Okala, David Adiele, Okey Isima, Alloy Atuegbu, Sylvanus Okpala, Ifeanyi Onyedika and Henry Nwosu. One of the assistant coaches to Otto Gloria was Issac Nnado.
Three years after Chukwu led Eagles to a successful Nations Cup campaign, another Igbo, the hard working football coach, Chris Udemezue, qualiﬁed Nigeria to her ﬁrst ever FIFA organized football event. Udemezue attained this height of glory when he took the Flying Eagles to FIFA U -20 World Cup in Mexico ’83. This was a remarkable breakthrough as it made other FIFA qualiﬁers for Nigeria very possible. From here Nigeria represented Africa for four straight appearances in the FIFA U – 20 World Cup ﬁnals: Mexico ’83, Moscow ’85, Chile ’87, Saudi and ’89.
It was still the Igbo spirit of football ingenuity that Nigeria relied on to get to the ﬁnals of the World Cup for the ﬁrst time in USA ’94. The man who expertly piloted that pathway was the indefatigable sports manager of note, the late Sir Emeka Omeruo! It was not the ﬁrst time an Igbo ward would be charting a colorful sports master plan for Nigeria. Mind you, Enyeazu, as the ﬁrst director of sports, articulated the programmes that ensured the country staged the Second All Africa Games in 1973. He equally drew the proposal and design that eventuated as the National Institute of Sports, Lagos.
At a time, when Nigeria was termed a pariah state by the international community, one of our own, Nwankwo
Kanu, acrobatically and magically catapulted Nigeria to Olympic soccer gold after his indisputable sublime skills saw both Brazil and Argentina sprawling by the wayside in the semi ﬁnal and ﬁnal games of Atlanta ’96 Olympics. In likewise manner, Chioma Ajunwa, invoking both tenacity and ﬂair in the ’96 Olympics, headed home as the ﬁrst African to win an Olympic gold medal in track and ﬁeld events, and the ﬁrst Nigerian ever to be bedecked as Olympic gold medalist in any event.
Following Rangers’ 1975 Champions League loss, no other Nigerian club had a successful campaign in the competition. Twice, Shooting Stars reached the ﬁnal, twice they were beaten (1984, ’96) by Zamalek of Egypt! Twice Heartland went all the way to the ﬁnal, twice, they lost to Serif of Algeria 1988 and TP Mezambe of Congo 2009. In view of the foregoing, the Nigerian sporting press termed the championship, elusive CAF Champions League. Yet, it took the soccer artistry and sophistication of an Igbo club – Enyimba of Aba, to break a 39 year jinx for Nigeria. Of course, Enyimbadiditin a most scintillating and dramatic fashion: winning it back -to – back in 2003 and 2004!!! The men who made it possible was Orji Uzor Kalu as Abia State governor and Felix Anyansi Agwu as club chairman.
Even before independence, the exploits of Dick Tiger Richard Ihetu are well documented. He was so victorious that the Ring, a voice in global boxing named him as the only African in its World Boxing Hall of Fame. Of course, the pioneer sports champion was Emmanuel Ifeajuna who won gold in 1954 Commonwealth Games high jump and that launched the country to the world of sports.
In showbiz and entertainment, Ndigbo’s wards rule the stage. Igbo faces are the brands. Think of Kanayo, Edochie, Osuiﬁa, Ibu, Aki, Pawpaw, Victor Osuagwu, Rita Dominic, Genevieve Nnaji, Eucharia Anunobi, Uche Jombo, Bob Manuel, Clemen Ohameze, late Ashley Nwosu, etc.
When you talk of commerce and industry, the Igbo made it happen. This is so because, Sir Louis Ojukwu started the Nigeria Stock Exchange while his son, Emeka, was the ﬁrst to enter the army as a graduate.
These are the beatitudes – beautiful attitudes – of Biafra, Ndigbo in sports. Really, we recall the towering of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who led the country to independence. Ironsi was Nigeria’s ﬁrst general as well as ﬁrst military head of state.
In education, the ﬁrst Nigerian vice chancellor, Prof K.O. Dike,
was Igbo. He transformed the University College of Ibadan to a modern university and made it the envy of other universities in Africa. Also, the second vice chancellor in Nigeria was Prof Eni Njoku and he was the administrator that built University of Lagos and made a true citadel of learning. In arts and culture, Painter Egweonwu and Chinua Achebe’s profound contributions cannot be overemphasized even as they cannot also bear repeatation here.
I chose to dwell more on sports for a reason. You see, Igbo are able to achieve huge successes in football because there were no excessive government interferences. The players, athletes, coaches and administrators who have been doing Ndigbo and Nigeria proud, would not have got the opportunity and support if the government of the day had powers to stop them. But it is individual performance, ability and exhorts, not executive order, oﬀer, project or appointment!!!
The meaning is that had Nigeria allowed Ndigbo their fair share politically, the country would have been better, brighter and beautiful.