Mr. Lucky Sunday Nkeki is an ex-international football player born into the family of late Mr. Sunny Nkeki on July I, 1969 from Idumu-Ebo Quarters of Owa-Alero community in Ika NorthEast Local Government Area of Delta State
His father was a gallant soldier and an excellent boxer who joined the army during the Nigeria Civil war, while his mother, late Mrs. Grace Nkeki, was a renowned business woman who specialized in importation of original lace materials.
He developed passion for sport at an early age and spent his childhood playing professional football with his team mates and of course counted amongst the best players in Nigeria to win several local league matches. He was known for the articulate use of his skills while on the pitch and would not miss scoring a goal at every match. He played alongside big names in Nigeria football league as far back in 1986 and today, he has made a blues print by being a mentor to many amidst his effort to see that football gains its right place particularly in Ika land.
In this personality of the week with Ika Weekly Newspaper, he spoke on his sojourn in sports and the challenges which bedeviled the development of sports in Ika land and by extension Nigeria at large.
CAN YOU SHARE WITH US MORE ABOUT YOUR GROWING UP?
I was born in Asaba during the civil war in 1969 and after the war my dad was transferred to Lokoja and thereafter moved to Lagos where I started my primary school. I attended Army Children School in Lagos in 1976 then to Oshodi Secondary School and proceeded to Unilag in 1988. After my graduation in 1992, I was posted to do my Youth Service in Oturkpo, Benue State where I played for Obeya Babes under Chief Francis Obande Obeya who took me like a son. He took special interest in me because of my educational background and my soccer artistry.
As a matter of fact, my talent in football is a gift from God. While I was at the barracks in Lokoja, I had an uncle, Iyare Asiwe, who played football in the army cantonment while my dad was a boxer, but my dad would always want me to get close to him at the ring side but I will sneak off to watch those playing football and help them to pick the balls. So from there, the spirit of football entered me and aroused the talent which was inborn and I started playing football.
I was in class three in primary school when started playing with super stars in the senior team and I was able to break through their attack. When I entered primary six I was made the captain and I also captained the team at the secondary school level yet my father never discouraged me because he was also committed to sports. My background can be best described as an excellent one because my family was comfortable at the Ashanti Barracks. Though my late mother was one of the richest women at the barrack then and my growing was comfortable.
You will agree with me that things are no more the same because the economic situation then was not as bad as well have now, so when you talk about feeding, clothing, sleeping at the right time, having the right moral, discipline were all comfortably acquired. This was partly due to the fact that I started collecting salary when I was in class III. The salary was so good that it was almost equal to that of my father.
AT WHAT AGE DID YOU BECOME A SUPER STAR IN FOOTBALL?
That was at the age of 12, I remember I traveled with other children to Denmark to play Dana Cup unde and also went to Brazil for presidential cup at the age of 14. I became very popular. But one funny scene I could never forget was when our parents were giving us bread, some groundnut and banana to eat while heading for the airport to board the plane but everything was retrieved from us.
I joined the Nigeria League in 1986 while playing under Sun Insurance. In 1990 I went to ACB and that was the first year I played professional football with the likes of Henry Nwosu, Friday Elehor, Stephen Agbaroghe, Joseph Okoh, Williams Okpara, late Sam Nwobo, Micheal Onyemachara, Chinedu Odiare, Leo Nwonuma, Tony Iwegwe and my FIFA License agent now base in London, Festus Agu. I also played with Plateau United AC and in 1993 I entered VIP in Lagos to play in their premier League. 1994, I went to Railways FC and left Nigeria in 1995 for South Africa where I played till 1997 before I returned back home to play continental with BCC Lion of Gboko under the great late Coach Amodu Shuabu. I captained the team till the year 2000 and in 2001/2002 I played for Delta United before I decided to hang my boot.
WHAT WAS THE MOOD AT EVERY GAME YOUR TEAM WON OR LOST?
Victory was like a way of life for us then and we were always optimistic to win every match because football then was based on talent not quota system where you are for money. Also, Coaches then were really going to primary and secondary schools to source for talented players. What also encouraged us positively in terms of talent hunt was that most of the schools then were engaging Coaches in sports activities and not game masters as we have in this present day.
