Thirty four years after guiding the senior national football team to a silver medal, former Super Eagles of Nigeria Chief Coach, Chief Adegboye Onigbinde, has revealed that President Muhammadu Buhari still owes him a handshake for the feat.
The Modakeke-born ex-technical adviser of 3SC football club of Ibadan, had , in 1984, taken Nigeria to Cote d’Ivoire Africa Cup of Nations and in spite of some hitches, he came back with silver. In a recent interview, Onigbinde said: “That was the highest Nigeria would achieve playing outside Nigeria. That was the first time a Nigerian coach was taking Nigeria to the Nations Cup,” adding “And, I did not have a presidential handshake when I came back.”
He continued: “Coincidentally, the present president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, was military Head of State, then. I remember that on the day we played the final, somebody just came into the dressing room and said he had a message from the head of state. He wished us well and when I came back the authority did not create an atmosphere to thank him for that. That is why up till now I’m looking forward to when I would come face to face with him, and tell him ‘a belated handshake sir’ (laughter).
“I need my handshake. I would request for my handshake,” he said jokingly.
Revealing how he got CAF and FIFA jobs afterward, he explained that “My reward after the competition was my removal. Up till now I have not been told why I was removed. If working under that condition which I worked, came back with silver, I thought somebody would say, ‘if we encourage him maybe he would do even better.’ But, my reward was my removal from the team. And, I left gladly. I am not going to allow anyone to get me worked up.
“In 1988 Africa Nations Cup in Morocco, I was in Nigeria analysing for a television station in Ibadan, and usually CAF would have their election. So, they conducted their election and Issa Hayatou was elected with a new executive. I understood that after the election at their meeting, Hayatou said they needed people who understood the game and a Tunisian asked ‘what of the man who bought Nigeria to the Nations Cup four years ago?’
“And the then, technical director of CAF cut in, ‘Yes! That was the man that gave me my toughest match of my career,’ because he was the Egyptian coach that we played in the semi-final. And that was how they started looking for my name and they got me inducted into their technical committee, and at the same time, named me one of their technical instructors. That was in 1988. Then, in 1994, after walking with CAF for six years, I got a letter from FIFA that I’ve been designated as a FIFA instructor. I later got to know that it was on the recommendation of CAF, and not Nigeria.
“Now what was I saying? The link between 1984 and my CAF assignment, God is marvellous. If I was not removed as Nigeria’s coach, I would not have had the opportunity that I got from CAF and FIFA. Someone would have said he would not have time for us because of his Nigeria assignment. That was how I got to CAF and as result of my performances they recommend me to FIFA.
“My assignments with the two bodies have taken me to not less than 40 countries in Africa alone, not to talk of other parts of the world.
“And that was not all. At the FIFA Junior World Cup in Malaysia ’97, when the first Vice-President of FIFA, Jack Warner, met me at a dinner he put together; at the dinner, he just looked at me and said, ‘Chief, if Nigeria had people like you why do they go to Europe to look for coaches?’ I just shrugged my shoulders. In about 15 minutes, he looked at me again and said, ‘tell me why you will not come to Trinidad & Tobago and help us?’ I kept quiet. It was a Tunisian, who was head of technical committee of CAF that answered him, ‘we cannot allow chief to leave Africa.’
About two hours after, I got a letter of appointment from Trinidad & Tobago. And he said he wanted immediate reply, and I started dodging him. When we got to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, Blatter (Sepp) invited me to a meeting, and I was wondering what it was all about. He said, ‘I understand Jack wants you to come to his country, and you have not given him a response.’ He looked at my face, it was not welcoming. He said ‘Chief, you know what, regard it as part of FIFA development programme,’ and I’m a member of FIFA Technical and Development Committee.
“So, my hands were tied. But, my face was still not welcoming. So he said they would send me to West Indies so as to study the environment for two months before taking my decision. So, on October I moved to West Indies where I spent two months. As soon as I landed there, Jack gave me an envelope and inside it was the contract from Trinidad & Tobago. He asked me to study it for the two months and with the proviso to amend, before committing myself.
“I was hopping from one Island to another for two months and when I came back to the capital of Trinidad & Tobago, I just gave back the envelope to Jack. I persisted for two more days and that was how I signed the contract in November 1997.
“I was to have assumed duty in January 1998, but on getting to Nigeria they got to know that I have signed a contract. Nigeria was to host the junior World Cup in 1999 and they now came around to say that I’ve been appointed as the chairman of the organising committee to stop me from going there. Meanwhile, up till today there was no letter of appointment. I only heard it on the media. How do we operate? I went to Abuja and we were to go to Zurich to discuss with FIFA. I did not know what we were going to Zurich to discuss as chairman of organising committee. I had to keep talking with Jack that I had some delay and eventually I resumed in April, a job I ought to have started in January.
“And, when I reported, the then chairman of NFA sent a query that I abandoned my duty post. What duty? The only duty post I abandoned was the one in Trinidad & Tobago. Where is your letter of appointment? That is Nigeria for you. These are the issues. I was in Trinidad & Tobago for three years and the development programme I established there, saw them, eight years later, qualify for the World Cup final in 2006.
Some of the time I feel that I am crazy, that I am in a strange country, that I don’t belong to this country.
“So, I enjoyed my time in CAF and FIFA and I can say that I am well appreciated. But, can I say the same for my country?