Nwabueze with our sports writer, Uche Enem
Hello readers! I hope you have been enjoying some of my past post here. In this edition, we will x- ray a bulldozer in Nigeria sports known as Nwabueze Nwankwo. Nwabueze Nwankwo started sports in the 60’s and with his experience with the civil war, he explained how football was and how it is now. In whole, he has scored more than 30 goals as a defender and has won 8 gold medals and 3 awards. He was the first team manager of Ebonyi Angels when Governor Sam Egwu was the then Governor. I will only lure you to read to further to know why he is called bulldozer. I hope you find this piece interesting.
May we know you Sir?
They call me Bulldozer Nwabueze Nwankwo. I was born on the 11th day of June 1946. Bulldozer was a name give to me by Late Ernest Okonkwo (Nigeria Football Commentator) because of the way I played well inside the field. I play defense mechanism, No 4.
How did your sports life began?
I started active football in 1964. I was captain of the Abakaliki Team. In 1965, we went to the play the Enugu team in a friendly match. After the game, the coach then, Late Dan Anyiam came to Abakaliki for talent hunt and he picked me. This was how I was selected and asked to join the Eastern Nigeria Football Team called ‘The Eastern Rovers’. When I was at Enugu playing, the director of sports then was Late Jerry Enyiazu and my captain then was late Godwin Achebe. We were in Government College, Afikpo for three months camping preparing for a match at Haiti when Ojukwu declared Biafra in 1966. We were disbanded and we joined the Army. I joined the army and I was one of the eldest joining the army from the team. I was about 23 years when I was made the commander of the commandoes for the Republic of Benin (ROB)and the commander of the Biafra vandals commandoes (Biafra Vandals). I played my part very well.
Immediately after the war, we converged to Enugu and our director changed our team name and called it ‘Rangers’ and that’s how we started our training in 1971. We went to Lagos for the Amakiri (Former NFF Chairman) Cup competition. After winning the cup, we came back and we were given thorough beating by Soldiers and Fans of Lagos teams because they thought that since we were soldier in the jungle and they wondered how we performed well even without training. They didn’t know that once you are a player, the experience is there but the only thing is that you train for stamina. We played with Bendel of Insurance but then it was Vipers of Benin. We played WNDC and we played the Army team and we still beat them all and Dinka was the chairman of Army chief. Later we went again to Lagos for their Sports Festival in 1973 and we dealt with them again and we won the cup. In 1974, we matured fully and we won again at Lagos including the Challenge Cup and the National League. In 1975, we played again and we won the Challenge Cup and the National League. We went to played African Champion Cup and because we were Biafrans, they didn’t allow us to enter the stadium to train for the match so we went to a secondary school at Western Avenue to train. Our coach approached the principal of the school and by the time he came back to tell us about the refusal, we had already finished training. The next day was our match to be played in the evening and they still refused us to use the stadium to train but allowed the foreign team (Carlum Star of Guinea) to use the stadium. The game ended with 2-1 against us.
Football took us to the whole Africa. One of the outstanding matches we had was the game we played at Malahi, Egypt. We thought the match will be played in Cairo but they took us to Mahala. Mailaha is inl in Egypt. At the end of the game, they beat us 3-0. So we went back to Cairo expecting our plane to come pick us in two days time. While in Cairo I felt very uncomfortable and I organized the team so that we could use the two days to train in preparation of the forthcoming match with the Egypt team the forth coming week. When we landed Enugu, we trained seriously. The Mahaila are very trickish in the field and because we had mastered them, we defeated them. The day the Egyptians came to play, the governor then, John Atom Kpera (First Military Governor of Anambra State) promised to give us (Emmanuel Okala, Christian Chukwu and Nwabueze Nwankwo) one car each we win. A red card was given to one of us at the beginning of the game so we were 10 players playing against 11 players. Before ten minutes the first goal was scored and the game ended as 3- 0. That was where Osadebe sang the popular music then in the field called Rangers International.
I played for Green Eagles and for Rangers too. In 1982, I retired and I was posted in Aguata as a coach at the sports council. I was fed up with civil service employment so I left it and went into business. I was into the business of supplying sports equipment alongside with my friend, Late Cornel Ochefu.
