Suraju had a not-too good outing at the Africa Cup.
Lagos recently hosted top African table tennis players for the Africa Cup/Lagos Open.
One of the top guns on parade was Saka Suraju, who, in 2004, switched from playing for Nigeria to playing for Congo Brazzaville. In this exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Suraju boldly declared that he had no regrets dumping Nigeria for the East African country.
PT: Can you please introduce yourself to us?
Suraju: My name is Saka Suraju from Congo Brazzaville.
PT: Are you still a Nigerian?
Suraju: Of course, I am still a Nigerian but I play for Congo because I have better opportunities to compete on behalf of that country. I was part of the Nigerian National team but I was dropped from representing the country no matter how well I did during the trials. The Congo saw my merits and contacted me through the internet. I went to them, and in 2004 I started competing on behalf of the (Congo).
PT: Ten years down the line, do you have any regrets? Do wish that you had endured with Nigeria?
Suraju: I have no regrets representing Congo; not a single one. When I played for Nigeria, I never had the opportunity to play at the Olympics but with Congo, I have gone to the Olympics twice.
In Congo, there are no problems; I have the opportunity to play in as many competitions I qualify for. I don’t have to go through the stress of hoping that I would be considered for selection despite having passed trials.
PT: Are you the only Nigerian playing for Congo?
Suraju: We are three Nigerians who represent Congo; I, Saka Suraju; Saheed Idowu; and Onyinyechi Nwachukwu.
PT: What is the popularity of Table tennis in Congo?
Suraju: In Congo, football and handball were their number one sports but right now, table tennis is also gaining popularity in the country because we have started to win competitions. Before, in the table tennis world, Congo was not known in Africa but we are one to watch.
The president of the federation in Congo is also a passionate table tennis lover and that has helped the athletes.
PT: What will be your advice for any table tennis player nursing the ambition to switch countries?
Suraju: Any player who wants to switch and play for another country has to be strong and has to wait for a while. I had to wait for three years without playing before I became eligible to represent Congo.
PT: When you look at table tennis now and what it used to be when you were playing for Nigeria, has there been any improvements?
Suraju: Tennis has improved in Nigeria because they now have a good president (Enitan Oshodi) who is now at the helm of affairs. While I was in the country, Nigeria never hosted a competition of this calibre (Africa Cup), but now they have hosted one. It is really nice to see that tennis is improving in the country.
PT: Despite a not too good outing this term compared to (2013) you still ended your campaign on a winning note finishing tops in the classification duel, how do you feel?
Suraju: I did not feel anything because coming into this match, I was confident that I would win. I also had knowledge of my opponent who was not as strong as I am; I am very strong. Maybe I have bad luck; I was supposed to feature in the semi-final or even final but as it is, things like this happen sometimes.
PT: What is next for you after competing here in Lagos?
Suraju: After this competition, we will be heading to Morocco, then Brazil for the same Pro Tour, then Sudan for the All African tennis. Then we begin to prepare for the All Africa games.
PT: What is your advice to young and upcoming table tennis players?
Suraju: My advice to young people is that they should be focused, and then they need to practice because there is no magic in table tennis. If it is possible, one has to be disciplined to practice three times a day.