The first time I met Shaibu Amodu was in 2003 when he came to Port Harcourt to coach Sharks.
I simply walked up to him at the training pitch of Stella Maris College or some school that they decided to train on that day to introduce myself. I told him who I was and how I had been a fan since 1989 and regaled him with stories of his BCC Lions team of 89- 94.
I could not pass up that opportunity to meet Amodu and become his friend.
He seemed impressed and we talked a lot after the training session. I was there with the late Henry Kalio, maybe Colin Udoh and Cyril Wite (not sure if the latter two were there but we moved together a lot in those days).
The Area Boys (street urchins) were already hovering around and he had to sneak out as soon as the session ended so he begged that we put him in the SWAN (Sports Writers Association of Nigeria) bus so he could make a quick getaway and we obliged him.
Henry drove the bus, and I think Colin sat in front while I was just too happy to sit next to the great Shaibu Amodu.
One Area Boy noticed that he was in the bus and ran to the window begging the coach for money to buy water and I remember Amodu giving him five thousand naira and yes, I counted it.
I went, “Coach, that is a lot of water for one person to drink,” but he just smiled with this placid look on his face that told me he could not be bothered by anything.
He seemed simple and not like the media made me see him previously.
Reading all the sports newspapers voraciously like I did in the 80s and 90s as well as reading the columns of those I saw as the top football writers, I got this impression that Shaibu Amodu was an arrogant twat who respected no one and had this holier than thou, larger than life attitude. Amodu was proud, he was insulting, he respected no one and cared for no one. He was stubborn and never saw beyond himself. Yes, that was the Amodu that the media painted to me before then, but not the person I saw in Port Harcourt. I saw a different person and I liked him more now that I knew him.
The man I was looking at was very different. This one was almost the opposite of what I thought previously.
Why did he come back to the League?
Many people did not understand his move to Sharks. He did not want to return to coaching Nigerian League clubs as he had left that since 1994 after he won the League and Cup double with BCC Lions, but he came for personal business.
The governor of the State, Dr. Peter Odili was his friend after they met while he coached the Super Eagles in 2001 so he was in Port Harcourt on personal business when the governor called on him.
Sharks were firmly rooted at the bottom of the table and Odili could not bear to see the darling club of Rivers people go down under his watch. He heard Amodu was in town, called him to Government House and “forced” him to sign for Sharks as coach.
Amodu, I was aware told the governor that Sharks was a lost cause for that season but he would bring them back to the top after relegation and so he got the job as it surprised all of us.
I travelled with Sharks to Ilorin for a League game against Kwara United, a game they lost by 2-0. That game was played on July 16, 2003.
After Sharks conceded, they put the pressure on Kwara United and they were the only team likely to get a second goal of the game and an equalizer may have meant that Sharks would go on to win.
Suddenly, an innocuous ball went into the Sharks box and without pressure, Sunny Jackson put his hand up in the air and stopped the ball in its tracks. That ball was not dangerous in any way and would never have been.
Sharks lost that game and Amodu was almost in tears. In fact, he actually cried. I saw the tears.
After the game, he came to me and complained bitterly about the conduct of the Sharks players and almost regretted his decision to return to the League.
I felt big, and I did not know why… Amodu poured his heart out to me on the day as the game ended and tears welled up in his eyes. That was the day he realised that he had to focus on the FA Cup because the Sharks team was useless. I wondered who I was to deserve a sage as Shaibu Amodu to pour out his heart to me. It was a very touching moment for me.
Needless to say, Sharks ended up relegated that season, though they got to the final of the FA Cup, which they lost 2-0 to Lobi Stars in Kaduna, that is a story for another day. A year later, just as Shaibu promised the governor, Dr. Peter Odili, he led Sharks back to the Premier League. He had kept his word.
The man, Shaibu Amodu and how Nigeria killed him
In 1989 I watched on television how underdogs, BCC Lions beat Iwuanyanwu Nationale 1-0 to win the FA Cup. Aham Nwankwo’s header ensured this happened. Nwankwo was so excited at scoring this goal that he ran all the way to the Technical Area where his coach, Shaibu Amodu was standing and jumped on him to a waiting bear hug.
Amodu was an assistant coach at BCC Lions and with the club not doing well that season, was elevated after James Peters was sacked. Winning the FA Cup was big for them. That was the first time that the FA Cup had gone across the Niger since 1953 when Kano Pillars beat Lagos Dynamos 2-1 in the final.
The next season he won the Africa Cup Winners Cup and in 1991 he got to the final, losing to Zambia’s Power Dynamos. A new kid had arrived on the block.
He went on to join El Kanemi FC and got the FA Cup with them before returning to BCC to win the League and Cup double.
He was Super Eagles coach on at least five occasions- 1994-95, 1996-97, 2001-02, 2008- 2010, 2014, 2015.
In 1995, he was disrespected by the Nigeria Football Association, when they negotiated with Carlos Alberto Torres and actually took the Brazilian coach to the US Gold Cup while Amodu was still in charge of the team.
In 1997, he was sacked after two World Cup Qualifiers. He had won 2-0 at home to Burkina Faso and drawn on the road to Kenya, but when there were rumours that Nigeria needed a foreign coach, his wife allegedly made a statement saying, if Nigeria thinks they need a foreign coach, then they may need a foreign sports minister. Jim Nwobodo was the minister then, felt insulted and sacked him for this statement credited to his wife, and employed Monday Sinclair as a replacement.
His sacking in 2002 and 2010 are already well documented, but one thing people do not realise is that Shaibu Amodu in his time at the Super Eagles between 1994 and 2010 lost only three competitive games out of 37.
The injustice and my final meeting with him
How do you treat a man this way? What kind of breed of human beings are we as Nigerians?
The Super Eagles at the World Cup with Amodu would have done no worse than they did with Adegboye Onigbinde and the same is the belief with the Super Eagles in 2010. There is no guarantee that the team Amodu qualified for the World Cup would have been worse than the mess Lars Lagerback took to South Africa.
I had met Amodu a lot of times between 2003 and 2016 and he liked to talk. He loved to be engaged in intelligent football discussion and was easily irritated by idle talk. He never gave a dull moment, especially when talking football, tactics, and all.
But during the Joseph Yobo Testimonial in Port Harcourt in May 2016, I saw a broken man at the Hotel Presidential.
I felicitated with the new arrivals as they came into the lobby of the hotel. All the top players were moving around, either waiting to get their rooms, or they were out waiting to be driven to the Stadium and then I saw Amodu standing at a corner. He had just arrived, had gotten his room, and was out after probably taking a shower, and was ready to go to the Stadium.
I knew I had to talk to him as it had been a while.
I walked up to him and he looked depressed, really depressed. He was a shadow of what I knew him to be. He looked broken, a defeated man, one who had given up. His face was a mess. It showed lines of worry, deep thoughts of one who did not seem happy on the inside. Yes, he smiled and chatted with me, saying some nice words about Yobo and the other players who had turned up in their numbers, but I knew there was something wrong, I just could not say what it was.
I requested a selfie with him which he obliged then I wished him the best as I went about my other business.
The next news I heard about Shaibu Amodu was that he was dead… Just a few days after he spoke about the death of his very good friend, Stephen Keshi on Satellite TV. I think he actually announced Stephen Keshi’s death, but the man was gone.
It is simple to say that Nigeria killed Shaibu Amodu.
He deserved much more than we gave to him or let him have, yet we killed him,
Rest in Peace, Shaibu Amodu. May we never treat another patriot the way we treated you.