Our reporter, Uche Enem with Arthur Ebunam
Hon. Arthur Ebunam was born in Enugu on 5th March, 1958. He hails from Obosi in Idemili North LGA of Anambra State, Nigeria. He was the Senior Special Assistant to the Former Governor of Anambra State, Chief Peter Obi between 2012- 2015. He is the Chairman of Ex- Rangers, Anambra Branch. In this interview with Uche Enem, he talks about his sports experiences and how Sports could be better in Anambra State. Hon Ebunam was a great footballer. He was the nucleus of Midfield in his team and the youngest footballer during his time as a players for Rangers and Green Eagles. He was most times called “School Boy” by the late sports commentator, Ernest Okonkwo. I hope you will enjoy this piece.
Can you share some of your sports experiences with us?
My sports experience started in primary school at St. Peter’s, Nike. I played for CKC in Onitsha and I was part of the team that played at the World Cup in 1977 at Dublin. I joined Rangers in 1977 and that same year, I joined Green Eagles now called Super Eagles and stayed between 1977- 1979 till I travelled to the USA.
Before I travelled to USA, we won the African Winners Cup in 1977 and the 1976\1977 Anambra Academicals. I worked as the SSA on sports for Peter Obi's Regime between 2012- 2015 and this present administration of government still makes use me. I was a great footballer. I was the nucleus of Midfield in our team. I was 17 years old playing for Rangers and Eagles. I was the youngest playing both for Rangers and Eagles. The late commentator, Ernest Okonkwo gave me the nick name “school boy”.
I travelled to US when we were preparing for our Nations Cup in 1980. I went to Clemson University, South Carolina to study Fiber Engineering and Textiles. I received an Athletic scholarship to study and I graduated in 1983. I was in the Major League Soccer (MLS) team called Charlotte Lighting. In the university days, we were champions for four years in the first divisions. We call it Athletic Coach Conference (ACC). In the US, we usually have soccer invitations. Soccer invitation usually involves top college schools that were very good in football. In my team, we usually have many Nigerians there because my coach, Ibrahim do recruit footballers from Nigeria and offer them scholarships.
After my degree in 1983, I started playing professional football in the US. I played for only one season till 1984. In 1985, I came back to Nigeria to join BCC and played. I would have joined the Rangers back but because of the Coach's mentality towards me, I didn't join them. The coach was looking at me as if my coming to Rangers was to disrupt his coaching or to over thrown him. So, I left Rangers and I went to BCC, Gboko. My intention was mainly to expose the Rangers player to the opportunities I enjoyed during my time especially in the sports scholarship I received. The coach saw me as a nuisance to his coaching. He didn't find it funny. He thought I was going to mess up his team. So, I stayed in BCC for two seasons. What I did most times was that at the end of the season, I went back to the US and got ready for the next season. So I was shuttling in between seasons to play for BCC and then travel back to US. During the period I was in BCC, we played League matches and Challenge Cup. BCC was in division two but we had division one caliber players. We had solid players like Dominic Yofa who was the striker, James Neto, Adamu Bako and many others. The current National team coach for Beach Football, Audu Adamu was one of the goalkeepers. We also played the Challenged Cup of 1985 against Abiola Babes though we lost on penalty shoot out. In the 1987, I joined El- Kanemi Warriors in Maiduguri. In 1988, I retired in active football.
What really inspired you to move into Sports?
Back then in primary school, we had what is called Physical Training (PT). So, I developed interest in football and also my games master, Mr. Aduba, encouraged me and asked me to pick up form and apply to be in the school team.
What can you say were your challenges in your sports career?
I had more challenges in the US. Though at first, I wasn't able to adapt to the cold weather during winter especially playing in the track; but with time I was better off and I adjusted to the weather. There were times I faced discrimination. It was a usual routine there. Over there when you listen to music like Wilson Pickett's album and some other music, the other race will look at you with disgust. Anything you do there was like a 'no no'. 'No no' is a slang which means “you can't do that”. Back then, we dated white girls along side with some other Nigerians who were with me but the black guys there weren't comfortable with us doing that. We had a soccer dome and so when we wake up in the morning, we see some write ups like “Niga from Africa, Go home”. It wasn't really a god experience at all.
Because of the discrimination, was there any time you felt like giving up or leaving the team?
Not at all. I knew what I came for so I stood more focused. My goal was mainly to get my degree, education and make good result.
What position did you play?
I played inner left (mid field). It is called No 10. From primary school, I was playing outside left, No 11.
Was there at any point your parents discouraged you?
Absolutely. Because I was doing so well in school, my dad didn't want my grade to slip. So he made it known to me that I was going to be in serious trouble with him if my grade dropped while participating in football activities. At first when I got in to the secondary school, I wasn't participating in anything because of what he told me. Later, my coach then in secondary school was from the Sports Council, Luke Okpala who is also an ex- rangers noticed me one day when I was watching a match through the window. He was pleased when he saw me controlling the ball when the ball passed my way. So, he called me and encouraged me. This was how my sports life started again in my secondary school days. The late Luke Okpala was once the Chairman of Rangers, Enugu. My dad worked in the sports council in Enugu and Luke Okpala had the chance to talk to him about me and my performance in football. I wouldn't say my dad discouraged me, but he was just concerned about me making a very good grade.
How many are you in the family?
We are eight in the family. Four boys and four girls. I am the first son and the second child
L- R: Arthur Ebunam, I.G Ilechukwu, Vincent Chika and Goalkeeper, Emma Okala
Did you sustain any form of injury?
No. I was very lucky. My team mates often asked me about the secret to my no injury. My secret was just simple. I never smoked anything in my life. I started drinking beer in US. I ate well and I watched what goes into my mouth. I don't eat outside a lot and I cooked my food myself.
