Article 2 of FIFA Statue states the objectives of running football as to improve the game of football constantly. This is the article which a two-term Coach of Nigeria’s Super Eagles, Chief Adegboye Onigbinde often quotes when he analyses Nigeria football and its many potholes. From being a drummer boy on the streets of Modakeke, his hometown, to a globally respected official of FIFA, Onigbinde says, his trajectory of life is the function of God who supports him to weather the storm when it matters most. In an interview by TUNDE BUSARI in his Adegboye Onigbinde Crescent resident in Ibadan, the former class teacher reflects on different issues, especially his contact with disappointments in his efforts to bring change to Nigeria football. Excerpts
How did you come about coaching?
I was first a player as a pupil, then a coach/player and finally full time coach.
Don’t you think there is need to break this down?
It is like you want me to tell you full story of my beginning. I was a pupil of St Stephen Primary School in Modakeke. I must say that I started school late; I was 10 years already playing, jumping and doing other physical exercises with my senior at home. During break time, we used to play football during which teachers would select players they thought were fit to be in school team. I was selected from early class but when it was time for me to join others at evening training, I would be nowhere to be found. That was so because as soon as I arrived home after school hour, I would carry my drum and follow my father to outings. Even if we did not go for outings, we would go to farm. What it meant was that I was unable to play for my school, even in a single match. Isn’t it ironic that I eventually became a football person in life, despite that constraint? That is the handiwork of God who has perfected His work on his creatures. There is nothing anybody can do without God’s approval. This is what I tell parents about their little children. I tell parents this story recently at a church service in my hometown. I told them that each child has in him special talent. I encouraged the parents to allow the child to express the talent. That is where the white have got it right. They identify individual talent from childhood and help the child to build it.
I still want you to connect that gap with your career.
I proceeded to St Peters Teachers Training in Ilesa where I read Grade III. I was there between 1956 and 1957. We were 29 pioneer students, and we were compelled to form school team. That gave me opportunity to express my potentials in full. It was a boarding school outside my hometown, meaning there was no more distraction after school hour. After I had passed out, I returned home and became teacher at the same primary school which I had earlier attended.
You were back to distraction again, I guess.
No. I was a teacher. That status had conferred on me a kind of immunity because teachers were well respected in the society. So, I was not called to drum functions again. After teaching for two years, I gained admission into St Lukes, Molete in Ibadan where I had my Grade II. At St Lukes, I was coach/captain in my final year in 1961. Something happened thereafter in the same year which made me to believe further that God’s hand was in my career. The late Teslim Balogun organized a coaching course at Liberty Stadium, Ibadan, and I was one of the 23 who attended it in 1961. But before then I had my Grade III Referee course in 1958. In 1962, I was also coach/player for Ijesa Divisional Team. When I gained another admission into the Rural Education College (School of agricultural science) in Akure, I was also playing for Akure Divisional Team. You can see I had a humble background which God helped me to grow to the apex. What else should I ask God to do after all He has done for me in the game of football? At every crucial point of my career, God would show his hands and lift me to another level He felt I deserved to be. Should I say how a non-Nigerian recommended me for CAF job in 1988? Should I remember how I also got FIFA job in 1998? What of my job at Trinidad and Tobago in the early 2000? Looking back to those years and all those events, I cannot but give glory to God.
I once heard you talking about sabotage in football. Have you personal experience?
I am a victim of it; let me even say I am used to sabotage in Nigerian football. It is one of many reasons our football is not growing, despite talents with which we are blessed by God. Many countries of the world pray for such blessing but don’t have. That is how God does His work. He favours whom He wishes to favour. It does not mean He has forgotten others. He believes in doing things in His own way. Ultimately, everybody would be happy at the end of the day.
Can you expatiate on your sabotage experience?
Time has healed that chapter of my history, more so those involved are no longer alive to either controvert or deny my claim. Can you imagine somebody telling you to your face that were he in the country during your interview for your country’s national team job, he would have stopped your appointment because he already had his own candidate for the job, qualified or not qualified? I only went to greet that man in his office after he had returned to the country, and the next thing he said to me in plain language was ‘don’t bother to greet me. You are only lucky that I was away.’ Can you believe that the person meant what he said? He was well connected within the corridor of power. He used his influence and was desperate to change the decision until he was told to allow me do my job because I was the best among seven candidates interviewed. They told him that the job was an experiment to assess capacity of indigenous coaches. They said in that context, only the best should be given the job to have a fair assessment. That was how he gave up his struggle to deny me that job.
