In this chat, the National Chairman of the Nigeria Football Supporters Club Rev. Samuel Ikpea spoke with Joseph Odoekwu of Sports Intelligence Magazine (www.simag.com.ng) ahead of the Egypt 2019 showpiece. He is optimistic that the Super Eagles will do well in Egypt, but advises that they must not look down on other teams as there are no minnows in Africa Football. He also spoke about the supposed faction in the Supporters Club. Please read on.
What does it look like having the Nigeria Football Supporters club back at AFCON after missing out on two consecutive occasions?
Well I will say it is a very good thing for us at the Nigeria football supporters club. Football is our priority when it comes to Sports. Having missed out on two occasions we have not been happy because we never had the opportunity as Africa’s best supporter based on FIFA and CAF ranking to support the Super Eagles. So for us to be at this showpiece, it’s a thing of joy. We are not just going this time to showcase the team alone; we are going to showcase the rich cultural heritage which we have in Nigeria.
What target will you be giving the Super Eagles of Nigeria at Egypt 2019, to win the trophy or just reach the semifinal?
Personally, I want us to win the trophy. But the reality is that what we see on paper is different from what you see on the field. For Madagascar and Burundi to have qualified for the tournament and are in the same group with the Super Eagles, we cannot write them off. But with good preparation from the Coach, the NFF and the team as a whole, we should be able to scale through in that group and do the nation proud.
Are you saying teams like Madagascar and Burundi will be a threat to a Super Eagles of Nigeria that qualified convincingly?
The truth is before those teams qualified, they put in their best and same thing applies to even the Super Eagles. We must give these nations some respect and face the situation. Based on my experience I have noticed that a lot of African teams believe that when they are playing the Super Eagles, they are playing the final. So they put up their very best and are ready to cause upset hence I do not want us to write-off any team. Even when you find out that they are minnows, the Super Eagles should go in there and defeat them convincingly, than assuming they are not a team good enough to play them.
Some individuals feel John Mikel Obi should not be part of the team at Egypt 2019, what do you think about that?
For me, I belong to the class of individuals who feel we need Mikel Obi at Egypt. He should be part of the game. I discussed this with one or two persons that there is need for the coach to have a talk with him and see how we can have him. His wealth of experience is highly needed so that the younger players can tap from it. His presence will also give the boys some confidence; we need Mikel Obi in Egypt 2019 to put fear in our opponents.
Lets talk about the Nigeria Football Supporters Club. Are you the national chairman of ae faction different from that headed by Dr. Rafiu Ladipo?
Thank you very much and I am very happy that this question is coming up. The Nigeria Football Supporters Club have no faction, and I have said this on several occasions. I believe this is another opportunity for me to correct that wrong perception held by so many about the club. In the Nigeria Football Supporters club, we have Dr. Rafiu Ladipo as the President-General World Wide. We have chapters in Europe, United States of America, UK, Australia other African countries. And in the same way we have various state chapters in Nigeria. I, Rev Samuel Ikpea am the National Chairman of the Supporters club for Nigeria, and I am heading all the 36 states chapters that are in Nigeria, while Dr. Rafiu Ladipo is in charge worldwide. We communicate with him on all our activities and he knows everything we do.
But you see, two years ago when we wanted to have our elections, there were different interests. That led to some different view about the election and some who were getting support from outside the club got involved in anti-club activities. This led to the expulsion of those individuals from the club by the executive council of the club and they started parading themselves as a faction. Not too long ago, those individuals went to form another club and they even went to some embassies to get recognition, but they were eventually rejected. Hence, we have one united Supporters club of Nigeria family. The organogram is clear, Dr Rafiu Ladipo is on top and I am just in charge of the national chapter in Nigeria, with 36 other chapters under me. So whatever name that is outside Nigeria Football Supporters club, it is not part of us.
Which is more appropriate name of the club, Nigeria Football Supporters Club or Nigeria Football and other Sports Supporters Club?
Nigeria Football Supporters Club is a registered body, while Nigeria Football and other Sports Supporters club is also a registered body by Dr. Rafiu Ladipo. The purpose for registering the later is in response to the mandate given to us by the former President of Nigeria Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who asked us to replicate what we have done to football to other sports and that was how the Nigeria Football and other sports supporters club came into existence. Both are registered with different CAC numbers and we have Dr. Rafiu Ladipo at the top of affairs.
What plans does the Supporters club have for Super Falcons ahead of the female World Cup in France this June?
We are making serious arrangement to support them in France. You can also see that during their qualification at Benin, we were all there giving them the support and encouragement that they need to qualify. Now that they have qualified we are going to be part of the showpiece by God’s grace. We have approached the embassy and we are still in talks with them. We are being optimistic that they will grant us the number of visas that we requested for so we can travel with the team.
In one of your interviews with The Sun you charged the federal government to support the Supporters club financially. If they do so don’t you think it will take us back to that stage where they (FG) will want to control the club?
Well that is one of the reasons we do not request for funds from the Federal Government. Because if they decide to invest in it they may want to control the club and in most cases select people that do not understand the workings of the supporters club to come and manage it. However, when I was granting that interview there is something I put into consideration. At every point in time the Supporters club is representing the country, we are not going there for any other business than the business of Sports for Nigeria. So many times we have won several laurels for this country which the government has not recognized. But the world has recognized us for our accomplishment. So calling on the federal government to assist us is not out of place. The former president Dr. Goodluck Jonathan once supported us with a sum of N50m in one of our outings. Also, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo while he was president also supported us financially when we were travelling. So since we are not going there for personal business but for the sake of Nigeria, I think it is proper for the government to show concern. We have been doing it over the years with our monies and time.
During the times the club got support from the GEJ and OBJ administration, did they attempt to hijack the club?
They did not at any point. They were awarded grand patrons of the club. So the issue of hijack did not come up. They did not even interfere into the internal running of the club.
On a final note, If you have an opportunity to talk with Gernot Rohr, what will you be telling him ahead of Egypt 2019?
I will advise him to boost the confidence of the players and be close to them as a father. He should be giving the boys the assurance that they can make it. He should not fail to let them know that they have to put the interest of the country first, before any other thing. It is true that the players want to sell themselves, but when they sell the interest of the country first, they will also be selling themselves. They should be united and put teamwork topmost on their agenda.
Thank you very much sir for the time.
Thank you too, you are welcome