Dr Rafiu Ladipo is the President General of Nigeria Football Supporters Club. He became a member of the club in 1977. Back then, he was the nation’s flagbearer, wherever the national team is playing, you’d see him heralding players into the field with the national flag. Ladipo rose through the ranks and became Chairman in 1990. Having attainted that position, his first assignment was to register the supporters club. In this interview with Effects, he spoke at length about the club and cleared some misconceptions about the Nigeria Football Supporters Club and other issues.
You have been President General of Nigeria Football Supporters Club, how has the journey been so far?
First and foremost, I am a businessman. I am a clearing agent. I run hotels. I’m a school proprietor and I handle a lot of other things. I make my money from all these businesses. I became the first national president of all the clearing agents and freight forwarders in 1986. I have been running my hotel businesses since 1989. I don’t make money from the supporters club. Supporters club is what I decided to be part of because, I want to give my best to the service of my nation because I believe that it is not all of us that would be government officials, governors, ministers, senators, or even president. But it is all of us as Nigerians that must give Nigeria a befitting image and good name, right here in Nigeria or outside. That is the reason why I decided to do my own through supportership. So, here in the supporters club, nobody earn a kobo. No government funds us; we fund our programmes, particularly, I spend part of the money that I make in my business to run Supporters Club. Of course, members of the club also contribute. Supporters Club is a non-governmental organization. We have been there for 63 years.
Since you don’t generate money from the government, so what is the fun in it? How do you generate income?
It takes a lot of people to be in this position. To be a member of the supporters club, it takes a lot of commitment, a lot of patriotism, your will to want to serve your country even at the risk of your life. You pay for what you are doing, you go out there in the name of Nigeria and it is not government that funds us. So, the irony is that most people believe that it is government that funds us. No. When we started, nobody gave us the chance. People believe that we are people with no means of living, that we don’t have good education; we are the lay abouts and they gave us bad names. But because we are focused, because we are committed, because we are patriotic, because we believe in the name Nigeria, we decided to give it all that it takes to change the negative perception other countries in the world have about us. Before now, when you go out there, they look at you as a nobody. Whenever you show the green passport of Nigeria nobody wants to touch it. They call us a lot of names. But we, through supportership, we have decided to change that negative perception and now, we discovered that anytime you go out and introduce yourself as a Nigerian they start to talk of your sports. They start to talk of your football, boxing and lots more. So, we have seen that as a means to give this country a good name and a befitting image. There are several vices, several dichotomies in Nigeria; the only thing that can unite this country is sports, particularly football. In sports, you don’t know who is a Hausa or Igbo or Yoruba man. We all believe we are all Nigerians and work towards that same goal of trying to support our team to victory.
When Christians are praying for the team to win, the Muslims are saying amen. So, we have seen sports supporting as a tool to unite the citizens of this country. So, football is something that unites the world, it is something that unites all of us in Nigeria together. In the past, we have had Coca-Cola, Chevron, Intercontinental Distillers, all these companies assist us. In year 2001, we had no sponsorship from anybody again but in 2004, we got Globacom. Globacom has been with us in the last 15 years, supporting our cause, giving us money. We ask members to pay a particular amount towards the trip; there is no amount we can get from any company that can be enough. For instance, we want to go to France now, France would cost minimum of 700,000 or 800,000 naira, airfare, accommodation and logistics. We told our members, if you just joined the club, not up to three years, you pay 60 percent of that amount. If you are not up to five years, you pay 50 percent, if you have join the club for five years and above you pay 30 percent. Whether it’s 30, 50, 60 percent the club has to subsidize from the general purse, from the monies we get from our sponsors and partners.
On one or two occasions, government donated money but it has never been anything enough. In 2014, when we are going to Brazil, the then government gave us 50 million naira. I went with 250 people and we spent 191 million. The difference of 141 million was actually source for by us. To God be the glory, every national in the world now emulates us, wanting to do what we are doing. Even highly rated Nigerians now want to be member of supporters club.
In Supporters Club, we don’t just sing, dance, everything we do has meaning. We sing, we dance, we sing meaningful songs that have messages for the players and the players understand us, they sing along with us. We know what we tell them when they are not playing well, we know what to tell them when they are getting tired, and we know what we can use to boost their morale when they are coming to the field or not yet scoring goals for us. The supporters clubs don’t just go to the field to dance. We also fast and pray for the team so that they come out victorious. In several competitions, when we are down and we kept on singing, dancing, calling on God to give us victory and we have come out with victories. For example the 1989 miracle in Germany, 1994 cup of nations in Tunisia, Atlanta games in 1986, 1994 World Cup, we need prayers in everything. What about the All African Cup of Nations in South Africa, the story or the success of the various national teams cannot be given 100 percent without the contribution and the mention of supporters club.
