In this exclusive chat HONOURABLE CALLISTUS UJU OKAFOR, a politician, former National Vice Chairman of Labour Party South-East, Former Deputy National Chairman South, Labour Party and also an ardent fan of Manchester United reiterates his commitment towards standing by Manchester United despite their current position. HON. OKAFOR who has a knack for quality sports development believes that the quality of sports development in Nigeria today can be further improved upon in 2023. He spoke with JOSEPH ODOEKWU of SPORTS INTELLIGENCE MAGAZINE
Congrats on the recent performances of Manchester United as they got two straight victories against Tottenham and Manchester City what do you say about that?
Well the first thing I will have to say is that I have lost it with United going by their current position. But I am a die-hard fan of Manchester United. United is my club any time any day even if they are dying. Even if they go to relegation, I will go with them. But I cannot really judge them with these last two matches, as you can see they defeated Tottenham and Manchester City, but what happened against Everton?, They almost lost that match and practically struggled to get a draw and that’s not really good. They actually played well in the match but they are not consistent. When you talk about the great Manchester United that we used to know as one of the biggest clubs in Europe that won the premier league 20 times.They won it back-to-back five times in 1995/56 and 1956/57, 1992/93 and 1993/94, 1995/96 and 1996/97. They also won it three consecutive times 1998/1999, 1999/2000 and 2000/2001 seasons. Based on this, you will find out that there present performance today is not commensurate with the United of those days.
Where did United get it wrong and what are they currently doing to address the issue?
First, the problems of Manchester United started as a result of the long stay of Sir Alex Ferguson. He stayed for more than twenty years and when he wanted to retire he handed the club over to his fellow country man David Moyes. A club like Manchester United is not a club you hand over to a manager like Moyes. But I think he wanted to give it to his brother and that’s where the problem started from. Moyes messed Manchester United up and they fell drastically. Since then, they are yet to get themselves, and I know that United will come back to become the winning team.
However, there is a rebuilding process going on now as they are giving young players a chance and that is also good. They have also tried a couple of managers but right now it is Gunna Solkskjaer that is in charge. But I am not sure if Solskjaer will be the one to take Manchester United to the Promised Land.
You have not extended your love for Manchester United to any of our local clubs here or national sides, why?
Honestly, I have not been watching Nigerian League let alone showing love for anyone. I lost interest since the likes of Iwuanyanwu Nationale, then Stationary Stores of Lagos, Enugu Rangers to mention but a few fizzled out. After that I have not seen any club that is doing very well. However, unless our local clubs are owned and managed by multinationals, the situation will remain same. Currently they are mostly been owned by state governments and that is not really good for their development. That is why I have not been interested in the Nigerian league.
“…a Nigerian player who earns N150, 000 a month is looking forward to moving to Europe and earn better. Even if he goes to one of the smallest clubs and earn £10,000 a week that is like N4.7 million a week”.Hon. Okafor
What do you have to say about the recent performances of Nigerian national teams in 2019?
That is what am saying, the leagues are not producing the best and its really affecting us. Moreover, I remember in those days football tournaments were organized in schools to groom footballers and that was where the likes of the late Stephen Keshi, Samson Siasia, Henry Nwosu and others were discovered. Then, when competitions are played in Lagos State and winners emerge, they go to play the winner from another state and it is from there we get raw talents that are later developed to take part in age-grade football competitions. Such things no longer exist and that is a challenge. People like me cannot be watching Nigeria match until we get it right. We don’t necessarily have to wait and get a Nigerian player who is playing in Europe and doing well before we can make headway. We must create an enabling environment for multinationals, banks and companies to come and invest and put it right. Which stadium in Nigeria today can you compare with the training ground of Manchester United or Arsenal? None. Moreover, a Nigerian player who earns N150, 000 a month is looking forward to moving to Europe and earning better. Even if he goes to one of the smallest clubs and earn £10,000 a week that is like N4.7 million a week. So why would he want to remain here. The present Sports development programmes of this country under President Buhari need to be developed and these are part of the way forward.
