Former Super Eagles defender Taribo West has opened up on the plight of Nigeria’s ex-footballers. The 44-year-old ex-player bared it all in an interview with Tana Aiyejina. Excerpts;
Are you happy with the current division among the country’s ex-footballers, which has seen them forming factional players’ unions?
It has come to a point that I need to speak out. There are people in top positions, who are supposed to manage football that are extorting money from our league. Are ex-internationals or footballers not supposed to bring in their experience to bear on the league? But they won’t allow it. In the last three years, there is accumulated money from FIFPro for Nigerian footballers but there are some ex-footballers who are working to divert this money. There are a lot of ex-internationals dying, those alive have no jobs and the government is not looking that way. The FA is not even concerned about their welfare or that of their families. Do you know how many ex-internationals call me in a month to ask for money to feed? Sometimes I ask myself if I’m a Central Bank. It’s true. If you check my phone, it’s filled with their account numbers of. Ex-footballers know all these but they are afraid to talk.
But I will talk because we need to close the doors that these people are using to extort money from our football and footballers. I’ve not been living or feeding on their money. So, it’s high time I tell the world what we are passing through. I’m ready to challenge anybody, this is something that’s been going on for several years, yet we are quiet. And it’s not bringing any good to us. You hardly find my contemporaries in any office from the federal to state levels. Is that right? I was made a member of a technical study group by the Nigeria Football Federation but the last meeting I went for, I paid my transportation and hotel bills. At the end of the day, I can’t understudy anything, nobody is calling me and I’m in the dark over everything.
What sort of a sports minister do you think President Muhammadu Buhari should bring in, when he’s sworn in for a second term?
I don’t think we’ve made progress in the area of sports. There’s more to sports than just football but the focus of the sports ministry in recent times has been on football. Where is our basketball, athletics and other sports? I pity the President of the Nigeria Wrestling Federation (Daniel Igali). Anytime he has an international event, you’ll find him on national television crying for funds. And this is a sport doing so well internationally. Where are the funds budgeted by the sports ministry? We need a sports ministry that should create the right environment for sports to thrive. Most of the retired athletes are suffering, some have been diagnosed with various diseases but there’s no medical team to help them from the ministry or anywhere else.
So, when Buhari reorganises his cabinet, I want him to look at the sports world, make changes and reorganise the sports ministry. Sports is big business that the government can benefit from. The President should ensure that someone who knows about sports, someone who can bring about mass restructuring, stability and prosperity to that department. That would put us on the global map once again. Sports has so much to offer; it can change the lives of the younger generation. Buhari’s administration can’t do everything but they can bring in people to turn around the sector. We shouldn’t just concentrate on football alone. There are other areas we can use to bring glory to the country.
Again, there’s a general belief that sportsmen and women lack educational qualifications, thus they are excluded from sports administration. Do you agree?
That’s total rubbish; nonsense. How educated are those in FIFA? In Nigeria, is it every politician that went to school? Some can’t even write their names. But it’s only in my country that those in positions use demonic criteria to keep people away. In other countries, if you are competent for the job, they will give it to you. We’ve got lots of ex-footballers who are graduates, lawyers, doctorate degree holders these days. Where are they? Some are doing very well in their various fields. I have been involved in the political system and things like this discouraged me from it. If it means I have to be a cultist to get a position, I’m not ready for that.
I’ll prefer to drink my garri at home and be free with God. At the time I was in politics, a running mate to a governorship aspirant in my state (Rivers), brought me money and told me to join their cult. He told me if I wanted power, they would give me position, and that if I wanted money, I would be given. But he insisted that I must be involved in their cultism activities. So, I disassociated myself from them. From that day, I made up my mind that I will drink my garri, rather than become a cultist. Like I said earlier, I’ve met politicians who can’t speak good English but because they have godfathers and belong to various cults, they’ve been empowered. It’s total rubbish. I’m not afraid to say what needs to be said.