By Patrick Omorodion
The last time I checked the dictionary meaning of supporters, I read they are people who support someone or something, for example a political leader or in the context I am writing, the Super Eagles of Nigeria.
In Nigeria, the people who claim they are supporters of the Super Eagles have formed a club which they christened Nigeria Football Supporters Club. This was later enlarged to include other sports and so the name also changed to Nigeria Football and other Sports Supporters Club.
My first encounter with the Supporters club was as a young reporter covering the Africa Nations Cup for the defunct Concord Press in 1994 in Tunis, Tunisia where the Super Eagles won their second trophy and first time outside the country.
I still remember vividly at the time how a story that the members were besieging the Super Eagles camp to beg for food because they were cashed strapped embarrassed a former chairman who just left the saddle for Dr Rafiu Ladipo.
The piece of ‘ugly’ news sent the Chairman whose name I cannot remember now, scampering to Tunis from Lagos. He brought money and food stuff because he learnt the members besieged the Eagles hotel because they wanted to eat Nigerian food. Trouble in the Supporters Club started after some members started grumbling that they needed a change of guard, arguing that one man, Dr Ladipo cannot lay claim to being the only one knowledgeable enough to lead the body.
Following the crisis that erupted back then, Dr Ladipo, who unarguably brought panache to the Supporters Club, stepped aside to pave way for a new leader in the person of Alhaji Yusuf Aderenle, a petrol dealer. Despite this, he remained the main focus of the Supporters Club as his successor, Alhaji Aderenle was lacking in the carriage he possessed.
After the tenure of Aderenle, a third force emerged in Vincent Okumagba, from the Delta state chapter. The Supporters Club has not known peace since he came into the scene and the Dr Ladipo group believe that Okumagba is resilient because he receives backing from the Amaju Pinnick-led NFF Board.
Despite the truce brokered for the two factions in the Supporters Club leadership dispute, Okumagba, it was alleged, refused to take part in the election held in Lagos in 2016 which threw up Rev Samuel Ikpea who defeated Alarape Muritala after polling 168 votes.
This has been the reason why two bodies of Supporters Club turn up at every match the Super Eagles are playing at home or outside the country, creating unnecessary distraction that is capable of making the players lose focus.
The most recent was the scuffle of both factions at the Akwa Ibom International Airport in Uyo last Monday shortly before the Super Eagles departure to Tunisia for the second leg of the double header against Libya.
For adults to be physically assaulting one another over struggle on who was supposed to get a ticket to board a free flight to go cheer the national team was the height of embarrassment not only to themselves and the football authorities but the entire country at large.
Ironically the leadership of the Supporters Club is quick to claim that the Supporters Club is self-sustaining and have respected Nigerians as members. Rev Ikpea said in a recent interview that “We have Lawyers, National Assembly members, sports administrators, Reverends, Journalists, Doctors, Businessmen, etc. These are respected gentlemen and women who cannot descend so low.”
Yet the same people were caught on camera throwing punches and shoving one another over free slots allocated to them by the NFF. Like their name, Supporters Club suggests, are they not supposed to be the ones supporting the Super Eagles morally, financially and otherwise?
But now they are the ones asking for support. From those days in Tunis, when the members besieged the Super Eagles kitchen to ask for Nigerian food to last Monday when they fought over free flight tickets, the Supporters Club are now mostly supported to ‘support’ the Eagles. They bank on the sentiment that football is the king of sports which unites the people to hoodwink the government, corporate bodies and individuals to ‘support’ them to cheer the Eagles.
From the desperation always exhibited by members of the Supporters Club over who should be in control, it shows that there is much more in the tussle which the oridinary eye cannot see. And that is the alleged visa racketeering which they have consistently denied.
According to Ikpea, “On the issue of visa racketeering, there is no time such has occurred.”
If there is nothing like visa racketeering like Ikpea wants us to believe, why did he accuse one of the feuding members in an interview with a Lagos-based newspaper thus: “One was the submission of names to the Brazilian Embassy during the Olympics.” The police were allegedly called in at the time and some arrrests were made. Why?
To avoid such ugly scenes at match venues or airports, I think the time has come to rest the idea of a club as Supporters for the national teams. Every Nigerian should be a supporter of the teams and should also volunteer to contribute towards that ‘national assignment’.