By Onochie Anibeze
Ben Osi Umunna had just returned from England with what everybody accepted as a rich resume as far as sports is concerned.
Aside being a businessman, he was linked with Crystal Palace FC in England where he was a director.
He lived in England for years, acquired experience in business and football management. He also married there.
It was, therefore, no surprise that many celebrated his appointment as chairman of Enugu Rangers FC in 1987.
Umunna transformed the management of the Flying Antelopes. He pulled all the strings to make the club a professional outfit, well run, although Rangers were still one of Nigeria’s top clubs then.
Rangers reigned in the 1970s and 80s and the most successful chairman of the club then, Jim Nwobodo, was so made popular by football that he later became governor of old Anambra State.
Umunna was heading in the same direction as chairman of Enugu Rangers. He was popular although I had issues with him. His passion for Enugu Rangers was such that he took criticisms very personal. In fact, you became his enemy if you were not supporting Rangers in all ramifications. He fumed over my reports or analysis anytime Rangers lost and even picked on me at a press conference. He was just a bad loser. But he brought class to the club and Rangers were on the rise again following his input.
He ventured into politics, and during one of his campaign runs to be governor of Anambra State he was killed in a motor accident in 1991. The death shocked us all. It was painful losing him in that circumstance. That marked the end of an era for the Umunnas.
But his son, Chuka has since marked the beginning of another era with a great potential to be equally great, perhaps greater, in far away England where he was born and has lived all his life. He is British for those who may want to claim him now that he is warming himself into the hearts of his people. But no doubt, African, nay Nigerian blood flows in his veins, the beautiful black blood that irrigates the field as the poet, David Diop would put it poetically.
Nigerians could be proud of the waves Chuka is making in the United Kingdom but they cannot claim him. They can only support him the way Risq Animasaun does. Risq, another British Nigerian writes a column for us on Sundays. She is British, though the daughter of veteran journalist, Kola Animasaun, who was chairman of our editorial board. She is an activist whose concerns for the black and campaigns against bullying in offices and elsewhere have earned her respect in Streatham in London.
Interestingly, Umunna represents Streatham in the British Parliament. He did not only succeed in his re-election bid last week, he is also among those gunning to lead the Labour Party in England and hoping to dethrone the Tories in five years.
Chuka is 36 now and will be 41 during the next elections in 2020. He is about the youngest among those tipped to succeed Ed Miliband who resigned as leader of the Labour Party after the Conservatives won squarely last week.
Chuka Umunna has been enjoying huge media attention since last week. Just first public appearance with Alice, his girl friend attracted banner headlines on Monday.
The Daily Mirror of London described him as “smooth, well dressed, ex-lawyer and son of a Nigerian businessman.” The paper published his picture with Alice in a two page spread.
“He was also a DJ in Ibiza. He is a leading player in the race for Labour crown,” the Daily Mirror said of the young man Britons call ‘UK’s Obama’. Like Barack Obama, Chuka is charismatic and very eloquent. He makes brilliant speeches and he is admired by many who nod over his candour and commend his work as a parliamentarian. Obama was a lawmaker before he became President of USA, the first African-American to occupy that illustrious position yet. And here is Chuka Umunna the Parliamentarian now planning to lead a party and hit the road running for the Premiership. Obama’s father was from Kenya and Chuk’s from Nigeria. Obama’s mother was American and Chuka’s British. Striking similarities, you would say. But wait a minute. Barack’s wife is black. Chuka’s girlfriend is white. It even goes well for Chuka in this context. But love is what matters, not colour. And when it comes to the nitty gritty of the party race, Chuka should hope that what should matter is performance and not colour.
Although it looks a high hurdle, Chuka’s chance could be brightened by the withdrawal of Dan Jarvis who was favoured to lead Labour and begin the race to N0. 10 Downing Street, a somewhat uphill task now going by the disastrous defeat of Labour in the last elections. Although Jarvis may still not be entirely ruled out, he says his family comes first and that he would like to remain a strong family man, having lost his wife to cancer and just remarried. He was said to be leading in a survey before his seeming red light.
“We are down but not out,” Chuka says of Labour’s defeat. “We can do it in five years if we make the right decisions now and present that aspirational and compassionate case to the British people that Labour does so well .. there’s no reason we can’t get back in 2020.” Chuka exudes confidence and that counts for him.
The Mirror reported that Tony Blair’s right hand man, Peter Mandelson has endorsed Chuka who has formally declared he is running for Labour’s leadership.
“I’m proud of the work he is doing and we will vote for him and continue to support him,” Animasaun said on the eve of the elections. She lives in Streatham and always speaks well of Chuka who represents them and tries to reach out to the people in the area. It is the same area that produced Naomi Campbell; good things appear to come from Streatham.
But Chuka Umunna abruptly withdrew Friday from the race to become the new leader of Britain’s defeated centre-left Labour opposition party, three days after announcing his intention to run.
In a statement, Umunna blamed the “added level of pressure that comes with being a leadership candidate”.
“I have not found it a comfortable experience,” the 36-year-old said.
Win or lose, Chuka, at 36, has made tremendous impact politically. His future appears brighter.
“He was just a kid when his father died doing politics. He has stepped into the shoes of his father and now accomplishing what death stopped his father from accomplishing. I’m sure that his father will be happy with him wherever he is and I’m sure the spirit of his father is supporting him,” Edwin Eze, full of emotions, said from Enugu. He worked with Ben Osi Umunna, the father of Chuka in Enugu Rangers and the exploits of the fallen football buff are still green in his memory.
Member of Parliament of the United Kingdom
Chuka Harrison Umunna is a British Labour politician who has been Member of Parliament for Streatham since 2010 and Shadow Business Secretary since 2011. Wikipedia
Born: October 17, 1978 (age 36), Streatham, United Kingdom
Office: Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills since 2011
Party: Labour Party
Parents: Bennett Umunna, Patricia Umunna
Education: Nottingham Trent University (2002), more
THOSE HE WOULD HAVE CONTESTED WITH
DAVID MILIBAND, 49
ED’s older brother, who lost out to him in 2010 contest. He isn’t an MP and works in US but is readers’ second favourite.
ANDY BURNHAM, 45
SHADOW Health Secretary. very popular with the left for battling to save the NHS from Tory cuts. A serious contender.
GLORIA DE PIERO, 44
The Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities. Ex-TV newsreader has quickly become a rising star in party.
YVETTE COOPER, 46
The Shadow hOME Secretary. A survivor of Blair-Brown era. Wed to Ed Balls but very much her own.
HARRIET HARMAN, 64
ACTING party leader and Ed’s former deputy. vastly experienced and longest serving woman MP.
Tristram Hunt, 40
The Shadow Education Secretary. TV historian. keen to reach John Lewis shoppers as well as working class.
STELLA CREASY, 38
MP for Sutton Coldfield. Her parents were active Labour members. Won praise for fighting payday loan rip-offs.
LIZ KENDALL, 43
The Shadow Health Minister Ex-Blair adviser with a steely determination. Not afraid to seek reform of public services.