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Anambra FA elections crisis lights up battle for Government House

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FC Ifeanyi Ubah became the first club in Anambra State to win the Aiteo Cup (Federation Cup) when they beat Nasarawa United in the 2016 edition of the competition.

Football acknowledged as one of the biggest tools for diplomacy, has also been recorded as a big instrument for shaping a people’s perception of society and its leaders.

Many politicians have ridden on the back of the beautiful game to enhance their careers.

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Thus, the battle for the control of football administration, in most cases, is actually a fight for the enhancement of the actors’ reputation.

Many politicians see being in charge of a football association or club as a means of enhancing their appeal to electorates on their way for political offices.

Former Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, rode on the success of AC Milan in the late 1980s to become the leader of the European country, just as Liberian president, George Opong Weah, easily won the keys to his country’s statehouse with his reputation as one of the world’s greatest footballers.

In Nigeria, former governor of the old Anambra State, Jim Nwobodo, rode on the popularity of Enugu Rangers Football Club, of which he was chairman, to become the governor of the state.

It is, therefore, acknowledged that many people, who vie for positions in the administration of the peoples’ game, are actually fighting for bigger political apples.

Recently, elections for positions in the Anambra Football Association turned into a battle of wits between two big gladiators in the politics of the state. The crises have led to the factionalisation of the association, with one group being led by Ifeanyi Ubah, a serving Senator representing Anambra South Senatorial District in the National Assembly and founder of FC Ifeanyi Ubah of Nnewi, while the other, referred to as the interim board of the association, is led by Emeka Okeke, son of popular industrialist, G.U.O Okeke.

The latter faction allegedly draws its support from the governor of the state, Willie Obiano. Other members of the caretaker committee are the Vice-Chairman, Victor Nwangwu, Nomso Philip, Charity Okonkwo, and Onyeabo Chimezie, while Onyedika Chijioke serves as secretary

Senator Ifeanyi Ubah is the owner of a Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) team, FC Ifeanyi Ubah, which he founded through the acquisition of Gabros International Football Club formerly owned by Chief Gabriel Chukwuma.

Also known as ‘Anambra Warriors’ or ‘NPFL Galacticos,’ FC Ifeanyi Ubah play their matches in an 18,000-capacity stadium owned by the senator in Nnewi, Anambra State.

His team made history on November 6, 2016, when they defeated Nasarawa United FC on penalties to become the first Anambra State-based side to win the Federation Cup.

That historic feat at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos, endeared the club and their proprietor to the people of Anambra State, who subsequently adopted FC Ifeanyi Ubah as their own.

On the other hand, the new Caretaker Committee boss is the brain behind the Aspire Football outfit, which has given many Anambra indigenes the platform to develop their skills and move to greener pastures abroad. Aspire Football Club is the current champions of the Anambra Football League.

On inauguration as the caretaker committee of the Anambra Football Association, Okeke’s board was given the mandate to run the association for three months and then conduct elections for new leaders of the association.

But the inauguration of the committee by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has left many people guessing what effects the action would have on the emerging politics of Anambra State. The NFF said the inauguration of the committee was necessitated by the expiration of the tenure of the former board led by Senator Ubah.

The Caretaker Committee mandate is to administer Anambra State FA and also conduct elections into the Board and the Anambra State Local Football Councils within three months, effective from August 4 to November 2. Precisely, the tenure of the Caretaker Committee expires on November 2.

The crisis-ridden Anambra FA elections were originally scheduled to hold on July 27 and 28, but they were suspended by the state government, who said it was forced to take the action by the continuous rise in the spread of the coronavirus. However, the electoral committee, headed by Jude Anyadufu, on August 2, conducted the polls, which returned Senator Ubah as the association’s chairman for a second term.

Apart from Senator Ubah, others elected into the board of the association are Jude Obikwelu, who was returned unopposed, Philip Balepo, a veteran journalist, Joe Amene, Uduh Kingsley, Cyprian Amuzie, Collins Obiefune, Adinnu Okezie and Ada Edward.

