I would have been an actor – Adegboye Onigbinde tells the story of his life
Eighty-year-old former Coach of the Super Eagles, Adegboye Onigbinde, shares the story of his life with TOLUWANI ENIOLA
Where were you born?
I was born in Modakeke town, Osun State, to the Jagun Omode dynasty on March 5, 1938. It is a prominent family in the town. One remarkable thing about my birth was that it was the day the Yoruba obas held their second meeting in Ile-Ife. The first one was held in Oyo in 1937.
Tell us about your parents.
My mother was a petty trader who was involved in many trades. My father was Akintunde Omode Lola. He was a very hard-working man who could hardly hurt a fly. He died in December 1951 while my mother died in 2010. I learnt a lot from my parents. Some of the lessons I learnt from them are what I still adhere to till today. I paid for the ones they taught me which I didn’t keep to.
Which of them can you remember?
When I was about 10 years old, we went to visit some in-laws. They gave us a strong palm wine which Yoruba call ogidi emu. As the youngest in the group, I was asked to serve the wine. As was the custom, I had to drink the first cup I poured from the gourd. Then, I was expected to “report” to the elders that the wine tasted good. I drank just one cup and by the time I left the place, I was almost misbehaving.
When I got back home, my mother quietly lured me into her room. She gave me the only beating she gave me in life. That has kept me away from alcohol. I am not a teetotaller but I like to call myself a social drinker. There are some places I go to relax and when they bring a drink, I would only take one bottle. If you give me a second one, I would reject it.
Why did you remove Festus from your given names?
Adegboye is my original name. In Yorubaland, especially when you are not born into a strictly Christian family, they would have traditional christening ceremony, before you would be taken to the church for baptism. Adegboye was one of the several names I was given. When I was taken to the church for baptism, they christened me Festus. When I grew up, I tried to find out the meaning of Festus, it didn’t mean anything to me. So, I changed the name.
But it means to be joyful?
I had some other interpretation of it. Festus was a governor in the Bible. Will bearing that name make me a governor? (laughs). That was why I removed the name. Yoruba would not give names to their children without a meaning attached to it. Names are inspired by family tradition, religion or occupation and maybe circumstances of the baby’s birth.
How did you become the Ekerin Balogun of Modakeke?
From the late 70s to early 80s, my family was to present somebody to be made a chief, who will be the head of the family. The family sat over a period of time and decided I would be the chief, simply because of my exposure and education. They informed the palace and my mother became agitated, complaining that I was too young for such a role.
The elders made my mother kneel down in front of them and they started quizzing her. They asked her, “Where were you when this child (me) was born?” She said she was the one who gave birth to me. They asked her again, “Where were you when we gave him his name?” She said she was holding the baby then. They asked again, “When we gave him the name Adegboye, why didn’t you object? Didn’t you know that Adegboye means a child that was born to retrieve the chieftaincy? Now that he is old enough to retrieve the chieftaincy, you are complaining. Common, go away.”
Why didn’t your mother want you to become a chief?
She said I was too young to be a chief.
How old were you then?
I was 43 then. She considered me too young because she was comparing me to other elders in the family.
Tell us about your childhood years in Modakeke.
Education was gaining roots at the time I was born and parents were increasingly sending their children to school. My mother must have been married for over five years before she gave birth to me. Because of my peculiar background, I did not start primary education until I was 10 in 1948. I was called an omo ayo, meaning a child that was late in coming to the world. So, they tried to protect me. I got several names because of this late arrival. Everybody wanted to give me a name.
Does that mean you were pampered?
If I say I was pampered, people may get me wrong. There was discipline in the family. I would rather say I was overprotected from danger and undue exposure. I didn’t start my primary education until I was 10. That also gave me some advantage. In those days, you could spend up to four or five years in the infant classes, before Standard 1. This means that one could spend up to 10 years in primary school. For me, I only spent one year in the infant classes because I was already grown up.
