Sports

January 21, 2023

Nigerian football is corrupt, rotten —Peterside

Peterside Idah

*How they smiled at me, hailed me and stabbed me

*Returns to Nigeria after 25 yrs in S/Africa; founds another church in PH

By Egufe Yafugborhi

Former Nigeria football goaltender turned church founder and preacher, Bishop Idah Peterside, in this revealing encounter with Saturday Vanguard, says even in bitter defeat in the race for president in the last Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) elections, the experience was the courage he needed to return back to Nigeria after 25 years in South Africa (SA). 

Returning to roots after a quarter of a century of life in South Africa

Yes, I’m fully back to Nigeria. I spent 25 years of my youth in South Africa. I left for South Africa 1998. This is 2023, that’s 25 years. I went there as a very young man. They called it japa in those days. I left to seek greener pasture. 

The truth is that I have nothing more to offer in South Africa. I’ve given my life. We built a good church (Christ Ambassadors Church), great church that seats about 4000 people. And it was time to come back home to Nigeria.

I told my wife jokingly, that I will not die in South Africa. I made up my mind I have to come back home where I still have some years to contribute to a whole lot of things. But my priority this time is not sports but the church ministry.

I wish my wife was seated in this chat to explain her response when I told her. The woman said thank God. We’ve been married for years and it’s not same as being back home. Back there (SA) is especially all about me, all about my career, my career, and she was just following me.

Unlike where one is here in Nigeria, her parents are here, siblings here and people she grew up with are basically here in this country (Nigeria). So it was a big relief for her. She is so happy. My child just started school. We put her in school here now, days back, just to prove that we’re officially back.

Divine instruction to return home

We don’t know what tomorrow holds, but we are excited because we know who holds tomorrow. And there was a divine instruction from God, that our time in South Africa was over. We decided to obey and I specifically asked God for direction on this desire.

For three years exactly, I have been battling to come back. I told my wife I have a very strong feeling that I needed to go back, but we were not sure. What changed everything was the election (NFF’s Chairmanship). After I lost the election, it was a time to reflect.

The situation left me thinking. I asked myself, if you were elected, if you had won the election, where would you live? And I responded to myself, Nigeria. I immediately went to God in prayer and said, okay, I’m sorry I have been like Jonah who was reluctant to move. 

The response was swift. Between November and December of last year, all my property were in the ship, everything I own and needed to move, coming back to Nigeria. I had about five cars, sold all. I put my house on sale, handed over the church to my assistant. Everything I needed to give up I gave, so I don’t own anything in South Africa. And I decided to come back home.

Confidence that the church you laboured to build was bequeathed to safe hands to sustain the legacy

I have implicit confidence in the young man I left at the helms. Remember, he worked with me for 13 good years. People change, possibly, but if we don’t handover to people we have trained, there will be no legacy. 

Even back home now, I will not be here forever. So in a deeper sense, success means your ability to have a worthy successor. I’ve pastored the Church for 20 years and this chap has been like a younger brother. 

And after 13 years, he has matured, got married, got children and Pastors one of the branches, in a place called Tembisa where I used to play football. I played for Tembida Classics. So I brought him from there to the headquarters. 

He was with me there at the headquarters before I took him to Tembisa and I had to bring him back now, with so much trust. I must trust him. We must trust people when we’ve trained them, they’ve been with us for a long time and have demonstrated good character and capacity.

And he has to succeed. Remember, I’m a Bishop, with networks. That’s not the only church I have. It is like a branch handed over to him. Wherever I’m is headquarters. 

Sustaining the ministry back home?

Like I’ve have moved back home, in Port Harcourt now, we have gotten a place temporarily to worship. It is at Jevinik Place. The Christ Ambassadors Church now has reached a pact with the place to worship there for at least the next one year, to start off the ministry on the 29th of January. So we are in preparations towards making that happen.

The church ministry is not an easy call. Like you observed, it is my life. So returning to Nigeria is by no means an end to my church ministry. It is my life. If God can help me in South Africa, I built one of the biggest churches there, I have my own christian television in South Africa, it’s same God.

It’s same God anywhere. All I need is equivalent faith, and if I meet God with that faith, He will reward me adequately. I had a staff strength of 22 persons in South Africa. The man who took over has obviously inherited the staff with all the bills. I don’t have anything there. 

We just cut off. And I’m in Nigeria by faith, trusting that same God that helped me in South Africa will help me even more in Nigeria.

Life as a footballer, later as a Bishop

It is different. Football is a life of glamour. It is not a life of sacrifice. It is a life of individual pursuit. When it concerns ministry, it is no longer individual pursuit. You life is for other people. You’re like a Governor Nyesom Wike who will say, you (as governor) are like a dustbin everyone throws garbage. 