But while Senator Ubah and his party were celebrating their ‘victory,’ the NFF dismissed the ‘purported’ re-election, saying Ubah’s tenure expired on July 28 when the vacuum in the executive board was created.

Quoting article 85 of the NFF Statutes 2010, the NFF said it has the final decision on any matter not provided for in the statutes or in cases of force majeure.

Speaking on behalf of NFF, the Chairman of the states’ association’s Chairmen and a member of the NFF, Alhaji Ibrahim Gusau, described Senator Ubah’s re-election as a sham and “a charade of very low grade” that would not stand.

In a letter to members of the Anambra State Football Association, the NFF referred to earlier correspondences from the Anambra State FA on April 28, 2020, May 27, 2020, and August 3, 2020, in which the expiration of the tenure of the Dr. Ubah-board, the extension of the life of the board by three months, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and the expiration of the grace of three months, as well as the inability of the Electoral Committee to conduct fresh elections as scheduled, were comprehensively articulated.

“Recall that the tenure of the board of Anambra State Football Association and the Anambra State Local Football Councils elapsed by effusion of time on April 30, 2020, and May 2, 2020, respectively. Arising from the novel coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) and the general lockdown, including football activities, the Anambra State Football Association Congress was convened on April 28, 20202 leading to the extension of tenure of the board and the local football councils, for another three months, which again expired on August 2, 2020.

The Electoral Committee was unable to conduct elections into the board of the State Football Association and the State Local Football Councils on July 27, 2020, in view of the Anambra State Government’s letter to the Electoral Committee complaining of the violation of the COVID-19 protocols of the State.

“Act 85 of the NFF Statutes 2010 provides that ‘the Executive Committee shall have the final decision on any matter not provided for in the Statutes or in cases of force majeure.’

“Consequently, the Executive Committee of the Nigeria Football Federation, in its wisdom, and in order not to create a vacuum, do hereby constitute a Caretaker Committee for Anambra State Football Association (as afore-named).

“The Caretaker Committee is to administer the activities of the Anambra State Football Association and also conduct elections into the Board of Anambra State Football Association and the Anambra State Local Football Councils within three months, effective from Tuesday, August 4, 2020, to November 2, 2020. Precisely, the tenure of the Caretaker Committee expires on November 2, 2020.”

Not many followers of the politics of Anambra football were surprised when shortly after its inauguration, the Okeke-led caretaker committee called on Governor Obiano at Government Lodge, Onitsha, to outline the vision of the new body. Some allege that the committee is following a script written by an interested party in the politics of the state.

Receiving the group, Governor Obiano congratulated the Okeke-led team and announced the establishment of state-owned male and women teams called Anambra Bombers FC and Anambra Babes FC.

He assured the committee of the state government’s support and urged it to ensure that football lovers and youths in the state interested in playing football were carried along.

Responding, Dr. Okeke said his committee’s programme tagged ‘Project Elevate Anambra Football,’ was targeted at developing grassroots football in the state, adding that the association now has a befitting office complex in Awka, as well as a brand-new bus, all donated by him to boost its job.

Okeke also informed the governor that work would soon commence on the Awka Township Stadium, which was abandoned by past administrations, pleading with Obiano to continue supporting football, and sports activities in the state.

Also, during the visit, the committee’s vice chairman, a former Rangers FC player, Sir Victor Nwangwu, who once served as Secretary of Anambra FA, assured the governor that the committee would rewrite football stories in Anambra State.

The major fallout of the visit, according to sources, was the agreement that the process of election into the board and local councils’ FAs in-state will be repeated.

A source, who pleaded anonymity, said the committee would first “take a holistic look at the initial process…There have been talks of people who purchased forms in the earlier process but were wrongfully ‘screened out’ following allegations that the board wanted to return themselves.

