The Team Manager of Lobi Stars, Hon. Gabriel Ogwuche, has blamed his team’s lingering problems on bloated staff and redundant players who have continued to earn high wages to the detriment of the club. In this interview with Daily Trust, the football administrator cum politician spoke on his appointment, efforts being made to halt the dwindling fortunes of the club and his firm belief that Lobi Stars still have a chance to win a continental ticket at the end of the ongoing NPFL season.
Lobi Stars are presently struggling to survive in the NPFL. What would you say is responsible for this?
The truth of the matter is that before I joined the club as the Team Manager, they had recruited the players. And you know that when the foundation is faulty, it is hard to build on it. So what we are trying to do now is to manage the situation till the end of the season.
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In concrete terms, what are the efforts being made to keep Lobi Stars in the topflight?
Our scouts have gone out in search of quality players. As soon as the transfer window opens, we shall bring in some good players to strengthen the squad. Already, we have pencilled down a few of such players. Once it is time, we shall invite them over for negotiations.
Would you say Lobi Stars have enough money to pay for the new players you intend to sign?
If you ask me, Lobi Stars are among the most motivated and well funded clubs in the NPFL. There is always money for Lobi Stars. As a matter of fact, money for the club is put in the front line charge. The club is given special attention. Forget about the radio interview that was granted by a former informal staff of Lobi Stars who said there is no money to sign good players. Our predecessors had succeeded with the club using this same budget so why should our case be different? The truth is that Lobi Stars finances are over-stretched by bloated staff and redundant players. If we can apply judiciously available funds, we would not complain of lack of money.
What do you think should be done to free up more funds?
The right thing to do is to downsize the workforce by dropping all the ghost workers. When I assumed duties, I asked the former club secretary to furnish me with the number of staff on the payroll but he refused to do so. However, the new secretary made it available and I discovered to my chagrin that we have over 90 staff excluding the players. This is more than the number in some ministries. But the staff I have met so far are not up to 50. Therefore, we must have hand-payment to uncover the ghost workers. Then we would deal with redundant players who are still collecting huge salaries. We must take these actions to bring back sanity into the club. If we can do all these, there would be enough money to run the club. The government has been consistent in funding Lobi Stars.
Are you, therefore, saying mismanagement of funds is one of Lobi Stars’ major problems?
That will not be far from the truth. For probity and accountability, there must be division of labour in the club. Everyone should be allowed to perform his functions. There is no organisation without an organogram. Functions should be clearly spelt out. As the Team Manager, I should know where my power starts and ends. It should be the same for the club secretary, the vice-chairman and the rest.
How cordial is your relationship with the vice-chairman of the club, Tama Aondofa?
It wasn’t very cordial but we are beginning to understand each other. When I first arrived, there were some issues which were incited by the man who called himself the General Coordinator of the club. He didn’t allow me to perform my functions. He forcefully took away my responsibilities so I tried to make him understand that I know my rights. I pointed out to him areas he had touched either intentionally or ignorantly. The excuses he gave were flimsy. He said I was just coming in. So I told him to show me the way, teach me. It was not easy but there are positive changes now. We are now putting things right for the club to progress.
It is said you are an ‘outsider’ who has been forced on the club. How much do you know about football management?
First of all, I want to say that I was appointed on merit. I have been in sports for a long time. Although I didn’t play at the premier league level, I played amateur football. Due to my passion for football, I floated a football club called Gabby FC Makurdi where I was the proprietor, team manager and player. We represented Benue State in the national amateur league playoff in Jos in 2009. We also played in other competitions. Later on, I bought a slot for national amateur league division two but I sold the slot to FC Kuje when the financial burden of running the club became too much on me. In 2011, I also worked as regional coordinator for north central for the Gulder 5-aside competition. I took a team from Benue and Abuja to the grand finale in Lagos. So it will be unfair and completely wrong to say I am a novice in football. I have paid my dues as a player and football administrator in Benue State and beyond.
Are you, therefore, refuting the insinuations in some quarters that you were brought in by the deputy governor to represent the Idoma tribe in the management team of Lobi Stars?
You know what? As we speak, I am a very good grassroots politician. I am a former leader of the legislative arm of Ogbadibo local government council. Even when I applied for this job, I didn’t see the deputy governor for one day until I was called for the interview. He must have heard my name in the political arena but he didn’t know I was the one until I was given the job. I also contested the last election as Ogbadibo local government chairman. I met one on one with the governor, His Excellency, Dr Samuel Ortom when my issue was resolved but as I speak the governor is not even aware that I am the new Team Manager of Lobi Stars. I was privileged to meet with the deputy governor again because of our board meeting. You see people will always fabricate stories. People will always say things they don’t know.
Looking at the present position of your club on the NPFL table, are you confident that Lobi Stars will survive relegation at the end of the season?
I am confident that if we can put our house in order, Lobi Stars won’t be relegated. Once we begin to do the things we are supposed to do at the right time, Lobi Stars will come back to life. Lobi Stars still have what it takes to finish among the top three clubs. I want to reiterate that we can still pick a continental ticket. Once we strengthen the team with new players and improve on our relationship with the relevant stakeholders, the fortunes of the club would improve significantly. Lobi Stars will have nothing to do with relegation.