I feel bad whenever I remember how I rejected a German offer in 1975 to play for them because I loved Nigeria and the Igbos so much but I dint know that I was fooling myself if not I would have been the first Nigeria to play outside the country. Only God that knows why I didn’t play though I am no regretting it anymore. Now that we have played for the country, has any of us been recognized or honoured by the government.
In 1975 at Ghana, we played against the Accra Great Olympics and it was the raining team in Ghana and no team in Nigeria has ever beaten a club in Ghana or their National Team. So I connived with other players on how we could defeat them. So we controlled the midfield very well. The President of Ghana was present in the match and we won the game with 2-0. After we played we went to shower and came back to the field but to our greatest surprise, the football pitch was still full because the Ghanians never believed we will ever defeat them. In fact we made history that day because no Nigeria team has ever defeated them before in their country. From there we bought Christian Madu (the Nigerian that played for the Ghana team).Ghana government expelled the father because the son, Christian Madu followed us down Nigeria. So we had good experiences. Football made the family members and Christian Madu to be expelled from Ghana and it is worth recognition.
In 1976, we played the Express of Uganda. As usual we were promised one car. The goal keep for the Uganda team was very tall. He was taller than Emmanel Okala and this made it very difficult for us to score in the goal post. They were leading us with 2-0. We planned on how we will remove the goal keeper by giving him injury and we successfully did it. Five minutes to the half time, we scored the first goal and before half time we equalized and at the end of the game we won them with 3-2. After the Match, Idi Amin, the then President of Uganda invited us to government house. He praised us for our bravery for challenging the Uganda team. After the party, he gave us gifts. Also in Uganda, we clubbed very well because they have a beautiful club there. We sport people are clubbers. We enjoyed going out and drinking a lot.
We also played for Zambia during the time of President Kenneth Kaunda. We played the Zambia team and before half time the president landed with the helicopter and the Zambia team was leading us with 2-0. Immediately he came down from his helicopter to seat down, we scored another goal and 5 minutes to the end of the game, we scored another goal and we equalized.
It pains a lot whenever I remember that we sacrificed a lot for an Igbo man and for the country without being compensated well. The only person that recognized us that we played for Nigeria was Peter Obi, he was given us some stipend then. The military governors didn’t do anything except Atom Kpera who gave us one car each. There was a time we won Challenge cup, Ukabi Asika (Administrator of East Central State) invited us to his house at Ikoyi, Lagos and he turned us back because we came late to the government house. Also, Arthur Nzeribe also recognized us anytime we won a match to his White House at Palm groove, Lagos. When Peter Obi left, Obiano took over and he still pays us the stipend Peter Obi started without minding the state you came from. That’s very commendable.
What are your fulfilling moments?
One of my fulfilling moments was in Zambia in 1974/ 75/76 when we went for launch. Every match we played, the president of the country was always present to watch us unlike what happens now. In Zambia, I saw one of the menus in the launch called ‘Chicken in Basket’. So I waited for all the players to return to their rooms before I ordered the chicken in basket meal. So I packed it in nylon and took it to my room secretly because I didn’t want other player to have a taste of the chicken. If they taste it, they will finish it for me within two days of our stay. So, I did it that way till we left Zambia. On arrival to Nigeria, I came back with five roasted chicken.
Another fulfilling moment happened when they robbed me, Okala and Christian Chukwu in our hotel room at Uganda. When I saw one of the hotel stewards, I yelled at him but I didn’t know that Idi Ami heard us and came to us. Idim Ami wasn’t happy that we were robbed so he refunded us what we lost times two. In fact, he paid us more than what we lost. NFF paid us, Anambra state government and Rangers also paid us for that damage because they know we were the pillars of that team. So I wished such stealing could occur again so that they will pay us double.
What can you say are your challenging moments so far?
One of my challenging moments was when I had problem with then Director of Sports, Dr. Duru. He sued me to court because I refused to pay basics to sports council for the car the governor gave me. The man who was supposed to Judge me was the then Vice Chairman of Anambra State Football Association. They read my charge and he confirmed that I wasn’t guilty of any crime after asking the plaintiff (my director) some questions. They brought my file from sports council to see if I applied for a loan to buy the car. The case ended that day and I was recalled into sports council. After this incident, I wasn’t too comfortable any longer with some certain things in the sports council, so I retired in 1982 and I went to Railway and became their coach
Was it because of this issue you retired?
Yes. I had to retire because the case went further and I didn’t like it. When I retired, many clubs like IICC, Bendel Insurance, ACB called me to join them but I refused because I won’t feel good playing against Rangers knowing well I will beat them. So there was no need destroying a house that I had built.
