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How Nigeria Can Help Ex-Internationals

By Ibrahim Taiwo , The Nigerian Voice Sports
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Femi Opabunmi served Nigeria with all his might in his youthful days but now he is struggling to put food on the Table for his Family.

Femi Opabunmi played for the Super Eagles of Nigeria at the FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan in 2002.

Opabunmi who hails from Iwo in Osun state has been battling with an eye problem that cut short his professional career.

Scores of Nigeria ex-internationals are struggling with one ailment or the other, some have lost their lives, while some are living from hand to mouth.

Opabunmi started his playing career with Shooting Stars of Ibadan, before moving to Grasshopper FC in Switzerland after spending three years in with the SwissClub, he joined Israeli Club, Hapoel Be'er Sheva, he joined Chamois Niortais FC of France before returning home.

Opabunmi played 14 matches for Grasshopper without scoring a goal, he played 11 matches for Hapoel Be'er Sheva scoring only one goal, he ended his European sojourn with Niortais FC playing 7 matches without finding the back of the net.

You may want to argue that these players were given their entitlements while playing for Nigeria, but these players gave their best for the course of National Glory, so therefore they should be treated with respect and honor and they should enjoy whatever the serving politicians are enjoying or even more.

Opabunmi's case is a pathetic one, the former Shooting stars winger started his career with a lot of promise representing Nigeria at the 2001 African U-17 Championship in Seychelles where he scored a goal.

Opabunmi shone like a million stars at the 2001 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago.

he scored a memorable hat-trick against Australia in the quarter-final, he also scored the only goal for Nigeria in the 1-0 win over Burkina Faso in the semi-Final to send Golden Eaglets into the final.

Opabunmi finished the competition as the second highest goal scorer behind French star, Florent Sinama Pongolle and also won the bronze ball for the third best player in the Competition.

After the Competition, Opabunmi was linked with Top European Clubs, Manchester United, Lyon and Celta Vigo but he ended up signing for Swiss club, Grasshopper FC.

Opabunmi made his Debut for the Super Eagles in 2002 against Kenya in a 3-0 win he scored the second goal.

Onigbinde surprised Nigerians by including Femi Opabunmi in the squad to the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan.

Opabunmi played the last match against England becoming the 3rd youngest player to ever play in the World Cup after Norman Whiteside and Samuel Eto'o.

The Super Eagles crashed out in the First Round of the Competition, The Eagles could not fly their way out of a group containing Argentina, England, and Sweden.

Nigeria finished bottom of the group with a solitary point but the likes of Opabunmi, the competition helped to announce him to the world even after winning the 3rd best player award in the U-17 World Cup the previous year.

Unfortunately for Femi, that was the last time he played for Nigeria before he started having issues in his career.

Femi Opabunmi who now lives in Ibadan recounts how his eye problem started in 2006

I played for Chamois Niortais in France. One day, I felt a sharp pain in my eye. I could not see the ball well so I had to go see a specialist but if I want to read a book, I could read well but when I am on the pitch, I could not see a thing.

so I went on to see an optician who then told me I had to go for an operation within 10 days and if I did not, I would be totally blind. I was afraid; I had to go for it. After the operation, I was blind for 17 days; I called my mum because I had already lost my father in 2003. My mum and I went from one mountain to another and until this moment, my mum doesn’t know I still go from one Alfa to native doctors and different churches.

Opabunmi visited various spiritual homes in search of healing but all to no avail, he has spent all his life savings on the ailment.

Yes, I went everywhere so I could just to regain my sight. I was ready to do anything to get my sight back. I was a born-again Christian but the problems I had confused me.

I finished all my savings on my desperate search for help. Now I am bankrupt. I spent endlessly but it never worked. I just keep praying to the Almighty God for a miracle.

Opabunmi said he contemplated suicide when the frustration became unbearable

I have actually thought of killing myself. I spent millions looking for solutions that never came, I had a car I drove but now I trek and people mock me. I was driven to that stage of taking my life but I thank God for my wife who was there for me and told me to keep believing. She said all this is a phase that will soon pass away.

Opabunmi, however, is grateful to his wife for staying with him during tough times

She really stood by my side. A lot of girls would have run away but she stayed. I don’t blame the girls that run because nobody wants to suffer.

Similarly, Former Super Eagles player, Wilson Oruma who captained the Nigeria U-17 team to Glory at the 1993 U-17 FIFA World cup in Japan has been battling with Depression after losing 1.2 billion to fraudsters who disguised as Businessmen.

Wilson Oruma led the Nigeria U-17 team to world cup glory in 1993, he won the highest goal scorer of the competition with six goals.

he represented Nigeria at the 1998 Edition of the FIFA World Cup in France where he scored a goal against Paraguay in his only appearance in the competition.

Oruma played a total of 19 matches for Nigeria scoring three goals.

Oruma began his Club career with Bendel Insurance before joining Lens, he spent most of his playing career in France, where he played for the likes of Nancy, Nimes, Sochaux, Marseille, and Guingamp.

He also had a short stint with the Turkish club, Samsunspor before retiring st Greek side, A.O Kavala in 2006.

In January 2018, The Media was awash with reports that Wilson Oruma has suffered a relapse of the emotional disorder that affected him six years ago after he was defrauded by a Clergyman who disguised as an Oil Businessman.

