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The IM Odion Aikhoje interview is finally out and its in three parts. We met him after a grueling 7 rounds tournament but he still had plenty of energy for the nearly two hours interview. IM Aikhoje is popularly called Odirov and is regarded as the greatest ever Nigerian player yet so anyone who knows Nigerian chess does not need a list of his accomplishments.The interview touches on his life, chess playing and some controversies. Rather not let the cat out of the bag, enjoy.
TO: Okay so what can be done to get your medal, what’s the situation now? What can be done?
OA: I think the best way is for the federation, the federation again, when I say the federation I think people need to be conscientious about this. NCF presidents over the years since 1998 have somehow… They’ve not been up to the task with this issue maybe because of the fact that there is controversy. The way to do this is for the Nigerian Chess Federation to write to FIDE, kindly request a replica, when the replica arrives in Nigeria together with a letter, present it to the National Sports Commission and ask for an official presentation of the medal that’s all. It’s a simple thing, it’s not a difficult thing but like I said it seems that each president has always has his/her own agenda
TO: There are some politics involved
OA: You know that is the problem. And it’s so sad because I keep on…
TO: But the politics is also because you have been an activist.
OA: That is it, you know when you tell the truth, when you speak up you know you become a bad person. One thing I was going to say is that Uganda for example, they won a medal through Gracie Susan, a gold medal in 1996 in Yerevan. The Ugandan Federation from what I heard started a foundation with that medal, they got sponsors and since then every Olympiad Uganda is present.
TO: Yeah we can do things with the medal especially get the government…
OA: But you know personal interest unfortunately, it has not allowed Nigerian chess to progress.
TO: That’s another question here, how do you view the administration of chess in Nigeria?
TO: How do you view the administration of chess?
OA: Current or over time?
TO: Over time and currently, both, over time and currently, how do you view the general progress of administration of chess in Nigeria? Me I came to chess when Omuku was there you know but how do you view it? How the administration of chess in Nigeria has progressed and especially currently because current is the most important for the future.
OA: Okay so I would say over time chess on its own has, it has survived.
TO: Very briefly on it
OA: Yeah it has survived but it has not thrived. The reason being that we have never really had pure managers in charge of the federation because when you look at sport, sport is big business all over the world so there is a point when it moves from leisure to business, so we have never really had
TO: Figo trying to be FIFA chairman is not a manager he’s a player.
OA: Yeah, but Platini has managed with UEFA for a long time so he has expertise in business management
TO: But Figo is a possible winner
OA: But Figo for example does not have the expertise. He’s a passionate person and when you are passionate about something, your ability,
TO: And Maradona is contesting
OA: When you are passionate about a sport, your ability to make dispassionate decision you know becomes a get, so chess over the years has not had businessmen as managers
OA: Professionals. What it has had, it has had a number of people who love the game and who sometimes has made compromises to moving forward instead of making pure business decisions, all the way from, we had people who loved chess from Ezeokoli to ehm, the man who was after him, ehm what’s is name
OA: No, not Omuku. Doctor Ebigwei to Admiral Ayila to Emmanuel Omuku to Architect Caiafas, to CP Sanni, to all the way up to current president Lekan Adeyemi. So we’ve not had that what do you call it, that focus and this is similar to what I discussed
TO: That competence?
OA: That managerial competence
OA: There is a clear…
TO: How do you see the current administration of chess in Nigeria?
OA: Right now I think the administration of chess in Nigeria is really suffering a lot. The reason it’s suffering a lot is because of the fact that, apart from the fact that you know that managerial competence is not there, we also have a situation whereby we have an individual in charge, the current president who is so personal about the game. So he wants to put his personal imprints so for example let’s assume the previous administration has policies, you coming in as a new administration, rather than building on the previous administration policies you start to fight with the previous administration because you want your own imprints and what now happens is that the structure that you are trying to project or work on, it fails and this is similar again to Nigeria because when you keep on having policy somersaults, then you’ll have problems. So the current administration went out of its way to try and change so many things which had been working before so we now suddenly saw a situation whereby okay before we would have people going for the Olympiad maybe due to state sponsorship but now the current president keeps on saying he is the one personally sponsoring chess, you hear so much about the NCF president so you don’t really see the NCF as a body, all you hear about is the NCF president and the secretary.
TO: These are valid points. But, I’m told that he does not get the sponsorship the other administrations were getting from government.
