By Onochie Anibeze
There was something unique about the reception Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan held for the Super Eagles while celebrating their 2013 Nations Cup feat.
Some of the names Nigeria adored long before the present generation were invited. Some of them were already in their 70s and only few who were of the old generation could recognise them.
There was George Oganwu, the first university graduate to play for the Green Eagles as they were called at the time. Then Owolo, Ebiwan Didiare, Godwin Etemike and Jossy Dombraye.
Stephen Keshi and Sylvanus Okpala are old enough to have watched Dombraye in the 70s but I’m not sure they saw George Oganwu play. It was emotional when the presence of these veterans was announced and they were asked to stand for recognition. Oganwu was called to speak. He interjected humour while speaking but made a point that touched all in the hall.
‘’Our own Austin Ofokwu was being buried here in Nigeria, the same day George Best was being lowered to mother earth in England. While we watched on CNN, Sky News, BBC and other cable stations on how they were burying the former England star, our own star died and was buried unsung. We must begin to celebrate our heroes so that the younger ones would want to emulate them.’’
Austin Jay Jay Okocha was in the hall and sat close to me. ‘’Time is coming when we would be like this man and they would be inviting us to make such speeches,’’ Okocha said, smiling and appreciating what the Delta State Government was doing.
At the October 30 sports summit held in Asaba in 2012, former 400m world champion Bert Cameroun of Jamaica awed the audience with some of the things that have made Jamaica great in track and field.
He spoke eloquently on mentoring and revealed that even the history of their past heroes is taught in schools. Jamaican heroes are invited to events and schools to give motivational talks. They are adored and the young ones strive to emulate them. It was against this background that Delta invited these past football heroes from Delta to be part of the reception held for the Eagles. The players were rewarded with cash. Keshi got cash, a house and the Asaba Stadium named after him.
The governor recalled that the feat achieved by Keshi had only been achieved by Mohammed El Gohary of Egypt. He is late now. He won the Nations Cup as a player and as a coach. Keshi has stepped into his shoes and now a living legend in African football. Uduaghan felt justified to so honour Keshi whom he also told that with time he would be invited to be part of a programme his government has already started. Delta is already implementing the report of the 2012 summit which emphasized on sports in schools and local communities. The Governor’s Cup, a football competition among secondary schools is now in the knock out stage. The school that wins will earn cash, a bus and a foreign trip for a youth competition. Delta is also starting a similar thing in track and field with the Awoturo Eleaya Cup. Cult heroes in track and field will play a role. Christian Chukwu, Davidson Onwumi and Jay Jay Okocha all gave motivational talks at the kick off of the Governor’s Cup in Asaba.
Back to the reward night for the Eagles. When Uduaghan stood to speak, he first reacted to the points Oganwu made. Oganwu is from Ilah in Oshimili North Local Government Area of Delta. Uduaghan recalled that Austin Ofokwu that Oganwu remembered hailed from Ilah. He also mentioned Pa John Ojidoh, a veteran sports administrator who at his young age coached track and field, football before becoming an officiating official in athletics and a referee in football.
‘’Pa Ojidoh may not be strong now otherwise he would have been here today,’’ Uduaghan said of the 86 year veteran who still finds time to comment current sports matters. Ojidoh was reacting to developments during the Nations Cup. On January 16, few days to Nigeria’s first match at the Nations Cup, I visited Ojidoh at his home in Ilah. On a sick bed, he spoke on sports, recalling dates in such a manner that marvelled me. His body may be weak but his brain was still sharp.
It was my first visit to Ilah and when I told him that I liked the town he cut this way: ‘’It’s a peaceful place. The white men, the missionaries came here in 1888, before they got to Asaba. Ilah produced the first black and non priest (Lay) to be Principal of the famous St. Gregory’s College in Obalende, Lagos. His name was Paul Amenechi. His younger brother, Patrick was first Nigerian to obtain First Class Honours in Chemistry at the University of Ibadan. Ilah produced the first West
African female Architect in Joy Ugboda, an elder sister of Mrs Ifeajuna. Julius Chigbolu set British and Commonwealth High Jump record in 1954 with a jump of 6.94 mark. He was from Ilah. We can go on and on about the people of Ilah. Austin Ofokwu, a one time captain of the Eagles came from here. Stephen Keshi is from here and before Keshi was Mathew Onyema who was Eagles captain in acting capacity. I wish Keshi wins the Nations Cup so that he can be among the greats from Ilah.’’
And when this happened and Uduaghan was hosting the team he commended the feat from Ilah people and spoke of a possibility of citing a football academy in Ilah. He respects the potentials the town churns out and hopes that there could be more stars from Ilah. That will be commendable. It is a town that has produced stars and ready to continue if the academy comes to town. Oganwu is interested and wishes this to happen.