By Jude Atupulazi and Uche Enem
Veteran sportsman and broadcaster, Ichie Edwin Chuks Ezeanya, is a name that rings a bell to those who followed sports in the 70s. Now in the twilight of his sporting life, Ezeanya says he still has more to offer. He spoke with Fides Editor-in-Chief, Jude Atupulazi, and Uche Enem.
So, what’s your name and tell us your sporting background?
I am Ichie Edwin Chuks Ezeanya from Isiamigbo Village in Agulu, Anambra State. I was born on 12th April, 1954. My background in sports started early in primary school around 1966 at St. Theresa’s, Agulu. Between 1972 and 1976, I attended Agulu Grammar School where I featured prominently in sports; especially athletics, like 800m. It is the longest distance that a primary school could engage in and I took first in all. I was known popularly as Power/Wiper because of the type of sports I did: 1500, 500, 10,000m.
I started to represent the Old East Central States as a participant. I created waves in long distance race in Nigeria. I was at the first and second National Sports Festivals in 1973 and 1975. I was made Sports Captain of my school. I got all the newspaper headlines. I was so proud that I represented my state.
You have had some experience in sports and one will expect more from you. Have you in anyway been able to transfer your knowledge to the young ones in the state?
Yes. I have done that even before the creation of Anambra State. As a teacher and a games master, I produced a lot of people, not only in athletics, but in football, when I was at National Grammar School, Nike. A lot of them joined Rangers and some other Green Eagles, now Flying Eagles. Also, I trained some at St. Patrick’s College, Emene, and CIC. These are schools that created waves in the Old Anambra.
Can you mention some of the people you trained? Some notable players that later went to Rangers?
It’s a very long time. Jay Jay Okocha and many others, but I can’t really remember. Most of them had many nick names. It’s really a very long time.
How was it like working with C.O.C. Chiedozie who was a big football enthusiast?
He was the principal of Nike Grammar School and always placed football as his priority when admitting people.
You will be proud working with C.O.C. Chiedozie. He is a father and lover of sports. I was the coach during his time.
Has the state approached you in any capacity to groom the young ones?
Well, I haven’t been approached because I became devastated. There is no money coming from the government that is going to the coaches and athletes. When I was at St. Patrick’s Emene, the then principal warned me that one day I could break someone’s leg and advised me to go to the University. By then, I had gotten my TC2 which was one of the highest certificates when teaching in secondary school.
Because of the advice, I had admission to enter the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. When I got into the university, I continued with my sports and I read Sociology and Anthropology, Igbo Art & Culture, Adult Education. I also read Mass Communication. I represented the school in the West African University Games (WAUG) in those days. I represented them as an athlete. I am a long-distance runner. Our people do not know the value of an athlete and that’s why I feel discouraged most times.
What do you think has been the bane of athletes in the country today?
Generally, people are no more enthusiastic in sporting activities, especially athletics. This is because the encouragement is no longer there. During our time, when you had a handshake with the president or governor, you wouldn’t want to wash your hand for one week. We were given glucose or orange. But today, things have changed.
How do you see the state of sports and which area do you think needs to be beefed up?
Anambra State has been the central point of sports in Nigeria. Anambra contingent featured greatly at the sports meets in Nigeria. School sports is now a problem in this country because ‘catch them young’ starts from the school. In Anambra State, I see them working hard but it seems the government is not interested in sports. If they are really interested in sports, they will start from the grassroots by catching them young at the primary and secondary school levels. Coaching is not done in the office. It must be practical. Most coaches are seen in the field when it’s time for festivals which is not proper. It is an everyday affair. Schools are supposed to be visited every time. Some schools do not have fields or even football fields. How can sports be achieved in this kind of environment that lacks playgrounds?
Are you ready to serve the state if the opportunity arises?
I am ever ready. Now that I am retired as a director in NTA, I am very much ready to give them my services. I am the only South East personnel that has attended a course in long distance races and marathon. I am ready to give them my services if I am called upon to do that. I have won a lot of laurels in this country.
Despite the challenges we have in Nigeria, especially when they do not recognize people in the country, what still keeps you going?
Health wise. I am a healthy human being. God has kept me so strong. I can’t remember the last time I visited the hospital. I can trek from Awka to Enugu. It’s a blessing and I love it. Whenever I remember the old days and my unique performances; even the way people talk about me, it gives me joy. It is a thing of joy that when you go into the streets, people you don’t know praise you. I am called Power or Wiper. When I see people talking about me, it makes me happy.
Dr. Akanu Ibiam and Michael Okpara’s names cannot be wiped because of their footprints in the country. But now most governors are easily forgotten because they no longer make impact. It was because of the frustration in sports that I joined broadcasting. I joined NTA as a reporter, news person, broadcaster, director. By the grace of God, I am retired. When I was in service, I received so many awards and accolades from various institutions, both at the state and national levels. The certificates are there to prove. It gives me joy whenever I see my certificates. In those days, when you wore a track suit, you represent a model; but now, track suit is being worn by everybody, even a bus conductor.
What are your challenging moments so far in sports?
Discouragement. There is no more encouragement. Encouragement is lacking and people are not interested. People who are not competent are placed in positions where they are not meant to be. This spoils the system and makes things go wrong. This makes them to fail in representing the school.
Approximately, how many years did you spend in your sports life?
Approximately, about 40 years when you sum up my primary and secondary school experiences.
How would you advise the government, both state and federal, to invest in sports development?
Many times, advice to government falls into deaf ears. Most times, players and athletes complain a lot when they travel to represent the country, especially in the area of women. Most times, when they came back with gold medals, the penny they received from the government was far below what they used in encouraging the male folk. There was a disparity. It must be 50-50. This is why we often see players going on strike. So, I advise the state government to pay very serious attention to sports. If more attention is paid to sports, people won’t fall sick easily. By doing so, they must start at the grassroots level. A child cannot walk without crawling. So, coaches must go to various schools to hunt for hidden talents.
We have so many young people embracing sporting activities. How would you advise them, knowing full well the poor attitude of the government towards sports?
First of all, they must have interest in whatever they do. They shouldn’t focus more on encouragement. Sometimes, they focus more on playing so that they won’t have injuries. They should have the interest first and work hard to bring glory to the country. Young stars should come out to boost the image of sports in this country. We are rated very little in sports because sports administrators are not doing well. They are supposed to harness these young people.