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Ifeanyi Ubah’s World Cup Gift to Ndi Anambra .





By James Eze

There is something fascinating about Ifeanyi Ubah. Almost infinitely so! When he is not taking on the giants of Nigeria’s economy paradox and crashing the price of petroleum products, he is flexing his political muscles across Nigeria as the brain behind TAN or ‘A Handshake Across the Niger’ or better still, ‘Afa Igbo Efuna.’ And when he is not doing any of these, Ubah is in his own football stadium in Nnewi; living his vision as a club owner, fertilizing the dreams of young footballers across Nigeria and beyond. 

I have never met Ifeanyi Ubah. But I find him intriguing. I find him fascinating. And I think we should all pay a close attention to him. For though we may not all like him but we cannot always ignore him.

I found myself paying a close attention to Ubah lately when he single-handedly sponsored over 50 Anambra youths to the World Cup in Russia. He simply wanted to give the youngsters the World Cup Experience. It has never been done before by anyone I know in Africa. Ubah took care of the youngsters while in Russia, tending to them, ensuring that nothing went wrong with them for almost two weeks. They only returned when Nigeria crashed out of the competition. Had Nigeria waltzed her way to the final being played today, Ubah and his large Anambra contingent would have been there to cheer the Super Eagles to victory. Ubah is not the richest man in Nigeria today. But he is the only one who has thought of giving people who ordinarily would not have seen a World Cup game live, the chance to see it. I think it is important. 

I have never seen a World Cup game live. In other words, I have never had a World Cup experience. But I am told that nothing quite compares to it. My closest chance of being at the World Cup was when it came to Africa. But while South Africa played host to the game in 2010, I was holidaying in the US; far away from home and in a country where football is a distant echo. A friend of mine swore that he would not let the chance pass him by. He gave up something very important to him to be able to squeeze out enough money for his return ticket and expenses in South Africa. He came back with memories that would follow him to the grave. He regaled me with that experience for a long, long time and blamed me for choosing a wrong time to visit America. What he did not ask me was whether I would have been able to afford a World Cup experience all on my own if I had stayed back. So, there are many ways to make life rich. And if my friend’s stories are true, then a World Cup experience is one amazing way of spraying the life of a football lover with dazzling colours!

Please don’t get me wrong. I have heard people say that he did it because he is running for senate. That may be true. However, I have studied politics enough to know that no shrewd strategist would consider sponsoring young people to the World Cup a wise way to run for office. In the Nigerian context, the sum of money Ubah may have spent in giving these people a World Cup experience would have been enough to win him a gubernatorial election in some states. I think his decision was driven by something deeper and perhaps more ennobling than the quest for political power. I have observed Ubah for a few years now. I have not always agreed with his methods but I have never quite been indifferent to him. Ubah never leaves any observer with the comfort of indifference, anyway. Not when he never tires to try. 
Not when he is not easily fazed by the height of incredible odds against him. And certainly, not when he invests every undertaking with so much zeal and passion. I remember how his support for Governor Obiano’s re-election bid upturned the political calculations in Nnewi last November. I remember hearing him chant ‘ama nwude Ojukwu n’aka’ as he heaved his massive bulk around in an effort to mobilize the electorate to vote for Obiano in Nnewi. His political vehicle for the election, ‘Afa Igbo Efuna’ struck an instant chord among Ndigbo at home and in the Diaspora and revved up the collective effort to save APGA, the only political party with firm roots in Igboland. 

I also remember how he brought the political leaders of Ndigbo and the Yoruba together early this year for a historic ‘handshake’ across the Niger in Enugu. I sat in the audience and listened to Ayo Adebanjo recall the efforts of the founding fathers to give Nigeria a better union than the contraption we have at the moment. I remember hearing Adebanjo remind the audience that the experience he was sharing was not gleaned from a book but from his own direct personal involvement in the political evolution of Nigeria. I remember the leaders of the various nationalities in the Middle Belt and the South South share their agonies and fears about Nigeria under one roof. But I also remember that the ROOF was provided by Ifeanyi Ubah.

So, as the World Cup ends today, I think we should also REMEMBER that Anambra State was in Russia. And that Ifeanyi Ubah made that possible when he gave over 50 Anambra youths the World Cup EXPERIENCE!   

Nnanne, imela!


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