By Dennis Agbo
The early events of 2021 at Ovoko in Igboeze South Local Government Area have given insight to what could likely play out in Enugu state as the state grapples with intriguing politics of 2023 elections in the state.
Last Sunday, Senator Ike Ekweremadu was slated to kick-off the grand finale of Ovoko Football league at Central primary school Ovoko organised by Ovoko Football Association, but some youth allegedly sponsored by Rep Pat Asadu of Igboeze South/Nsukka Federal Constituency made for relocation of the venue to Ulunya, another part of Ovoko community.
In fact, Saturday Vanguard learnt that the goal posts of the football field for Central primary school were removed by some thugs. The tension made the organizers of the football league relocate the venue to Ulunya ahead of Ekweremadu’s visit. Ekweremadu, however, brushed aside the threats and graced the event to kick-off the tournament after which he also attended a follow-up reception that concluded the tournament. He was said to have made up his mind to attend the event when Hon. Asadu allegedly did not pick or return his calls.
However, what ignited the political suspicion that followed was a report that the former Deputy President of the Senate was ‘chased out’ and ‘whisked’ away from the venue of the tournament, a report that community members and stakeholders of the tournament said was far from the truth. They said the false report was sponsored when the initial efforts to scuttle the event failed.
Narrating what took place, Chairman of Ovoko Football Association, OFA, denied any type of assault on Ekweremadu, noting that despite the controversy that trailed the league grand finale, Ekweremadu will still come again for the same function.
OFA also denied the report that a court order barred the group from exercising the tournament, but said that it was some politicians who turned the sports event into a political controversy.
Chairman of the group, Mr. Nnaemeka Onaragu and the publicity secretary, Onyebuchi Ugwu in a statement said that the executive committee and entire members of OFA were disappointed in the attempts to politicize the 2020 edition of the annual football League.
According to the group “We are also surprised at the sponsored fake news that former Deputy Senate President, Chief Ike Ekweremadu, was chased or whisked away from the grand finale of the 2020 edition of Ovoko football competition. The Senator performed the official kick-off amid fanfare before proceeding to the venue of reception where our people turned out en masse, both young and old, to honour and appreciate him.”
OFA rather took offence at Rep. Pat Asadu, for failing to sponsor the league which they said resulted in Ekweremadu’s involvement in the tournament in the first place.
“The fact remains that we first approached Hon. Asadu to sponsor the front of the jersey for N500, 000, but he bluntly refused. We therefore reached out to Chief Celestine Okanya, who paid for it, but preferred that the name of his friend, Chief Ekweremadu, be written at the front of the jerseys because he planned to invite him as the Chief Guest of honour to kick-off of the grand finale.
“Likewise, former Chairman of Igbo-Eze South Council, Hon. Festus Ozioko, paid for the back of the jersey, but directed that the Governor’s name be written on it instead. So, where is the politics in having the name of a well-known sports enthusiast and promoter on our jersey as preferred by the sponsor? Furthermore, there is no court order directed at OFA to stop the tournament. We appreciate His Excellency, Chief Ike Ekweremadu more for coming to Ovoko to successfully perform the official kick-off ceremony of the final grand finale.
“We remain grateful to him for his love for our youths and community and look forward to future partnership with him. We are solidly for the development of Ovoko, whether it is facilitated from Ovoko, Aninri or wherever. We cannot be intimidated,” OFA said.
Even though Ekweremadu hails from Enugu West Senatorial zone, it was gathered the youths, men and women of Ovoko community trouped to the stretch of road to the venue of the league to receive him because of his statesmanship. Also on hand to receive him was the priest of the Catholic Parish, Rev. Fr. Felix Ugwuozor.
The former deputy Senate President was reported to have attracted many development projects across the three zones of Enugu state, while his scholarship and bursary awards were cut across the State.
After the official kick-off, Ekweremadu, who said he was billed for other events, proceeded to the reception venue amidst jubilation and drumming. Community members took turns to commend him for being a Senator for every part of Enugu State, describing him as a “cowpea that knows no boundary.”
A community leader and patron of the Ovoko Football Association, Chief Celestine Okanya, who spoke on behalf of the community, described the lawmaker’s politics as “a people and development-oriented brand”.
Saturday Vanguard learnt that whereas the news that Ekweremadu would be the Chief Guest of Honour to kick-off the grand finale elicited joy among Ovoko youths, it apparently did not go down well with a notable politician from the community and some political interests in Nsukka zone, who read 2023 politics into it. Although Ekweremadu has not declared any interest or kick-started consultations, rumours of his alleged governorship ambition have remained a recurring decimal every election cycle since 2007.
Allegation has it that some persons wanted the OFA to replace the ‘Ikeoha’ inscription on the tournament jerseys but failed. ”They tried to use the law court, but committed a grave error in listing the respondents; hence they could not serve it on OFA,” an insider revealed.
It was further alleged that a notable politician from the community imported thugs from Kogi State to destabilise the event and possibly attack Ekweremadu and his entourage, but ended up removing the goal posts which made for a change of venue. The plot was also strongly resisted by the youths.
Addressing the community, Ekweremadu pledged to support Ovoko youth to actualise their potentials. He said that he expanded his scholarships across the state, as it would be a big, collective loss if any Enugu child destined to be governor, senator, inventor or president missed the opportunity because he or she could not go to school to actualise his or her potential.
He noted that the ongoing Awka-Ugwuoba-Oji River-Nachi-Udi-9th Mile-Abor-Ukehe-Opi Road as well as Ozalla-Agbani-Akpugo-Amagunze-Ihuokpara-Ebonyi road, among others, which he and his team attracted, was part of his efforts to ensure that all parts of the State were well linked up for seamless relationships.
“I came to Ovoko to build a partnership that works with the young people. At this stage, I consider myself a Senator representing every part of Enugu State; hence I have done several projects around Enugu North Senatorial District like Ikwuoka-Amagu-Obimo road, Iheaka road, etc. I have given transformers, I have done water projects, and we are determined to do even more.
“In Enugu West where I come from, we introduced the Enugu West Water for All Programme and acquired a rig for that. We have done over 50 boreholes in the past few years alone. So, in 2021/2022, we are going to devote our rig to Nsukka zone, starting from Ovoko. Our aspiration is to change the story of our people so that it will be better for all of us”.
The Member representing Nsukka/Igbo-Eze South Federal Constituency, Hon. Pat Asadu, who is a member of the community denied any complicity in the crisis but instead accused the OFA of politicising the annual football tournament.
Asadu said: “At my level, there is hardly anything that would happen in Ovoko and the people won’t call my name. I didn’t know that Ekweremadu was coming to my country home. I only read that on social media.
“Anyone alleging that I hired some boys who pulled down the goal posts should provide evidence linking me to the incident. What I noticed was that there was a football tournament, which the vigilante group said they should not play because they noticed the politics and the misgivings involved.
“For the 24 years that the tournament held, this is the first time that the football association is inviting someone from Aninri or Orba or any community outside Ovoko to sponsor it. Therefore, some people were not comfortable with the arrangement and they went to court to obtain an order to stop it.”