So for my team, the feeling at every game we won was normal and if we lose it is unusual because our coach was gathering a bunch of talented players. Even in the national team as at those years, losing at home was almost impossible unlike now where a lot of factors have crippled the system.
WHAT YEAR DID YOU RETIRE FROM PLAYING ACTIVE FOOTBALL?
I retired from Delta United at the age of 30 years in 1999. At that time injuries were coming and I could remember the last match I played which was against Jasper United in Tunisia. We lost that match and after the match most of the players were calling me senior!!! Then I knew it was time for me to hang my boot. But then, that was the same year Delta United gained promotion after beating FCT in Lagos one zero and I was part of that match.
DIDN’T YOU CHEAT ON YOUR AGE TO PLAY FOOTBALL FOR A LONGER PERIOD?
I never cheated in my age. People like me, Emmanuel Amunike, Austin Okocha, Victor Ikpeba, Sunday Oliseh never cheated on our age, we played with our real age. Like I said, today I am 48 years old and that has been what is on my passport since I started playing football. It has always been July 21, 1969 and if you check the names I mentioned, we left football almost at the same time and it is not surprising that most of us are into football administration now. Take for example, Emmanuel Amunike coached under 17 and 20 of the Nigeria team, today Okocha is the FA chairman where I am a board member then Oliseh coached the super Eagles while Gabriel Okolosi is coaching in America. So most of us played at the same level and did not cheat.
DID YOU ENCOUNTER SET BACK AT THE TIME YOU WERE PLAYING PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL?
Yes I did, and that was when I had fracture in South Arica. It lasted for a whole season (nine months) and this was as a result of the cold weather in South Africa, so after six months without the injury healing properly, I had to return to Nigeria where I spent altogether another six months and because I signed 3 years contract with the club I was playing for in South Africa I was paid my insurance and then continued to play with them.
But more painfully was that the period I had the fracture in 1996 was when I was sent an invitation letter to play in the National team for the Olympic game under coach Bonfrey Joe which Nigeria won the gold medal. I could not honour the letter because of the fracture and that was really devastating. Probably, I would have been the first Ika man to play in the national team and won an international gold medal for the country.
WHAT SUSTAINED YOU WHILE PLAYING PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL?
Apart from God and my late mother, it was two things. First was the fear of failure while second was a set of two different people, and they are those that believed in me and those who did not believe in me.
WHAT ROLE DID THIS SET OF PEOPLE PLAYED?
You see, football is not about talking but doing. Those who did not believe in me were criticizing me and wanted my down fall, so I tried to prove them wrong. However one must always believe in him or herself.
WHAT WAS YOUR NEXT SHOT AFTER RETIREMENT IN 1999?
In fact I was idle for one full year because I never knew what to do. This was because I focused only on football for 16 to 17 years of my life and after my retirement I became confused of what to do next. But all of a sudden, I went into coaching. The first club I coached was BenTS FC in Lagos owned by Tunde Yusuf, a young man from Kogi State. I handled the club for one year after which I took a shot at National Institution for Sports (NIS) to upgrade my certificates. Then in 2007 I was offered a job as Chief Coach at Delta Force in Asaba.
WHILE DIDN’T YOU INVEST WITH THE MONEY YOU MADE WHILE PLAYING FOOTBALL?
There was actually not much money in football at that time but I was satisfied. It’s not that I did not invest, but in life, it is not everything that one has to disclose. I just could not do anything for a full year after my retirement because football was my daily routine.
AS A TECHNOCRAT IN SPORTS, HOW WOULD YOU RATE FOOTBALL OF THE PRESENT DAY COMPARED TO THAT OF THE 90S?
It is quite unfortunate that our football has drastically gone down. Then in the 90s you will not see a super star who did not play the principal’s cup tournament and the School Management Committee game (SMC Cup) coordinated by the school management board. During these games, coaches were coming to secondary schools to source for direct and raw talented students to play football. The coaches were doing very little but got result because talents were there, but what we have today is a bastardized effort as most of those tournaments are no longer taking place.