I was a brilliant pupil in primary school. Because of financial issues, my mother told me I had to work with my Primary Six certificate in order to further my education. I remember when I was in primary school, there was one indigene of Modakeke living in Lagos. He said he would pay the school fees of anybody who came first in our class. Because of my exceptional performance, I got that scholarship for three consecutive years.
After my primary education, I taught for barely one year in 1955. At the end of that year, my colleagues, who were at the same level with me, took entrance examinations to teachers training colleges but I didn’t put in for that because of the discussion I had had with my mother. Very early the following year in 1956, we got information that an emergency teachers training college was going to be established in Ilesa, Osun State. My colleagues went to get the form and brought one to me. When the results were released, I was the only selected from that group. Some of my colleagues are now retired professors. I later gained admission to St. Luke’s College, Ibadan, where I obtained my Grade Two certificate.
When did you decide to go fully into sports?
I earlier said that I started school by 10. Before I started schooling, I played football with my nephews and cousins who were already in school. I represented my class in inter-class football matches. When I attended my first teachers’ training college, I ventured fully into sports. I joined the school team and took part in athletics and other sports. It was while I was going through that course at St. Luke’s College, Ibadan, that I attended my first coaching course at the Liberty Stadium in 1961. As of the time, I was the captain of the school team and was also coaching. One evening, I saved the ball from entering the net, so they said, “Oh, this boy is good.” They removed the goalkeeper and put me there.
Who was your mentor then?
My mentor was the late Teslim Balogun, who was called Thunderbolt. I still regard Balogun as the best football player Nigeria ever produced. He had all-round soccer skills. When he became a coach, he had technical eyes to identify talent. It is not every coach that can do that. He identified me as a potential coach. In fact, he forced me to attend the first coaching course I attended in 1961. He was in the service of the Western Region Sports Council. By 1974, when I attended an interview with the Oyo State Sports Council, I attended two interviews for athletics and football coach. I led in the two interviews; so, it was a problem deciding where to go.
When the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo brought Teslim Balogun back home from England, he (Balogun) was going around the region to select potential talent and he spotted me in Ile-Ife. He invited me to Ibadan to play football.
I said no because I was already a teacher with a fantastic salary of 10 pounds a month. He kept a tab on me until he died.
If you had not gone into sports, what else would you have done?
I would have become a successful actor. I taught at a staff school at the then University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). I also coached the university workers’ club from 1971 to 1974. Coincidentally, it was during the time that I got involved in drama. The then University of Ife had a drama group, which held rehearsals at a place called Ori Olokun. The director of the group was the late Ola Rotimi. In Kurunmi, which he produced, I acted as Balogun Ibikunle. In Rere run, I acted as Lawuwo. In Ogun, I was the Onimogun, the oba.
I was doing drama until 1974 when I joined the services of the sports council in Ibadan. Ola Rotimi described me as a natural actor and took interest in my skills. At a time he left Ife for Port Harcourt, he wanted to take me along with him. Coincidentally, it was then that I gained employment at the sports council. If Ola Rotimi had taken me to Port Harcourt, I would have had no choice than to go into drama. Up till now, some people, who knew my background as an actor, still invite me to drama roles.
I have acted in some movies such as Idamu Obinrin, where I played the role of an inspector of police. Then in the movie, which is an adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s Ake, more or less his biography, I acted as Soyinka’s maternal grandfather, Reverend Kuti. The movie was shot in Abeokuta.
The peak of your career was when you coached the Super Eagles to the Japan/South Korea World Cup in 2002. The edition was regarded as the worst Nigerian performance in the World Cup history because Nigeria did not win a match and was knocked out of the tournament in the first round. Do you regret coaching Nigeria at the time?
By people’s estimation, we didn’t do well. But when we talk of a football season, we are talking of a period between one competition and another. A football season for the World Cup is four years. I was invited to take the team to the World Cup three months to the competition. I had series of setbacks. I had to start by scouting for local players because the big players were not serious. We started making progress. The old players, who said they would not come, later joined us.
