NFF had hand in my mother’s death —Okpala

on   /   in Sports 12:54 am   /   Comments

By Patrick Omorodion

IT all started with the very first game during the Africa Nations Cup in South Africa. I was paid fifty percent of my match bonus.

Sylvanus Okpala

Sylvanus Okpala

The contract I have with the NFF says that I am entitled to 150 % of the amount paid the players of the Super Eagles. So if they get N100, I’m entitled to N150.

So when I received half of  the money I was supposed to get, I called members of the NFF Board. I called Chief (Mike) Umeh, (Emeka) Inyama and (Alhaji Aminu) Maigari to ask why. Maigari told them that the money (the NFF had) was not enough and they told him that in that case it has to cut across board, not singling out one or two persons. But Maigari said he was not going to pay me.

I then called (Chief) Ekeji (who was then Director General of the National Sports Commission) to tell him what was going on and pleaded with him to help me call the NFF to know why I wasn’t paid  in full.

I never knew that Ekeji had called Maigari so when I called Maigari again to ask about my money, he said I reported him to the government and to Ekeji and that he told Ekeji that he was not going to pay me. And he didn’t pay. He also said that if I like I should as well go and report him to the president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, stressing, “even if the  president calls me to pay you, I will not pay, after all I am not under the Federal Republic of Nigeria but under FIFA. If anything happens to me, FIFA will ban Nigeria.”

That was what he told me, I am quoting him. He then warned me to stop calling his line and hung the phone on me and since then I have not called him. The money he is talking about was given to him by the same president. When the president gave him that money, he did not tell him to pay Okpala only 50%.

You see, what I am trying to establish here is that when Keshi said there was problem in the Super Eagles, there was truly a problem. They (NFF) never supported us during the Nations Cup. How could you come in the middle of the game to slash a coach’s bonus, automatically you don’t want that team to win.

Because as an insider, I could as well have used my position to sabotage the team but I didn’t do that. Instead I called Keshi and told him not to worry about my problem, that I was with him 100%. Keshi them asked what we could do and I replied that the only way we could prove a point was to go ahead and win the  Nations Cup. Keshi said he believed so too.

This complaint (about the slash of my bonus) was made to the then minister (Bolaji Abdullahi) but he did not do anything. Keshi called him and told him about the problem but he did not do anything about it and they continued to slash my match bonus but I kept quiet and was praying to God for us to win the Nations Cup.

Suddenly after we defeated Ivory Coast, we were preparing to play Mali in the semi final and very early one morning, two days to the match, at 6 a.m., they (NFF) knocked on my door and gave me a query to answer in 24 hours. I showed Keshi the query, I replied it and gave him (Keshi) a copy.

They said they queried me for insubordination, for reporting them to Ekeji, an outsider. I want to say that I am a contractor and not a civil servant, because they were quoting civil service rules in the query they gave me. For example, if Julius Berger is building a road for you and you don’t pay, if they know someone they can complain to, to help them get their money, they would do it. That was exactly what I did, looking for somebody to plead to the NFF on my behalf so I could get my money.

On Ekeji, why would they call him an outsider, a former national team player who was one time an assistant captain of the national team. Ekeji was in a position where he liaises with different sports bodies including the NFF. Also we (all the coaches and top NFF officials like Barrister Green, Musa Amadu, Maigari, the minister himself and Ekeji) had held meetings together but none of them stood up to say Ekeji was an outsider and should not be part of it. If he was truly an outsider, how come we were having meetings with him, discussing how we could move the national team forward. The same Ekeji was detailed to monitor what we were doing in camp and he visited us about three times.  Then Maigari did not complain that Ekeji was an outsider, Green and Amadu did not complain either, nobody from the NFF complained. When it came to my match bonus, they were now asking me why I took the mater to Ekeji. Apart from that, Ekeji was my team-mate while we were playing.

When I called Barrister Green, he blamed me for the problem I was facing, stressing that I had no godfather in the system. He said I was his brother (from the same section of the country) but that I was not coming to tell him happenings in our camp. He said  (Dan) Amokachi goes to Maigari to gossip about things in the camp, quote me.  It is left for Maigari to know whether it is true or false, for me I don’t know.. He also said that (Ike) Shorunmu also goes to the then minister to tell him things but that I, who is his brother, refused to to come to him to tell him things happening in the team. I asked him what he expected me to come and tell him. I asked him whether we were not winning our matches or whether I should tell him something about Keshi. To me, Keshi is a good coach, so what do you want me to say?. We (the coaches) ere working closely and in a good atmosphere, so I don’t have anything to tell you. He then said that was why he didn’t like me. He said Amokachi was always coming to gossip about me and I told him that if it was true, whatever he said about me was false because whenever we (coaches) were discussing, Keshi was always around.

I remember asking Keshi whether he has ever heard when I criticised Maigari. I asked him if I was not the one always preaching peace between the coaches and the NFF and Keshi said yes. Then I said, if I didn’t  say it where the coaches were gathered, where else did I say it or who else did I discuss such things with. For the minister, in one of our meetings with him, he told us to play cool, that we should not talk about winning the Nations Cup. Maigari and Green accepted but Ekeji stood up and said he should be counted out it, that the only thing he supported was winning the Nations Cup.

They caused a lot of confusion during the Nations Cup in South Africa. They had almost employed a coach who would have taken over from Keshi. I was to go with Keshi while Amokach and Shorunmu were to work with the new coach.

To make it look like they were not after Keshi, they wanted me out so they planted a story of how I slapped Vincent Enyeama and Efe Ambrose, thinking that we would not qualify from our group. If we didn’t qualify, Keshi would have gone while I would be thrown out on the ground that I slapped two players. It was a journalist they had told the lie who came to tell Keshi and I what was going on. Keshi was surprised and asked the journalist which team he was talking about and where the assault took place. There was nothing they didn’t do to for us not win the the Nations Cup but despite all, we went ahead and won the Nations Cup.

In April, they wrote to say they had no money to maintain a 17-man technical/backroom staff for the Super Eagles and were disengaging me from the team. Why was I the only one affected? The truth is that they have the right to hire and fire even if it is 100 coaches but they have one obligation, that is to pay off anyone they sack. If he has a 3-year contract but stays for only one month, they have to pay him off his three year contract or sit with him and negotiate how to pay this money.

WE need to go to the next level for our football to really grow. Somebody cannot just wake up from the NFF and write a letter to you without consultation with the legal department of the organisation. My lawyer wrote the NFF, asking them to call me back or pay me off but they didn’t reply him.  That is why I had to take my case to the Court of Arbitration for Sports to seek justice.

Let me tell you the last why I am so angry with the NFF. It is about my mother. When she heard that I was sacked, she asked what happened and I told her it was about my bonus which they slashed, paying me only 50% and paying the rest theirs in full. She didn’t believe and said that I should tell her the truth. I repeated that it was about my money they slashed which I demanded an explanation for.

This made her sad and surprised. She said that I was among the most brilliant children she had and wanted me to study law but I chose to play football. She wondered that after playing for Nigeria and serving her well, the same Nigeria is now saying they don’t have money to pay her son. She felt really bad and wondered how the people (NFF) could be so wicked to refuse to pay me. From there she developed stroke and never recovered from it. She died in August last year. What I am saying here indirectly is that the NFF killed my mother. That is my story.

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