The Female Team of All Sports Foundation (Johnny Igboka's Team). 4th left at the back row is Onyinye Okeke popularly called Throw way, Former U- 18 Falcon Goal keeper). 1st left back row is Anulika Aniefuna (Currently the Director of Sorts SUG, UNIPORT). Both have represented Nigeria and have won many medals for the country. The both are products of Coach Igboka's Academy.
In this edition, we will be treating a very interesting personality by name, Coach Chinagorom Johnny Igboka. For those who know Igboka for his distinctive skill may not also know that he is a twin. Born on 12th December in Nimo, Coach Igboka specializes in track and field event. He is the Chief Coach for Athletics and also a National Coach for Track and Field. In this interview with Coach Igboka, our Sports writer, Uche Enem journeys into the life of Igboka. I hope you find this piece very interesting.
May we know you sir?
My Name is Coach Chinagorom Johnny Igboka from Nimo in Njikoka LGA in Anambra State. I was born on the 12th of December. I am currently a staff of the Ministry of Youths and Sports, Anambra. I specialize in high jump. I am a twin and my twin sister is Joan Chigbo. She is married with children and we were the last children of our parents.
What really inspired you to move into sports?
Well, my fathers used to be a very good athlete and a sports person and a traditional dancer. I believe that anybody who is a good dancer can also be good at sports. While growing up, I was the best in athletics. I have always been a champion in my Nursery Schools days. . I went to St. Bonaventure Nur/ Pri in Nimo in 1971 and later I went to Agulu Central School and finally completed my primary school in Lagos. I remember my games masters, Mr. Okeke who lived at the side of our house. He normally went out with his dog every day to jog and he usually called me to run with him. In fact, this was how my sports life began. I started with them and whenever they have any sports event I usually followed them to competitions and most times I won the competition. My interest in sports started in primary school and also through my secondary school days. That was how I picked serious interest in sports. I love challenges a lot in sports and I am good in high jump and pole vault. Because I love sports competition while I was still growing up, I gathered some boys along our neighborhood and we went into the bush to pick up sticks and use it for our cross bar, we mount the stronger sticks inside the sand and from there we began to compete. Sports make me happy and I have great passion for it.
Immediately I entered secondary school, the first tournament I participated was the All Secondary School Championship in 1977 at Lagos. I went to Nnobi High School for the Secondary education and I left there when I was in class two and I finished my secondary school at Nike Grammar School. While in Nnobi High School, I first qualified for the Onitsha Trials and then Enugu trials (Old Anambra). After the trials, I travelled to Lagos for the competition. It was the first time I went to Lagos for any sporting activities. At the championship, something remarkable happened. I wasn’t registered for high jump but pole vault but I didn’t make it in the competition. Between 1978 and 1979, I was in class two and I was the youngest to go for a competition in Lagos which was actually meant for the senior class. In 1981, we were called for Camp for Junior Championship in Calabar. That same year I was jumping over 2. 05 m. It was a surprise to me and many others too. I had an opponent by name, Emma Ovuvere. This same year I won two scholarships to study in America and in 1980, I was called for camp in Lagos for preparation for the Olympics in Moscow. The names of those people who were to go for camp were usually published in Daily Times. So, I took the newspaper and showed my dad and begged him to allow me participate in the Olympics but he refused and asked me to go and read my books. He did the same thing to me when I got scholarship to the USA. My dad never believed in my travelling. He felt that if I go I would not come back.
I finished my secondary school in 1980. In the 1980’s we were going for other championship in Togo, Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Benin Republic and many other countries. In 1989, we were called to camp for All African Championship. Most of our competitions were sponsored by Abiola. He usually gives us gifts like wrist watch whenever we come back victorious. It was fun and I won so many medals during this period. I picked a silver medal in Ghana Africa championship; I also picked gold in Benin republic for an ECOWAS championship. Throughout 1980’s I was super on. I had some athletes and rivals then who I grew up with and who also learnt from me like Apom Mbanefo, Casmir Okoro, Obiora Arinze (Late) and some others and many of them travelled to America. I have people from other states like Okoro Ogmond who is a pharmacist at UNIBEN and Emmanuel Effiong. They were my mates in High jump. High jump is a technical event and it needs thinking and logics. It is a very crafty game.
During this 1980’s after your Secondary school days, were you chanced to go to university?