Do you have idea of why you were adjudged the best?
I would not know. All I know was that I was the only person who really prepared for that interview.
Why would you say this?
I can recollect that 60 of us applied for that job. Out of seven shortlisted, I was the only candidate who went into the interview session with a 15-page paper on Two-year development programme for the national team.
How did you know other candidates did not prepare?
We met ourselves before the interview; majority of them brought no sheet of paper to the place. It was when they saw me that they were looking for sheets to scribble something.
What did you score in the end?
I scored an aggregate of 84%. The next person to me was Coach Alabi Essien who scored 65%.
How did you get to know your score?
After the interview, I returned to Ibadan where I continued my job. One day, I just felt that I should go to greet the Nigeria Football Association (NFA) Secretary, Yinka Okeowo. Getting to his office, I met other visitors but on sighting me, he just announced to other people that ‘please, meet the new coach of our national team.’ I did not know what to say. I just stood transfixed thinking he was just joking. He took me into his office and showed me the score and congratulated me. That was how I got to know.
You must have really impressed the interview panel to have emerged number one. What was your impression while the interview was going on?
What I can vividly recall was that while I was presenting and analyzing my paper on two-year development programme, they were all listening attentively like serious students in classroom do. At a point, the head of the panel, Kentebe, had to drop his pen on table and exclaimed that ‘this man has swapped our role, teaching us instead of the other way round.’ I realized that my teaching experience assisted me in preparing the paper. In my paper, I broke down training programme from year to month; from month to week; from week to days.
After you had seen you score, did it occur to you that there would be any obstacle?
I must confess that when they asked indigenous coaches to apply for the job, I had my reservation and I expressed it. I was national officer of Nigerian Coaches Association and chairman of Oyo State branch in Ibadan. We were holding a meeting at the UAC Ground, which is now Teslim Balogun Stadium, opposite National Stadium when the news came that for the first time, indigenous coaches would be given a chance to coach the then Green Eagles. We were even mocking ourselves. When I returned to Ibadan and told my members, they said I should apply but I asked them that ‘whom did I know to connect me?’ So, I was not interested. But I later submitted my application after the closure of submission.
Can you then say Nigeria is doomed, as regards development of football based on your personal experiences?
I should not use that word, considering my age. But the truth of the whole thing is that with the way we have done things, nothing serious would happen to our football. I watched the international friendly against Algeria the other time and said to myself that I would not waste my time again. I cannot continue to say the same thing all the time. I have written and submitted volumes of papers to them and government. What happened to those papers which I spent days to put together? How else can one love his country? The situation in which we are now requires me to take a break out of public glare and watch from the rear. I shed tears on a day I entered NFA office and found some of my papers scattered on the floor. It simply confirmed that football here is in a mess. What we do here is nothing but a joke. Is it possible to conduct examination when pupils are not taught lesson? That is what they do here in what they call league. Team play against one another without adequate planning!
Beyond all these, what is your philosophy of life?
My philosophy is very simple. Whatever I attempt to have but which I don’t have, I leave it to God because only God makes things happen. It is on record that I never struggled or showed desperation to get any job, either home or outside Nigeria.
Have you some words to Nigerians?
They should all seek forgiveness from God because our ways are not ways of God. I encountered a preacher in my neighbourhood one day. I asked him some questions in the Bible, he contradicted himself. Yet, he has followers who look up to him. Nigerians should beg God to forgive us because here if you cannot tell lies and more of it, you would be frustrated. I was not brought up and trained to defend falsehood, so I stick to the truth, regardless of whose ox is gored. Those who went after me because I stood against lies, I have forgiven them because my God is a forgiving God. At my age, all I need now is peace, and you don’t have the peace if you still see somebody as your enemy. I have done my best and left the rest to God, who is the best, in the first place.