By Jacob Ajom
THE signs are ominous. The Nigerian football family is agitated. Chairman, Christian Chukwuemeka Chukwu is ill. And the sickness is serious. There is no gain saying the fact that the former Nigeria captain and 1980 AFCON winner requires unqualified medical attention. Chukwu’s illness has been widely reported. Nigerians expressed outrage, consternation and frustration after images of the former coach of Rangers International Football Club of Enugu were published in the local media. Unfortunately, a section of the media sparked off a controversy that shouldn’t have been, a controversy that has politicised Chukwu’s sickness. And family sources said “that was part of the reasons Chukwu did not want his sickness to be made public”.
But Chukwu’s case is not a hopeless one as words of support have come from almost every part of the world. Positive reactions have come from north, south, east and west, even from abroad, pledging support for the ailing footballer. Right now, the former national team captain is still in an Enugu hospital where he is receiving treatment.
Contrary to reports that tend to insinuate that the Enugu State government had neglected or abandoned the veteran coach to his fate, a family source has told this reporter that the government of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwanyi had stood firm behind the coach and has contributed to settling his initial medical bills.
However, there was a twist to the whole saga when renowned America-based philanthropist and a patron of an association of Ex-Enugu Rangers players based in the US, Benson Ejindu learned of Chukwu’s ailment. Our source said Ejindu directed that Chukwu be moved to another hospital, where he still is to date. Furthermore, he has also offered that the former Nigeria international be flown abroad for ‘proper medical treatment.’
But Chukwu’s employers, the Enugu State government thinks differently. “Chukwu can be adequately treated here without having to go abroad,” an Enugu state government official was quoted as saying. However, many Nigerians, particularly, Chukwu’’s former colleagues in the national team and Rangers are not on the same page with the state government. Even his family are of the opinion that their breadwinner be flown abroad for medical attention. “This would enhance his recovery and see him back to his feet sooner than later,” a member of the family said.
Another concerned fan of Chukwu quipped, “we know that many big men when they fall sick they fly abroad, Even the former Chief Press Secretary to Enugu State government, Late Felix Abugwu was flown to India, where he died, unfortunately,” adding, “even our President goes abroad for medical check up. How different is Chukwu’s case?”
Former Team Manager of defunct Vasco Da Gama Football Club of Enugu, Diewait Ikpechukwu said he would welcome the idea of taking Chukwu abroad, even as he acknowledged the effort of Enugu State Governor. “I want to say here that at the moment Chukwu is in very safe hands, in a very good hospital. Chukwu is a legend who brought glory and honour to Enugu state, Nigeria and Africa as a whole. The state government has been very involved in his treatment and, I must tell you that Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi is a great fan of Chukwu who will not let anything bad happen to him.”
Continuing, Ikpechukwu who is also a member of the Abia State Football Association recalled, “for all I know, Christian Chukwu is the technical consultant to Rangers International of Enugu, so both the state government and the management of Rangers Football Club have shown a lot of commitment since he fell sick. Whoever says otherwise is not being fair to those concerned.”
He cleared the air on the intentions of US based Benson Ejindu, Patron of Association of ex-Rangers players in the diaspora. Said Ikpechukwu, “Ejindu has never said Chukwu had been abandoned by the Enugu State government. Ejindu is a Rangers fan and has always identified with anything that concerns the club. Indeed, if you see Ejindu looking sad and you want him to be happy, just mention Rangers. He is that fanatical about Rangers.”
Continuing, Ikpechukwu said, “I do not know who is trying to bring disaffection between the governor and Ejindu because they have no problem between them.”
Former Chairman of Enugu State chapter of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria, Dan Ikpechukwu now based in Atlanta, USA said this of Ejindu: “I have known Benson Ejindu as one whose interest and passion for sports especially Rangers International Football Club of Enugu transcends personal showing off. As a former athlete during his high school days in CIC Enugu, Ejindu became the building block and foundation upon which former Rangers players residing in the United States formed an association which cares for former Rangers players facing various life challenges. Some of the former Rangers players in the continental United States of America who are working with Ejindu to ensure that former Rangers players are not forgotten include, skipper Ik Ofoje, Donald Igwebuike, Sam Onyeaka and Totty Okoro Totty. Ejindu has doled out his personal finances to sponsor the gathering of these ex-Rangers players in various cities like Baltimore, Atlanta and Houston and even gone further in inviting players from other clubs like IICC to be part of these events. He became the patron of the ex-Rangers club and has been responsible for traveling expenses of former Rangers players in Nigeria to the US for these events. He donated towards medical expenses for late Christian Madu when he was sick and has done same for Emmanuel Okala and now Christian Chukwu.
Ejindu will always joke with me and say, “Dan you know as an original Enugu boy and former athlete with CIC, Rangers will always remain a symbol of unity for Igbos and the greatest club on earth and so, any Rangers player will also remain an idol to me.” When it comes to Rangers, Ejindu’s philanthropic gestures know no bound. Here in the US, we call him the Most Valuable Player, MVP not because he is still active in sports but for his big heart in supporting Rangers and Rangers players especially those of them who played during the years of little or no remuneration and recognition for club and national assignments”.
In the same vein, two-time chairman of Enugu State chapter of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN) and a former correspondent of Vanguard in old Anambra state, Sir Abuchi Anueyiagu who has known Christian Chukwu since 1983 said, instead of villifying Benson Ejindu, the man should be commended for his patriotism and undying love for Rangers International Football Club of Enugu and former players of the club, particularly, those who played for the club when there was no money in football. “Whoever trie to malign him in any form would be unacceptable to me. I know what he has been doing for former Rangers players who played in the early days. Remember, Rangers was like a movement that engender the reintegration of the Igbos into Nigeria after the civil war. Having known that these people suffered for the country without anything to show, he has been assisting them in numerous ways. Once, he invited them to the US where they underwent comprehensive medical check-up before their return. He has been consistent in his passion and love for the club and all that concerns it,” the veteran journalist said.
Chukwu’s teammate and his assistant in the 1980 AFCON-winning squad, Segun Odegbami said very little, but was consistent with the fact that Enugu State had not abandoned his ailing former colleague. “The situation is not the way it has been portrayed.. I am in touch with the family. I think what the commissioner said is enough to clear all doubts about the commitment of the state government.”
In his own reaction, former national teammate of Christian Chukwu, Adokiye Amiesimaka said, “it is unfortunate that some people took to crying wolf on social media and suspiciously appealed for a specific amount even when they admitted not knowing what the ailment was.
Happily, Enugu State Government has reportedly refuted social media reports and given the assurance that it is alive to its responsibility and doing the needful. I wish my dear skippo a speedy recovery.”
The man at the centre of the storm, Christian Chukwu spoke from his hospital bed. “My sickness should not elicit any form of controversy,” he said, pointing out that he will ever remain indebted to both the Enugu State government and his benefactor, Benson Ejindu “who have shown great commitment toward his sickness”.