On January 29, 2020, Kelechi Deca, one of my generation’s most cerebral gave a worryingly emotional tribute to Rangers International Football Club of Enugu, reminding everyone that this club that is arguably the only evidential testament to the fighting spirit of the old Eastern Nigeria, most particularly the Igbo, has clocked 50.
No one remembered. No one appears to be worried of the cruelty in wishing away the club that evidenced the strength of a people and which also represented a beacon of hope for survival for a people so economically deprived and emotionally denuded, vanquished as they were in the aftermath of the Nigerian Civil War.
It also appeared that in the charged crowd of new agitators for the revival of the Biafran Statehood dashed in 1970, it did not matter that same Rangers stood out as a half century old beacon that told the story of the inimitable resilience of the Igbo man.
Rangers, Kelechi wrote on his Facebook post, “was not an ordinary football club.” And in saying this, I think it is of utmost importance to share his post before I further infuse my own thoughts on this issue:
“It was more than a football club. It was a harbinger of hope for a people at the nadir of human existence. It gave wings to a tomorrow that never came. It however, gave strength to a people at the rock-bottom of their lives, made bearable by the fact that almost everyone was down. When misery wallowed as far as the eyes can see.
“And like the Phoenix, from the ashes of its own destruction, rose The Flying Antelope. It was a pointer to the possibilities that was….it built hope, imagination, strength, brotherly love, and heightened shared aspirations. Interestingly, and intriguingly so, it is the oldest existing football club in Nigeria that is still in its original form.”
I agree with the writer that Rangers is more than a football club. I a club that embodies the Igbo spirit and essence and carries with it, the DNA strains of belief, resistance, survivalism and possibilities in the face of the greatest adversities.
In the wider global political and economic discourse, Rwanda has become the poster nation for recovery and leapfrog having quickly become a country of reckoning after what was clearly a devastating ethnic genocidal way.
But no one is telling the story of how genuine centrally managed reconciliation and reintegration driven by global funding enabled the Central/Eastern African country to cobble together its pieces together. Unlike Rwanda, the Igbo people survived and prospered out of sheer grit and hard work; almost from nothing!
The war in Rwanda took one million lives. The Biafran war took an estimated 2 million lives, many of whom perished through the painful path of contrived hunger. Compounding the trauma of the Igbo man was the near-death sentence that stared everyone in the face, passed as it was, by the paltry 10 Pounds the few Igbos in business and service were given to rebuild themselves at the end of the war.
It is was very obvious that those who authored the “no victor, no vanquished” reintegration document that ended the war were merely creating a more lingering module to cow and break the spirit of survival of the Igbo man. The Abandoned Properties policy that ensured businesses and properties belonging to the Igbo people in other parts of the country never returned to their original owners at the end of the war ensured that all citizens of the former Biafra were made to rejoin Nigeria from a very unfair disadvantage designed to make it difficult for them to compete.
But just 14 days after the war officially ended on January 15, 1970, a football club sprouted from the ruins of the war, fired by the spirits of a hungry and deprived people. The name chosen for the club was as provocative as it was inspiring. Rangers. A keeper of a park, forest or country side. Rangers. A group of armed men.
The founders of the Club knew that it represented the need to retain, protect and preserve the Igbo land area even in the context of a wider Nigeria. They also apparently realized the importance of sending the message to the broken Igbo people that even in the destruction of flesh, fortunes and flora, the people were still brave soldiers, fighting a different and even more important war of survival.
Even from its birth, Rangers was more than a club; it was a rallying cry for a new awakening to the reality of the preservation of a tribe; it was a biological force designed for a rebirth, it was a sociological energy source for the binding of a people like a broom to sweep away hopelessness, it represented a psychological pull for a people to rise above the beleaguered flesh and live with a new spirit that conjured prosperity from bewildering adversity.
With this, Rangers mustered the Igbo man to re-engage Nigeria and the inspiring stories of remarkable successes in business and overall economic prosperity of the people bears evidence of what this club helped the people achieve.
