In an exclusive interview, Rio Olympics Bronze winning coach, Samson Siasia, has finally broken his silence on the difficulties and experiences he and his team encountered from the federal government and the nation’s football governing body.
Below are excerpts from the explosive chat…
Welcome from Rio Olympics. How does it feel?
It feels good because the end justifies the means. We wanted the gold but we are still happy with the bronze because it made Nigerians happy.
The Minister of Sports accused you of child trafficking for taking the team to Atlanta without his knowledge or consent?
How can I take a national team out of the country without the knowledge of the NFF and the Sports Ministry? I really don’t know were that was coming from. We had the plan to travel from Atlanta to Brazil on the 29th of July. But the agent who was handling that did not get us the chartered flight or pay for our tickets, but nothing actually happened and that was when I, on my own, decided to contact an agent, Greg. But the guy said he would not do anything until he saw that the money was paid into his account. After three days, the guy said he was no longer interested and even told other operators not to deal with us that we were not a serious people.
Back to the camp in Atlanta. How was it?
The first 10 days was like a hell because we had to struggle to pay for hotel accommodation and feeding because the person, Bunmi, who opted to assist us did not get the necessary support he expected. But after the fist 10 days the Ministry came through the NFF and paid for our bills. But we were stranded in Atlanta because the money they said they paid to one Poopola for us to travel never came and nobody has heard anything about it.
What was your level of communication with the both the NFF and the Ministry while in Atlanta?
No, nobody called me from the ministry. The Minister was dealing with Mikel may be because he was the captain of the Olympic team. But when we had the plane issue, the Vice President called and I spoke with him like two times, the Finance Minister called and indeed the first person to call was the Minister for Information, Lai Mohammed. I must say he did a nice job to see how to solve our problem because I think the President heard about our plight and instructed that they should find a way to solver the problem.
They were, I believe, embarrassed because the issue was even on CNN every time. However, the chartered flight thing never worked out because the guy they were discussing with called me and we tried to see how to arrange the fight but there was no money sent to him and so it didn’t work out too. So the option we had was to arrive Rio the very day we were to play and that could have resulted in a walk-over of our team.
We had a chartered 36-seater flight that was to take us to arrive Rio by 2 o’clock while our game was at 9 o’clock. But the players were afraid of that flight because it was very small and when we got to the airport, Delta called thought the same Bunmi guy. In fact, they were supposed to partner with Delta but I don’t know what happened. When they heard of our plight they called him to offer a big plane to fly us the next day so as to arrive five hours before the match. Indeed we were already at the airport to fly that small plane which was paid for by a friend of mine, but when the players heard that Delta was coming, they insisted that we should watt for it. In fact they were almost dying out of fear.
When I called Mikel to tell him about the development, he said ‘I beg, please let us wait for tomorrow for the bigger plane which is safer and better’. All the players were happy and excited that we were not going to fly that small plane and perhaps that is the reason they came out to play the way they did with all their mind. Indeed Delta did a great job. Even when the CBN 46 came to the hotel, we refused to tell them about our problems because it was about Nigeria, even though every thing was already in the public domain. Talking to them would not have changed anything.
Now Delta said the cost of flying us was about $250,000 dollars but that they were not charging us. They said if we had it the money could be paid to any charity organization of mine or Mikel but we have not seen anything and that appears like another fraud. We took pictures with Delta to promote them and thank them for their support.
I am telling you what actually happened. We are still waiting to see where the money that was meant for us to fly to Brazil has gone to. Nobody has said anything. The federal government sent the money to the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) and the NOC said they sent the money to the airline in Florida which up till now they have not received anything, even the airline is planning to sue them for breach of contract because they were supposed to pay some money to them even if they were to cancel the arrangement.
What is your next step with the national team?
My next step is that I am done with Nigeria for now. You can’t keep going to a place where they don’t appreciate you. It does not worth it. Sometimes it is not about the money but the approach. They seem not to appreciate the sacrifices. I know how much I have sacrificed since the team began camping two years ago. How can you keep going to people who don’t appreciate you? It does not make sense, so I am done for now. I have to go somewhere else where they will appreciate what I have done and what I can do and pay me the respect that I deserve.
Are you saying you will never come to work for Nigeria again?
No not now, I will not change my mind when the same people are there doing the same thing over and over again. If the right people come on board tomorrow then I may reconsider my position because I am also a Nigerian but truly, I will no longer work with these people.