•No way, I have never been a sycophant
The positions he had held as both a dreaded astute sports writer and an administrator, made him reporters delight. Little wonder he did not disappoint when TS Weekend picked him on several issues bothering on Nigerian football.
Chief Inyama was explicitly delectable while speaking on both his private life, especially the wrong impression that he is a monumental failure in marriage, and that his club, Abia Warriors FC benefitted from his position as NNL boss to gain promotion to the Premier League this season.
Giving a resounding vote of confidence on the Alhaji Aminu Maigari-led NFF executive board, the former Abia State commissioner for Sports stated, in clear terms that he would give his unreserved solidarity to the Bauchi State-born administrator if he declares interest in running for second term in office next year, he was however quick in adding that he is not in anyway an errand boy of the NFF president.
From journalism to sports administration
It is the expectation of every good journalist to move beyond the profession one day. I specialised only in sports reporting, unlike most journalists that want to be masters of all beats. When we made a mark in sports reporting, we graduated to becoming the first to publish an all sports newspaper.
Having paid our dues over the years, we became familiar with the system, making the transmutation very smooth because people found us very capable of fitting into the area of administration apart from sports reporting. In fact, I have been onetime chairman of Abia State Football Association. I also held leadership positions in SWAN at national and state levels.
As you know, I played key role during COJA, holding the position of General Manager, Marketing. As far back as 1999, I was also the vice chairman, Transport Committee during the Nigerian 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship. I was also a member of a committee during Ghana/Nigeria 2000 Nations Cup. So, it was a smooth transition from journalism to sports administration.
The long traumatic journey to the position of NNL chairman
It was very tough but as I said earlier, I had paid my dues because after my studies, I have done no other job than the business of sports reporting and transition to administration. So, I have the whole gamut of the entire system up heads.
When the opportunity came, I went for it, having been associated with many previous administrators in Nigerian football at every level of organisation. I have been a member of one committee or the other since the days of Yusuf Ali to Effiong Okon with POC Achebe down the way. We were the kitchen cabinet and kingpins during the days of late Emeka Omeruah.
So, I just found myself in a familiar terrain. I thought I have something to offer and decided to run for the office of the NNL chairman. I have to confess that it was not easy initially because it was a case of “why him again, Emeka Inyama all the time.”
Other challenges he faced as NNL chairman
The constraints are actually many. The first was that I met a nascent and relatively unknown league. There was no structure and it was run as a unit in the NFF. We faced the task of pioneering role to midwife the league and breathing life into it.
Looking back, I would say that we have done well in creating an image to let people know that the league is a distinct organisation on its own. It was quite tasking and we have been able to create an image that today many people can recognise its logo. We have also tried to create a name around it.
We have also done well to ensure that the league clubs are beginning to see that they must play by the rules not necessarily who they know. Let me also confess that it has been difficult taking decisions because people will always misconstrue it and think that you are after them and not what is right.
The final constraint is the issue of funding. It has been very difficult for us because NFF has gone through a process of bad image, which culminated in the withdrawal of many sponsors. It was not even easy for the new ones to come because, the economy of the country is not even helping matters.
Companies did not even take advantage of the tax holiday government gave to them. I have always argued that before NNL, its allies could get sponsorship, Nigerian football, and the Nigerian Premier league must be calm and peaceful. All over the world, it is not always possible to see different sponsors for different leagues.
We have one league management with sub leagues and when the deal comes, they share it down the line. If we ignore the National League or the Nationwide League, eventually the Premier league would be dead because they are the nursery that feed the league.
We must have a system that even when the lower leagues could not get a sponsor for obvious reasons, sponsorship of the NFF up to the Premier League must be factored to torch these other leagues because of the link. We have tried to market NNL, but people kept telling us that the Premier League is not okay.
So, it is a major constraint. The NFF must make budgetary provisions because its leagues are still quasi-autonomous, not yet independent. We are still the baby of Nigerian football and provisions must be made until we can stand on two legs. This is my proposition as the way forward. It will take a while before people could have confidence in what we are doing before to attract sponsors.
The next level after leaving current position
My target is that since this is the year I have made my mark, I will leave it to people, the stakeholders and actors that have watched us do it right to decide if they would find me worthy of anything in future. I think it is rather too early to say what I’m going for next.
