As a student I stood close to the podium that carried first governor of Imo State, Lt. Commander Godwin Ndubuisi Kanu during May 27 ,1976 Children’s Day celebrations at the Owerri Township Stadium. The heavens opened up.
Kanu’s aides quickly rushed to his Aide de Camp(ADC), Sub. Lt Anthony Oguguo with an umbrella. The younger officer smartly covered the governor. His boss quickly removed the umbrella and allowed his uniform to be drenched. I was touched by that uncommon act.
If school children whose day it was and the reason everyone trooped to the stadium could march in the rain, the governor must have felt that even as Guest of Honour, he deserved as much soaking as the boys and girls. Yes, the man stood in the rain to take salute.
Some days later, I decided to pay a courtesy call. What served as Government House for the new Imo State was formerly the official residence of the Resident of Owerri. That was the colonial Douglas House. I went all alone because it was just at the back of Government Secondary School, Owerri.
Confidence was written all over me, a student. I got to the gate, manned by soldiers. They were so polite. They wanted to know my mission. I said I was there to see the governor. One soldier said Kanu had gone out. I told him, no, the governor was upstairs.
Another soldier walked to the building to fetch an official. I was asked again, who I wanted to see, I replied. The man went back to the house and returned after about give minutes. He said the governor was observing siesta upstairs. I thanked them all and walked away.
I am talking of Government House in a military regime. None of the security details sent me back, they did not come out smoking, with guns corked and ready to fire. Although I could not accomplish my mission, my impression was that Kanu was an uncommon military man.
Kanu was the first Igbo military officer to make the Supreme Military Council after the war. Murtala Mohammed gave him a place in his 22-man SMC in 1975. The naval officer, a Lt. Cdr. was the most Junior officer. A story followed that appointment.
Unconfirmed reports said Kanu who was on the Biafran side during the Civil War saved Murtala at Abagana. That attack led by Captain Jonathan Uchendu, a Sandhurst boy like the Nigerian commander, cost Nigeria almost an entire brigade.
When Imo State was created in 1976, Murtala sent Kanu there as governor. His rank remained the same. Commander Oko Ebitu Ukiwe was moved to the SMC. Ondo State governor, Air Force major, Ita David Ikpeme, was the only governor as Junior as Kanu.
Imo was blessed because the pioneer governor went to work. The first thing he did was to send people to Lagos to beg Director of the National Sports Commission, Chief Jerry Amadi Enyeazu, to take up appointment in Owerri. It sounded absurd.
Enyeazu saw it as a big joke and did not even bother to attend to the emissaries. How could he leave the big job in Lagos and delve into the unknown. The man was the first Director of Sports in the Eastern Region (1958-1967), First Director of Sports, East Central State and First Director or the NSC, from 1972.
Kanu did not give up. He wrote a personal letter and got it delivered to Enyeazu. That did the magic. Enyeazu could not say no anymore. Humility on the part of the governor could not be overlooked. Imo would benefit from the Enyeazu magic wand.
The governor and the Director of Sports went to work. Enyeazu was behind the setting up of Enugu Rangers in 1970. By 1976, the Flying Antelopes had become winners of the FA Cup three times consecutively, a record that still stands.
Enyeazu wanted to give Imo a team. Players and coaches were invited from all all over Africa. And they came in droves. Accommodation was a huge problem in Owerri. Some of the players found home on abandoned vehicles.
That got Kanu and Enyeazu thinking. Instead of sending many of players away, two teams were born. One group was asked to remain in Owerri. The club was named Spartans. Another group was sent to Aba. That was the birth of Enyimba.
It was Kanu that brought Enyimba into the soccer world. And the Aba Ngwa Elephants are the most successful Nigerian football team. Enyimba won the CAF Champions League in 2003amd retained it in 2004. They were African Super Cup champions twice.
To solve accommodation problem in Owerri, Kanu cleared the Ikenegbu jungle where you had Lake Nwaebere and constructed the massive Aladimma Housing Estate. It was a big relief because only the brave could venture into that part of Owerri.
Kanu was moved to Lagos by Murtala’s successor, Olusegun Obasanjo in 1977. He stood up to Obasanjo for haranguing Imo Elders. Lagos State governor, Shamsideen Adekunle Lawal took over in Owerri. A year later, Obasanjo dropped Kanu and sent Ukiwe from Niger to Lagos.
Kanu was forced to take Ukiwe’s place in Ibrahim Babangida’s Armed Forces Ruling Council on October 6,1986. Ukiwe chose to quit as Chief of General Staff when Babangida ñ Domkat Bali tried to play Maradona with him.
As Ukiwe stepped aside, Kanu was invited to Dodan Barracks. He was in the dark until ushered in to take oath as a member of the AFRC. Kanu tried to reject the Greek offer by saying he forgot his reading glasses. Babangida quickly offered the president’s glasses. Kanu could have dodged that elevation if allowed to go home and fetch his glasses.
Rear Admiral Kanu, died on January 13, 2021, aged 77.
Vanguard News Nigeria