When I was going for my first friendly match, it was against Paraguay in London. During the preliminaries, Paraguay beat Brazil home and away. But our match with Paraguay ended in a draw. Was that a bad result? About a week later, we beat Scotland at home. We also beat Ireland on their soil. Were these failures? I played seven friendly matches; I won five and drew two. Was this a bad outing?
By the time we went for the World Cup in June, you would agree with me that the team would not have blended fully because I was brought in less than three months.
Consider the case of our first match against Argentina during the World Cup. One of my old defenders, who initially declined to join us, watched Batistuta head the ball into our net. We played against Sweden and it was the same player that caused the two goals scored by Sweden. The game ended 1-2 against us. In the third match against England, I reorganised my team and it ended in a goalless draw. That was the match that I brought in Enyeama, Femi Opabunmi and other up-and-coming players. If anybody said that outing was the worst, you have to judge against the background of that time.
Do you see Nigeria performing well in this year’s World Cup in Russia?
I have not changed my nationality. I am still a Nigerian. I am hoping for the best. I have always said one thing which some people think it’s a joke – Nigeria is capable of winning the World Cup if we do it right. It is not a joke. I pray they do it right and get it right.
At 80, what do you do?
I enjoy my social activities and I have a family to relax with. I was born into a family with a rich history of talking drums. Till now, I still play the talking drum well. I am interested in our tradition and culture.
What is the secret of your good health?
Some people wonder why I am strong at 80. They usually ask me if it is because I am into sports. I am always quick to answer yes to that. Sports could help, but the greatest weapon is your mind. If you harbour negative thoughts, you won’t sleep properly. Not only that, your blood pressure will rise. About three weeks ago, I was with my doctor for a check-up. The doctor said my blood pressure was 100/60. I was nursing the thought that it would result in low blood pressure instead of hypertension. If you abuse your mind, you are gone.
That is why I tell people that I don’t have one enemy in my life. My belief in God is so absolute that I don’t believe that Satan or devil exists. The devil and Satan are human beings. There is only one power which is the power of God. But when he gives us a little bit of that power to use, we start contesting with the Almighty God. We try to use this power to intimidate fellow human beings. I also don’t believe that heaven and hell exist too. I don’t totally agree with the version of Christianity being preached around.
Why do you say that?
Go to Luke chapter 6 from verses 27. It says, “If they strike you on the right cheek, turn the left.” How many bishops or general overseers in Nigeria will do that? It is not easy to be a Christian. If you read Romans chapter 12, from verse 9 to the end, it says we should pray for those who curse us and our enemies. This is why I laugh when I go to any church and listen to sermons, and the pastor says all your enemies will perish or heavenly fire will consume them. Who taught them that? Jesus said you are my friend if you do what I tell you to do. Are we doing that? So, Satan is man’s invention.
You recently divorced your wife. How do you feel living alone?
For your information, I have more than one wife because I am not a pretender. Nobody has shown me a verse in the Bible which says a Christian should not have more than one wife. We like pretending a lot. Some of the people highly loved by God in the Bible such as Abraham, David, Solomon had more than one wife and God still loved them. So I am an unrepentant polygamist. Whoever you relate to, make sure you have a cordial relationship. Tell me a verse in the Bible where polygamy is a sin. Polygamy is not a sin.
Do you have any regrets in life?
I don’t have any regrets in my life. That was part of my upbringing. I was trained to plan for anything I was going to do. Whatever be the outcome would be accepted as my lot. What is important for me is to do my best in whatever I do. Whatever comes out of it is my share of life. When I was growing up, if I came to visit a friend, if your wife stood up from a chair for me to sit on, as a mark of honour, I would not sit on the seat. If I sat there, it meant I had affairs with her. But these days, you hear of bishops taking the wives of their church members while chief imam is taking the wife of his subject.
Culled from The Punch