Posted by Isaac Umunna, Isuikwuato | 3 March 2013 | 9,868 times
Exactly three weeks ago today, Nigerians were given a rare gift to celebrate when the country’s senior national football team, the Super Eagles, overcame all odds to win the 29th Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) hosted by South Africa. The Stephen Keshi-tutored team had gone to the “African World Cup” as underdogs but stunned everyone by returning home with the coveted trophy which the country previously won in 1980 as hosts and in 1994 in Tunisia.
The unlikely hero of the 2013 AFCON was Sunday Mba, a hitherto little known home-based player taken to the championship as a last-minute decision by Keshi, who decided to take a risk on him rather than go with the more celebrated US-based Bright Dike who had sparkled in the team’s warm-up games. Keshi’s decision was based on the fact that Dike is younger and still had more years to play than the 24 years old Mba, in whom he saw a potential joker. In the end, the gamble paid off as Mba did not only ensure Nigeria’s defeat of pre-tournament favourites Ivory Coast in the quarter-finals but also scored the only goal in the final match against rugged Burkina Faso.
By popular demand, News Express set out to uncover the roots of Sunday Mba, Nigeria’s latest hero, who has now been thrust from relative obscurity to stardom and is being chased by several foreign clubs in addition to being a source of dispute between Nigerian Premier Leagues sides Rangers International of Enugu and Warri Wolves of Delta State.
Sunday Mba (seen in photo in action at the Nations Cup) hails from Isuikwuato in Abia State, South-East Nigeria. He was born in Jos in the North-Central state of Plateau, where the Mba family is based. Sunday is the last in a family of three boys and a girl. He lost his father when he was barely three years old and the family has struggled ever since. Sunday’s life has always been about football, according to his aunt Chinyere Enyioma, who spoke with News Express in their compound in Umuobiala, Isuikwuato. (See interview below.)
A product of the Pepsi Football Academy, Sunday Mba started his professional career with his state team, the famous Enyimba International of Aba, the only Nigerian team to have won the African Champions League. He later joined Rangers International, which loaned him to Dolphins of Port Harcourt in Rivers State, South-South Nigeria. Dolphins, in turn, loaned him to Warri Wolves, where his two-year contract expired last December.
That Sunday Mba has been constantly loaned out speaks volumes about his travails as a professional player. This is a bundle of talent who was unable to make himself indispensable in the clubs where he played but who never gave up but kept working harder and bidding his time – which he grabbed with both hands when it finally came at South Africa 2013.
Isuikwuato is the “I” in Abia State – the name of the state being an acronym representing Aba, Bende, Isuikwuato and Afikpo. The name of the state has remained unchanged despite the excision of the old Afikpo division and its merger with part of Enugu State to form Ebonyi State on October 1, 1996.
The name Isuikwuato simply means Three Clans or Three Brothers. The three clans are Imenyi, Isu Amawu and Oguduasaa. However, the university town of Uturu has been added to Isuikwuato to create Isuikwuato Local Government Area. So while in the original sense the name refers to Isuikwuato Community, it also now refers to the local government area of which Uturu is a part.
Isuikwuato combined with the neighbouring town of Okigwe to form Isuikwuato/Okigwe Local Government in the old Imo State but was excised and made part of Abia State when Abia was created on August 27, 1991.
Isuikwuato is tucked between Okigwe in Imo State and Uzuakoli in Abia State. It is landlocked but easy to access by road, being less than 30 minutes drive from the Abia State capital, Umuahia.
Isuikwuato is otherwise called the Langtang of the East. Langtang in Plateau State is famous for producing army generals. The same is true of Isuikwuato, which has produced several army generals, the foremost of them being Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu (rtd.), Major-General Ike Nwachukwu (rtd.) and the current Chief of Army Staff, Major-General Onyeabor Ihejirika.
Isuikwuato has in the past produced important footballers, among them ex-senior international Kelechi Emeteole, ex-junior international Mark Anunobi and the famous Philip Osondu of the Golden Eaglets fame who was once celebrated as the best under-17 footballer in the world.
Getting to Isuikwuato from Nigeria’s capital Abuja or the former capital Lagos takes about three hours if partly done by air but could take up to a full day if done by road. Going by air, the best option is to fly to the Sam Mbakwe Airport, Owerri, and from there connect Isuikwuato by road through either Okigwe or Umuahia.
