By Onochie Anibeze

In 2006, veteran sports administrator, Chief Jonathan Ogufere ‘stormed’ our office at Kirikiri Canal to interact with the Vanguard family and talk about his book. We all looked forward to it but circumstances caused a long  delay that we never heard from him again. Chief Ogufere turned 90 on June 23, 2022 and today at the Muson Centre in Lagos the book will be launched. The gathering will celebrate the book and his birthday. 

Governor, Godwin Obaseki of Edo State will be the chief launcher. Below is a story I wrote and published on February 23, 2006, as a prelude to the book that will finally be out today. Enjoy your reading.

CHIEF JONATHAN OGUFERE: STORY OF HIS LIFE, BIAFRAN WAR AND FOOTBALL

Gun shots were still being fired. Down the East, many soldiers were still in the trenches and the Biafran war  (as the Nigerian  civil war was tagged) raged on. That was the time Chief Jonathan Ogufere was posted to the Eastern  Region of the country. To do what? Fight on?

No. He was a civil servant and in the department of Post and Telecoms, simply called P & T which is now NITEL.

At this time, many were avoiding the East. They were largely battle fronts and going there was not what anybody wished. Everybody tried to stay away. Not Chief Ogufere. He accepted his transfer and went to Enugu. Fortunately for him, three days after his arrival, the war ended and General Gowon announced his No Victor No Vanquished verdict. 

Then followed the period of rehabilitation and reconciliation. Chief Ogufere, then simply Mr. felt that sports would be a great tool of reconciliation and he worked to actualize it. He thought so much of football. Enugu Rangers had just been formed and they were a symbol of the Igbo. Actually, the name of  the guerilla arm of the Biafran Army was Rangers. Chief Ogufere gathered the players Rangers dropped after their selection and with a few in P&T they started training. He wanted them to  play like Brazilians and when somebody suggested Vasco Dagama, the name of a top Brazilian club, “I bought it immediately and we had P &T Vasco Dagama,” Ogufere was to reveal. He continued:“Later we went to the schools and got players like Patrick Ekeji, Obedi Ariri, Felix Emordi etc.” These players later became household names in Nigerian football.

Vasco were so strong that anytime they played Rangers, the city of Enugu was divided. The frenzy was incredible and the supporters so passionate about their clubs. “That was Enugu in the 70s and 80s,” Chief Ogufere said Monday in Vanguard. It was a great feeling of nostalgia and the passion was shared by Bisi Lawrence our veteran sports columnist who has, like the likes of Ogunfere, variously served football with all they had. They are the real stakeholders of the game, not the ones who now who cluster around the sports minister, hoping to benefit from football.

That is the a topic for another day. Back to Ogufere. John Nwobi, Bolaji Sanusu, Bisi Lawrence and this reporter listened Monday as Ogufere led us THROUGH THE FURNACE OF LIFE, an autobiography that will be published by Vanguard. As an autobiography, the book touched on his early life  and many other things that will interest readers. But it was no surprise that sports, especially football, was prominent.

Just take this, Vincent Enyeama is Nigeria’s number one goal keeper. His father was one of the players of Ogufere in P&T Vasco Dagama.

“He was a fine player, a defender,” Ogufere recalls  the great days of Vasco and other great moments he wrote in the book. He had variously served on the NFA boards and for six years was the President of West African Football Union, WAFU. And that was when the regional body had name in the continent.

“I saw myself as a link between the old and new at the time I came into football,” Ogufere stated and recalled a few things so nostalgic that Bisi Lawrence couldn’t help interjecting and capturing the atmosphere in those days.

“I saw and met the Henshaws. I was in school when they went on the UK Tour of 1949. I was later to work with the Dankaros, the Ikpeazus, Ikhazobohs and so many others whose places in Nigeria’s  football history I tried to touch in the book,” Ogufere said. Ogufere, an Urhobo, was actually initiated into football administration in Enugu when he worked with late Albert Osakwe. They ran Enugu League when Black Rocks were the prominent side in the city before he was transferred to Benin. In Benin Ogufere formed the P&T Rockets and it wasn’t long that they transferred him back to Enugu just before the war ended. And Vasco Dagama was one of his ideas to rehabilitate and reconcile those who had fought the thirty months bloody civil war. However, football was already flowing in his blood and exploring it after the war only helped to enhance his dream. What a book THROUGH THE FURNACE OF LIFE will be. Watch out for it.

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