*Why my son will never play in Nigeria
Despite showing gratitude to President Muhammadu Buhari for remembering to honour the class of 1985 members of the Nigerian U-16 team that won the first edition of the FIFA cadet championship held in China, a member of the group, Hilary Adike has vowed never to allow any of his children to play football for the country.
Adike who was among the players who got the sum of N2 million from the federal government more than 30 years after they put the name of the country on the world map said it was unfortunate that it only took the return of Buhari to power for them to be rewarded even after other compatriots who achieved the same feat much more later were adequately rewarded by the same nation. He spoke to Correspondent Jude Opara. Excerpts.
How do you feel being rewarded by Nigeria after such a long time?
Well, it is good that we are being rewarded today more than 30 years after we won the first edition of the FIFA cadet championship. At least we are now happy as citizens because after 30 years it was like nobody recognized our efforts in bringing glory to the nation. Buhari has returned somehow, by an act of God, to do this. So, we give kudos to him. However, I will say that my heart bleeds because way back in 1985, I remember that the Saudi Arabian team was promised $1 million dollars if they won that world cup and we won it. Yes, I know that Nigeria is not as rich as Saudi Arabia but then we were trying to look for a path to glory but Nigeria stopped us.
How do you mean?
Yes we were termed government property, that we should not go out, that the country was going to look after us to the extent that whatever school we wanted to go to, we would go, that what ever thing we wanted to achieve in life that they would take care of us. The euphoria made them promise heaven on earth. But they abandoned us to the extent that I was on my way to Italy to play football with three of my colleagues, we were arrested at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos and told that we could not leave this country because we were Nigerian property. I think that their plan was to keep us, continue to train us and see us graduate to the Super Eagles. But restricting us to the country was a bad approach. We were restrained from going to make a good life for ourselves. Then after 30 years, we are being given N2 million.
But successive governments ignored you till today
(cuts in) Yes, yes, I agree and that is why I said that we are very grateful to Mr. President for remembering that. But then, my heart bleeds because these Golden Eaglets(Emmanuel Amuneke’s current squad) and the subsequent ones after our time, they were all allowed to go out and play, make good money and improve on their lives, why were we restrained?
But some of your colleagues like Jonathan Akpborie still went out to play professional football?
Yes, yes now you are talking, let me tell you something, about five years ago if you had wanted to buy a player like Mario Ballitoli you would pay high, but today will you pay such a high amount of money for him? No, so it is always a good thing when you are still hot. We were not allowed to leave immediately after our victory when the opportunities were many. At the the particular point in time when we were hot we were restrained from getting something as hotcakes. So over time we were forgotten. In my own case I got injured, I had problem with my knees so I couldn’t make any progress in my professional career. Had it been I was allowed to travel then, I know what I would have achieved with my life.
So presently what are you doing?
Right now, I am lecturing in a school in Port Harcourt. Thank God that he gave me brain to go to school and further my education, got my Masters and all that so I lecture in a school and that is what has been putting food on my table.
So will you still encourage any of your children to play football?
Definitely I will encourage them but not in this country, I will take them abroad to play football
Because they recognize talents over there, whatever you do in developed counties you are recognised based on your capacity. Talent pays. Here it’s like they look at certain talents and say these ones are not important, like it is for fun and that is the reason my colleagues used to call me ‘professor’ because my father never joked with education. They used to look at me as somebody who was brainy who should not play football, as if it should be only for the dropouts and the dullards. I had passion for football. Let me tell you the truth, there was a time I failed my exams and my dad put all my football kits together and burnt them all and warned that if I failed my exams again I would be in trouble and would finally stop playing football. I had to sit up and had good results again. The next day he replaced all my football kits and that was how I realised that education is the key.
Then why are you still talking like you are unhappy?
Yes I was able to make something out of my life through education, but what of my other colleagues? Today it looks as if education is no longer the key because you can do other things and make money, good for them, they are enjoying it but we were not that lucky. We were treated like guinea pigs. We set the pace. Who ever believed that Africans could so play football this good if not for my set?
Finally, what is your message about President Buhari?
Actually, he is doing a good job and all Nigerians must support him. When a nation is in this situation that we are, we must have to sacrifice for us to get to the level he wants to take us to. So for that he has done okay, I say God bless him. In fact when I shook his hands I said ‘Mr. President God bless you’. God should really bless him. I think this is my quota to the sacrifice to take Nigeria where she ought to be but if we don’t get there, my heart will continue to bleed.