The captain of the historic Nigeria’s U16 team that won the maiden FIFA U-16 World Cup, Nduka Ugbade, has mixed feelings as the world today remembers the historic feat attained by him and his teammates 35 years ago.
While Ugbade is elated with the nostalgic feeling of ruling the world as a teenager, he feels let down that President Muhammadu Buhari was not allowed to reward him and his teammates the way he wanted to four years ago.
Buhari was overthrown as military Head of State in 1985 before he could reward the all-conquering team. But over three decades later in 2016, the team was given some monetary rewards for their efforts.
However, Ugbade, who wrote his name in the history books as the first captain to lift the U-16 trophy now upgraded as a U-17 age-grade competition, told PREMIUM TIMES President Buhari had bigger plans but the Sports Ministry officials at that time did not allow that to see the light of the day.
He said: “The only thing that did not happen but later happened that became a miracle that would happen to a group of people after 32 years was that President Buhari who was then a military general later called us back but they never allowed him to give to us what he wanted to give,
“So he announced N20million for each of us which should have helped a lot of people but the then Ministry people, not Sunday Dare because he is doing very well, changed everything to N2million which destroyed everything.”
According to Ugbade, the N2million that was handed to each of the team members could not even pay for the flight tickets of some who had to buy exorbitant first-class tickets when they could not get regular seats in the plane.
Ugbade said: “Some of our boys came with first class tickets when they couldn’t get seats on the plane and that costs them like $5,000-$6,000 to be able to get here. You now gave them N2million that could not pay for the tickets, you know what that means.”
He added: “Most of them are still appealing to President Muhammadu Buhari to please recall us back, we are different from all the groups that came that day. If it is a house, three-bedroom in Abuja, they should give to the guys, it would help going into the future for their kids, most of us are with four to five kids now and some are twenty-something years old now.”
Regardless of the sour point, Ugbade still has nostalgic feelings about the 1985 triumph and he told PREMIUM TIMES he is still very elated the world and not just Nigeria remembers the remarkable day.
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He said: “Very wonderful, it’s an unbelievable thing, how time flies and it so good that this is still in the memories of a lot of people all over the world.
“I have been receiving calls in the past three-four days from across different media houses inside and outside the country – France Spain, Germany.
“Even people I least expected, ordinary workers, parents, I am really surprised, this is the same thing that is happening to my guys. It is a very wonderful thing to remember that some 35 years ago, some young guys could be able to stun the whole world to win the FIFA U-16 then, now U-17, for the first time on the planet.”
Flashing back his mind to the arrival at the Lagos International Airport, Ugbade recalled how thousands trooped out to welcome the world champions.
He said: “The atmosphere at the airport when we returned was unbelievable. it was the first time you are going to see people that could not pay transport fare from Surulere to Ikeja, they walked through Ilasa and got to Ikeja.
“Thousands were trekking for almost 2-3km following us behind to Lagos Island where we were received.
“At the National Stadium then, it was jam-packed like there was a world cup competition going on there, like 100,000 people in and outside the stadium, it was a truly great moment and we also went around the states then.”
In the final match before they were crowned champions, Nigeria beat the then West Germany 2-0.
Jonathan Akpoborie and Victor Igbinoba scored the all-important goals for Nigeria