The game changer at the house of the Nigerian Football Supporters Club, Samuel O. Ikpea has reiterated the apex football fans club in the land of its readiness to take the world by surprise at the next month’s 2018 World Cup in Russia. In this no hold bare interview with SHOLA OMOSOLA in Abuja, the Supporters Club boss expressed his confidence in Super Eagles to excel at the mundial, and therefore calls on Federal Government to consider his team as an integral parts of success stories of national teams in 61 years of its existence.
The Russia World Cup is here, and the Nigeria Supporters Club under your leadership is believed to have tightened its belt in readiness for the mundial, how far and well have you gone?
Well so far so good we have been in this business for a very long time and this is not the first time we are going to World Cup, but we all know that things changes all the time and as for this World Cup, there are lots of changes.
What has changed?
The first is that FIFA says it will not allow drums and trumpet and we have to look for an alternative. Fortunately, we have been able to partner with Ministry of Culture and Tourism. We have devised a means whereby we can be able to cheer our national team without the use of trumpets and drums. We have also been able to come up with new songs, and within the next two weeks we shall launch an album, a song for the Super Eagles.
Moreover, as we all know, the economic situation in the country made us to outsource for fund and also try in our own way; we have approach the Lagos state government and they have assisted us with fund for now. We have been to Edo state, the Deputy Governor has given us his assurance. We are in touch with the government of Anambra state and we are hoping. The Globacom just declared it is supporting us with N100m (one hundred million naira). Also, our new attire is in place with which we intend to storm Russia, and all these are parts of programmes we have in place as far as Russia World Cup is concern.
As the duly elected Chairman of the Nigerian Football Supporter’s club, how was the ovation in your camp at the time Supper Eagles qualified for the Russia 2018?
I am most and very happy, because during the qualifier matches, remember we lost one or two matches and I wasn’t happy about it. Reason is that, past chairmen of Supporters Club have been taking people to world cup, and it will not be my time Nigerian will not qualify, that is why we put all necessary effort in place, both physically and spiritually to ensure we qualify.
You can see what we did during the Nigeria-Cameroon match at Uyo stadium, and also at Yaoundé, we transported over one hundred of our members by road, spent four days on the road to Cameroon under a severe cold condition. So we have to thank God that it was in my tenure that Nigeria qualifies for the first time without any permutation and anxiety, got our ticket in place before our last match.
Don’t you think the charismatic outings the Nigerian Football Supporters Club is known would be affected, now that FIFA has placed a ban on drums and trumpets?
This is not the first time FIFA is coming with such measure, they did same in Brazil, but like I said, as for us that has been in the business, we always knows how to find our way out. You can’t take our trumpet and drums away from us; either from the hotel to the stadium, though I will not want to disclose much on that until we get to Russia, because we may likely be louder than drums and trumpets in Russia.
What is the size of team-Supporter’s club are we looking at for the Russia games?
You know, there is no VISA to Russia, all you need to go to Russia is the fan ID Card, and for you to have a fan ID Card you need to have your match ticket, but we have not been able to get enough ticket from the NFF which is the part of the reason am here in Abuja. But we have been able to secure more than two hundred tickets outside the NFF. As you do know that we have Nigerian Supporters Club in diaspora, in UK, America, Japan, and Canada and so on. All these members have on their own secured their own tickets, so as we are speaking right now, I can guarantee we have over seven hundred of Nigerian Football Supporters Club both at home and outside.
Is there any challenge, particularly in terms of sponsorship owing to the economic situation of the country?
We have a bit of challenge apart from the economic situation.
What is that?
For some time now, we have some dissident that have been suspended from the club because they have a link with the NFF President, Amaju Pinnick, who was trying to promote illegality in the club, but the club board of trustees, the elders resisted that. We have a constitution and no one can impose anybody on us. You must be elected before you can be our chairman, and apart from that, this people have been dismissed from the club and it was even published in the dailies. This same people tried as much as possible to make-believe that, there is a faction in Supporters Club, which is what we have tried to dispel that there is no faction among us. These are the people the club has taken decisive action against and you cannot call them faction.
How manage the Glass House meddle in Supporters Club affair?
It was due to the assistance of Amaju Pinnick, who tend to carry those people along to wherever is going in order to make people believe there is faction in the club for unknown agenda, but today, we have been vindicated. Those set of people have gone to say they are forming their own group, with the name Nigerian Eagles Supporters Club, and if you are the authentic owner of a house, you will not live your house to go and form another house. The eyes of Nigerians are now open to who the real Supporters Club are. Edo state government has invited us having received our letter and following their own investigation. Lagos state government has released N10m to us and lots of other people are now coming, knowing there is no faction in the club, including the telecom giant, the Globacom.
Meaning your seat has been vindicated?
Yes, that I am the duly elected Chairman of the Nigerian Football Supporters Club. Last week I was with the Onoje of Ekpoma, who I decorated as the patron of the Nigerian Football Supporters Club, and by this weekend, I will be going to Delta state to also decorate some of them who invited us to partner with them for this World Cup. We are not having controversy whatsoever in our midst, just that Nigerians are used to late hours approach to things, and we hope to start receiving call up by our partners when the World cup is about two weeks, and things will turn out for good by then as far as this world cup is concern.
You recently embarked on raffle activities for intending fans to Russia, how far have you gone?