Due to the problem I had with my father of not going into sports fully and rejecting the two scholarships I had, I decided to move into business fully. While I was in business in 1980, I worked with Ozarulike Company as a sales representative between 1981- 1985. Around 1987, I decided to move into block industry. From the block industry, I started making a living. In the 1980’s I was also given an employment and I was a staff at the sports council in Enugu when Dr. Duru was the Director. He admired me and called me to join the sports council and promised me that I will be the last batch that will go to American under sponsorship. I was the youngest molder in the block industry in Enugu and also a civil servant too. I explained things to my father but he still rejected the idea. He was insisting I went to school. I didn’t find it funny and I went back to my business. I also picked up another sports council appointment when it came again but this time I didn’t allow my father to know about it. My dad later found out but he was just tired about my case and my sports life. My block business was really booming and I was able to get a car for myself. The highest I have attained in high jump was in 1982 with 2. 10m in the All Nigeria Open Championship in Lagos and I did 2.05m in Calabar when I went for another competition. From 1989 I still attended competitions but I stopped active competition in 1992 after an injury. When I retired as a jumper at 1992, I was automatically made a coach but I refused in sports council.
I have sponsored a lot of people for competition. I am natural gifted for high jump event. All these things put together, I was on pressure to settle down for marriage. It was later I discovered my dad’s death was close and I was the only one in the family who hasn’t settled down.
So, how did you meet your wife?
I got married in 1991. That was the same year my dad died. I can’t really tell how I met my wife. I had a lot of girlfriends and my cousins linked me with my wife and from there we started that way.
How where you able to manage your family responsibilities with your sports life?
I had a very big business at Port Harcourt. I was given a contract to mould a house in Eleme, Port Harcourt to mould blocks for over 2000 houses. So I moved all my molding materials to Port Harcourt. I mould day and night and I can mould 4000 blocks day and more. One day, I molded 8000 block and that was the day heavy rain fell at night and it got all my materials destroyed. That was the very year, Adisa was the Minister for Housing in Abacha regime and he was alleged of a coup. This was the period I lost everything and the supply I had earlier delivered. It wasn’t too easy for me at that time. I was owed a lot of money and the Minister for Housing was in Prison and so I lost everything. I settled people I could settle and I lost about 4million in the business. Based on that, I left Port Harcourt and went back to the Sports Council.
The first day I resumed in the sports office, I saw the boys doing great. Some of them were able to jump up to 1.85m. It was really surprising and commendable. Some of the officials were happy and praised me after seeing such outstanding performances. That gave me the moral to continue. The two boys I trained when I returned to the sports office became the best in Nigeria between 2008- 2009 competition.
In 2000, we went for National Sports Festival, Bauchi but we lost one of the boys to Delta. The boy didn’t feel too good about the attitude of the officials towards him because of an issue he had earlier has with them at the sports council. At the competition, my boy, Chimnanu Ejiofor came first in 2.05m and the other guy that left to the Delta team came second. I also have the female team, I had a particular girl, Nneka Oku, she came second and another girl who came third in that competition and who is also a champion too. In fact in that competition, I had a full team that won. Later we had another championship in Lagos for All Nigeria Games; Chimnanu Ejiofor won the competition with 2.08m
Coach Igboka with some of his Athletes at All Sports Foundation, Nimo after winning medals at the 4th National School Sports Festival on 2011 at Calabar
So, your sports life didn’t make you to go to school?
Well, I was so much eager to go to school but I was carried away by my business and I thought I wouldn’t have time for it. In 2001, the state was calling me for all kind of sports courses which was hosted by universities. I attended courses in NIS which is affiliated to UNN. Also, I attended the International Athletic Association of Federation (IAAF) which is one of the highest coaching courses.
What course would you have studied assuming you entered the University?
I would have gone for political science. I don’t know much about politics but I just like it. My family is all about politics and one of my brothers is a politician. I visited Cuba early 2003 do some training and in late 2003, I travelled to UK for an important course and later my wife said she wanted to join me in the UK so we were all in UK till I came back finally in 2007 and I didn’t go back again because of my family issues. In 2006, when I was in UK, I was called to come back to Nigeria for 2007 All Africa Games in Algeria. In January, I was invited by IAAF sent to the University of Pretoria, South Africa to advance in my course learning.
Can you tell us more about Academy?
The name of my Academy is All Sports Foundation at Nimo. It was officially registered in 2009, I decided to register the Academy, All Sports Foundation because of some issues that came up from the state especially because we had no sponsors, no more competition, no more support and the rest of them. I saw it necessary to register it because if I don’t, they wouldn’t be allowed to go for competitions. I couldn’t get enough assistance from friends neither because they thought it was absurd to assist the government rather it should be the other way round.
I registered it as a non-governmental organization because I was a civil servant working in the sports council and I may likely have issues with it if I don’t register it as a non- governmental organization. I also appointed trustee who I believed could assist me anytime. I cleared the field which we use to train and we started training gradually.
When you were in UK, what were you doing?
There were a lot of family problems. I was working and at the same time I was trying to meet up with my sports activities. I was doing a mini job by training some people in small Academy. Since 2007, I have been working in the sports council and I have trained a lot of champions who are in various part of the world now.