In your opinion, what do you think need to be done to sustain the current sports programme of the current administration?
First let me start by saying President Buhari is doing well and as you can see the way he appointed a young mind in the person of Sunday Dare to become the Sports Minister so that the Sports sector can be revived. I am personally a die-hard fan of Buhari and I can say I am a Buharist. President Buhari has turned Nigeria around and its affecting even sports. There are certain things people don’t do with impunity anymore and that is clear. Permit me to digress a bit not just only Sports, look at the Agriculture and infrastructure development cant you see how its going. We need someone like Buhari to sustain the good work he has started. If you bring in someone without an idea, the person will cripple what Buhari has done. We urgently need to sustain it by getting someone who has been consistent within the political arena.
“He extends his hands of fellowship, love and greatness to other tribes and that is what makes him unique to help further develop sports”.
Who do you think is the right person here to help sustain our sports sector?
If you ask me, I’ll say Bola Ahmed Tinubu should be given the chance. If you look at Sports in Lagos, it is difficult for you not to mention Tinubu. Remember it was under his administration that the popular Teslim Balogun Stadium was commissioned in 2007 giving room for other activities to flourish there. He created an enabling structure for Lagos which allowed his successors to improve on and develop sports in the state. This is a man that believes in himself, the country Nigeria and also in one party. He has never abandoned his party before for another party because they are not winning. He has stood with his party firmly. He hardly moves from APC to PDP or APC to Labour Party like how most people do. He believes in one Nigeria and you know sports is one major thing that has kept us together. We have to get Sports right to enable us get Nigeria going. I am a fan of Tinubu and unfortunately I cannot see him to tell him I am his fan.
However, I have heard several comments about him which suggest that Tinubu does not like the Igbos, but I am yet to see what Tinubu has done wrong to an Igbo man. Or what he has done wrong against the Igbo tribe. Permit me to digress a bit from Sports but let me say it here and now that Tinubu is the first man in this country that made an Igbo man his commissioner. Not just any commissioner, but a first-class commissioner. It is under Tinubu administration you see an Igbo man becoming a councilor, house of assembly member, even House of Rep from Lagos State. In Anambra state where I come from, an Igbo man from Imo, Enugu, Ebonyi or Abia cannot come to Anambra state and be a councilor or Local Government Chairman. They will remind you that you are not from Anambra, much more a Yoruba man or Hausa man to come to Anambra and take position, it is not possible. Also, remember that the youngest Governor to rule in Nigeria was the 16 year old Chukwuebuka Anisobi after winning the Spelling Bee competition on 6 June, 2001 . The boy ruled for one day during which he commissioned several projects signed contracts which Tinubu eventually executed.
Personally, I know so many Igbo guys that Tinubu have helped without thinking about where they are from and Tinubu has brought the best out of them. He is a man who does not believe in Yoruba as a tribe only. He extends his hands of fellowship, love and greatness to other tribes and that is what makes him unique to help further develop sports. Bola Ahmed Tinubu is the leader of Yoruba race. Hardly can you look through Osun, Ondo, Ogun, Oyo, Ekiti without seeing one or two persons contesting elections without passing through Tinubu. They have either served as a commissioner, Special Adviser, PA , Chief of Staff Under Tinubu’s cabinet. He so much believe in investing in human beings. If you ask me, I will tell you clearly that if you give Tinubu this nation, he will continue from where my hero Buhari will stop. And that is one man that will turn Nigeria Sports around considering what he did in Lagos State. Sports unite Nigerians we must therefore look out for a common man that will help use Sports unite us further.
On a final note, do you see Manchester United finishing top four?
It is too early now to talk about that, but I will hope they do so lets keep our fingers crossed and see how it goes. But I remain United for life.
Thank you for your time sir
Thank you too for coming around.