AS A DELTA MAN, CAN YOU TELL US HOW MANY PRIMARY SCHOOL FOOTBALL TOURNAMENTS ARE BEING PLAYED HERE?
It is zero! It is only since the coming of Mr. Chiedu Ebie, the honourbale commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education, Delta State, that the ministry has revived the Principal Cup and the excitement was crazy. This has never been the priority of past commissioners. Hon. Ebie was able to secure sponsorship from Zenith Bank for the Principal Cup. So, comparing then and now as far as football is concern, today we have what we call, ‘football emergency” because no talent is coming up.
The coaches are not willing to work as well as the players not willing to play because of the situation, particularly in Ikaland where parents are not encouraging their wards to play football. In spite of the fact that the Delta State government has made provision for facilities, most young men have refused to come out to play football and even the few of them that came out are not really up there. Though recently, I have held meetings with coaches trying to galvanize them for better performance. We must go to every school in the villages and in the towns of Ika South and Ika North East to look for players as we plan to visit corporate organizations and private individuals to source for funds to enable us organize tournaments on monthly basis to keep the coaches here engaged and also sustain the hope of players. Very soon, Nigeria Football Association Ika Chapter will be organizing some football tournaments that will go round the communities of Ika land with a view of sourcing for talents.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY WAS THE MAJOR ISSUE THAT HAMPERED THE DEVELOPMENT OF SPORTS AMONGST YOUTHS?
First is the urge for quick money which has caused a drift in talent. Like I said, most of the coaches are now lazy while sponsorship is another major problem. However, I must give Kudos to the Ibori’s administration down to that of Gov. Ifeanyi Okowa which laid the blue point for every senatorial district in Delta State to have up to three to four stadia and this is the reason why Delta State has the highest number of football fields in the whole of Nigeria. So it is left for us the coaches and athletes to come out and put the centers into good use.
So, in essence, what has really affected the system was the low morale of the coaches to work, players looking for quick money by traveling to Europe through Libya coupled with the economic hardship as no one would be advised to play football with empty stomach. On the part of the sponsorship, I have championed a new course where we have started taking data particularly in Ika land to make organizations as well as private individuals see the reason why sports is very important in our community.
NEWS HAS IT THAT YOU WERE APPOINTED UNDER GOV. OKOWA’S ADMINISTRATION AS CHAIRMAN, DELTA STATE LEAGUE MANAGEMENT BOARD CAN YOU PLEASE ENLIGHTEN US ON THIS?
First of all, I contested an election and won to become a member of the board, Delta State Football Association, representing Ika NorthEast and Ika South in 2015 and Austin J.J. Okocha won the seat of the chairman also representing Oshimili North and South among others. Then last year February, I was appointed Chairman, Delta State Football League Management Board. This is the state arm of the League Management Committee (LMC). Though we have the NFF but the LMC organizes the national League.
WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO DO FOR OVER A YEAR NOW AS THE STATE LEAGUE BOARD CHAIRMAN?
So far so good, we ran the league last year with 34 teams after many years. We were able to complete regular season, but unfortunately we could not do the super eight due to financial constraints and we want to say thank you to Basalt Oil and Gas that stood as our pillar to sponsor the league. However, we are waiting for approval from the sports commission and the governor whom will want to participate in the super eight games.
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH YOUR PORTFOLIO TO MAKE IMPACT IN YOUR CONSTITUENCY?
To the glory of God, I have been able to organize more than two tournaments. As the chairman Local Organizing Committee for Senator Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa Annual Youth Football Tournament, we hosted the tournament successfully with nine local governments in 2010/2011 when Dr. Okowa was preparing for his senatorial election. The maiden edition was won by Ukwani local government. In 2011 we used Ogwashi-Uku and Kwali center for the second edition of the tournament which was won by the Kwali team while in 2013 and 2014 we did not run the tournament due to the governorship election that was fast approaching. Thereafter, Mr. Sebastine Okoh came on board and had the game revived but in a different format. This time it was fully concentrated on Ika Federal Constituency.
