All over our cities, especially Lagos and Abuja, streets are named after supposedly deserving Nigerians. I believe this is in keeping with some lines in our National Anthem; that the labour of our heroes past shall not be in vain.
However, some of these names are less than honourable. But we still adore them anyway. Some of them already convicted of one financial crime or the other, others still going through our crawling legal processes. While that is on -going, we play politics with those whose credentials are so deserving of immortalization.
Shamefully, we are still playing politics with the case of acclaimed philanthropist, nationalist and sports financier late Chief MKO Abiola. What honour can be enough for such a man?
Just like MKO, one other national icon the country has not been fair to, is Late Air Commodore Samson Emeka Omeruah (rtd)PhD. This year marked the 11th anniversary of the death of the man widely dubbed the father of the Golden era of Nigerian football.
Omeruah died in London on 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, beginning from the 1985 U-16 FIFA/KODAK World Cup.
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 U23 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 midwifed 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 FIFA-U17 championship, Japan ‘93, same year the Super Eagles qualified for a debut World Cup -USA1994. Before jetting off to USA for the World Cup, Nigeria won the AFCON for the first time on away soil at Tunisia ‘94. 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 5 on FIFA ranking, our 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, all under Omeruah’s era.
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.
He initiated grassroots sports development by creating Zonal sports centers across the six Geographical zones.
BEYOND SPORTS…HIS ROLE IN the introduction of War Against Indiscipline (WAI), has often been played down. He played that role 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 in one which are today separate ministries. He wrote the script of War Against Indiscipline (WAI), and sold it to the government. He was commissioned 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 been a governor and three-time minister of the Federal Republic. As Sports minister, he instituted a Hall Of Fame for Nigeria 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.
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 Maj Gen in Buhari’s Military Government of 1984, and then Anthony Oparaji who eventually retired as a Col.
He fought the Nigerian Civil War and was reabsorbed into the Nigerian Air Force in 1971 as a Lieutenant 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. An Administrator per 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 and his home state Abia would want to immortalize this great son of Africa.
•Till next week, keep attacking.