By Emmanuel Jonathan, JP
The 2018 Aiteo Cup (otherwise known as the Federation Cup) may have come and gone but the drama and miraculous manner with which the Rangers International Football Club clinched the Cup will remain a story that would be told and referenced while discussing issues relating to the power of possibilities in every circumstance of life and human endeavour.
Stephen Keshi International Stadium Asaba was the venue for the 2018 Aiteo Cup finals between Kano Pillars and Rangers International Football Club. The stadium was filled to the brim with fans and supporters of both teams in high spirit chanting songs of encouragements to the clubs in the football pitch.
Both Kano and Enugu State Governments had taken over the media space calling for prayers and supports from the general public, fans and supporters of their different clubs for God to see them victorious at the Aiteo tournament which would not only promote the image of their states but also place the victorious club at the apex of football rating in the country and also have them secure the berth to represent Nigeria at the CAF Confederation Cup next season.
In the thrilling final match, Pillars within the first ten minutes scored their first goal and not long after, scored the second goal still within the first half. They added the third goal in the early minutes of the second half leaving both the Governor of Enugu State, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and the teaming supporters and fans of Enugu Rangers who were on ground to motivate the players dumb founded.
However, in spite of this challenging moment, a source who was observing the mood and countenance of Governor Ugwuanyi, said that he was full of hope and in high spirit that the awesome God of David whom he has always reverenced in all his activities, will perform a miracle that will see his team defeat Kano Pillars in spite of the fact that Rangers was three goals down as at the 70th minutes of the match.
Just like the story of David who defeated the Philistine giant Goliath with only a sling because of his intimate relationship with Jehovah God as his backup, the Flying Antelopes mustered a late comeback sparked off by the 77th-minute thunderbolt from Kevin Itoya who opened the door of victory for Enugu Rangers with the first goal.
Under ten minutes of the first the goal scored by Rangers at 77th minutes, Chidera Ezeh threw in the second goal making it 3-2 and Ajani Ibrahim completed the late comeback with a diving header in the 90th minute bringing the goals of Kano Pillars and Enugu Rangers to a 3-3 draw and leading both teams into a penalty kick.
In the ensuing penalty kick, Captain Rabiu Ali who had scored the first goal of the match for Pillars goofed by losing his kick and his teammate Jimoh Ibrahim also lost his penalty kick. Though Rangers also missed a kick, the four kicks scored was enough to give them a sweet 4-2 win over a shattered Pillars team.
It was indeed a good one for Rangers who had gotten to five finals of the Federation Cup in the past administrations of the state without clinching the cup but within the period of Governor Ugwuanyi’s administration, the case is different as the club in 2016 broke a 32-year-old jinx by winning the NPFL in 2016 and also miraculously winning the 2018 Aiteo Cup.
One is tempted to say that the victories of Rangers since Ugwuanyi came on the saddle of leadership in the state could be linked with his handing over the affairs of the state to God on assumption of office. To Ugwuanyi, he does not have the capacity to carry out the leadership of the state without God and this belief has manifested in numerous successes recorded so far in spite of the poor revenue accruing to the state from the federal allocation.
Under Governor Ugwuanyi’s leadership, the state’s internal revenue has been on a tremendous increase to the extent that the state can even pay salaries without relying on federal allocation. This development has equally led to a lot of infrastructural developments linking the rural areas and the urban areas thereby making it easy for farmers to transport their farm produce to the urban centres.
The twin victory of Enugu Rangers under the Ugwuanyi administration by breaking the 32-year-old jinx of not winning any trophy is no doubt made possible by the power of the awesome God of David whom the Governor believes is capable of helping him achieve success in the leadership of the state. Before making any statement, Gov. Ugwuanyi always reaffirms his loyalty to the God of Abraham, God of Isaac and the Awesome God of David. There is therefore no gain saying that God has not failed him in his belief and trust.
Rangers International Football Club of Enugu was founded in 1970 after the Nigerian Civil war and has maintained its position as the oldest football team in Nigeria that has never gone on relegation since its inception. Founded, financed and supervised by the Enugu State Government, the club has remained firm in making the Igbos proud. Founded with the spirit of “Ndi Igbo”, the Football Club is bound by a common philosophy; a culture and an attitude well characterized with “never say die “.
Rangers International Football Club of Enugu also known as the “flying Antelope” has lifted the oldest trophy in Nigeria – Challenge(FA) cup 5 (five) good times, played in the finals as the second runner up about 5 times after winning in 1983. Rangers International Football Club of Enugu and Kano Pillars are amongst the 64 teams that started the AITEO CUP competition this year. At the State FA level, Police Machine (Crime Busters) of Enugu and Rangers International qualified to represent Enugu State in the competition, but the Crime Busters couldn’t get to the group stage. Rangers was grouped at the round of 16 alongside El-Kanemi of Maidugri, Sunshine of Akure and Supreme Court of Abuja. Rangers having topped at the group stage followed by El-Kanemi, the two teams qualified for the quarter final stage where Rangers eliminated the Defending Champions – Akwa United on 5 – 3 penalty after the 90 minutes of 2-2 draw. At the Semi – finals, Rangers drawn alongside the Nassarawa United defeated Nassarawa by 4 goals to 2 to qualify for the finals. Though Nasarawa United at the first 27th minutes was leading Rangers by 2 goals to 0, but the “never say die” attitude in Rangers players was manifest. Kano Pillars on the other hand defeated their Katsina United brothers 4 – 1 on penalty after the 2-2 draw at the Lagos centre to qualify for the finals too.
Governor Ugwuanyi had in a statement through his SSA media, Louis Amoke, “appealed to residents of Enugu State and the entire South East geo-political zone, including traders in Onitsha, Enugu, Aba, Asaba, and others, to come out en masse at the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba, to cheer the Flying Antelopes to victory.
The governor noted that Enugu Rangers was not just an iconic football club, but also a national brand and one of the oldest clubs in Nigeria that has remained in the competition, and has equally continued to receive the admiration of its staunch supporters across the country, stressing that “Rangers FC belongs to all of us”.
Gov. Ugwuanyi pointed out that it was because of God’s grace and the people’s unceasing prayers, goodwill and support that Enugu Rangers FC, under his administration, won the 2015/2016 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) trophy after 32 years, stating that the club’s victory at the Aiteo Cup will be another milestone achievement”.
Reacting to the victory, the South East Renewal Group, described the emergence of Enugu Rangers International Football Club as the winner of the 2018 Aiteo Cup as “one of the many proofs that Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State is God-sent to the people of the state.”
This was contained in a statement signed by the Convener and National Coordinator of the SERG, Chief Willy Ezugwu.
The group said: “Fighting from a 3-0 defeat by Kano Pillars, up to early second half, to equalize and eventually win the cup 4-2 on penalties symbolizes the kind of victory awaiting the Governor in 2019.
“No matter how the opponents fight, there is second term victory next year for Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi as an achiever who has again added another feather to his cap as the man of the people through his result-oriented administration.
“This can only happen during the tenure of a goal getter like the God-sent Governor Ugwuanyi. And we congratulate the Governor, Enugu Rangers, the good people of Enugu State and the entire South East on the hard-earned victory.”
Emmanuel Jonathan, JP is Special Assistant to the Governor of Enugu State on New Media Matters.