You earlier said you got married in 1972, so how were you able to manage your sports life with your family responsibilities?
That was when we had one of the best Director of Sports after Enyiazu. His name is Clifford Eneli from Obosi (late). He was a very good man indeed. Whenever we travelled within or outside the country to play match, he made sure he took care of our families. The day I had my son was the same day we were playing Challenge Cup finals with IICC in 1974
Also, my wife comes to the field to always watch me whenever I play especially when the match is played at Enugu. In fact, my wife is always given a complementary ticket and she stayed behind the governor and after the match, she drives me home with the car. She loves my sports life a lot.
So what about your family members?
We were seven before (4boys and three girls) but two are dead now. I am the second and first son. I have six children (5 boys and a girl) and seven grand children. My first daughter is married in Lagos. The second one, Victor, is in Japan doing business. Emeka is in Lagos with his family and Chibuna just came back from Angola and the last son just wedded last May and Uche who is my last son who just left the country for America.
Apart from sports, what are your other hobbies?
Its only sports I like
What’s your Favorite Meal?
Fufu and Bitter leaf popularly called Onugbo soup
Where do you think the Loyalty of Nigerian Footballers Lies?
In Nigeria, it is difficult to see someone who has played for the country be in the NFF (Abuja) called the glass house. NFF, most of the people and officials we have in NFF has never kicked football all their life. Both in some other countries, it is not the same. There was a time we campaigned to make sure we put in Segun Odegbami (Mathematician) to NFF but it didn’t work. We love Segun Odegbami because he loves his football colleagues and doesn’t have ethnic segregation for people. We traveled the whole Nigeria campaigning for him because he invented the Shell Cup. I can remember in those days where players were made from Secondary Schools where principal cups in Lagos were well organized for all secondary schools in Nigeria and from there we picked players. Many school principals no longer organize match any longer maybe because they feel that football takes a lot of money not knowing that sports is very vital and it will help mould other schools. Players sometimes are no longer picked because of their ability or talent to play, they are now picked because of they have a well respected person who vouched for them maybe through bribe. We need to go back to the drawing board. For example, when Sunny Dankaro (late) selected national team players for the country, he selected them because of their ability to play. In Nigeria, when a player has an injury, he is not properly taken care of in fact they abandon him and that is why people prefer to play for their clubs where they will be taken care of. Playing in Nigeria now is just playing for playing sake. Most times they play so that they will be admired and selected by clubs which NFF must approve. NFF approves any player before he joins a club
What inspired you to move into sports?
Well, starting from my primary school at St. Enders Primary and Secondary in Abakaliki, I love playing football and my parents knew about it and never discouraged me. I grew up in Abakaliki and because the Stadium was close to my house, I used the opportunity to train and practice. I was the first team manager of Ebonyi Angels when Governor Sam Egwu was the Governor. When Gov. Elechi came, he stopped the team including the female team and asked them to go and marry because he believed that ladies were not created to play ball. I am an Anglican and I enjoyed free scholarship from the Rev. Frs. who were so nice. I dropped out from class three because I was so mad with football.
At your young age in the Army, did you at any time have any psychological and physical imbalance?
No. if you hear Biafra soldiers singing during training or road walk, you will feel like joining the Army. It was later that people were forced to join the army. We were not given adequate training to know what was good or bad in the army. I enjoyed myself in the army because I did a lot of exploits and that’s why I was called Biafra Vandals.
How do you see Nigeria Sports in the Next five years?
If they continue the way they are doing now and with this present foreign coach to handle the Nigeria team, I think he will do well.
How do you see Anambra State Government in the next five years?
Well, Anambra state government will come out very soon. We are discussing with him and he wants to put the stadium in order because before any sport is carried out, you must have a befitting stadium. The government has to put more efforts in promoting sports in Anambra state. Most of the foreign club and local clubs have and Anambra indigene playing for them
How do you think Anambra sports can improve?
They should organize school competitions and by sending coaches to schools to train them and monitor the students. A games master is a games master and a coach is a coach. There is a difference between a coach and a games master. They could also send a coach to the local government to oversee all the schools in the local government. They can also improve by organizing friendly matches for them where they could pick good players and placed them in one school where training will commence. Anambra state is good and I believe things will work out soon.