I want my handwork here to speak for me, but what I intend to do is to solidify NNL, create a bigger image around it which people are already beginning to see. I want to use this opportunity to appeal to the clubs in NNL to abide by the rules and regulations.
The trend of one or two clubs ganging up with others because of what they considered unfavourable decision is too bad and unprofessional. They forgot that they signed at the beginning of the season to abide by the rules and regulations.
There are various cadres of authorities a club could seek redress for any decision it felt uncomfortable with. It starts from the NNL, to the Disciplinary Committee and the Appeal Committee of NFF. Once you fail in the Appeal committee, you have to stop and abide by the rules.
I urged our clubs and administrators to see reason. The problem is that we think about ourselves more than the system. Some of them in order to justify the huge sum of money collected from the state governments tried to create problems and make it seem as if it was from Abuja not home.
I want to appeal to them to give us a chance to leave a landmark after our four-year tenure. It has been extremely tasking and what we need to succeed is just their support. By the beginning of the new season, we are rolling our innovations. The most challenging factor would be to entrench transparency in the league so that the better team will win both in home and away matches.
We have started this year by recording the highest away wins, draws and goals. These are the indices used to judge a league. The league players were invited to the national teams and the clubs we promoted last season are doing well in the Premier league.
From these, we want to move into our new office, we want to be a limited liability company owned by the clubs and take it even further. We really want to do something about sponsorship and television. We are appealing to the media to start televising our league matches because we are playing good football in NNL.
Did you know that we have 80 percent of the former Premier League clubs still well funded by their various states? Another major achievement we recorded was discouraging sign-on fees in the National League. It has been a big major problem in the Nigerian league.
Even if we want to do it at the highest cadre of the league, it is not advisable at the lower level. So, what we did was that instead of paying players N5, 000 or N10, 000 monthly, they should pay them between N50, 000 to N100, 000 as monthly salaries and allow the players to manage their money. Unlike before, no single club has gone on strike because of the system we introduced.
Players were now better paid than when we came on board. We specifically asked the clubs to give us their salary scale countersigned by the players to ensure that the players were given at least a living wage. It used to be N10, 000 or N15, 000 but some clubs are now paying between N50,000 and N100,000 today.
We want to ensure that the players are in good frame of mind to perform. By the end of the current season, we expect to have up to 150 or 200 NNL players graduating to Premier league clubs purely on merit. It happened last season and we want it to be more after this season.
I didn’t use my position to influence promotion of Abia Warriors
The records are there to prove that I never used my position to influence the promotion of Abia Warriors to the Premier League. We have run a transparent league. For the records, last season I banished Abia Warriors to Nnewi for the whole season because our home ground was not good enough, even in my position as the league chairman.
But, we still came second in our group, even playing in Nnewi. We missed the promotion ticket last season on goal difference because only club from the quartet group gained promotion. We equally lost the promotion season before the last by goal difference too.
We have been consistent and I challenge anybody to come up with evidence of where I approached him/her for one favour to my club, Abia Warriors. The NNL does not appoint referees or match commissioners. A committee under NFF handles that.
We motivate our boys very well and you can confirm if we are not paying up to N150, 000 to N170, 000 to our players. We don’t owe the players. We keep them in the best hotels and drive them in air-conditioned official bus.
As an expert, I tried to do what is right to set example. We won only one away match, which was even a local derby against Abia Comets. It turned out to be the toughest match we played this season. It was hellish and bloody, but we managed to win. We struggled to get three away draws.
So, how could I have used my position to influence the promotion of Abia Warriors. There were one or two incidences we lost at home and I gave the visiting team money to commend them for playing well against Abia Warriors.
Abia State Government is not capable of sponsoring two Premier league
We will cross the bridge when we get to the river. The first thing we expect from the state government is commendation before we enter into round table discussions. Don’t forget that the team is called Ochendo Babies. If government says they cannot manage two teams in the Premier league, they will tell us what to do. I’m not in position to decide what happens next.
Why NFF still suffers cash-crunch
I’m not making excuses but I want to say that sponsorship will always be a reflection of the state of the economy we found ourselves. When companies cannot break even or post good profit and operate in a very tight situation, it equally affects sponsorship.
