Three members of the 1980 African Nations Cup winning Green Eagles were products of the University of Lagos. Adokiye Amiesimaka, Felix Owolabi Akinloye and Frank Onwuachi led the Akokites to gold two years earlier.
UNILAG hosted the Seventh Nigerian Universities Games (NUGA) in 1978. They defeated the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN)) to win the soccer gold medal. One prominent member of the Nsukka Lions squad was Patrick Ekeji who also was a Green Eagle.
Ekeji was senior to the trio and grew up in Lagos before the Civil War forced him back to Biafra. He played for the St. Gregory’s College Obalende team. Amiesimaka was the powerhouse of the Church Missionary Society ( CMS) Grammar School, Bariga.
At NUGA ’78, UNILAG had other good players. Goalkeeper Kingsley Ufere had won the East Central State Secondary Schools Cup in 1974 with Holy Ghost College, Owerri. Ekeji finished Higher School at the same school and also won the schools cup with them in 1971.
When Unilag confronted UNN in 1978, Ufere and Ekeji put the Holy Ghost connection behind them to go for gold. That day, the Holy Spirit chose to be neutral. The Lagosians carried the day.
Unilag also had Frank Alabra, described by Ufere as “a smallish but very skillful midfielder.” Amiesimaka’s younger brother also played for the University, although not regularly.
Alex Tunwagun was part of the University of Lagos contingent but was involved in Athletics. He dined with Amiesimaka and Alabra, at the King Jaja of Opobo Hall. Central defender Onwuachi and Owolabi lived in Jereton Mariere Hall.
Ekeji, nickamed Power House, united with Amiesimaka. They were in the Enugu Rangers team from 1978. Owolabi and Onwuachi joined them in the Eagles camp as they flew to Brazil to prepare for the 1980 Nations Cup.
Ekeji decamped himself after he got into the red book of Coach Otto Gloria. His crime was highlighting the technical prowess of assistant coach Carlos Alberto Pereira. The Eagles manager felt threatened and dropped the defender from the first team.
Pereira was eventually frustrated out of Nigeria by his countryman. The same rejected stone would win the World Cup in 1994 as Manager of Brazil. Otto Gloria’s best was a semifinals spot with Eusebio’s Portugal, in 1966.
Francis Moniedafe and Arthur Ebunam also chose to go for further studies in American universities and missed the African Nations Cup proper. That left the Unilag trio of Amiesimaka, Owolabi and Onwuachi. They became the first University graduates to win the continental title with the Eagles.
The Unilag Athletics team also excelled. Hameed Adio won gold in the 100 metres, 200 metres and 4×100 metres Relay respectively. In 1980, he was captain of the Nigeria team to the Moscow 1980 Olympic Games. Amiesimaka and Owolabi were also there Tunwagun said: “Our coaches were Lee Evans and Peter Adebawo. Evans won gold for the United States at the Mexico’ 68 Olympics. He was in love with Nigeria.”
The American loved Africa. He died in Ogun State, helping out Chief Segun Odegbami at his soccer academy. That was in 2021.
Evans refused to go back to America, even in death. His bones are eternally interred in Nigeria.
Today, no Nigerian university has the capacity to attract an Olympic champion as coach. There are more universities than in 1978 yet no Nigerian institution can feed the Eagles with three players at the same time.
While Amiesimaka, Owolabi and Onwuachi became Superstars in 1980, Ufere was in goal for Unilag at the NUGA Games hosted by the University of Benin at the magnificent Ugbowo Sports complex.
Tunwagun was impressed. “Ufere and I were equally at the 1980 edition hosted by the University of Benin at their sprawling Ugbowo Campus and their first class sports complex. The synthetic pitch on which the athletes competed was first in Nigeria at the time.”
Tunwagun got a silver. It was bronze initially but the gold medalist from the University of Maiduguri, was stripped of his medal when it was discovered that although he claimed to be studying Physical Education, he was not a student.
The gold was handed over to another Unilag student, James Katende of Uganda who later graduated as an Engineer. The Lagosians were fully prepared for the Games, especially to defend the soccer gold successfully.
“NUGA 1978,” according to Tunwagun, “was marred by protests because some universities like UNIFE (now Obafemi Awolowo University) and the University of Ibadan, introduced a dubious nine months Physical and Health Education programme close to the Games to register 90 percent of Shooting Stars and Water Corporation players as students.”
The Unilag 1980 team members were honoured. “Some of us were awarded sports honours and with full colours. Our names are at the Sports Centre,” he added.
Adokiye bagged a Law degree and was crowned Chief Justice by ace sports commentator, Ernest Okonkwo. He worked in Rivers State as Solicitor General, Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice and veered into with Radio Rivers performing creditably with folks like Furo Amaso, Marvelous Macaulay and Brighten Sogwe.
Owolabi, tagged Owoblow by Okonkwo, went back to school and obtained a PhD. Ufere joined politics and is one of the big names in Imo where until recently, he was Special Adviser to the governor.
Tunwagun, with a degree in Mass Communication, worked with the Sketch, Champion and SportsStar Newspapers before relocating to the United States in 1994. His son, Dr. Alex Tunwagun, Jnr. was a goalie at Unilag before moving to the United Kingdom.
Onwuachi has been in the United States for a long while. His Green Eagles 1980 mates, David Adiele and Godwin Odiye, are also there.