We used 26 communities and it was one of the best of the tournaments ever held in the constituency as it provided jerseys for each team, balls and the cash prizes was the biggest. The winner of the game got 1 million, second position got N500,000 and the third got N300,000 while the balance that summed up N2 million was shared as consolation prizes to outstanding players of the tournament. Again, I have done summer coaching for over 50 children between the ages of 5 and 10 during their holiday period every third term. It is a class where I teach them the basics of football control.
Also as a member of the Nigeria Football Coach Association, Ika chapter, member of Nigeria Football ex-players Association among other organizations, I am doing my best to instruct coaches here in Ika land to enable them live up to expectations. My life as an example is revolved around football and I will strive to impact that needed change particularly in Ika football.
DURING THE TOURNAMENTS MENTIONED, DID YOU SEE IKA YOUTHS MAKING PROGRESS IN FOOTBALL?
Like I said, they have this lackadaisical attitude. The first edition of the tournament where we provided jerseys, buses among other items for each teams, it was expected that in the second edition, they were supposed to show some sense of responsibility but the reverse was the case as they still relaxed for us to give then new jerseys and buses for them to come to the field. This eventually created some hitches as there was bulk of walkovers against teams who did not show up. The most annoying thing was that during press briefing, we announced that there will not be provision of buses because we believed that the first edition of the tournament had prepared them.
It was also expected that youth leaders and elders of the communities here in Ika land should give their support to their youths for the game. This annual tournament is to bring out the talents in our youths, kill social vices as well as other related crimes. So I am using this opportunity to appeal to all stakeholders in Ika land to key into this noble gesture by providing at least buses for their community youths for the next tournament which will commence soon.
ARE YOU A POLITICIAN?
Laugh! It is assumed that everybody from Owa-Alero is a politician. Though I come from a home where there are lots of politicians and even though I am close to the governor, I am not a partisan politician. This is because I am a true sports administrator, football in particular.
WOULD YOU SAY THE SMART AGENDA MANTRA OF GOV. OKOWA HAS ENCOURAGED SPORTS IN DELTA STATE?
Of course yes! It was the Smart agenda that revived the Principals cup, helped the state League to come back to life and that the stadium in Asaba will be completed before February 2018 to host Senior Africa Athletics Championship in June/August 2018. This is unprecedented. Don’t also forget that through Smart agenda, sporting activities in Delta State has geared up through the completion of the Ozoro Polytechnic Stadium among others. So to say, it has re-energized everybody. We in the sports industry are feeling it. Last year we won the youths game in Ilorin and the governors presence has also created four new teams among which are Ika Rangers FC, Isoko United, Delta Stars and Oleh United. However, for the first time in our Ika community, we have a team that is being paid salary with comfortable accommodation, Ika Rangers FC. This is done in love and care of Governor Okowa. We are optimistic that next season Ika Rangers whose players are 70 percent Ika indigenes will be better as the sport commission has been able to set up contact to generate fund that would complement the fund that is coming from the government for their welfare.
Speaking in the same vein, there are people I would encourage Ika people to appreciate, people like Mr. Christian Ezenduka, Proprietor of Rock of Ages Group of schools, because he has shown lots of commitment to support Ika Rangers and Boji-Boji All Stars. We also have people like Hon. Tony Okowa, Delta State Sports Commissioner for his efficiencies towards sports Development in Ika land, Mr. Sebastine Okoh that has also been very supportive towards building talents in sports, Major General Lucky Irabor for sponsoring the annual Ihu-Iyase Football Tournament and the man, Mr. Hilary Ibegbulem who has given his words to sponsor every young Ika football super star recommended at an academy aboard. As I speak to you now, we have started the process of one young Agoh, a 17 year left footer discovered during the Principal cup to take him to a very good academy abroad. And I can also assure you that if we can recommend five players every year, in the next 4 to 5 years you can imagine how many Ika indigenes that will be out to make us proud. To this effect, we are into agreement with lots of football agents that are FIFA licensed.
DO YOU NOT THINK THAT THIS PROJECT WOULD BE HIJACKED BY THESE MONEY BAG POLITICIANS WHO WOULD WANT TO INFLUENCE THEIR OWN PERSON (S)?