OA: Now, this is the problem…
TO: That it’s an official policy
OA: Now the thing is this right. In 2013 when we came on board, the National Sports Commission said very clearly that they were going to focus from now on Olympics sport. They marked about six sports, they said those six sports would be given priority and part of that they said was other sports will now be part of what we call a nationwide grass root development program whereby if you have talented players in your state, the federal has a fund where they can bring up those talented players in whatever your sport is but in terms of sponsoring for competitions they were focusing mainly on those Olympics sports and we took it on board and in 2013, we were also told that all sports were now going to be run privately so in 2013 when this NCF board came on, we knew that we had to develop business plans to support the federation. Immediately in 2013, all the secretaries were removed from the Federation. We were incorporated under new guidelines, 11 people coming on board for us to now become more professional. What now happened, in the first few months of the administration we started to do this professional thing, we met sponsors, we got individual involved, banks, different people. I got a lot of people involved but then around October there was a policy somersault from the National Sports Commission. We were told that associations had come to meet with the National Sports Commission and that they could not survive on their own and they wanted government to come back, to bring back secretaries and to come back in, so the secretary was posted back to chess, all the other associations their secretaries moved on but the chess secretary came back. Immediately the secretary came back, the president started singing a different tune so all the plans we had
TO: All the other administrations continued with their own secretaries and their own business plans
OA: No, it was only chess and one other sport
TO: That went forward in
OA: That came back with their old secretaries
TO: Oh okay
OA: But all the other ones had new secretaries even though they were now government secretaries paid for by government, they all went ahead with their private plans. You could see basketball for example got sponsorship from DSTV, you could see some other people were getting sponsorship but suddenly chess now went back and now started looking for government money. You see and then on top of that again we now had a situation whereby there was a fallout amongst the boards and the fallout was occasioned by the fact that now that we were now going back, and we were now kind of losing track of our privatization channel, I now started asking questions and it turned out that the secretary and the chairman had a lot to gain by following the old methods so at that point I dropped out from activity so all the plans that was there because even the president had a lot of plans for private and not with government. He had plans to approach private companies, he had plans to take chess in schools to different states but suddenly we found a situation whereby you know they went back to the past so for the NCF president to now come and say that there is no government support, I think that is not correct because if you had come on board with the plan that you are going to go to private, why would you now say there is no government support?
TO: So you feel that when the NCF chairman says that he is personally funding chess, it is suspicious?
OA: I think it is impossible personally because if you look at it right Nigeria has attended a couple of competitions since last year, the Olympiad, so for example the cost of the Olympiad would have been close to about 3 million to take the team there if they were going to you know, I know FIDE provided about 6000 euro subsidy to the team, about 600 euro per player which would have been enough to get them to maybe…
TO: At Norway?
OA: Yes, from Norway
TO: It is not Fide, it is the organizing country.
OA: It was FIDE approved and it was classified in terms of the location you are coming from
TO: It was the organizers.
OA: Yes, but it was approved by FIDE. So that fund was enough to maybe get people from Nigeria to maybe England and then from England to Norway they will buy their own ticket. So you know for the president to now come and say that he spent, he was the one that funded the whole thing, okay there have been other competitions, where is he getting the money from? Why would you be funding chess to the, according to him tens of millions, where is he suddenly getting the money from? Because when we came on board, we didn’t see all of this money, so where is the money suddenly coming from? And you have to ask the question, why would you be investing so much money and then complaining that you are not getting government support? You know it doesn’t sound logical to me so I think chess players need to ask more question of the administration, they need to ask okay where are the funds coming from? Where are our administrations, who are the members of our boards? Can you publish the accounts of the association? Can we know what is what, but people are so interested, chess players are so interested in just coming to play tournaments and go home that is why administratively we have this gap. That’s why we have this shortfalls in funding and what do you call it, competent management because even the people who are part of the association, they are not even asking questions. If you don’t ask questions of your association, then whatever you hear, you have to take it, that’s the problem.
