Margret Icheen is a household name in Africa and beyond. She was the first Woman Speaker in Nigeria and now Benue State Football Association Chairman. The VoiceSports Forum’s AKPERA NASE AND DEBORAH EMMANUEL engaged her in a question and answer session about sports development in the state recently.
The VoiceSports: Benue is 45 years, what is your assessment on sports so far?
The question you asked is very important because as you know, sports especially football is a game that is played almost all over the country and I want to say that if we want to access the game of football from 1976 which Benue is 45, I will say it is 50/50. It is 50/50 in the sense that before now we had our two sons that were involved both locally and internationally. They played for this country, you can mention them, the Amir-Angwes, the Kpakors, the Dominic Iorfas and many that we cannot even finish mentioning now, these were sons of Benue state. As time went on a lot of things went down the drain and football began to drop.
When you look at Benue state now, let me just draw it closer to the style we are talking about, how many Benue sons can you mention at the national or international teams now? We can mention two, three, four and just few of them, so what do we say is the cause of that? The cause is not far-fetched because politics has been involved in the game of football which is not supposed to be. When coach is sent to Benue state, they begin to draw players that are the sons of Benue, then how will you promote your people, you promote them by showcasing them but when they come, they feel they will go out and get names from other states to come and represent our state. “Meanwhile, we have talents, in short, Benue is the home of soccer. Go to the interior, we used to have the Sir Akpoo system FC, the Kwande United, the BCC Lions and many others and these was where these big names that went and played for the international teams came from.” So why are we not bringing up our children to go and play outside the country? So the reason I have just said is that these boys are not being patronized by whoever is responsible for the coaching of football because they believe when you call somebody from Ekiti, Lagos they can play better than our children here which is not true so they are playing politics with football which unfortunately has brought down most of our children who would have been heard all over the country. But I think, things will change for better if not, the game of football has deteriorated in the sense of bringing up our boys to be recognized internationally.
The Voicesports: As Benue state football association chairman, what have you achieved?
Mrs Icheen: I just told you now, that politics is involved in this because when you begin to explain what has led to this, we would talk till tomorrow but I just want to crown it all by saying that politics is involved and football is not supposed to be attached with politics because this is a game that is been recognized nation-wide.
Maybe when another management board comes up, maybe the ball game would be changed. But politics is involved and it has contributed to the deterioration of the game.
The VoiceSports: Generally, what is your assessment of sports in Nigeria?
Mrs Icheen: Generally, well as I earlier said, sports is 50-50 all over. However, I want to be specific on football; I want to say that the game of football has improved because in the past, we played a lot of World Cup and it’s a mark when a country is being chosen to play a world cup and I think after every 4 years, Nigeria wins the ticket of playing a World Cup which I believe is an achievement and this NFF which is led by Amaju Pinnick has really done a lot of work to step up the game of sports. Now bringing up the game of football in Benue state has gone a long way even to the extent of making our referees to be up and doing. “Now, you hardly hear games that are being sold out because of referees, now the referees are being watched to see their performance and once you did not perform very well, you are being put aside, so every referee now is up and doing to see that his job is not tampered with so they have tried.” “Now, I can beat my chest to say that if referees from Nigeria can go out and referee games outside the country, football has improved.”
The game of football is not an individual game, it’s a collective game and being collective, we have to put various interest together to make the game grow. If you leave an individual or a certain small group of people to manage the game of football, it won’t move forward at all so I want to believe and I want to say let’s have various interest especially those who have the game at heart to put in the various knowledge that they have gotten both in and outside the country to move this game of football forward. And once you are given a responsibility to take care of football, don’t bring in politics, go for the best because it is the best that we want and it is the best that will bring out the name of Benue and Nigeria at large. we are now sectionalizing which is not supposed to be and I think let’s come together because football is a unity game and once we are united it makes the game move on.
The VoiceSports: How is Benue FA operating?
Mrs Icheen: The game of football cannot be played without funds because money is so involved in the game of football as you rightly said, the Governor cup which is one of the prestigious cups that are played in the state has not gone well this few years and the reason why operation in the FA is not smooth is because finances are involved and I want to tell you that up till this moment I’m talking to you, since our coming on board, we have not gotten a dime as take-off and we cannot move the game of football without money and let me tell you the unfortunate thing again, “we have corporate bodies in this state and they are not ready to contribute because sponsors when you get them and they help you in sponsoring games, sometimes you don’t look up to government to give you funds before you start any other game but when we want to do this, we write to the banks that are operating in this state, we have the coca-cola here, the Tito yoghurt most of them we write to them to at least help us to sponsor some of these games that we have but sometimes nothing comes out of the requests and look at a state that is purely a civil servant state, “there are no companies that would just stand up and say they want to sponsor the game of football in the state. So that is the issue that we have but we are trying to see that the Governor cup is played this year by the grace of God because before now, last year December, we went and visited the Head of civil service, the special adviser to at least assist us to talk to the local government chairmen to register so we are believing that the first quarter of this year between now and April, the Governor cup would be played but before now, we have arranged and somebody has accepted to sponsor the state league and that is the RITELS Football foundation which they have also given us some footballs and released some funds to start and it was also on air to make clubs to come and register and that by the first week of March, the league will start so this is what we are doing for now.