Togo, Nigeria, Rangers

This sounds like fairy tale. Enugu Rangers got 25,000 naira from  General Olusegun Obasanjo in 1977 for lifting the African Winners Cup. Forty four years later, the players are waiting for their share of the money.

It does appear that the largesse was shared by government and club officials in what appeared like a bazaar. And to cap it all, there are claims that part of the money was used to hire new players at the end of the 1977 season.

This defence does not hold water because the governor of Anambra State in 1978, Col. John Atom Kpera provided all that the Flying Antelopes needed to excel and was ever willing to increase subvention to attract new players.

Kpera was Camp Commandant of the Games Village during the Lagos ’73 Second All Africa Games. He loved soccer and did well for his state team. Even his wife, Ruth Ayam Kpera followed Rangers keenly during her days in Enugu.

My investigations showed that when some senior players tried to call attention to the Obasanjo Award and envisaged a sharing formula that included Junior players,they were suspended.

Among those sanctioned were Christian Madu, popularly called ‘Gabu’ by the junior players, Chimezie ‘Watch me’ Ngadi, Stanley ‘Englishman’ Okoronkwo, Okwuchukwu ‘Stone’ Anigbogu and Francis ‘ German Wall’ Nwosu.

It sounded crazy that Ngadi,who was the club’s leading scorer in the African Winners Cup with five goals including a hattrick against Electric Company of Ethiopia would be suspended for fighting injustice.

Madu, who was lured back from Ghanaian side, Accra Great Olympics was eventually sacked. His wife, part of Rangers’ medical team was also fired. Gabu scored against Canon Sportif, Cameroun in Lagos.

Right winger, Sam Onyeaka who was bloodied in Dakar, Senegal by fans of AS Police after he laid an assist for Ngadi to score,  before firing goal number two, is still in the dark about what happened to the money.

Speaking with some of these stars could force tears down one’s cheeks. And we got chatting.Onyeaka, an Engineer, lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Arthur Ebunam, a Textile Engineer stays in Powder Springs, Georgia.

Aloysius Atuegbu and Okey Isima are dead but their brothers spoke. Fidelis, the youngest of the Famous Five Atuegbu Brothers has a home in Livermore, California. Ndu Isima is based in Durban, South Africa.

Onyeaka said : “ Emeka, this will touch some nerves, wake up the dead and weaken souls. Did any player benefit from the Obasanjo 25,000 naira reward, I don’t know. It is still a secret kept away from me till today. I was considered a rebel and nothing of such came my way.”

I was shocked to hear this from a man nicknamed 404 by ace commentator Ernest Okonkwo and known to friends as ‘Achimota’.

“Yes, Rangers supporters wouldn’t know the pains, the hardship some players endured to keep them happy. Were the players happy even after winning a match? Hell NO.

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“The officials ( not coaches and team managers), earned more than the players, win or lose. Wait until you hear what it took to feed Rangers players outside the country. You have to find that out by yourself”,Onyeaka added.

“I got nothing, after I gave all my life, sacrificing my flesh and blood but we kept playing to satisfy our brothers and sisters. Their support was all that mattered to us. Many players were oppressed and their careers terminated for being outspoken.”

Ebunam, was one of the younger players. “ I was quite young and observed a lot. We did not see the money given to us at Dodan Barracks. That was the major reason I decided to move to Standard of Jos, with Okey Isima and Humphrey Okechukwu,” he told me.

“ I left for the United States in 1979 but that was after Standard defeated Rangers home and away. It was my subtle way of protesting.

“ I returned to Rangers in 1983 but again, management wasn’t ready to do the right thing. So I went back to the North. I joined BCC Lions in 1984 and later El Kanemi Warriors. In the North, you get paid your worth and they were honest in dealing with players.”

Fidelis Atuegbu would not spare the officials.

He said : “ Our people need to know the complete story. As a country, we cannot continue to cover up misdeeds under the misguided notion of sparing the sensitivities of people in high places.

“It is our History and it needs to be told. That way, our future generation can learn from it.”

Ndu Isima said : “ Jim Nwobodo took every necessary step to bring Okey back to Rangers. I was at the Governor’s office when the final deal was struck. Okey got the money he deserved and was able to build a house in the village and got married subsequently.”

Patrick Ekeji moved to Rangers after the African Winners Cup victory. Nwobodo had become Chairman of the club and facilitated the move. Ekeji was offered a Volkswagen Beetles. He settled for the cash equivalent.

Sir Felix Nduka Chigbufue, a Rangers fan was at the Institute of Management and Technology Enugu in 1977 and got an Inside gist. “Firstly, from the money, management used 2,500 naira to buy a brand new Volkswagen Beetles to lure Adokiye Amiesimaka to Rangers. I had a friend who was very close to the team,” Chigbufue said.

The Flying Antelopes did not defend the African Winners Cup in 1978. They went for the elite Africa Cup for Champion Clubs (today’s CAF Champions League). The players who had been denied their share of the Obasanjo Bonanza put heads together.

In the semifinals against Canon Sportif, the same team they beat to  lift the African Winners Cup in 1977, Rangers played dumb and dragged the match into penalty shoot out. And the Nigerians made sure their opponents won.

In the FA Cup grand finale against Bendel Insurance, some of the players deliberately went drinking on the eve of the game. At 4.00 am on match day, a key member of the team lay on the floor of his hotel room dead drunk. That was how Insurance earned a 3-0 jackpot.

The Flying Antelopes decided not to win any trophy in 1978 because they feared and rightly so, that club officials would take all the credit and make more money. It was the best way to stop ‘ monkey dey work, baboon dey chop’.

Former Green Eagles and Shooting Stars defender, Dr. Felix Owolabi could not spare the officials. “So, so sad and a big shame to Nigeria,” Owoblow said.

For four years after 1978, Rangers did not go continental. The officials were denied estacode and ridiculous pilfering of money meant for players welfare.

The equivalent of 25,000 naira donated in 1977 is over 50,000 million naira today. Enugu Rangers have not won any trophy outside Nigeria since 1978. Perhaps, there should be atonement by those officials, dead or alive.

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