TO: So why did you leave the NCF board? That’s a question here
OA: Yeah, correction I did not leave the NCF board. Let me put it this way I intended to leave the NCF board. What happened was after a series of events culminating in my name being unilaterally, by the chairman, removed from the website because there is a list of board members in the FIDE website. My name was unilaterally removed and I was the rating officer appointed by FIDE, my name was suddenly no more there as the rating officer, I now saw that the NCF chairman was now the president of the NCF, the rating officer of the NCF and the delegate of the NCF meaning that there was nobody else competent on the whole board to do anything. So when all of these happened, out of annoyance I wrote a letter, an open letter to chess people with the idea that look you people need to understand what is going on and in the letter I said I intend to resign my appointment right, that they should look through all of this things that if there is nothing that can be done about it, this was the letter I wrote. I took the letter to the National Sports Commission where I met the then director of sport development Dr. Ojooba now retired.
OA: He sat down, he sat me down and said look my friend it is better for you to remain on the board, that nobody can remove you from the board. He was telling me that once your name is there as a board member and you have been inaugurated officially that 2013, you cannot be removed from that board until 2017 unless you, that’s me, unless I decide to leave myself and he advised me, he said the only way to try and make a change in chess is to stay on the board because even if I’m not active as long as I keep on telling people what is going on then. So what I did was the letter which I wrote right, I was then in his office I left. While I was there he called the secretary and called her to order that she needed to be more aware of her responsibilities and the limit of her powers as a secretary. I left there, I left Abuja and I wrote a letter which again I circulated to chess players. The reason is because I’m the chess players’ representative now I was elected, sorry I was selected not elected and I understand this is a problem to some people and might not have been everybody’s choice. However I did not ask for the position apparently the people powers that be had a number of names and they thought I was the right person, I did not actually ask for this position other people asked of it. So I wrote to them saying that my resignation that I had retracted and that I was going to remain on the board and I now started to publish details of goings on within the NCF. What now happened, a couple of days later, the secretary apparently together with the president went to Abuja, the letter which I wrote and circulated, took it, it wasn’t a signed letter of course, it wasn’t signed. They went to the National Sports Commission and told them that I had tendered my resignation so the same man the director of sports development called me from Abuja and said Odion I heard you have resigned. I said no I was in your office sir when did I resign, did I not show you the letter? He said that my people have come with a letter stating that I have decided to resign. I said no, I showed you that same letter in your office he now said okay well I need to make peace with them, that they are saying that I’m a bad egg and he also said to me that the president, the current president Mr. Adeyemi said that he was the one that taught me chess and because he was the one the one that taught me chess that I need to be grateful or loyal to him. I understand that the man was being diplomatic with trying to say look I need to try and mend fences so I said to the man thank you very much. Immediately he dropped, I called Mr. Adeyemi, I said to him I just got a call from Abuja stating that I’m like the bad egg. I said to him that I would like you to please confirm if there is any task you’ve given me which I have not performed because even when we had our wrangling there were tasks he asked me to perform as a rating officer which I performed so there is a separate thing between principles and doing the official work so he said well he did not know why I was asked to call him, he now said to me that he would get back to me and that was the last time we spoke.
TO: Did he teach you chess?
OA: I have told you how I learnt chess so at what point did he teach me chess?
TO: I wonder
OA: I was in the University of Ibadan. I was already an established player in the University of Ibadan, when I went to UI in 1987/1988, I met the likes of Bola Dada, Goke Akinboro, from Ife I had Tunde Yadika coming round and you know I met a number of tough players. I met people in NUGA, I met Segun Olomola you know and I learnt chess. Lekan Adeyemi joined UI as a coach in the middle 2000. He joined, he was initially a hockey coach before he now got interested in chess then he now became UI coach and from there he became chairman of Oyo state chess association so at what point I wonder did he teach me chess?
TO: How would you describe Lekan Adeyemi?
OA: In my own view I think, I think Mr. Lekan Adeyemi is a man that needs people to tell him the truth and people to help him because I think he is a person that has good intensions but like they say the road to hell is filled with good intentions. What that means is that you have good intentions but if you are not told the truth by people around you, you might end up feeling that what you are doing is the right thing for example I know he started with good intentions but when we had this situation whereby you know he had this information that he should do it in a particular way and then we had our falling outs and since then I think not enough people have told him the truth about how he is destroying Nigerian chess for example when he was pursuing the aim of getting Kasparov elected at all cost making statements in print to the extent that the FIDE president was a criminal, that the FIDE president has cheated Nigeria whereas over the years we know FIDE has been good to Nigeria just because you want to get someone elected, to the point where he went to..
TO: Has FIDE been good to Nigeria over the years?
