From GEOFFREY ANYANWU, Enugu
Sitting on the double settee backing a big enlargement frame of the Nigeria Green Eagles line-up when her late husband, Aloysius Ikem Atuegbu was a prominent member of the country’s national football team, Mrs. Gloria Atuegbu could not hold back tears as she recalled how her spouse died years after serving his fatherland.
In that sitting room of a three-bedroom bungalow built by the deceased footballer at the Federal Housing Estate Abakpa, Enugu, Mrs. Atuegbu was alone and one could see from all around her the signs of a woman in serious struggle to survive.
For now, she engages in petty trading, taking clothes and jewellery to sell in various offices.
Mrs. Atuegbu described her family situation since the demise of her husband as very rough. She said they have been deserted by those who should have cared about their wellbeing taking into consideration their late benefactor’s contributions to Nigerian football.
She said: “It has been rough since my husband died, nobody has come to help, we are just managing up to now. Things have been so rough for us but with God on our side we are surviving. But not as I expected. My children are there, three of them. They have just graduated from the university and it was all on me. I had to sell some of our property to see that they went to school. Now they are graduates. One got married five years ago, the first daughter Obiageli, then the other two, a boy and a girl, the boy decided to move to Lagos with the sister. They are now in Lagos and I am here alone.”
But did the deceased own any business when he was alive, you wondered.
“Business,” she quipped, “How could he own any business when Nigeria refused to leave him? Even taking care of us was war. When he was in the Green Eagles, we hardly saw him. All that was in his heart was to make Nigeria proud, for Nigeria’s name to be up. He finished that, hanged his boot but later the then Minister called and took him to assist him in commissioning matches. That was what led to his death. Because he went to Nassarawa and commissioned a match on Friday, and was to go to Ilorin on Sunday and when they went to call him for them to take off to Ilorin so that they could reach there before 4pm, as they told me, the driver and the team manager said as they went to his room to call him, they forced the door and saw him breathing abnormally and they took him to Nassarawa General Hospital. There he gave up. They called me and told me that he said I should start coming to Nassarawa. As I was going, the Nassarawa United Team Manager then was calling me, Madam come now, bring his pajamas, he is in the hospital, he said I should come and take him from there to Niger Foundation Hospital Enugu, I didn’t know that it was his corpse that I am going to see. So as I reached there the doctors were there waiting for me, so they took me to the doctor’s room and started telling me encouraging words, that he is on drips, that he was unconscious, that I should wait, that he was in private room. They said I should exercise patience; that he told them to give me BP medicine that I should take it before I come upstairs to stay with him. I said haba, how can he say such a thing? The nursing sister said, Madam listen to the Chief Medical Consultant! She said the man would not deceive me. The consultant came close to me held me and said Madam please take this small drug it will help your BP to subside so you can stay in the room with him and be monitoring every treatment the nurses will be giving to him. I said okay and he dropped the medicine under my tongue and said Madam you wait for two to three minutes and you go and see him, he is receiving treatment. You know he is a public figure and we won’t let him to die because Nigerians will ask us questions.
When they were saying all that, I wasn’t myself again. They took me there and I saw him in the mortuary and I fainted. One of his relations was even there, Ozo Ogbukagu. It was Ozo that told me whatever that happened. He took me to his house in Abuja and later we carried the corpse and returned to Enugu.”
Like the typical Nigerian system, promises were made to Mrs. Atuegbu and children by both the State and Federal Government to ensure that they were taken care of. But today, 13 years after nothing has been done for the widow and children.
Mrs. Atuegwu who remembered and spoke about the promises amidst tears said: “Yes, the then Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi, did promised us. He even said that day that they should not bury Alloy until he comes and we waited that day in the church for him to come before he could be buried. The Reverend Father asked us and everybody to exercise patience that he has finished mass but that the governor said he wanted to see his corpse before we go and bury him, so we waited till he arrived and we went and buried my husband. The governor sent his delegation with the promises that he would help in training all my children in school. That he would help me, even if I wanted to work or set up any business. But until he left office nothing happened. Even up till now. Even the Commissioner for Sports said as long as the governor has promised that we wouldn’t lack anything. But till today, Anambra State hasn’t done anything for us. Not even the Federal government. I haven’t seen anything. The Federal authorities said we should come. Even the NFA promised me that I should come. They gave a token, but it was in the family tray that they went and dropped their envelope. It wasn’t meant for me, since my husband’s relations were there. The only thing I know is that they came to say sorry to me and said I should come later for them to know how they could assist us to train the children. I later went, but to see them was difficult, I exhausted the money that I borrowed paying hotel bills and after unsuccessful attempts to see them, my son said we should return to Enugu and go and manage ourselves, that it was needless trying to see someone that promised and when you go, you won’t see them. So we returned home and started afresh.”
She stated, however, that it was only God that has been there for her and her children. But she asserted that she had no regrets whatsoever of her husband’s services to Nigeria.
“No, I can’t say that I have regrets, but it is only God that knows all. What I know is that it was good that my husband came out and served his country and made Nigeria to be recognised all over the world in football. I have no regrets; everything in life depends on God. I must not feel bad that the country didn’t help me or not because I have to look unto God. People promise and fail. If we have hoped on people, all of us would have died.”
But she has a word for the government on how to treat people who served the nation. Her words: “This set that is serving Nigeria now, they are aware of what their predecessors are passing through and that is why before they come to play, they say, put this in my account before I can play. They are paid handsomely but during my husband’s time, they just played football to bring honours to the nation. Now all players’ eyes are open because they know what they want and have seen how those who gave selfless service were treated. Now they don’t want their families to be like mine that is now suffering and that of the other widows who are passing through same hardship like us.
“My advice to the country is that Nigeria should try to remember those that served Nigeria and brought honour and glory to the country. They should also try to look out for some of us that our husbands did marvelously well for the nation to see how they can assist us.”