From Felix Ikem, Nsukka
For the youths and people of Ovoko town in Igbo-Eze South Local Government Area of Enugu State, January 3, 2021 will remain evergreen in their memory. It was the day former Deputy Senate President, Dr Ike Ekweremadu visited the town to kick off a football tournament. The coming of Ekweremadu had generated so much fear and tension to the extent it was feared that it won’t be safe for him and his entourage to come to the community again.
Ovoko is a popular area in Igbo-Eze South LGA with four autonomous communities and three political wards namely: Ovoko, Ejouna, Ulunya and Ovoko-Agu autonomous communities, with Umu-Elo Ovoko-Agu, Umu-Lolo and Ejouna political wards.
Sunday Sun gathered that for the past 24 years, the youths in the area had organised a football competition at the end of every year to keep themselves busy, away from social vices, discover new football talents and to entertain their people during Christmas, with well-to-do individuals from the area sponsoring it.
But, the 2020 edition of the Ovoko Annual Football League was marred with controversies emanating from who should sponsor the football tournament.
When the news that Ekweremadu was the main sponsor of the 2020 edition and he would be visiting the community to perform the kick-off of the football match, an unconfirmed report claimed that a prominent son (names withheld) of Ovoko had threatened that blood would flow if Ekweremadu stepped foot in Ovoko.
In a chat with Sunday Sun, a youth in the community, Chinedu Ugwu, said that a night before the grand finale suspected thugs with dangerous weapons went to the Central School Ovoko football field in the community, and destroyed all the goal posts in the field, shooting periodically into the air, warning that nobody should play any football match again in the community until further notice.
Ugwu said that the bone of contention was the sponsorship of the football tournament, adding that the powers that be in the communities were infuriated and not comfortable that Ekweremadu who is not even from Nsukka zone could sponsor a football tournament in Ovoko, as well as having the audacity to have his name boldly written on the jerseys for the tournament,
According to Ugwu, this was the reason they demanded for the cancellation of the 2020 edition of the tournament, a resolve that was reached by a few community elite.
He disclosed that this resolution was vehemently rejected by the youths, who, he said, insisted that they would carry on with the football competition with the sponsor’s names on the jerseys.
His words: “Some people are not happy that Ekweremadu could come to Ovoko and sponsor a football tournament when somebody like Hon. Pat Asadu who is representing Nsukka/Igbo-Eze South in the National Assembly is from the area.
“The communities’ elders made effort to resolve the matter and persuade the youths against accepting Ekweremadu’s sponsorship, but they refused.
“The situation brought tension and uneasy calm in Ovoko to the extent that a court injection was obtained by some persons in a magistrate court to stop the competition, but the youths and the organizers of the football tournament were adamant.
“On 2nd of January a day to the grand finale and the day Ekweremadu was expected to come and perform the kick-off of the match, some suspect thugs stormed the community in a commandos style, loitering around the communities in a provocative manner, the results of their presence was dismantling and destruction of all the goal posts in the communities’ football fields.”
He said that the goal post at Community Primary Schools Ovoko-Uno, Elech, Mkpunese and Olenye were all removed by the thugs with the condition that no football match will be played on them until Ekweremadu’s name on the jerseys is removed.
He also disclosed that the youths had approached Hon. Pat Asadu to sponsor the competition, but he declined, a situation that forced the organizers to seek for sponsorship elsewhere.
Explaining further, Comrade Obi Mamah, who is the Coordinator of Ikeoha Youth Apostles, a political support group for Ekweremadu in Enugu North Senatorial District, said that he had organised Arise Youth Conference scheduled for that January 3, 2021 at Sir Celestine Okanya’s resident in Ovoko and invited Ekweremadu as a special guest of honour.
According to him, “the conference was aimed at revitalizing youth activism for better democratic governance which had resource persons and over 100 youths in attendance.
“At about 2:30 p.m, Ekweremadu arrived at Ovoko and he was received by loyal sons and daughters of Ovoko in conjunction with Ikeoha Youth Apostles who were present amidst jubilation.
“Everything went well as planned, attempts by unscrupulous elements to cause trouble and distract his smooth visits was ignored by the peaceful Ovoko youths and Ekweremadu’s security details.
“Senator Ekweremadu in his usual interaction and good relationship, had a long quiet time with the participants and finally supported Ovoko football teams with N1million and also assured them that the vandalized goal posts by the hired hoodlums will be replaced in no distant time.
“At about 5:00p.m, he concluded his speech with a popular Igbo adage ‘onye gbala aka na azo Ani,onye ji ji ana akonye’.
