It was in faraway Mauritius, that little island in Indian Ocean beside Madagascar near South Africa. I was on a trip to attend an IMF sponsored conference on Capital Flows in emerging and frontier markets. Arriving the clean and beautiful Mauritius airport, and checking through the immigration counter, I noticed that the officer on the desk certainly loves football and am sure has been following international football closely.” where are you from”, he asked me, “Nigeria”, I quipped, “Ah! Nigeria, I like your footballers, I like Kanu Nwankooh!”. I was very proud that someone offshore has something positive to say about my country, and I was in no position not to fully appropriate the rare moment. “Your name is Kanuu” he further inquired after taking a glance at my passport. “Yes!” I proudly owned up “and Kanu Nwankwo is my brother, we are from the same community” I arrogantly boasted, turning my head around to catch an eye contact with anyone who cares to notice and share from my obvious swagger. “Really” he said, his eyes glowing up in excitement. Before you could say “Jack Robinson”, he stamped my passport and cleared me. I am sure that my quick clearance has the imprimatur of Kanu Nwankwo’s global brand and popularity as international footballer of repute. As I walked down the hall, my gait changed and I grew a few inches taller!
However, that was short lived. As I relished the experience while walking down the hall, little did I know that I have stoked a debate that would go nearly violent. The gentleman behind me in the queue was also a Nigerian of Imo State extraction. Soon after we arrived the luggage collection room, he approached me and asked, “my brother, you are from Nigeria”, I said “yes”, not suspecting anything. “Which State”, I said “Arochukwu in Abia State”. “Oh! I see, and you just claimed Kanu Nwankwo is your brother eh!”. Now visibly agitated, I asked him “is that in dispute?”. “Let me tell you young man”,looking straight into my face, he said “Kanu is from Imo State and he hails from Owerri for your information”. He ended by warning me to stop claiming what does not belong to you and to stop peddling that false rumour henceforth before nemesis catches up with me, pointing his index finger right on my face.
Immediately, my heart beat took a few skips. Anger swelled over me and I paused to catch some breath before responding. I then gave it back to him. “You people can go ahead and claim Kanu Nwankwo for his popularity and global brand, but to insinuate that he is not from Arochukwu, in an effort to deny the community the little that it can share from this brand suggests a huge ignorance on your part”, I roared in anger. “Yes”, I continued, “Kanu may have been born in Owerri; yes, he may have attended Government College Owerri; yes, he played for Iwuanyanwu National and even currently lives in Owerri, but I want to remind you that unless the recent National Conference Report is adopted and implemented, Kanu’s citizenship of Imo State is unfortunately neither here nor there. This is because you will be the first to remind him of his roots if he shows interest in any public office in Imo State tomorrow. “For your information” I continued, “his father is a proud Arochukwu man, his father’s house still stands in Amanagwu, Arochukwu, his relatives are all alive, Kanu’s own house stands tall in our GRA and that is not in dispute”. I told him that when Kanu decided to marry, in spite of all the beautiful Owerri girls you had to parade, he still came home to pick one of the most beautiful Mgbede Aro from Amuvi Village. Kanu has been severally honored at Arochukwu and still remains one of the role models of the Arochukwu youth. I told him that Kanu sponsors an annual community football event in Arochukwu and because, he lives in Owerri does not take away the fact of his aboriginal heritage. I told him that I have not denied him the fact that Kanu is his own based on information available to him, but to deny me the same claim based on the information available to me is unfair. When he couldn’t stand the weight of my evidential proof, he looked at me with awe, walked away confused and leaking his deflated ego. I was triumphant, but unhappy.
Unhappy because this information gap about Kanu’s roots is very unnecessary and had been sustained by Kanu’s indifference to it. However, back to my hotel room at the prestigious Westin Hotels and Resort in western Mauritius, I ruminated over what happened at the airport. I asked myself, why Papilo should allow this information gap to exist about his roots. Does it in anywhere remove anything from his image to clearly state the facts and let people know the truth. With the level of Kanu’s global brand, his roots do not in any way stand on the way of what he is in Nigeria or the world today. His name will still open doors even if he comes from the remotest part of the country. The other day, a young lady who grew up with Kanu in Aro was crest fallen when a radio program introduced Kanu as having hailed from Ihiala in Anambra State, and she quickly retorted that it is untrue. I saw disappointment written over her face, and I counseled her that Kanu reserves the right to choose which community he prefers to belong, but she was not satisfied with my explanation. I then said to her, “you are worried about Kanu being from Anambra State and not Arochukwu because he is successful, if he were to be one of those street urchins and 419s parading all over the place would you still identify with him”. She was jolted but still not convinced of my exhortations.
Having said that, this article is motivated because I have started seeing Kanu in political circles either campaigning for Ihedioha or his other preferred candidates. Sure, his brand is a bestseller any day for any candidate. He is currently building a political image that he will need in the future, if he ever choses to join the political fray that is. If our democracy develops to the level where people’s roots play fewer roles in their political career, it will be something to celebrate, but otherwise, it is only a matter of time before Imolites remind him of his roots. Then, like Zik after the Western parliamentary Elections of 1959, Kanu will scamper back to Abia State to face unnecessary questions about roots identity crises. My take is that this identity information crisis exists largely because Kanu allows it, and it is my candid view that he does not need it for whatever