Yes, we have a partnership with a telecom youth games, who actually have a license for the lottery ticket to take twenty lucky youths to the World Cup, with all expenses paid. The sales of the ticket is all over the country, and we are supposed to have the first draw on 29th of April, but we have to extended it to 20th of May due to the low sales of the ticket. In fact, there will be a press release to that effect by tomorrow. Then come the 20th of May, the draw will take place in Lagos and the lucky Nigerian would be made known, including every other thing attached to their trip.
Is there room for other independent Nigerians, who might want to be at the World Cup, but do not know how to approach the club?
Yes there are lots of Nigerians, but if we want to tell Nigerians the truth, when you have major football event and interested to go and watch as football lovers, the best way to go is through the Nigerian Football Supporters Club, so the door is open for everyone that wants to go.
What are the criteria?
The criteria are that, you must be a Nigerian; you must be the working class, which means you must have a livelihood because this is an NGO and we do sponsor most of the trips ourselves. You will pick up a form for N1, 000 and the registration form is N51, 000, after which we screen you and then accept you as a member having passed our screening test. But if you fail the screening, we ask you to go and re-apply in six months. But if you pass, you will be on probation for about six months to become a full member if your conduct is good. We do also bend the rule, particularly for certain professionals, like when we meet someone like you who is a journalists that we know you have a good reputation and has traveled around the world, not just coming because you want to travel with Supporters Club, we would accept you and bend the rules. We have some people who are CEOs, Directors and managers in their establishments, who have been traveling all over the world, we take such people today and they can travel with us tomorrow because we know that they will not go there to go and spoil the image of the country.
As a football enthusiast, this current Super Eagle as constituted by coach Rohir, do you see the team as one to beat in Russia?
Of course, I am a die-hard supporter of the Nigerian team and whether good or bad, I will not wish them bad and we as their supporter will continue to support them. But I will also like to say that, it is when you expect the national team to do well that is when they will disappoint you, and when you are writing them off is when they come to spring up surprises. Having said that, I am very optimistic that, in this world cup they will spring up lot of surprises giving that it is the first time they are having lots of support; there is no quarrel about bonuses or any other administrative challenges, so I believe that as for those who are making their last appearance as well as those players who are there as first timers would want to put in their best. I also want to use this opportunity to call on the NFF, that the areas they know that the team is having deficiencies should be look into at this stage.
What other advice?
They use to say no hungry no success, we have some great players in our local league that if you inject them in this team, they will surely perform because they want to make name and want to go to world cup and spring surprises, so they also need to be given some chances now that we still have time for preparation.
Is there any recognition by the federal government in terms of financial support, or how do you think they should come in?
Supporters Club is known as player number twelve on the field, and as an NGO, we have represented this country positively in the last 62 years. We have also been able to change people’s perception about Nigeria and Nigerians during this period, due to how we behave with our outstanding displays. If you remember, we have won laurels as the best behave football supporters club, both from FIFA and CAF of this world. So, the federal government should see the Nigerian Football Supporters club as a property and asset.
What I mean is that, numbers of time, government sponsors lawmakers and some government functionaries to major football events and this people actually go there not to go and support, but go there to go and watch matches. But in our own case, our members go in there under sun and rain, and in some cases they are stones and receive beatings by frustrated opponent fans, yet they keep on drumming to support our national teams. On many occasions, we ask our members to go on fasting and prayers, and abstain from opposite sex and others until we win a particular match.
That is Whao!!
Yea, these are things we have done in the past 62 years, and the only government that actually recognized that fact is the government of Goodluck Jonathan, who during the last World Cup gave us N50m to assist us. Though we have made frantic effort to reach the current government, because every sitting President is being decorated as the grand patron of the Nigerian Football Supporters Club, and we have written series of letters to the incumbent President Buhari, in order to have the opportunity to seat with him and decorate him officially, to seek his support and how we can subsidized the trip for our members. I am using this opportunity to call on the government, the governors and all other stakeholders, that they should not wait for the team to go and win a laurel before coming to associate with them. Try and support them from the beginning, so when arrive back home with successes you can proud to have been part of that laurel. We need their support right now.
Apart from the Super Eagle’s progress in recent time, can you say the same of the rest of the national team?
On my own perspective, I think they are progressing, and I will also use this opportunity to commend the Edo state government in the person of Gov. Godwin Obaseki who shouldered most of the responsibilities of female teams and hosted them in Edo state, and Falcons were able to qualify for the World Cup in Paris against the August games, though unfortunately the junior team lost their matches, but there have been improvements as far as we are concern.
Is there any other thing you will like to ask that I have not asked?
I will like to add that, both the corporate bodies and the government should rally their support around the Nigerian Football Supporters Club that this Club has been in existence since 62 years ago. We want them to know that, we have been using our time and money, and due to the situation of the economy as far as going to the Russia World Cup is concerns, we call on them, including the lawmakers that whatever they can, they should try and support the Nigerian Football Supporters Club, and those that have received our letters should assists us with what they could on time.
- Sola Omosola Akingboye graduated from Lagos State University, Ojo and also an alumni of International Institute of Journalism, Abuja. The Abuja based Media Consult is a member of NUJ, FCT Chapel; Member, Nig Energy Correspondents and affiliate of other proffesional bodies such as Believe in Nigeria Initiative (BINI); Change Agent for Positive Transformation (CAPT); OSHA Association for Industrial Safety in Nigeria. He is currently an Associate Editor and Chairman Editorial Board Informavores.com.ng.