“We will take a look at these and other allegations and misgivings. And if there are protests or petitions in this direction and they are equally proved, then we start the process anew.”

The Guardian learned that Ubah is determined to remain as the association’s chairman to boost his chances in the 2021 gubernatorial election in the state in which the state governor, Willie Obiano, favours the former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Professor Chukwuma Soludo.

Soludo is expected to contest the governorship election on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).

Recall that Ubah and Obiano fought bitterly in the build-up to 2017 gubernatorial election in which Obiano ran for a second term as governor. Ubah, in his submission, claimed Obiano endorsed his withdrawal in the race in the hope that he would give him the ticket for Anambra South Senatorial District.

Ubah’s supporters claim that the senator sacrificed his gubernatorial ambition at that time and chose to team up with Obiano, and even served as the campaign manager to the discomfort of other party chieftains.

They allege that Obiano reneged on his promise, and favoured Bianca Ojukwu and Nicholas Ukachukwu for the APGA senatorial ticket.

Eventually, Ukachukwu won the ticket as APGA’s candidate, while Ubah moved and became the flagbearer of less fancied Young Progressives Party (YPP) on which platform he is serving as the senator.

According to political analysts in Anambra State, Ubah’s growing influence is likely to tilt the governorship seat in his favour and he is leaving nothing to chance in his quest to become governor through the 2021 election. The position has been ceded to Ubah’s Anambra South Senatorial District after Obiano’s tenure.

The analysts claim that the incumbent government used the COVID-19 physical distancing excuse to ensure that the three-month extension granted Ubah expired and see that he does not return as state FA Chairman through the incumbency factor.

Though Senator Ubah has shunned the media following the latest turn of events, he, however, spoke in an interview aired on his radio station, Authority FM 91.1, and monitored by The Guardian.

He dismissed the allegation that he refused to sell electoral forms to his opponents, insisting that announcements were made on-air telling interested persons to purchase forms to contest any preferred post.

Ubah threatened to petition FIFA over what he described as injustice against his executive.

Contrary to the charge that he failed in his first term, Ubah claimed he achieved so much even when the state government did not acknowledge his efforts.

While the parties to the crisis are digging in, plotting how to claim Anambra football’s top job, there are analysts who view the emergence of the Okeke-led Caretaker Committee as ‘good riddance to bad rubbish.’

A football proprietor, who owns Anambra Redoubtable FC of Onitsha, Odi Ikpeazu, lamented that “a band of never-do-wells, who destroyed football in the state, would once more gang up to hijack soccer in the state.’’

He said, “I would never have dreamt in my worst nightmare that I would ever lose interest in the beautiful game. And I must offer dubious compliments to these men for making it possible

“This is the most unfair. I never knew that someone would ever compel me to turn back against the sport, like Ubah and his co-travelers have tried to do.

“Before his emergence, I know how much I, along with Gabriel Chukwuma, contributed to the growth of soccer, only for ingrates to destroy our collective effort and stall the future of many youths in Anambra State.

“He is not the only fellow to have used soccer to climb. There are the likes of Silvio Berlusconi and even here at home, the likes of MKO Abiola, Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, and Patrick Osakwe (Flash Flamingoes), Jim Nwobodo and Chuba Ikpeazu.

“For someone to contemplate destroying soccer in the state, such a fellow is a candidate for hell.’’

Another sports enthusiast and prominent soccer commentator, Emeka Odikpo, formerly of Radio Nigeria, condemned those claiming to have held ‘a sham’ election into Anambra FA.

“This is criminal of monumental dimension. Why will they hold the state hostage for four years and hatch yet another of such a heinous crime.

“I don’t know why there’s so much desperation for political office in Nigeria. Anambra State must move to the next level in football and all stakeholders must join hands to rid the state of these power grabbers.

“I am appalled at the level that they have plunged the state,’’ Odikpo lamented.

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