Were you ever discouraged in your sports life?
I had a lot of fans and friends even though my dad discouraged me.
Were there some of your family members who took into sports?
Yes. But not like the way I did. We are nine in the family though we lost two. I am a twin and my twin is Joan Chigbo. She is married with children and we were the last children of our parents. My immediate senior brother who is a politician is also into sports. My twin sister loves and played hockey while still growing up.
How many children do you have?
I have three girls and a boy. Two are with me and two are in the UK. The second and last born are in UK. I travel every year to see them.
What are our fulfilling moments so far?
Well, when I remember some of the people I have trained, I feel great about it. Whenever I go to UK, some of my friends host me and fight for me to spend some time with them before traveling back. I feel great whenever I remember those people I have trained doing well and because of this, they shower and give me great hospitality whenever we meet.
What can you say are your challenging moment?
My challenging moments in sports is mainly in the state and at the national level especially when you are surrounded with people who don’t understand the meaning of sports. If you are trying to move forward, they do not support you and instead they drag you backward. Most times they prefer to be static. I don’t like being static, I like progress. Most times, you are being harassed by your boss or superior in the process of working. Of recent, we were called that we have U- 18 Athletic Championship which was earlier scheduled but the date was shifted forward. How do they expect people to plan and look for money to sponsor such event? If these athletes do not see someone to sponsor them, they feel bad and sometimes they even leave the club and join others.
Most time I use my personal money to carter for them because sometimes your superiors sometimes do not help issues; they remain static in their decisions. In 2012, the Anambra Team was the best in U-18 National Athletic competition. We have always been the champions most time in most of the competitions. Most of the athletes that I selected for the competitions came from my Academy and because they stayed in the Academy to train, they perform better in every competition. These are the things the government should embrace because we have produced many athletes from the government. They don’t see it the way I am seeing it because they feel I am running a government programmes and also an academy. From 2012, I lost many of our athletes in the U- 18 National competition who would have given us a lot of medals. People know that Anambra state has produced many sports athletes and they are doing well in it. Our Anambra born athletes are in other state winning medals for them. It pains me a lot especially when they receive medal from other state. It is very crazy. This makes me feel bad.
I also have personal challenges. During my athletic days, my major challenges came from my dad. He refused to allow me go to for some of the competitions. This continued and I went for competition secretly and begged the announcers not to announce my name on the radio because my dad will definitely hear it and keep discourage me.
What can you say about doping?
Doping has caused random of people having problems with their lives. Some of them get into what they don’t know of and there is nobody to tell them especially young stars and most of the coaches are involved in it too. The implication is that if any coach is caught in such act, he will be banned for many years and he may lose his job. Doping destroys the hormone and it causes other health hazards.
What your favorite color?
Dark blue is my favorite colour. That’s why my academy colour is blue
What your favorite dish?
Ora soup and Semovita or Farina - (Lighter Semovita and whitish in colour)
Apart from sports, what are your other hobbies?
I love dancing both traditional and western dancing. In fact I made a lot of money on my dad’s wake keep. I can easily imitate and learn any move or step by a dancer. I enjoy jokes and I love going to see a movie. I also love playing video games.
In what way can you advise the government to do better especially in attaining success in 5 years time?
There are a lot of changes and the present Sports Commissioner is really doing well. She want to go into pure grass root sports and before 4- 5 years the state will be better even though the position in government office is not permanent, we believe things will be better. She has introduced ground for young promising athletes and they are doing very well. Also, these athletes are being given stipends for their welfare to support themselves. She gives them support and packages. They are trying but they still need to do more. Those athletes who are doing well or that have done well after their trails should be kept in a comfortable area where they could train better and have the opportunity to read their books to reduce distractions. They also need to feel at home by providing them with some basic amenities and even bringing in best coaches to train them. At this, they will do better even at the Olympic level.
At the federal level, most people who occupy the position are not supposed to be there. In the Athletic Federation of Nigeria (AFN), most of them are not doing anything they are just filling spaces there and are not working at all. The present board is almost at the tail end and the head has served for 8 years and the impact is not there. Nigeria has been in Olympics twice and has won no medals. Sometimes, we don’t even get to the finals. At the federal level, they need to clean some staff out. They are not planned and their programmes are scattered too.
How do you see Anambra sports in 5 years time?
I can see some people coming out with ideas. For example, I can see Fr. Obinna Dike doing well and I love some of his programs. With his programs, he could find and select stars. I wish so many academies could be in Anambra State. If the Academy is doing well, they should support them. We need what is called ‘Pilot school’- a Pilot school is a school where the best three athletes are selected and keep in a school that will train them fully in academics and in sports. When I brought up such ideas, they refuted it and said, ‘This it is not London’. Sports development is very important in Anambra state