Laugh! That will never happen. Take for instance the Agoh family, I am not trying to run them down but they are not wealthy. Agho was discovered to be the best left footer even in the whole of Delta state and such a project cannot be compromised, not even when I am a grassroot football administrator. We are going to the grassroot to every villages in Ika South and Ika North east because that is where the talented players are found.
IT HAS BEEN THE YOUTHS ALL ALONG, IS THERE ANY WAY THE ELDERS CAN BE DEVELOPED THROUGH SPORTS?
For the elders, we have Boji-Boji All Stars where I am the team manager. We train at the open field of Owa-Model Secondary School and we have people who are from 40 years and above, married and working class as members. We have lots of people with big names as members and what we do in Boji-Boji, All Stars in essence is to have a common ground to live well and create football awareness, while the aims and objectives is to foster unity, good health, and have community cohesion through football. In fact, we even wish to send an invitation letter to the CEO of Ika Weekly Newspaper Mr. Steve Ashien to come and exercise his body only if his wife will allow him.
HAVE YOU ANY FUTURE PLANS IN SPORTS?
Yes, as a matter of fact, we are going to organize draughts competition very soon and this will involve both talented youths and elders in Ika land. It will be held at Agbor Township Stadium. Infact, someone has agreed to sponsor the game with N400,000 and we hope to select players from communities in Ika land. We are also hopeful of making the event an annual one. This idea is to ensure that sports thrive in Ika land and I am going to explore every opportunity that I have to make it happen.
HAVE YOU FOUND FULFILMENT WITH THE LEVEL YOU HAVE ATTAINED SO FAR AS A FOOTBALL ADMINISTRATOR?
It is because I still believe that I have not gone deep enough to source for talents and also because I still feel we have not gotten the ideal sports men in Ika. I still feel not fulfilled because we have not been able to bring the crowd to Agbor stadium week in, week out doing something in sports; hence we are still unable to bring back the sport culture. So, not until I have been able to put these legacies on ground and produce sports administrators like me on board and set the road map, I will not feel fulfilled.
ARE YOU MARRIED?
Yes! I am married to a lovely and beautiful woman, former Miss Ijeoma Nwaokocha who hails from Abia State and a graduate. Our union is blessed with three adorable children.
HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR FAMILY AND THE SPORTS BUSINESS?
Actually, the luck I have is that I got married after I had retired from playing active football, so managing the affairs wasn’t that difficult. Also because God was on my side and I married an understanding woman. At the time we were getting into marriage, she already knew what she was going to face but to the glory of God everything is working out fine because it is important for a man to go out in order to be able to put food on the table.
AMIDST THE LONG LIST OF ACTIVITIES, DO YOU STILL HAVE TIME TO RELAX?
To be sincere with you, I don’t have time to relax because I am, most times on the road. Even when I try to relax I still find myself doing something. So I only relax whenever I sleep off. As I speak to you now, I have started making arrangement for the next tournaments as well as the Principal cup and that of the NDDC under 16 football tournaments. All these games will commence soon. Also in the state league, I am trying to do the super eight and start a new season. Don’t forget that I still have bosses who are also working tirelessly in their offices to ensure development in their commissions. So most times when they are not sleeping, I am also not sleeping. WHAT ARE YOUR HOBBIES?
I would say despite my busy schedule, I love babysitting. I had this as a new perspective to life when my wife gave birth to my daughter. It made me see the soft side of me. I also love reading newspapers.
YOUR BEST FOOD?
As a typical Ika man, I love Ujuju Soup and Akpu.
FINALLY, WHAT IS YOUR WORD OF ADVICE TO THE GENERALITY OF IKA INDIGENES?
To the youths, they should take their mind set away from making quick money and be contented in whatever they have. We have people who don’t own a house but were able to invest in their children while we still have many who made fortunes, built houses and when they died, their children sold everything off. So, my message to the youths who are married is to endeavour to train their children in the right way so that when they grow up they will be good people to be recommended within the society. Money should not be their priority.