From: Peter Duru, Makurdi
Barnabas Imenge, a former Super Eagles attacker and Chief Coach of Lobi Stars Football Club of Makurdi, in this chat with Sunday Vanguard in Makurdi spoke his mind on lots of burning issues as regards Nigerian football and personal experiences as a footballer, excerpts:
How did you get into playing football?
Consciously I got into playing football right from my primary school days at L.G.A. Primary School Keffi in the Benue Plateau State and when Benue State was created in 1976, my father was transferred from Keffi to Gboko and I was admitted in Saint Johnâ€™s Primary School Gboko, and later became the school football captain. I was admitted at Government College Makurdi for my secondary education and when I was in form 3, I was made the schoolâ€™s football captain.
What was your playing history like?
During and after my basic education in Government College , Makurdi I was playing for Benue State academicals and some local clubs like the Defunct Health Management Board, North Bank United, Green Seeds etc. I started playing full time association football with B.B.L Hawks (Lobi), BCC Lions, El-Kanemi Warriors. Al-Gadisiyah Sporting Club of Saudi Arabia , Arab Contractors Cairo and F.C. Zurich Switzerland . When I came back to Nigeria before I finally retired I played for Clubs like Katsina United, Bauchi Wikki Tourist, and Lobi Stars. So to answer your question directly my playing days were very very fruitful though I had some low moments and setbacks in my career, but even at that, I came out stronger and the better for it. My playing history has taken me around the World by the Godâ€™s grace I have won so many laurels in my football career and I have traveled to about 40 Countries on earth and in the process met Kings, Princes, Presidents, great football personalities like Pele, Maradona and many great football personalities bothÂ local and international. I have served my Country diligently, bringing glory and honour to my beloved Country. I played for my Country in many tournaments and championships like the Supreme Council for sports in Africa Soccer Cup in Tunis 92 (gold), Ethiopians invitational Soccer gold cup Adisa-Ababa 93 (silver), CAF Nations Cup Qualifier, 94, FIFA World Cup qualifiers 93, FIFA USA Invitational Gold Cup 95 and others.
What were the challenges you were confronted with?
Surprisingly it might interest you to know that I never had any challenges confronting me right from day one. It was very glancing and evident that the Almighty god had blessed and anointed me with football talent so even my parents insisting that I should pursue a career in education got convinced that football was my calling and they allow me to pursue my career in football so from these points I wouldnâ€™t say I had challenges, and again all the best clubs in Benue state that is B.C.C. Lions and B.B.L. Hawks (now Lobi Stars) were clamouring for my signature. So in a nutshell, because God was with me and the talent from God was there, it was evident that football was my calling.
When was the most embarrassing moment of your career ?
After actively succeeded in qualifying Nigeria to itâ€™s first World Cup finals in 1994 the first in the countryâ€™s history along side Super-Stars like Captain Keshi, Siasia, Omakachi, Finidi, Amunuke, Okocha, Equavon etc. I foolishly abandoned the team and our coach Clemens Westerhof and allow my self to be deceived by a greedy and selfish manager from Ivory-Coast who took me to Saudi Arabia to sign a club and thereafter short-changed me by $50,000.00 and also abandoned. That was the most embarrassing moment of my football career, but as a God fearing Christian and strong believer in God Almighty I have long ago put that behind me taking consolation in Godâ€™s word that says â€œall things walk together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purposeâ€.
After taking a sober reflection at your football career would you say you are a fulfilled man today?
The greatest ambition of any footballer the world over is to play for the national team of his or her own Country, secondly, is to play professional football and thirdly, is to win both individual and team laurels.Â And by the mercy and grace of God if am judged by these standards, I stand a fulfilled man. Because each time I take a look at my trophy cabinet in my house I always glorified the name of the Lord. Except there are order parameters used to measure a successful football career which I have not yet come across. Therefore, I can confidently and boldly tell you that I am a fulfilled Ex-footballer.
As a human being what would you say are your regrets in life?
My greatest regrets in life as a human being is not knowing Christ and the power of God through prayer from my youthful days- because the destiny of my football career wouldnâ€™t have been diverted and terminated prematurely.
Why did you suddenly quit football?
Football is a generational thing and in the life span of a footballer, three basic elements cause him to quit. (1) age, (2) terminal injury andÂ (3) loss of form through indiscipline or either in Africa where wicked spiritual forces are at work in peoples lifeâ€™s pulling down their destines. Having stated these basic three elements, with all truth and sincerity of heart my football destiny was cut short by wicked spiritual forces who had power over me as a result of my lack of spiritual knowledge.
What in your opinion is the bane of our football and local league?
Like in other developed football nations of the world. Football is being managed, and coached by ex-players or by managerâ€™s and Coaches who have undergone proper training in football management or coaching from Basic to top. But the greatest tragedy and bane of our football is that itâ€™s being managed by novices; people who love football but never took time to undergo training. They are saddled with the responsibility of managing football yet they have no idea of how to go about it because they lack the vision and proper planning and are not in tune with modern football management. Take a look at the present N.F.F. board members, how many of them are trained football managers? They were imposed on our football by a Cabal in the Sports Ministry to protect and satisfy their personal interest. Football management is very different from other managerial duties. What I am saying transcend to our local league; our league has been consumed or enmeshed in corruption almost all the clubs in this Country are badly managed and corrupt.Â Clubs no longer fulfill their contractual agreements with coaches or players they lack training grounds, medical and fitness gyms, physical training equipment and no Coaches in various department of the game like attacks, mild-field, defenders etc. Right now our referees have become â€˜money for hand, result your ownâ€™. Many referees are on the pay roll of clubs. Recently I read in the papers where the N.F.L. President was quoted to have said that God will punish those behind the 9 â€“ 0 result in a league of which he is the leader. And the question I asked myself is are there no preventive or punitive measure in place to prevent buying and selling of matches? The federal government should do football a favour by abrogating Decree 101, privatize football and allow investors to come in and invest in football. Football is big business and can offer job opportunities to million of Nigerians and can bring in money into our economy more than oil.
Why are you at daggers drawn with the management of Lobi stars?
I wish to use that medium to clarify some misconceived ideas concerning Lobi Stars. I have nothing personal against the management of Lobi Stars led by the Deputy Governor of the state Chief Steven Lawani, a man I look-up as my father.Â I am an indigene of Benue State , and I have served my state so well and meticulously as a footballer and as a coach bringing honour and glory to the state. His Excellency the Executive Governor of the state Rt. Hon. Gabriel Suswam was not only my school mate but also my brother and my personal friend for ever 25 years. He is very well acquitted with all my family members and he knows that my loyalty to any authority including this present government has never been in doubt. So I will be the last person to drag the name of Lobi Stars into mud.
Having said these I want to put the records straight. All I am demanding from Dominic Iorfa is simple justice, Mr. Iorfa was my football colleague and we played together at the national team for several years and stay together in our hotel rooms. But he has turned out to frustrate and victimize me for no reasons. Up till now I donâ€™t know what I have done against him to prompt the ill treatment being meted out at me by the Iorfa led management in Lobi. Justice demands that he either sack and pay me off or keep to the agreement of paying me as a coach, as communicated to me in a letter dated 14/08/2008 .