Recently, the Federal Government redeemed pledges made to the 1985 set of Golden Eaglets, the first African team to win a FIFA organised tournament. But one man was conspicuously absent at the event. Not even a mention was made of the Sports Minister at the time, Air Cdr. Sampson Emeka Omeruah (Rtd), a man under whose watch the nation won many laurels in sports. December 4 marks the 10th anniversary of the death of a man widely dubbed the father of the Golden era of Nigerian football. He died in London December 4, 2006. The history of Nigerian football cannot be complete without his mention as he is linked with most of the memorable moments of our football.
Omeruah was elected chairman of Nigeria Football Association in 1993 and immediately his Midas touch began to manifest.For instance, how many still remember that he originated the nickname Dream Team associated with the victorious football team at Atlanta 96?
It was after watching the star-studded U-23 team grind out a 1-1 draw in Cairo against Egypt to qualify for the final stage of the Olympics qualifiers that Omeruah gushed “yes, this is a Dream Team”. That sobriquet stuck. As the NFA Chairman at the time, he had midwived the birth of that team.
The bulk of that Atlanta 96 squad could be traced to 1993 when Omeruah was elected NFA Chairman. With him in charge, Nigeria won a second U17 championship at Japan 93, the same year the Super Eagles qualified for a debut World Cup, the USA1994. Before jetting off to USA for the World Cup, Nigeria won the AFCON for the first time on away soil at Tunisia 94.
The Super Eagles would have a memorable World Cup debut, losing to Italy in the second round at extra time. The team’s performance was rated the second most entertaining team at the Mundial. At that point, Nigeria was number five on FIFA ranking; it’s highest ever ranking till date.
His tenure ushered the first Nigerian to win African Footballer of the Year award when Rashidi Yekini bagged the honour in 1993. Emmanuel Amuneke followed suit in 1994. Thus came an era Nigerian players dominated the continent. Nwankwo Kanu was Africa’s best in 1996; Victor Ikpeba in 1997 before Kanu notched a second in 1999.
As we fervently await the return of the glory days of our football, kudos should be given to the man, who birthed the lost golden era. A three time Sports Minister, the PHD graduate of UNILAG presided over Nigeria’s successful hosting of the FIFA U20 Championships in 1999.
Beyond Sports…His Role In WAI
What has been played down very much is the role he played in Gen. Muhammadu Buhari’s Military Government of 1984-85. As the Minister of Information, Social Development, Youth, Sports, and Culture, he showed dexterity in the running of five ministries, which are today separate ministries. He wrote the script of War Against Indiscipline (WAI), and sold it to the government. The Government then commissioned him to effectively implement it to the letter. This he did. The nation embraced WAI leading to a reorientation of her moral ethics.
He did not only preach moral rectitude among Nigerians, he practiced it as he had zero tolerance for corruption and was never associated with ill-gotten wealth despite being a governor and three-time minister of the Federa Republic.
As Sports minister, he instituted a Hall Of Fame for Nigerian sportsmen and women, past and present, a project that took the revered Ikeddy Isiguzo across the length and breathe of Nigeria sourcing materials and graphics.Unfortunately, this laudable venture was dismantled as soon as he left office.
How he mediated in Methodist Church dispute
As the military Governor of Old Anambra State from 1985 to 1988, the Ebubedike of Oboro in Ikwuano LGA of Abia State used his position to intervene in the dispute within the Methodist Church of Nigeria, which had split into two factions for some years. His efforts reconciled both parties and the Methodist Church was once again united under one umbrella. After his retirement from the Nigerian Air Force in 1990, he was honoured and elected the Conference Secretary for the entire Methodist Church of Nigeria and later the President and served in this capacity for several years.
Omeruah started his military career in May 1958 in Zaria, as a Boy Soldier, when he enrolled into the Boys Company of the Nigerian Military Force (NMF). Boys Company metamorphosed into the Nigerian Military School (NMS) in 1962, while the NMF became the Royal Nigerian Army (RNA) at independence in 1960. In 1963 when Nigeria became a republic, the RNA changed to the Nigerian Army.
Born to the family of Chief Gabriel Ndimele and Mrs. Esther Nwajiagah Omeruah, he finished from NMS in May 1962, after passing his papers at GCE ‘O’ Level. Same year, he was selected as one of the first Nigerian Officer Cadets to attend the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA). His two other NMS class mates equally selected for the PMA course were Babatunde Idiagbon, who later rose to the rank of Major General in Buhari’s Military Government of 1984, and then Anthony Oparaji, who eventually retired as a Col.
At the end of his training at the PMA in 1965, he was commissioned 2Lt and at the same time bagged a B.Sc. degree in Political Science. He served in the Third Battalion Nigerian Army from 1965 to early 1966, before leaving to join the Nigerian Air Force in Kaduna, few months after the Nzeogwu Coup of January 1966.
He fought the Nigerian Civil War on the Biafran side from July 1967 to 1970, in many sectors, including Nsukka, Calabar, Bonny, Port Harcourt, Aba and Owerri, where he commanded many Battalions and a Brigade, and rose to the rank of a Lt Col. He was reabsorbed into the Nigerian Air Force in 1971 as a Lt. or Flying Officer.
He is survived by his wife, Her Excellency, Lady Ngozi Omeruah, four children, a brother and former Military Administrator of Kogi State, Col (Barrister) Paul Omeruo, and a sister.
A lover of Education, on retirement from the military, Omeruah enrolled for Doctorate degree in Political Science at the University of Lagos, a programme that took him almost seven years to accomplish, as he insisted on obtaining it through education when many in his position opted for honorary awards.He was an administrator par excellence, a role model, anti-corruption crusader, disciplinarian and above all, an obedient servant of God.
It is left to be seen how the Federal Government and his home state, Abia, would want to immortalize this great son of Africa.
May his gentle soul continue to rest in peace.
• Fan Ndubuoke was former president, Sportswriters Association of Nigeria. [email protected])