It is only when companies make enough money that they boost their products with sponsorship. The companies that can sponsor football activities are banks, telecommunications, Oil and gas industries. We have a big brand now in Super Eagles, but we are looking into whether it is properly priced.
What is certain, however, is that we cannot just enforce change because they were there when it was a bad product. We have to allow them to enjoy a bit of it before the revocation of the contract. What is certain is that Nigerian football could be better funded, but the economy of Nigeria is not better.
Football and sports generally are the only areas Nigeria can be world champion despite our poverty. We are not just appreciating what we have. Blessing Okagbaere outshined many other countries in the world.
It is only in football that we are continental champions. What it takes Britain to prepare five athletes for Olympics is what Nigeria use to prepare the entire contingents to competition. Money is not released for event until the last day and when teams did not do well, Nigerians would begin to call for the heads of the administrators, even when it was obvious that government did not do what they ought to do.
Money did not come until the day of the departure of the Super Eagles to 2013 Nations Cup. If we had waited for the government fund, the team would not have departed. The federation sourced the money but when we won the tournament, it was government who took the shine and claimed the glory. The process that would have helped in getting the team there was difficult.
Having spent more than 25 years in football, I realised that funding is a major problem. Fund will never come out until the last minutes and at the time it will come, you cannot do any magic. Nigerian companies must realise that an African champion can help them push their brands as Guinness is doing. Wise sponsors go for good brand.
Tiger Wood or Usain Bolt don’t market themselves, it is the companies that ran after them to wear their endorsements. Brands and companies would have taken advantage of Eagles status as champions. Another question is why is it that our blue-chip companies are not into sports.
If they cannot give money to the federation, they should establish football clubs. Why can’t Alhaji Aliko Dangote or Femi Otedola, own football club? Yes, we ought to do more than we are doing now. It is a challenge to use the position of Super Eagles to bring more money to the federation.
Battle to win Aminu Maigari’s favour
I have never heard about me fighting Barrister Green for the attention of the federation president. There is nothing to struggle about the president because football is a family. As executive committee made up of members, we work together. There is no basis for me to start behaving like an errand boy of the president. Definitely, not at this level of my career as a sports administrator. Don’t forget I am an Umuahia High Chief. There is no undue advantage that Green or I would get by fighting to occupy the position next to the president.
All of us work together to think for the progress of Nigerian football. I’m shocked to hear that such thought even exists. Green and I are best of friends. He respects me very well and I do for him, together we are doing our best.
Rating the board
If I rate this board, I would give it pass mark because against the background of when and how we came in, all the attacks, court cases, distractions from even those in power at the National Sports Commission, we were able to withstand the heat and battle to post all these commendable progresses.
Football is about result and Nigerians are inpatient about results. If you don’t get any result, you are a bad administrator and if you get the result, you are the best administrator. We have a lot of role to remove those bad impressions Nigerians have about NFF.
The truth is that through the PTF, we have a brand new secretariat. FIFA has concluded arrangements to develop a centre in Bauchi, Lagos and Anambra states simultaneously. We are developing other centres so that we decentralise camping. We are entering into the spring of academies by setting up competition for them.
Magairi coming for second term
I have had close discussions with him because I’m very close and loyal to him. I will not deny that. He has done very well and it is only natural for a man who did well to demand for another shot, but when the time comes, we will look at it and if he wants to run for second term, I will support him.
His failure in marriage
You have to qualify the factors that made me a failure in marriage before I will react. I want to know how I’m a failure in marriage. I have my children and family intact. Yes, I had issues with my first marriage and we have divorced in court officially, but I have a second wife.
I don’t want to go into my private life on the pages of newspaper. Anything about my family is private and I would like it to remain so. I’m sure that the man they said I snatched his wife did not petition anybody. It is not a problem if my first wife remarries.
Fears for Super Eagles picking World Cup ticket
We will certainly be there and the good thing is that Keshi is beginning to listen, starting with the pruning down of his over-blotted teamlist. It is wrong that he wants to create confusion ahead of the crucial match he wants to play. We want him to concentrate and get us the ticket for the World Cup. Nigerian football is going places and we are doing well, but all we need is the support and prayers of Nigerians for us to get there.