Deputy Governor of Edo State, Rt. Hon. Philip Shaibu, is still basking in the euphoria of the historic return of Bendel Insurance to the elite class of the nation’s domestic league. He was, simply put, the architect of the return of the team, which went down 11 years ago. Last season, Shaibu not only supported the team, but also laced boots to play. He wore jersey number 40 and in the process made history, as the first sitting deputy governor to play in the Nigerian league. With Bendel Insurance now back to where they rightfully belong, what are the plans of Edo State government for the team, fondly called the Arsenal of Nigerian football? Shaibu, in this chat with some sports editors in his Benin Government House home opens up. Enjoy the package by The Nigerian Xpress Sports Editor, George Aluo.
Let me start by thanking all those who made the return of Bendel Insurance possible, including you, gentlemen of the press. You supported us right from day one when we did the rebranding of the club. The way you reported activities of the club, even when we were still in the lower division encouraged us to realise this dream of gaining promotion back to the elite class. Once more, I say a big thank you Insurance played their first home game today in the elite class against Kwara United. Are you impressed with the performance?
The game against Kwara is the first real test for the team in the elite division. In our first game away against Remo Stars, it was like another NNL outing since Remo just got promoted this year. So, for me, Kwara is the first real test and I think we did very well. We have a very young team, a team that didn’t rest after the NNL Super 8 in Aba. Well, that is not an excuse; we didn’t have time to prepare, to recruit new players and all that.
But all the same, the good news is that we have very young players, who are ready to learn and play their hearts out. The game against Kwara was not a disappointment. The boys came out well, if not for the referee’s mistake, we should have won the game. Our goal that was disallowed was not an offside goal. Replays from TV footage clearly show it was a good goal. But then, the referees are human and make mistakes. Officiating didn’t favour us today but I pray it won’t continue that way.
When the state government rebranded Insurance in 2018, did you expect the club to secure promotion so soon?
Yes. We knew right from day one that it was a mission possible. We were not preparing Insurance to stay another two, three years in the lower division. Our mission was to put the right things in place and get result immediately. We knew we had a good team; we had players who were hungry to deliver on the field.
I was convinced that we could get promotion at the end of the 2018 season. Insurance had been down for over a decade, so we were no longer ready to remain there. We were in a hurry to take the team to where it rightly belongs. My boss, Gov. Obaseki had the enthusiasm and commitment to take Insurance back to the top and this is why we succeeded in getting the much-needed promotion.
Moving forward, what should we be expecting from the club now that they are in the top flight?
Let me start by saying we will do everything possible to be professional. You can see that ahead of the first home game, we were able to get the crowd to behave well. The Chairman, Sports Commission, Dudu Orumen, was mandated to hold series of meetings with different categories of fans, including those we know can create some problem in the stadium. We lectured the fans on the need to avoid violence. We want our games to be truly the sports that it is.
If we win, well; if we lose or draw, the spirit should be the same. In football, it is not every time you win or draw. The game against Kwara was a test of that mobilisation and we are happy that in spite of the mistake on the part of the referee, the fans behaved well. That is what we are going to do all through the season. However, the league organisers, LMC should know that there is a limit to endurance when you are provoked.
We will try our best to get the fans to behave but the referees too should be on top of their game and officiate well. Teams should get 50/50 in terms of officiating home and away.
One good thing is that the players have given me a target and that is, they would strive to win every game and where they can’t win, we go for a draw. Our target is to be among the Super-6 at the end of the abridged league. We have the magic wand to win anything Super, as we did in Aba during the NNL Super-8. Ultimately, our target is to go continental next year. Gov. Obaseki has given us that target and the players are actually eyeing the continent.
You played for Insurance this season… Can you give us an insight into your background as a footballer?
I actually was a footballer back in the days. I played as a student and actually played for some clubs. While in the university, I played in the NUGA games and not just at the inter faculty level. I was the captain of the Faculty of Social Science at the University of Jos. I was at the NUGA games in Kano…I represented the University of Jos. But before I got into the university, I played for YSFON at the U17 level. I was a member of the team that represented FCT in the United States.
After the outing in US, I played for the Foreign Affairs Ministry soccer team. I also played in the FCT league for the Ministry of Internal Affairs. I also played a season for FCDA before I copped an injury that made me throw in the towel. The injury kept me out of the game for six years. You can see that I was a full time footballer before now. Before signing for Insurance, I always played All Stars games. I led Benin All Stars to play against Lagos All Stars when Fashola was governor of Lagos State.
That was when I was in the Edo State House of Assembly. So, even as a politician, I have not left football. Then for Bendel Insurance, I decided to sign and play for the team as a way of motivating the boys. I train with the team every Monday and Thursday and I decided to sign as a way of motivating them. I don’t miss the team’s endurance training…However, what I play now is “economic football”.
I come in when the team wants to kill the game. Don’t touch me kind of football. You get the ball and release it almost immediately. I play to place a pass and not to dribble and if opportunity comes, score the goal. I scored in some of our pre season friendlies and was almost scoring in Lagos against Spartan FC. So, I have been very active as a footballer. It didn’t start with Insurance. Many people think I’m a ceremonial player; I’m not. I play real football.
As I said earlier, I do endurance training every Monday and tactical training on Thursdays. I don’t miss those two days unless there is serious state matter. When I finish with the team from 8 -10am, I go home to refresh and come to the office. As we speak, I run on my treadmill for 10kms every Saturday and a minimum of 2Kms everyday before I come to work.
Away from Insurance, how is Edo State preparing for the Benin 2020 National Sports Festival?
We have kick-started preparation in earnest. We are making Ogbemudia Stadium an Olympic size arena and the purpose is that is not only for football but other sports. The first major game we would be hosting there is Benin 2020. We are doing the Indoor; we are remodeling the swimming pool, lawn tennis courts and putting state of the art facilities. We are also looking at places like the Afuze Games Village and the one at Abudu…And it is not just the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium we are doing.
We are building 20 mini stadiums in all the local government areas of the state. In fact, the vision of the governor is to reenact what Samuel Ogbemudia did to sports in the old Bendel. We are bringing back the sporting glory of Edo State. This is why we are investing in sports infrastructure. We are looking beyond Benin 2020; our vision is to grow sports and education. We want to make it a complete package. That is why we are locating the mini stadiums inside school premises so that sporting activities and education can go side by side.
How soon would the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium be ready?
Our target is April; the contractor gave us March completion date, but give and take, the place should be ready by April. We want a situation where we would test run the facilities we have there with our own state sports festival before the big one next year. One thing that would make the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium unique is that we would be having a merchandise showroom at the arena. A sales outlet for Bendel Insurance. Anything you want about Insurance would be there.