England-based football scout, Ese Udoko, in this interview with KELVIN EKERETE alleges that his son, Ogaga, was unjustly dropped from the Golden Eaglets squad at the ongoing Brazil 2019 U-17 World Cup for Abba Abichi, son of the Director-General, Department of State Service, Bichi Magaji, after helping the team qualify for the World Cup.
Is it true that your son Ogaga Oduko was dropped for Abba Bichi, son of the DSS boss, Bichi Magaji?
It is true. My son Ogaga was substituted for Bichi Magaji’s son, Abba Bichi, and there is no other way we can point otherwise. Those coaches are the ones destroying Nigerian football. I believe the officials from the top are corrupt as well. It is affecting Nigerian football. The less-privileged kids cannot genuinely represent their country without having a godfather.
But there is a claim that you are just an agent to Ogaga and not his father…
(Cuts in) Ogaga is my adopted son. He lost both parents at the age of 10. I came to Nigeria to do my scouting programme in 2016 for less-privileged talented kids across four states in Nigeria. The final selection was held in Lagos. He borrowed money to come and there I spotted him. He told me his story and I have been taking care of him in my academy since then, along with his two siblings.
How long was your son in the U-17 camp?
I took him for the U-17 trials and he passed. He has been with the team for a long time. He went with them to Tanzania (U-17 AFCON, qualifiers for the World Cup). He was the one that lost the last penalty in the semi-final 10-9 defeat to Guinea in Tanzania. They refused to feature him in the third-place game because of that and the Eaglets lost the match. He is an attacking midfielder, better than what they have in that midfield, but the coaches told me that they would convert him to left-back, as they don’t have one. And that is the only way he can make the team. I told my son to adapt and because of his talent, he adapted and since then he has been with the U-17.
Do you think he was dropped because he wasn’t good enough?
Not at all. When Ogaga was with the national team, he worked hard and merited it. I was about bringing him to the United Kingdom, but I had not finalised the adoption process then. After the process, I felt that he should take a shot at the national team and that will qualify him to play in England. And also, the other players can see that hard work and dedication with your talent can take you to the top. He has been with the team until they came back from Tanzania. During their two months break. I asked for his passport, so he can apply for UK visa, as Arsenal wanted to see him. I told the coach, but they refused to give me his passport. The excuse was that they don’t want to lose him. They felt that if he joined a club in England, he would not want to come back and play for the national team. The boy was angry but I encouraged him to bear it.
Is there evidence that he was dropped directly for Bichi?
He traveled to Turkey for the tournament before travelling to Brazil with the team, but at the last minute he was dropped and was replaced with a player I now believe is the son of the head of security service in Nigeria because the NFF wanted to avoid corruption charges. So, they have to curry the head of security by bringing his son and other officials’ children and dropping talented players who don’t have any backing. I did not know the politics that was played, because I was not there. I know that boy was nowhere before, and suddenly at the last minute he replaced a regular player.
Some are of the opinion that Ogaga was dropped because he wasn’t a regular in Manu Garba’s squad…
My boy is a regular, the only match he did not play (in Tanzania) they lost. There is no way you can tell me that they have another excuse for dropping a regular player. I chatted with the coaches and their excuse was that it is a group decision. I know other players were dropped as well. I felt for my boy and the others, but I need to point this injustice out. It has been going on in the national team camp for too long. He has been with the team for months. Ogaga was in Tanzania and Turkey. He also made the final list of 25 to Brazil.
Did anyone at any point request for money from you to include Ogaga in the Eaglets’ U-17 World Cup squad?
They requested for money before they went to Tanzania. I refused to give anything. I told them, ‘let his talent make way for him.’ After using the boy to qualify, they dropped him without thinking. I know this situation might make my relationship with some Nigeria Football Federation members dented. I have set up a youth league currently running in Nigeria in four states.
Having gone through this experience, would you still allow Ogaga play for Nigeria in the future?
This is what I’m fighting for. I want a situation where talented players in Nigeria can represent their country on merit. I have a mission to raise players with their right ages for the national team to win the 2020 World Cup. This is a big challenge for me moving forward with the mandate. I will still allow him play for Nigeria. These people will not be there forever.
What does the future hold for Ogaga now?
He will be coming for trials with a Premier League club I don’t want to reveal now. Arsenal will still have their eyes on him. They were actually coming to watch him in BraziL. He would have been drafted straight away into their U-19 squad if he had played at the world Cup. A Premier League club is waiting for Ogagga already, but they want me to bring him to the UK first.
How can this issue of dropping better qualified players for more influential players be addressed?
The youth football structure needs to be well organised. The country should be able to watch young players from the age of 15. This is why I am running a youth league in Nigeria. Once coaches make their 25-man list, the regular players selected initially should not be dropped; rather the coaches should adjust a player who is not performing well to the bench. A regular player can only be dropped if they commit a serious offence. When a regular player is omitted from the team rather than dropping them to the bench, it should be questioned and looked into by independent professionals, rather than the officials.