Enyimba Football Club, The People’s Elephant are Nigeria’s record Champions. They are the most decorated team in Nigerian football, with eight league titles and two CAF Champions League successes. Situated in Aba, a city and commercial hub in Abia State, southeast Nigeria, home to the industrious Igbo, it seems the unlikeliest location for a successful football club of Enyimba’s calibre.
The markets of Aba are filled daily with throngs of skilled men and women, old and young, who possess handcrafts worth 401k fund. Aba-made is a popular cliché amongst Nigerians, A phrase referring to any locally made product believed to be cheap and inferior in quality. Aba contributes a great deal to Nigeria’s economy. Enyimba Economic City is a vision of the current governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu aimed at actualizing and aiding the already present innovative, manufacturing, and entrepreneurial culture of the citizens. How does football however come into the mix?
In Nigeria, it is a farce that football and politics don’t mix. When the country regained democracy in 1999, Abia State had elected Orji Uzor Kalu its governor. A football aficionado, OUK, as he was fondly called set about redefining football in the South East state, after repeated title celebrations in Owerri and Enugu as well as Awka’s rare success all before the turn of the millennium. Enugu Rangers is a club of the people, while Iwuanyanwu Nationale and Udoji United were affluent teams, luring the best talent with money, fame, and class. The Naze Millionaires as they are fondly called enjoyed bankrolling from Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, Orji was keen to replicate the success Iwuanyanwu particularly had achieved. All five league titles the club had achieved was under the magnate, the first coming two years after his takeover.
Kalu’s Enyimba would replicate the feat, securing league success within two years of his time in office. In Nigeria, Sports is CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility; an act of contributing to societal goals of a philanthropic, activist, or charitable nature by engaging in or supporting volunteering or ethically-oriented practices, inadvertently a strategic initiative that contributes to a brand’s reputation.), you could call it a glorified form of sports washing.
In Kalu’s eight years as Governor, Enyimba won five league titles, One Federation Cup and two CAF Champions Leagues. Two times they achieved the double, in 2003 and 2005. Enyimba’s fortunes have not been the same since that triumph in 2004 on the continent under the wily Okey Felix Emordi. 2008 was the first of the three semi-final appearances they have achieved since. With Orji Uzor Kalu gone and Theodore Orji, the new Sherriff in town, things were definitely never going to be the same. Champions in the 2007 Nigerian Premier League, under the vast Belgian, Maurice Cooreman, Enyimba arrived on the continent boasting a glistening and fearsome reputation.
The campaign began on February 17, 2008, at the spiritual home of the People’s Elephant, the Aba Township Stadium against Congo’s Diables Noirs. The players served up a special, Ezenwa Otorogu and Stephen Worgu scored a goal in each half to condemn the visitors to a 4-1 defeat, not content, the act would be repeated in Congo, triumphing 3-2, sealing a 7- 3 aggregate win. If the campaign was a meal, Enyimba had not served the appetizer. The Last 32 led the Aba Millionaires to Tanzania nine years before wealth and affluence for Simba. The served the perfect performance not just in literal terms, Worgu completing his hattrick with a seventy-seventh-minute penalty, ten minutes later Kalu Uche netted another to seal a 4-0 victory. John Owoeri, a graduate flying eagle repute, got in on the act in Dar Es Salam, adding to strikes from Worgu and Uche in a 3-1 win. The boys had seemingly taken the word seventh heaven to literal.