As David O. Ani commented in the Facebook post that informed this article, this club “offered our fathers a mythical reassurance of their potentials….it reassured them that being down is not being out…..it was a hope incubator, it gave our people their first chains of victory in the midst of defeat realities. It was a psychological fighting chance that did a lot of good to the complex of our fathers.”
Rangers rose to become the most successful club side in Nigeria. It has won league titles and FA Cup titles ever since and remarkably stands as the only club in the Nigerian professional league that has never been relegated.
Unfortunately, the balkanization of Nigeria in the name of states creation began a slow but steady dilution of this brand. From a Club owned by the old Eastern Nigeria, Rangers shrunk to one owned by Anambra State and by 1985, it became an Enugu Club.
States creation in Nigeria has been a problem many do not see its ill psychological effects on the people and this is even more manifest among the Igbo. I have said this before in a different article that states creation stretches the mental proximity between people; even people of the same stock. The mental distance between Awka and Enugu stretched much further than the physical distance in 1985 after Enugu State was carved from Anambra. The same applied to Umuahia after Abia State emerged from Imo.
As a result, all the states began to see themselves as emotional foreigners to the affairs of the one another. It became even more terrible for us that over the years, we have evolved leaderships averse to the lessons and values of history. Conversations and political rhetoric shrunk to the protection of small microcosms of what once was a strong homogeneity, devaluing and, in some cases, totally annihilating common heritages.
In researching this article, I pored through the Internet in search of material on the history of Rangers International Football Club of Enugu and was horrified that this club had no website of its own. The best information available online was a scanty entry on Wikipedia that mentioned when the Club was founded and a few items on achievement.
Rangers is; should be; much more than this. The story of the Nigerian Civil War should not be complete for the Igbo man without the story of Rangers. What is wrong in building a museum of history for this Club and making tourism destination out of it? What is even wrong in the entire south east owning and sponsoring this club. States creation necessitates assets sharing. Rangers found itself as a common asset that has to be allocated along the lines of where it is located. And so, from Eastern Nigeria, it became a club owned by Anambra and then, Enugu State.
This political centrifugalism has been inimical to our regional re-integration and when people talk about how the Igbo people are a divided people, the bulk of the blame goes to balkanisation. But just across the south west, there is the O’odua Group, a business concern owned by the sates in the region. In fact, Lagos State only recently joined this group as recently as 2016, strengthening the drive for a regional economic integration.
Rangers is a heritage; one of the most important collective heritages for the entire Igbo and efforts must be made to leverage this towards revitalizing the region’s economy and also in bringing about a sense of identity, pride and belonging to the people at home and in the diaspora. Most people do not know, but a strong feeling of identity and sense of pride are economic assets of immeasurable value.
The advantages of making Rangers a south east football club is legion. I know I am speaking to a dense and deaf political class who mostly preach what they do not practice, but the surest way to strengthen the economy and sociology of the south east might just be to restore the pride that Rangers represents and ensure the entire region takes ownership.
What this might achieve is become the elixir, the spike for the much-talked South East regional economic integration paper-talk.
Rangers is a heritage; one of the most important collective heritages for the entire Igbo and efforts must be made to leverage this towards revitalizing the region’s economy and also in bringing about a sense of identity, pride and sense of belonging to the people at home and in the diaspora. Most people do not know, but a strong feeling of identity and sense of pride are economic assets of immeasurable value.
If well harnessed, Rangers has potential to become the springboard for economic revival of the south east. The role this club played in the survival of Igbo people after the war makes it almost criminal to so neglect it and treat it as merely one of the clubs that provide entertainment for the people when they are bored with watching English Premiership games on television.
There are tangible and intangible manifestations of this brand that will offer beneficial opportunities for the Igbo race. The sense of identity mentioned earlier is one of them. But it must be elevated to the platter, agenda and concern of the entire region as against a single state, that, for all that is known, may be totally ignorant of the higher needs derivable beyond patronage and tokenism.
Happy 50th anniversary our darling Rangers.