Someone is fighting with his wife he calls you. Someone’s children are going crazy they come to you. Someone is broke, he comes to you. But in the life of footballer, people worship you. People want to be with you, they are passionate to want to help you, to be your friend. You enjoy all of that.

When I stopped playing football was the first time I knew you have to fill a form at the airport. I never filled any form at airports in my playing days. Going in or coming out of South Africa, they just do all the booking and formalities for me. You are a star.

And remember I also worked for television on football, but this (church) is different. I’m human enough to have known I didn’t come from a very wealthy home. My parents were middle-class but I understood that you have to guide your own destiny. I just chose my own destiny, to serve God and in ministry, which I believe I have done by grace, for 20 solid years I have been pastoring.

Losing the election for President of the NFF

I’ve been quiet after I lost the election. I want to say this, that Nigeria football is corrupt, rotten to the core. One of the FA Chairmen, I won’t mention name, God bless his soul, he just died. He called me, and said I would help you, on the election. It would cost you this, cost you that.

I drove to his place, and gave him money for the campaign. He needed logistics for his runs. We met in Benin and he sent for me to come to his home. I went. He said everything was okay. We have talked to this person, talked to that person. We’ve seen this person, seen that.

I got only one vote in the end. You understand? I’m not saying because he did not vote for me, but the truth about it is that is the system, which implies that very competent people cannot be involved in Nigerian football the way it is now.

How disappointing was it, having that bitter experience at a time there is increasing clamour for former football stars to manage Nigerian football?

They would not allow you. It’s a cabal. Look at the history of Nigerian football. Has any footballer ever led the apex governing body? None. I went to see some top people during my consultation. They said to me, you’re an outsider. I said how? I played football at the highest level in Nigeria, for how many years. I’ve worked for Nigeria, I was Media Officer of the Eagles, and someone says I’m an outsider?

So I ask them, who is an insider. They turned and asked me, first, you are not the Chairman of an FA, because the Chairmen of the State FAs are 36, all of them have voting right. Two, you’re not head of coaches, head of players union or referees. So, are those the insiders? 

They told me point blank you’re an outsider. You just can’t come from outside to be NFF President. You will spoil things for us. It’s a hard lesson I learnt. All of a sudden, I then watched Netflix and I saw the FIFA corruption. I realised Nigeria is a small setting. It’s a system that operates up there and it’s cascaded to the FAs. And it might even be operating at the state level. 

So something must be done about it. We must dismantle the pattern of voting in Nigeria Football. It cannot be this set of people that determine who votes in an election. I’ve always proposed that in every unit of groups with voting rights, including the state FA chairmen, referees, players union, about six of them, there should be equal voting rights.

Every group should be given six, six voting rights. So to campaign, my responsibility is to go to the refs and campaign, but even the referees must be truly independent of the NFF. Because now, whoever is NFF President controls everything. I mean everything literally. If he doesn’t get your support as referees, he will not give you money or assign matches for you to officiate.

So this system must be broken. Players union must have six members, coaches six members, refs six members, FAs six, women football, six things in the system. And I’ve been able to learn. I met many great people, media men, sportsmen, fans, from everywhere. In the campaign, people, ex-players were calling and rooting for me, Rufai, Oliseh, others were calling.

I was like Peter Obi in the campaigns, people calling, telling me, we are behind you. Can you do this? And I’m a dogged man. Then I went for it and people turned against me. I mean ex-footballers. One development that pained me most was when people in Anambra state, Benue where I played in the domestic league before moving abroad. 

These are places where you could say this person is a footballer, he would understand our plight. Ironically, these were the people that smiled with me, hailed me, then stabbed me. 

Allegations of vote buying, how much you felt

Yes, it was a crime scene. Had EFCC been there, we wouldn’t have had a President of the NFF, because almost everybody would be in prison. It wasn’t a hidden agenda. It was open. I’ve not spoken about this since the election. Because I lost, people would have said you’re being bitter, being angry for losing.

I wanted to make noise, but they called me to say this is how it works. But we can’t keep quiet for too long. We want our football to do well. I was in Qatar, watching the world cup. I sat down and shook my head. I asked myself, why shouldn’t  Nigeria be here? It was so painful. I’ve never felt so pained.

I’ve been in World Cups, but for the first time, I felt pained, because I’ve matured to the place of decision-making. I knew with the right decisions, we would have been in this World Cup. 

We disappeared. Have you realised that nobody has mentioned Nigerian football in almost three years? We’ve disappeared, at the global stage. Even in Africa who is calling us? You hear Cameroon, hear Senegal, Morroco. Who is mentioning Nigeria?

Cautioning on widespread feeling Nigeria may still not qualify for the next World Cup

I want us to give Ibrahim Gusau a chance. We don’t want to judge the young man without him having expressed himself with time. We must give the current NFF President all the support he needs. It is not about an individual. It’s about our game. If we get somebody, whether he is a farmer, doctor, whether a lawyer, that can change the face of our game and he succeeds, we will all be happy. 