Wilson Oruma's Brother, Dominic said in 2014�� when the news filtered in that Oruma had lost his mind

“He has told us not to press charges against the pastor who brought fraudsters to dupe him heavily as he said the incident is now in the past. Another good thing is that all his properties are intact and most of his major investments are doing fine.”

fast forward to January 2018 when reports emerged that Wilson Oruma has suffered a relapse, his childhood friend Emakpor Dibofun disclosed that Wilson has not yet fully recovered

"He hasn’t really recovered from the emotional disorder which he suffered after he was duped. He has been to several places in search of a lasting solution, but it gets worse after a bit of improvement".

A few days Later, Nigeria Football Federation President, Amaju Pinnick announced that the Federation is ready to include Wilson Oruma in the World Cup contingent to Russia and also promised to pay Oruma's hospital bills.

Pinnick Said in January

‘’By next week, Oruma will move into my house before they finish furnishing the three-bedroom flat where he would stay.

“His story is a pathetic one and we cannot allow him to die. I am rendering this help to him from one Warri man to another. We are Warri Ambassadors.

‘’All we need to do is to show him, love. I ate with him. He’s stable. The NFF will include him to play a role in our award ceremony coming up soon.

“Thereafter, we’ll include him in the U-20 national team. Come June, we’ll also include him in the contingent to Russia to cheer the Super Eagles.

“I’m still talking with some of the clubs he played for to allow him to come and do a coaching course with them,’’ Pinnick said.

Thereafter Nigerians hailed Pinnick for the wonderful gesture to his fellow warri man, but some section of the Nigeria football followers thought Pinnick was biased that why would he offer to help Oruma and not help Femi Opabunmi?

it is a pity that those that served Nigeria with all their might are suffering when they ought to be reaping the reward of representing their fatherland.

But how can Nigeria reward players who left all and served their fatherland in times of trouble, success, and glory?

Nigeria needs to start giving honour to whoever deserves to be honoured, some of these players risk their lives to play for Nigeria but when they need the country to help them when they are in dire need of support, oh no, the country treat them like a nobody after sweating it out for the country in their heydays. Sad.

The Ministry of Sports and the Players Union should come up with a committee that will be saddled with the Responsibility of looking after Ex-Internationals who are struggling to make ends meet.

This Committee should be made up of Ex-Internationals, Administrators, and Journalists of unquestionable integrity and the watchword of the group should be Transparency and Honesty.

The Current Set of Players representing Nigeria now should be involved in the committee, there should also be a way of convincing the current players to contribute their own quota to the issue on ground.

The Nigeria Football Federation should work with the Players Union to seek their advice, opinion on how to help the ex-internationals who are struggling.

NFF should also try to Train these ex-internationals who may be interested in becoming a coach, a scout and in any other aspects of the game, so as to be actively engaged because some of these ex-internationals find it very difficult to do another job outside their area of interest.

The Players Union should also sort out the Power Tussle between them so as to be able to carry out the Interest of the ex-internationals, there is a need for the Players Union to speak with one voice.

The National Association of Nigerian Professional Footballers (NANPF) should run an open and transparent system of representing the interest of the players, in other to earn the trust of the Players and the other Stakeholders.

NANPF Should also have the Database of Players who have represented Nigeria and they should also ensure they have enough information about the Players who need help.

Professional Players are expected to plan for their future while playing, most English players do that, John Terry started doing his coaching badges before leaving Chelsea, Frank Lampard also did same, it helps to prepare the players for life after football which is longer than when in active football.

Concerned Nigerians who spoke with this Reporter gave different opinion on how Nigeria as a country can help the ex-internationals who are suffering from one ailment or the other

Bethel Kalu is a Sports Enthusiast and Writer based in Aba, wants NFF and the sports ministry to wade into Opabunmi's issue and ensure he gets the best medical treatment available.

Nigeria should take care of their ex-internationals who have given their all to the country. Nigeria should quickly help him and give him the best medical treatment he can get. He deserves it. We have good opticians in the country who can take care of his medical situation if the NFF and the sports ministry decide to take him matter up and I think they should.

After the treatment, he should be given financial help to sustain himself and his family. And his health closely monitored. The sports ministry or the NFF should have a special committee that is saddled with the responsibility of overseeing the welfare of ex-players who are facing health or financial burdens and alleviate their suffering. It is definitely what is worth doing and it should be done.

Hassan Odunayo Ruth who is a passionate football lover wants NFF to enroll Opabunmi in a coaching Institute, cater for Opabunmi's Family, Accommodation and place him on a monthly salary

'' I want NFF to enroll Opabunmi in NIS in other for him to become a coach as he has once mentioned, I will also like his children to be placed on Scholarship, he should be given a befitting accommodation and should also be placed on a monthly salary''

Sunday Olatunji is a Sports Writer, says Opabunmi's health should be treated with utmost priority and then every other thing will follow

''Opabunmi's health is the topmost priority, treatment of his eyes is paramount to enable him to take care of his family and it will also provide him opportunities to make money in the wealthy world of Soccer as a stakeholder.

Our administrators really need to do more like put in place a kind of insurance scheme for our ex-internationals... To have them covered when they retired to be receiving some kind of pension too''

These players deserve to be treated like True Ambassadors of their Fatherland.

Opabunmi's case should be treated with utmost urgency and every other ex-internationals who are struggling should be catered for.