CAF Champions League ouster: Enyimba, Kanu and the way forward

CAF Champions League ouster: Enyimba, Kanu and the way forward

By Ori Martins

I must humbly make a proud boast here that I was among the sports journalists that contributed substantially and meaningfully to the huge national and continental successes of Enyimba FC of Aba. Those epoch making periods have come to be superbly dubbed as the Anyansi Glorious Years (1999/2023).

It is instructive to state it categorically here that Enyimba were on the throes of relegation when the then newly elected governor of Abia State, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, raced to Aba and instantly made a sweeping and remarkable change which dramatically elevated handsome looking but administratively ingenious Felix Anyansi Agwu as the chairman of the People’s Elephant. 

Orji charged Anyansi to save Enyimba from the shackles of relegation waters., and the then new helmsman actually responded positively.

It was an onerous task but Anyansi took off on a very commendable note. He swiftly sought and procured the services of some of the best local league reporters that sensationally were identified under the aegis, Sincere League Writers of Nigeria.

The list included but not limited to Emma Jemegah, Emma Njoku, Sab Osuji, the late Eddie Akalonu, the late Kunle Alade, George Aluo, Ralph Chiedozie George, the late Murphew Atteh, Alloy Okerioke, James NTA, (and other non league writers like Onyebuchi Nwachukwu, Gabriel of Rivers Tide) and several sports editors and commentators both of television and radio stations.

 It was in Aba the then high flying and intimidating Sports Editors Forum came into being, all because of Enyimba, Anyansi and Orji Kalu.

Anyansi’s next move was to assemble a formidable team made up of good players, experienced coaches, disciplined backup workers as well as other dedicated professionals. In other words, Anyansi never settled for his Aba based friends and allies.

 He insisted on employing the best hands and he got them. At a time Enyimba paraded the best coaches and Premier League’s Best 11.

Wether it was Kelechi Emetole, Godwin Uwua, Kadiri Ikhana, Okey Emordi or Alphonsus Dike, Enyimba’s bench was excellently studded. Of course, be it Vincent Enyeama, Ogbonnaya Okemmiri, Musa Muhammed, Onyekachi Okonkwo, Muri Ogunbiyi, Romanus Orjinta, Obinna Nwaneri, Okpara Uga, David Tyavjase, Micheal Ochei, Ndidi Anumonu, Emeka Ayaya Nwana, Ekene Ezenwa, Joetex Frinpong, or Dele Aiyenugba, the Elephant were a solid side.

On that note, Enyimba, with Anyansi as chairman, and buoyed by huge financial support from Orji Uzor Kalu, emerged Nigeria’s champions between 2001 and 2003. Only Rangers International of Enugu achieved that spectacular feat previously and only Kano Pillers had ever equaled that record afterwards.

In a very splendid performance, Enyimba broke the jinx of the once “elusive CAF Champions League” tag as usually highlighted by the Nigerian sports journalists, to emerge African champions in 2003 and defended it the following year, to set another African record (as no other team had ever defended it back – back in 34 years).

In all, Anyansi led Enyimba to nine Premier League titles, seven Federation Cup golden laurels and several other landmark achievements. Anyansi succeeded making Enyimba a national as well as an international brand. 

The team was respected both home and abroad. In those memorable seasons, Aba was not just a commercial hub, it effectively served as an epicenter of local and foreign football matters. 

Anyansi’s Enyimba made Aba the home of Nigerian and African football as any person who had anything to do with successful football story sought to be in Aba!!!

One of Anyansi’s master strategy was to embrace criticism and looked for better options than the one being criticized.

 Therefore, when Tonex Chukwu, now Nze Tonex Chukwu, then the Abia correspondent of South – South newspaper, continually hammered Anyansi, rightly or wrongly, the Enyimba boss reached out to him and asked him to graphically and elaborately highlight what he was not doing rightly. 

Tonex did exactly that and upon the advice of Kalu, Anyansi employed Tonex. Tonex was a part of the Enyimba historic side until he left for Heartland in 2010/11.

Number two, I am not recommending Kanu to photocopy verbatim what Anyansi did, but he can take note of them and then improve on what he has. It must be reported that Anyansi had what was called Enyimba Representatives across the country. 

Those were sports journalists, frontline football mangers and personalities. They included Jude in Abuja, Alloy Chukwuemeka in Ilorin, Egemgba and Gabriel in Port Harcourt, Ekwekwe in Jos, and many of us in Lagos who traveled to any part of the country doing one special assignment for him or the other. Of course, the late Murphew Atteh, the Cameroonian who worked for Champion newspapers (Sporting Champion) was always on hand to head for any of the Francophone countries whenever such needs arose in order to get vital information or perform an assignment that may count in favour of Enyimba.

Number three, while Anyansi embraced all forms of opinions and criticisms, he never lost sight of the fact that there were blackmailers, backbiters and saboteurs who lived and leveraged on false tales. He listened to them but never inclined to them. So, Kanu must understand that many of those around him now are there to gossip, and in so doing, make efforts to pulldown some Enyimba workers down just for fun of it. He should be very mindful of such evildoers.

Number four, for Kanu to succeed, he must be ready to comprehensively study how Lekan Salami succeeded with Shooting Stars in 1976. Kanu must toe the line of Jim Nwobodo’s Rangers International in 1977, Lemmy Akakem and Uche Ejimofor’s Iwuanyanwu Nationale now Heartland of 1988, as well as develop the passion of Mike Idoko and Dominic Iorfa’s Lobi Stars beautiful run eras.

Finally, Kanu grew up here and so when we say “this is Nigeria” , he needs no explanation for it. The CAF Champions League quest is gone. Kanu must now face the reality on ground and map out strategies on how to make Enyimba bigger, better and more attractive than Anyansi left the team.

 He must confirm if those around him now are the best he can get, sincerely, if must make Enyimba rise again.

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