Sylvanus Okpala MON, OON, was the first captain of the national U-20 team, the Flying Eagles. He was also captain of the senior national team, the Green Eagles and winner of the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations as a player. He also won the Nation Cup in 2013 as an assistant Coach to Stephen Keshi.
Okpala played in two Olympic Games for Nigeria 1980 and 1988. He was the player who started the exodus of Nigerian players to Europe when in 1983, he moved from Rangers International Football Club of Enugu to Clube de Futrbol Uniao in Portugal.
Okpala spoke with Jacob Ajom on the agenda of the Presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi for Nigerian sports. Excerpts
If there is one politician who has taken the Nigerian political ecosystem by storm, that person is Peter Obi. The presidential candidate of the Labour Party. Before he joined the Labour Party, not many Nigerians reckoned the party as a force that could excite any conversation regarding its electoral chances. Obi’s charisma, direction and political philosophy have won him numerous followers, particularly the youth including, of course, sports men and women. One of the sportsmen who is close to the Labour Party presidential candidate is former Nigeria international, Sylvanus Okpala, even as he confessed that he was not a card-carrying member of the Labour Party. During the week, Okpala spoke with journalists in his Lagos home on Obi’s plan for Nigerian sports, should he be elected president in the 2023 general elections.
Okpala said Obi has lofty ideas that can “change the face of Nigerian sports.” The former Rangers coach disclosed that the former Governor of Anambra state is one who believes in following the rules and expects Nigerian sports to be run and played according to international practices. In a broader sense, he said what has stagnated Nigerian sports is because “we have refused to play according to the rules and regulations as stipulated in the statutes of international bodies,” he said.
“We don’t follow the rules. Is it in organisation? We don’t respect contracts; train with substandard facilities, don’t care about athletes welfare, nutrition and so forth. Everything we do here is not up to international standards because we cut corners. We lag behind in everything.
“Let me take, for instance, football. Nigeria is affiliated to FIFA. There are rules and regulations called statutes on how to administer the sport. Do we follow FIFA Statutes? Check it out, those countries that are doing well in the world, they follow the FIFA Statutes. Obi said under his Presidency, Nigeria will be made to follow those rules because he believes in the rule of law and order. Those countries that are doing well have rules for administrators, for coaches, for players and rules for even the fans. But Nigerians are not following those rules. In Nigeria, a player who has served out his contract cannot still walk away as a free agent. Clubs still insist on getting a share from his new contract, whenever he secures a new club. This is wrong. Another bad example of what I see as a breach of contract is that clubs put players on transfer even months after signing on the players. Some fail to pay salaries as and when due.”
He said that when contracts are respected, players are motivated and everything done according to the rules, Nigerian sportsmen and women will churn out good results. He believes with good results and consistency Nigerian sports can market itself and attract sponsors.