In your club, how do you feel when the national team loses their match?
We feel happy. We are always joyous when we win. We will trek from the stadium, singing, dancing on the streets. But at times, we lose. When we lose, we don’t lose our heads. When you engage in football, there are three results. You can win, you may lose and you play a draw. When you win, you should be happy. But when you lose you, don’t lose your head. We in supporters club, we have an adage here that keeps us moving. “Everybody has a right to get angry but nobody has a right to lose his or her head”.
You are passionate about Supporters Club, how do you juggle your other businesses, even your home?
It affects my business; it affects my social life and even my marital life. But one thing that makes me happy is that I believe in what I can do. I believe I can unite Nigerians through supportership and we can unite the world through football supportership and sports in particular and that is what we have achieved so far. I’m passionate about seeing people united, happy and joyous. Life is temporary, whatever you can give to life when you are still living matters a lot. For me, I believe I’m leaving a legacy, a lot of Nigerians , even children unborn will continue to remember that there was somebody, Dr Rafiu Ladipo, who was able to do this for Nigeria. Even if it has affected my life, my matrimonial life, my business life, my social life but as .long as I’m doing something that is beneficial and yielding good results for my country, I’m happy for it.
In all these, what are the lessons you have learnt about life?
Life is dynamic. Life is what you can give to it. Everybody has to work hard to be able to achieve your the goals. If you think of doing anything, you have to give it your best. You cannot sit down and achieve anything. A lot of people believe in business, they focus on business. A lot of people believe in patriotism. I believe in patriotism and I’m happy I’m getting the required result. I’m sure the Ministry of Sports cannot be complete without a mention of Dr. Rafiu Ladipo. In the last 53 years, I have been part of sports. To the players, I can tell you I’m their father. A lot of them stayed with me, lived with me for several years and I contributed to their wellbeing. I’m happy many of them are big men today; some of them have become billionaires, some millionaires. I want to say to some extent that I’m a fulfilled person. I’m cut out to arrange and make people happy.
All these footballers, who among them is your favourite?
As a father you must have favourities but you don’t say. I know that a lot of them are good guys. Before the event of the 1994 World Cup, nobody believed in our football. But that team that went to play in 1994, they are heroes. That team that went to Atlanta 1996, they are heroes of our time. That team that participated in the 1998 World Cup they are heroes. These present ones can also be heroes because the past players from the likes of Segun Odegbami, Christian Chukwu, Merci Makah, Late Mudashiru Lawal, Rashidi Yekini, Sam Okwaraji, a whole of them are heroes. They paid their dues. When you talk of those players who have given us good image, such as: Jay Jay Okocha, Kanu Nwankwo, Finidi George, Austin Egwuavon, Peter Rufai, a lot of them and the late Stephen Keshi, the man who led our team to the first senior World Cup. I want to pay tribute to those of them who have died – Sam Okwaraji, Rashidi Yekini, Mudashiru Lawal, Stephen Keshi and all of them that have lost their lives in the service of their country. The present crop of Eagles can also become heroes,’ particularly if they get committed. Commitment is not 100 percent but over 100 percent.
There are allegations that some people join Supporters Club to abscond to other countries?
They are not far from the truth. A lot of people want to use the supporters club to travel and defect. These are thing we know and we don’t allow. We don’t encourage it.
How do you safeguard that?
When we are going, first we look at your character; two financial members of the club would stand as your guarantors. Then if you are a new member and we get you visa to travel with us, you pay a refundable deposit, if you don’t come back you lose that money. But then, when we get there, we take control of your international passport. If you abscond, we just tell our embassy in that country and give your details to the embassy and they will fish you out. We don’t encourage it.
Some are of the opinion that the Supporters Club is visa racketeering scheme?
If that is the case Rafiu Ladipo would have become a trillionaire. I would have collected billions from people to come travel with me. I don’t do it. I prefer my good name. If the allegation is right, you wouldn’t be seeing same group of people that I have been traveling with all over the world, to America, Brazil, Canada, Europe; you wouldn’t be seeing them with me. That means we don’t encourage it. If we have one or two exceptional cases where people absconded, we don’t allow it, we don’t encourage it, we will deport you.
How do you relax?
I watch sporting films. I listen to music and I’m always in the company of my friends. When we go for matches, that is always my best time.