“The programme finally came to an end with no injury on any citizen of the zone and Ekweremadu left in peace on the same way he came to the land of Ovoko.”
Meanwhile, the Ovoko Football Association (OFA) has expressed displeasure and disagreement with Pat Asadu’s position that the 2020 edition of the Ovoko Annual Football League was political.
OFA in a statement jointly signed by Nnaemeka Onaragu and Onyebuchi Ugwu, chairman and secretary of the association respectively last Wednesday read in part:
“The Executive Committee and entire members of Ovoko Football Association (OFA) express displeasure over the attempts to politicise the 2020 edition of the Ovoko Annual Football League.
“We are also surprised at the sponsored fake news that former Deputy Senate President, Chief Ike Ekweremadu, was chased or whisked away from the grand finale of the 2020 edition of Ovoko football competition. The report was mischievous, unfounded, and sponsored by enemies of progress, who tried to scuttle the event, but without success. The Senator performed the official kick-off amid fanfare before proceeding to the venue of reception where our people turned out en masse, both young and old, to honour and appreciate him…
“We are equally disappointed at Asadu’s allegation that we organised the grand finale despite a court injunction restraining us from doing so.
“There is no truth to these. The fact remains that we first approached Hon. Asadu to sponsor the front of the jersey for N500,000, but he bluntly refused, insisting that we had gotten enough money. We therefore reached out to Chief Celestine Okanya, who paid for it, but preferred that the name of his friend, Chief Ekweremadu, be written at the front of the jersey because he planned to invite him as the chief guest of honour to kick-off of the grand finale.
“Likewise, former Chairman of Igbo-Eze South LGA, Hon. Festus Ozioko, who sponsored the back of the jersey, but preferred the governor’s name to be written on it instead.
“So, where is the politics in having the name of a well-known sports enthusiast and promoter on our jersey as preferred by the sponsor, Chief Okanya, when he (Asadu) was the first to be offered the opportunity, but he turned it down? As a matter of fact, Asadu is still owing us the sum of N200,000 he pledged when we conferred an award on him about six years ago.
“Furthermore, there is no court order directed at OFA to stop the tournament. We are a law-abiding organisation. But assuming, without conceding, that there was such order, why not charge us with contempt of court rather than sending thugs led by his Personal Assistant, Ojemba, to dismantle our goalposts? Why resort to thuggery and intimidation of the community in a failed bid to stop our event?
“We thank the youth and people of Ovoko for standing their ground and and Rev. Fr. Felix Ugwuozor for his presence and morale support.”
Also, Celestine Okanya, a friend of Ekweremadu, thanked the Executive Committee members and entire members of OFA, teams, communities, and sponsors of 2020 Ovoko Football League for their participation, patience and commitment to peaceful tournament.
He described the lawmaker as “a people, community leader and patron of the Ovoko Football Association, development-oriented brand.”
He said: “We made history. We were provoked, threatened, haunted and insulted, but we chose peace over crisis. We showed an exceeding love for our town, Ovoko, and our people. Love always wins over hate.
“I ask you to pray for the people who were paid to forment trouble with the goal of shedding blood of our people as declared by their masters. They are in bondage and deserve our prayers. We fight not our own flesh and blood, our fight is against powers and principalities and wickedness in high places. Our town was besiged by demons and deities. But we won. Our victory was not achieved because we were strong, but because our God is strong.
“I am delighted that Ovoko People and Nsukka in general now know their real enemies. There will be consequences. No evil goes unpunished. Ovoko people will not forget. Records are kept. At the appointed time, we shall open the book.”
When contacted, Hon. Asadu acknowledged that he was contacted by the organizers of the football tournament for sponsorship, but denied any involvement in the alleged hiring of thugs to damage the goal posts in the community fields.
“Yes, I was approached to sponsor the Ovoko 2020 football league, I waited for them to send account number to me, but I never heard anything from them again.
“You know 2023 politics is drawing close and some people will always like to play politics with everything, so I’m not surprised that this year’s football tournament in my area is being politicised.
“The allegation that I hired thugs to destroyed goal posts in the field where Ekweremadu was billed to kick off the grand finale of a football tournament was not true, the only thing I know was that the Neighbourhood Watch has to stop the tournament because they noticed that the whole process has been politicised which is not good for the community security, so anybody linking me with thugs should come out with the evidence,” he said. Ekweremadu had while addressing the communities pledged to execute development projects in the community and also support the youths to harness their sporting talents.