The trip to Isuikwuato
News Express Publisher, Mr. Isaac Umunna, set out to uncover Sunday Mba’s roots on Thursday, February 14. The journey first took him to Umuokogbuo Eluama, which shares a boundary with Umuobiala. At Umuokogbuo, several people spoken to confirmed that Mba was from the neighbouring community, Umuobiala. They claimed that a certain prophet visited Umuobiala shortly before the Africa Cup of Nations and prophesied that Sunday Mba would become a hero during the competition. The prophet was also said to have visited Umuokgbuo and some other parts of Isuikwuato, where he reportedly neutralised the works of some evil people.
Chief Chidozie Nwosu, a veteran teacher who doubles as the Palace Secretary of Umuokogbuo, volunteered to drive News Express to Sunday Mba’s homestead. The journey took just about three minutes.
At Umuobiala, the visitors were warmly received by Sunday Mba’s aunt, Mrs. Chinyere Enyioma, who happens to be well known to Chief Chidozie Nwosu. In keeping with Igbo tradition and custom, the woman, who is a widow, quickly dashed into the room and emerged with kola nuts, which the visitors ate before she granted an interview on Sunday Mba’s life, his football career and his close affinity with home. Below are excerpts of the interview.
News Express: Congratulations on Sunday Mba’s feat. The entire country is celebrating him.
Mrs. Enyioma: Thank you so much. We really thank God. It is still like a dream to us.
News Express: What was the mood like here when the Super Eagles won the Nations Cup?
Mrs. Enyioma: There was a big party. It’s as if a baby had been born to us. I was too emotional to watch the match but they were giving me updates. Once Sunday scored the goal, everywhere erupted in celebration. Once the match was over, I burst into shouts of “O-roooo! O-roooo!!” – the joyful cry we women make when a woman safely delivers. Before long people had gathered and there was an instant celebration.
News Express: Did Sunday’s exploits come to you as a surprise?
Mrs. Enyioma: It is still like a dream to us. For years we have been praying for God to uplift him and reward his efforts. At first, we were not sure that he would be going for the championship. He even sent a message that he would be coming home on December 28 or 29 but later sent me a gift and explained that he would be travelling with the team to continue their preparations for the competition.
A prophet came here (to Umuobiala) some weeks ago and declared that there was someone whose international passport was being hidden (in the spirit world) but that God had brought out the passport and put it on top of the table, meaning that his time to shine had come. We understood him to be talking about Sunday because for years he has been eager to travel to play abroad like some of his colleagues who are now playing abroad. When the competition started and he was not playing, we were worried and intensified prayers. He didn’t play in the first two matches but was fielded in the third match. We were all happy when he did well. Then he was fielded in the match against Ivory Coast and his goal won the match. He played the remaining matches and scored the only goal in the final. The whole thing still seems to us like a dream.
News Express: What is the name of the prophet?
Mrs. Enyioma: I don’t know his name. He also went to neighbouring communities, made prophecies and uprooted evils. He is said to be from Orlu side in Imo State.
News Express: Was there anything to suggest that Sunday would become a great footballer or are you surprised by the height he has attained in the game?
Mrs. Enyioma: I am not surprised because Sunday’s life has always been about football. As a child, he was very playful and could not do without playing football. He would use oranges as football and even sometimes his eba balls while eating; to him, life seemed to be all about football, and that is all he has done since he finished secondary school.
News Express: When last did Sunday come home?
Mrs. Enyioma: He last came home two years ago when his sister Ngozi got married. As I said earlier, he planned to visit home in late December before he was selected to be in the team for the last round of preparations for the Nations Cup. However, the mother was at home until the eve of the Nations Cup final, when she returned to Jos, where they are based.
News Express: Now that Sunday has come to global limelight, what are your expectations?
Mrs. Enyioma: We pray that God will answer our prayers and give him a good club to play for abroad and that his career should blossom when he travels out.
News Express: Thank you, Madam, for your time.
Mrs. Enyioma: Thank you for coming all the way from Lagos to discover Sunday’s roots. Safe journey as you return to Lagos.
No comments yet. Be the first to post comment.