So, what are your hobbies?
Cooking, Travelling, work out and Music.
During the period of your retirement in 1988, where you married?
No, I got married in 1996
Immediately I retired in 1988, I joined the US Police Force that same year. I worked as a regular force and as a detective. At first, I started as a street police. I started as a police force in South Carolina before I was transferred to Atlanta Police Department ( APD)This is just what I can tell you about my police force job . For security reasons, we are not allowed to talk about certain challenges and experiences.
So, what inspired you to move into the police force?
I love investigating. I had detective zeal a lot. Actually, there is a movie called History Blues and Colombo by Peter Faulk. He cracks all those impossible cases. So I took interest in it and it moved me to join the force. Presently, my daughter is in the Army ROTC. You start of from there showing your interest. My son in the Navy and he was just recently transferred to Chicago for some couple of courses. We didn't push them to go into it, they had the interest.
You are into the police force and also a sports man, how did you manage your family responsibilities?
One good thing about living in the US is that the pressure of paying School fees and hospital bills is taken care of. This is because they don't pay school fees in high schools. Once you are a citizen, you don't pay school fees in the high school. In the college, when you are offered scholarship, they pay for it. If otherwise, you enjoy the free education and when you start working, you will pay everything back. It's like loan. Now, the Navy takes care of my son. I don't have that pressure and also my wife works in the bank in US.
So, how did you know your wife?
I met my wife when she was still around 16 years of age. Her cousin was my best friend. She comes around then to help her cousin do some chores. She is from Ogidi. In the later years, we meet in the US when she came to see her senior brother. She lived in Dallas. When I came for a wedding in Dallas, I met her there and she was looking fully grown than before when I knew her at 16 years. One thing led to another and we got married. We are married with two kids.
Captain Christian Chukwu introducing me to special guest of honour, Sunny Dankaro, in a match against IICC of Ibadan
What can you say are your fulfilling moments?
Well, Peter Obi started paying about 60 members ex- Rangers stipends and he begged Obiano to continue and he did. I was the one instrumental to seeing that alongside with the principal secretary, Willie Nwokoye it was achieved. When I remember that I smile. I really enjoyed my experience as the SSA. Most of these sports administrators exploit their athletes which is not good. Some of these players whenever they go for tournaments, they sleep on the pitch without foams which is not supposed to be so. During my service as SSA, I took them for the Zonal Elimination and I kept them in a hotel where top teams like Enyimba stay. When they lost the match, they were crying because of my gross hospitality and sacrifice towards them.
Also, when Nigeria won 2013 Nations Cup, Anambra Players were four like Mikel, Austin Ejide, Azubuike Egwuekwe, Obiora Nwankwo and the assistant coach then was Sylvanus Okpala. So, I wrote a memo to Peter to appreciate our own Anambra stars. The memo I wrote that 4m to the coach should be given and 2m to the players with plot of lands but they were awarded as follows. The Coach 2million, and players 1.25million each without plots of land. When they came to the government house to collect their cheques, the place was stand still and people were admiring them. All these were my initiatives. I was also the person that started this Obiano's tournament. I first started with Governor's cup when Peter Obi was the governor between 2013 – 2014 edition.
What can you say are your challenging moments?
When we lost to Abiola Babes in 1985 challenge Cup finals. I felt very bad when I loosed a penalty. Also, I felt bad when we lost to St. Louis team in Edwardsville, Florida. We lost the match with 3- 2
Do you have any difficult decision you've ever taken?
Yes, I do. That was when I left Rangers for Standard of Jos. We went for a competition with Rangers and we beat Rangers in their home and away match. It was in Jos I met James Peters in 1979 who introduced me to the BCC team.
Where do you think Nigeria football player's loyalty lies?
When we played football, it was quite different from what you see now among administrators. Many administrators are corrupt. They are just after money. So, most times they don't have plan for the players especially in insurance and other physical maintenances. If the Nigeria falcons tell you their story, the story you will hear from them is very ridiculous. It is just like “we suffer while the administrators enjoy”. For example, there is a Unizik student who is talented in football but because we don't have female team in Anambra, she doesn't know where to belong. She came to me and I sent her to the female coach in Enugu. The female coach in Enugu replied and told me that we do not have accommodation for her unless she has somewhere in Enugu she could stay. She have been going to Enugu like three times ever week to train and presently, my friend in the US is offering her scholarship to come over to play and get her Masters too and help her family. That's what I do. I try to see I help people with the connection I have.
As a sports guru, can you say other ways sports could be improved in Anambra?
First of all, we don't have a stadium. We don't also have a team. Ifeanyi Ubah who bought Gabros is political point. Now, Gabros is flagging off another Nnewi United. He just bought a Pro league which will start anytime from now. We are not the poorest state in the country. Some states are boosting of two and three team and we can't boast of any. We have three clubs in Abia state. We are giants of sports in Nigeria but we don't have a team. We have many skillful and talented youths that are wasting. Governors who have ruled Anamabra are not crazy about sports because if they are, they will be doing something to see that we have a team. Gburuburu of Enugu State who knows the benefits of sports gave Rangers 42 Million
How do you see sports in Anmabra and Sports in Nigeria in five years time?
I don't know. I think it will be better if all those idiots get out of there. I am an American citizen, so I can say anything I want to say. Those administrators make me sick. The occupy positions when they know they can't do anything to help the youths and empower them. Empowering youths is not just about sending them to the farm.
What advice do you have for the government both at the Federal and the State level?
I have said it before. They should put the right people at the right position. They should empower youths with sports. China is buying off all these super stars. Anambra should try to emulate other country and state to be better.
What are your favorite colour?
Silver and Candy Apple Red.
What are your favorite dishes?
We have African restaurant and stores outside the country. I love swallow and my best soup is Okro. I cook my food.