Anieke, African Eusebio, was second to no other player’
Football followers of his generation swear that he is one of the best attacking midfielders ever to don Nigeria’s jersey. Peter ‘Baby’ Anieke, who was dubbed the ‘African Eusebio’ at the height of his powers, was regarded as one of the best things to have happened to Nigerian football.
Sadly, he lost the battle to acute rheumatism and arthritis last week.
The former Green Eagles’ star, who starred in the academicals’ historic defeat of Ghana in Accra in the 1960s, was aged 68.
One of the stars of the famous St. Mulumba College of Jos, Anieke started playing street football in Jos like many Nigerian children of those days. He later joined Plateau United in 1965 and when the team came to Lagos to play a Challenge Cup (FA Cup) semifinal match the following year, Adebajo Babes, later renamed Stationery Stores, indicated interest in him.
Some other clubs were also interested in Anieke, but he chose Stores at the advice of his friends. He won the 1967 and 1968 Challenge Cup titles with Stores before joining ECN, with which he won the trophy in 1970. It was the first gold cup introduced in the tournament.
Anieke in his prime was the star of many epic battles for the dominant clubs in the 1960s and early 1970s (including Stationery Stores and ECN). As a Green Eagle, the attacking midfielder’s goals exploits for Nigeria and Stationery Stores, where he started his career in 1967, earned him the ‘Eusebio of Africa’ moniker.
Reports have it that Anieke got the Eusebio nickname in Accra during a Green Eagles’ game against Ghana in 1970. After scoring a goal with a header, the commentators, including Ishola Folorunso and Ernest Okonkwo, said Anieke looked like Eusebio and he scored with headers, just like Eusebio. The name stuck to him such that even his opponents picked him out as the dangerous player in the teams he played for.
A product of the renowned Academicals of the 60s, he was a member of Nigeria’s soccer team to Mexico 1968 Olympic Games and thereafter moved to the senior team where he played regularly beside the likes of Paul Hamilton, Austin Ofokwu, Joe Opone, Segun Olumodeji, Ken Igwe, Amusa Shittu, Tunde Disu, Muyiwa Oshode and Late Sam Garba Okoye for 15 years.
Anieke was regarded as one of the most loyal club players of his generation and he was among the players, who vowed to remain with Stationery Stores after the death of the club’s founder, Israel Adebajo, in 1970. But he was forced to move to the rival ECN when the squabbles in the Adebajo family threatened the existence of the club.
He retired in PHCN as a Senior Manager Administration. Before then, he trained as a coach in Hungary, after which he came back to handle his former club, NEPA (formerly ECN), a team he took to the final of the national Challenge Cup.
Narrating the genesis of the ailment that eventually led to his death, Anieke told a local website late last year that he was suffering from a strange sickness.
According to him, “I don’t know what it is, only God knows. A couple of years ago, I woke up to realise I had pains from my knees down to my ankles. It started suddenly, without prior notice. Doctors have examined me and they said I am diabetic and I don’t have high blood pressure or stroke. I have not been able to walk and do anything on my own without the assistance of my wife.
“I have spent all the money I had on treatment; I have taken all forms of drugs, even traditional, but nothing has worked. I will do anything to get my health back.”
He said he sought assistance from the National Sports Commission (NSC) but was disappointed by the response he got from the body. “Some of my former teammates took my case to the NSC but he didn’t do anything about it.
“At some point, I began to wonder what benefit is there to play for Nigeria if I cannot be helped in my time of need. Maybe it is my destiny but I cannot say I regret serving Nigeria the way I did. Maybe I am just unlucky. I am not asking for money, I just want someone to take care of my health; if I get anyone like that, I can never forget such help.
“My health is all that matters to me now. I have travelled all over Lagos looking for solution. I have gone to Delta, Osogbo (Osun State); anywhere I feel there are powerful traditional doctors, who can help me. I have spent a lot of money and right now feeding is even a problem. And I don’t want people to think that I am doing this for money. If you think you can take me to a place where I can be treated and be fine for the rest of my life, I will gladly accept it.”
Sadly, he never got the expected assistance until he died on Monday, April 20.
Former president of the West Africa Football Union (WAFU), Chief Jonathan Ogufere, describes Anieke as one of the best attacking midfielders the country has ever produced.
Ogufere, who picked Anieke in his all time Nigeria eleven, says: “Peter ‘Baby’ Anieke bore sway as an unstoppable attacking midfielder hence he was described as ‘Diamond-toed.’ He perfected the art of volleys in his goal scoring. His close rival then was Friday Okoh a.k.a Senior planner.”
To veteran sports administrator, Prince Isidore Oduah, Anieke was a fearless attacker, who also created goals for others.
“It is a great loss to Nigerian football. In the field of play, Anieke was feared because you cannot bring him down. He was stocky and very tricky with a lot of bullets in his feet.
“He was a good header of the ball and any time he brought down the ball with his chest, the goalkeeper had no chance at all. I saw him a couple of years ago when he was working Surulere. It is sad that Nigeria could not help him when he needed assistance from a country he served so well. May his soul rest in peace,” he said.
Anieke is survived by a wife and six children.