It’s about football, not about any ex-player or coaches. It’s about someone that has a vision. So for people who want to raise issues, my take is give Gusau a chance. He’s just about three months in office. And I’m determined to support him. I said so when I lost the election. I sat beside him and said I will support you, but I will speak on. I told him when you’re not doing well I will speak up.

Had you won, how would you have turned things around?

It’s not my responsibility anymore as it were, to join issues. I tried to bring solution, they said I was an outsider, give it to Gusau. I cannot say anything now, because he might have his own plan, and I have my own idea. He has been elected. Let him share and express his ideas. I would respect that if he comes to me to ask how I can help, I would help.

How would you have been able to manage your church along with NFF if you had won?

Right away, I would have taken a sabbatical. No second thought on that. I had it laid out, already discussed with my family. Four years, I would have taken a sabbatical, handed over the church to somebody. But as it is now, I have left South Africa and returned to my home base, Port Harcourt. Life continues.

I just hope people would now come to see the other side of me as I come to plant another church in Port Harcourt. The side of me most people don’t know back home. The pastoring side, the church side I have been doing for 20 years. Football has become a hubby, preaching God’s word is now my real job, my calling. We are hoping Port Harcourt will give me the space.

There are very great men of God here in Port Harcourt, some I’ve been able to consult. Remember, I own a house here in Port Harcourt. I’ve spoken to some of these men of God, the big boys, small ones alike, to seek advice. Seeking advice doesn’t mean I don’t know what to do.

So I want to invite anyone reading Vanguard right now in Port Harcourt. Our church, Christ Ambassadors Church is in Jevinik Center, New GRA Port Harcourt. Easily accessible place. We invite all on the 29 January as we kick off date for the church here. I’ve done this before and God will still help me to fulfill His vision for His people. We’re excited about this development.

What he misses about South Africa

Everything, many. I lived there for 25 years. I have become part of the people. I can’t explain what God did for me in South Africa. It cannot be explained. South Africa opened up to me. The country helped me, blessed me. I’m blessed, financially, spiritually, physically. 

South Africa gave me money, my family. I would never speak evil against that country, because when I left home (Nigeria) for South Africa, I was absolutely nothing. What I’m today I credit to South Africa. People are free to say whatever they want to say. There are challenges everywhere in the world, but South Africa was my promise land.

In all of it all, I needed to come back home. This (Rivers state, Nigeria) is where I come from. I also believe the nation Nigeria will bless me. I’m a homeboy. This is where I come from. We are back, settling down. The day before, I linked with a gathering of old friends. The excitement was mutual. 

I have some very good people around me. Hearing I’m no longer going back, some are already asking how, what they can do, the support I need to settle down. We have two daughters with us that don’t understand even the pidgin English, don’t know garri or any swallow. 

They are asking, Daddy can we order some pizza? I told them, there could be pizza, but here you people will learn to swallow, learn banga, learn it native. They must make adjustments.

Excitement about the Rivers he is returning to 25 years after?

I’m excited about Rivers state. This is my home. I played football for Sharks of Port Harcourt, played for Rivers United. I won gold playing at the Sports Festival. With the experience I’ve gotten at home and in diaspora, particularly in sports and media, I hope whoever becomes the next governor in Rivers state would knock on my door.

Don’t forget I worked with one of the biggest sports TV networks in Africa. I’m expecting those at the helms to say as son of the soil, we are glad to have you back. Come and do one or two things for us. The experience I have gained outside, cannot be wasted, 25 solid years in sports and in media. 

So my prayer is that whoever becomes the governor would, in open arms, say our son is back. That’s how it’s done in civilised climes. Glad I’m still very young. By God’s grace I have good health, have life. God has given me wisdom. I’m much prepared now to serve my state first. national is occupied. We would come later.

Not over on NFF presidential ambition

How can you forget Atiku is making the 4th attempt? Buhari tried how many times before he got the nation’s presidency? Why would a young mind as mine be defeated by a first attempt? We will surely come back, no doubt about that. We want to serve, but I want to look inward now. 

We have a great Commissioner for Sports here (Rivers), my brother, Christopher Green. I’m going to send a message to him soon, to say Nwamfor, what we call him, that I’m back. Whenever you find it possible for us to contribute to the advancement of the game, we would give our advice.

At this stage money is no longer the priority. It is not a motivation anymore. We have made that one, in humility. Anyhow, we can afford to buy fuel. It is the passion to make our wealth of experience count in service for the common good that is paramount.

I’ve had some tremendous home support in the journey to join in decision-making to strengthen Nigeria football. I must personally mention Rivers PDP guber flag bearer, my own countryman, Sim Fubara who shared sacrificially with me the burden of contesting in the last NFF presidency. Fubara overwhelmed me with tremendous support through it all and I can say he is a man with a good heart and love for the common good.