By Kate Obodo
Barrister Nwabufo Richard Obienu was a Vice Chairman of the defunct Nigeria Football Association (NFA). In this interview, narrated how he rose from grass to grace. He also spoke about his experiences and the problems he faced as an administrator as well as his sojourn into the NFA board where he rose to become the Vice Chairman. Excerpts:
Passion for football
I’m from Uruagu Nnewi in Nnewi North local government area in Anambra state. My passion for football emanated from my late father, Chief Clement .C. Obienu who was a patron and also a successful FA chairman in Port Harcourt in the 60’s. Under him, the Port Harcourt Red Devils won the Challenge Cup twice in 1962-63.
My interest in football grew when I was at the University of Nigeria Nsukka,UNN.
Starting off as football administrator
I first had my stint of football administration in Enugu Rangers where I was the youngest director in 1986. I was so involved in the activities of Rangers. But along the line I was misunderstood by the then chairman of Rangers Chief Ben Umunna.
I was accused of so many misdeeds such as insubordination; as the youngest member on the board, I was very enthused to get results and became closer with the coach and players. This made the chairman uncomfortable. He had a strong connection with the then governor of the state and he influenced my sack. I felt so betrayed.
In 1991, I became the chairman of Udoji United up to 1992. In Udoji, I got a similar treatment when I tried to introduce professionalism into the club. Again, I was misunderstood. With 29 matches in the league we were unbeaten even without no salaries and no match bonuses. Most of the endorsements the club had were my idea.
Obienu It started with Golden Guinea, which paid close to a million and I was entitled to a 25perecent commission but even then, I still brought everything to the club. I was not appreciated. Rather, they connived against me and I was misunderstood by the proprietor of the club. And with pride, I quietly withdrew. And God compensated by taken me to the Nigeria Football Association, NFA, board now defunct .
Becoming NFA Vice chairman
The NFA sit was vacant after I had left Udoji, my very good friend Alhassan Yakmut came to Enugu and asked me if I could be in the NFA board , he told me that Udoji and Mike Umeh were disqualified and that if I wanted to run I could. I thought it wise and in contesting I defeated Amanze Ucheagbulam and came into the NFA board and later became the Vice chairman of NFA. I was on the board from 1999 and 2002.
The saddest moment of my life in football was when I left my business for six months, having sacrificed so much to help the Super Eagles qualify for Korea/Japan 2002. Then, nobody believed that Nigeria was going to qualify; even the board gave up because we had problems with the then coach Bonfrere Jo.
I told them that if we sack him Nigeria will still qualify but they made mockery of me even the then governor of Edo State Luck Igbenidion. I told them that as long as they could appoint a Super Eagles co-ordinator that it could be done. That was how the then Secretary General Tijani Yusuf, told me to prove it.
So, I left my personal business with Amodu Shiabu, Stephen Keshi, Austin Mgbolu and Joe Erico. We worked so hard to ensure that the team qualify. At the end, we qualified but we could not see even the plane that took the team to the venue of the World Cup. After helping the team qualify, we became an issue.
Do you know who headed the delegation, was the same Igbendion who initially doubted our qualification. After our sacrifice to qualify the team, Obienu and co alongside our most patriotic captain Sunday Oliseh and Finidi George could not even see the promise land not to talk of entering it. That was the most painful time of my life in football. It is so glaring that people in this country do not like results and they are easily envious when people get results.
Overcoming my trials
Though it was painful but I believe so much in myself and in God. In a nutshell, I have a passion for football from the onset and money has never been a factor.
The lesson I learned was to be closer to my God. I believe God has purpose for me in the administrative aspect of Nigerian football. I believe football is an industry but here in Nigeria is not as it is not properly managed in this country.
My advice is that we should have people who have the passion for the game not people who are there for their self interest as administrators.Vanguard Nigeria