OA: Of course there is no argument about it. Nigeria is part of CACDEC, developing chess nations. Over the years at Olympiad we get equipments for free, now you can say that the equipments…
TO: We have not seen those equipments
OA: Maybe the equipments have not gotten to the generality of chess players because most times we have a limited number. For example I know at the Olympiads once we got chess sets, I know at the all African games we got chess sets but this things don’t always, because if you are a member of the team.
TO: FIDE has not been “best” to Nigeria.
OA: I would tell you something, FIDE has been extremely good to Nigeria. You have to say that again administration… Over the years, maybe the administrators have not found out how to extend the benefits of FIDE to the individuals, do you understand what I’m saying? FIDE consistently, for example there was an arbiter seminar let me give you an example
TO: Yeah he gives 50 dollars at the Olympiad.
OA: No, no let me give you an example, there was an arbiter seminar in December 2013 you know in Nigeria. The president Lekan Adeyemi came out and said that he sponsored that seminar however FIDE provided 3500 Euros for the trainer to come from wherever he came in Europe, paid for his tickets, paid for his allowances and his hotel bills now the president afterwards said that he sponsored the arbiters’ seminar. Now when you hear such a thing what would you think about FIDE?
TO: Gives FIDE a bad name
OA: Whereas the guy was sponsored all the way, he got his money and his tickets from Europe.
TO: And his hotel accommodation
OA: Everything. Now when he got here the president now said afterward that FIDE refused to pay the money so he had to pay for everything and what do you now think. So many times there are things which are, they start to come but they stop half way you know it doesn’t
TO: Would you say that the NCF chairman is not consistent?
OA: I think anybody that speaks to him should be able to understand that. For example he promises a lot, when he came on board he promised disabled tournaments, when he promised this he got in touch with a grandmaster in Germany, I have the email asking him about support, the man said he would support him for the tournament but at the end of the day there was no tournament but we don’t know if the support came. He promises a lot, he contacts people, he gets support and suddenly we don’t hear anything again. For example Kasparov promised to sponsor Nigeria to the Olympiad but eventually we heard it was the president that sponsored Nigeria to the Olympiad. Kasparov promised to sponsor Kasparov Chairman’s Cup suddenly we heard it was the chairman that sponsored the cup. Kasparov has done a lot in Africa
TO: There is no chairman cup
OA: There was a chairman cup in
TO: In Ghana?
OA: There was a version which was done in Warri, a very small version.
TO: Okay, okay I remember now
OA: A mini version, a mini version. However Kasparov has already promised to do this tournament in different places whereas later on we now heard it was the chairman that sponsored it. So it becomes a bit problematic when you don’t have a consistent story
TO: Okay, how can chess lovers get on NCF board?
OA: ehm, so currently the way the board is constituted right, there are eleven slots on the board. The eleven slots will be voting members. Those voting members will choose amongst them a chairman so the chairman is actually a member of the board. The eleven members are made up of six players, one from each geo political zone, so all the sport councils get together in this geopolitical zone, put forward a candidate and there is a vote. For example, the person that won the vote from the south west was Segun Ojeleye but he gave his slot to Lekan Adeyemi. That is how he became a member of the board and how he became the NCF chairman. He was not even elected to the board, he had to swap. So the six geopolitical zones, one representative each, one representative from the armed forces that’s making seven, one from paramilitary making eight, a representative of the players making nine, a major sponsor making ten and a representative ministry eleven. The representative from the National Sports Commission is supposed to be the most powerful person on the board because he represents the NSC that’s Alhaji Durotoye however he doesn’t even talk. He is my biggest disappointment, he is the reason why I’m not so active anymore because I contacted him, I said as a former secretary of NCF you are the most powerful person on the board, you report directly to the DG so why can you not call this man to order? So I was so disappointed, the only way to get to the board right now, okay of course and then the board is supposed to co opt two members to make a compliment of thirteen but those two members will not have voting right and they cannot become the chairman but they can form a quorum in terms of the general decisions so if you want to get on the board as a player, you either come from the geopolitical zone or you get selected or elected as the players representative or you can come in through the paramilitary, armed forces or as a major sponsor. A major sponsor should have been the NBL however the slot was taken by somebody else
TO: Who is that?
OA: An individual. I think its ehm, but one of the individual of the board actually is the one that is taking the slot of the major sponsor. If we can check the board list and then I can point it out.