Moses Kpakor was one of the best Nigerian footballers of his generation. He coached many clubs including Sharks of Port-Harcourt. He is also an ideal teacher by training.
In this interview with Amos Aar, Tamenor Kwaghzer and Akaha Sule last week in Makurdi the Benue state capital, Moses Kpakor speaks on his background, politics in Nigerian football, his next job, why he quit coaching and other issues.
It may be of interest to our teeming readers and Nigerians at large to know the personality we are speaking with. So, who are you sir?
My name is Moses Akuhwa Kpakor, I am from Kwande Local Government Area of Benue state. My father was Daniel Akuhwa Kpakor, he trained us as a nurse at Mkar hospital in 1953. My mother came from the present day Ushongo Local Government Area. So, that is who I am.
At one time or the other, the name
Moses Kpakor rang the bells in the sports world specifically in football, can one link that personality with you?
Of course, Moses Kpakor till today is synonymous with football. I came from a football family because our father was also a footballer. These Kpakors were three, the eldest one was Joseph Kwaghgba Kpakor, my senior brother was Terfa Kpakor. They were already established names in football in the state. They played for the defunct and legendary Kwande United Football club of Adikpo. The Kwande were the first team if I could remember correctly to win the first Benue state challenge cup way back in 1976. I remember, Kwande United also won the Governor’s cup in 1980. It was the best team in this country, I still remember some of the good players: they were Geoffrey Shande who was the Captain, there was late Wanongo Ugbema, there was like I said before, Terfa and Kwaghgba, there was Agema Tiam who was a good goalkeeper, there was Andrew Iornongo, there was Herbert John and a host of many other players and when you talk of football in Adikpo, football in Adikpo is synonymous with the names Sir Akpoo Abrakabo, Akusha and it is these days we have seen Barcelona playing what Kwande United played over forty years ago, this anybody who watched that team can testify. So, Kwande United was simply the best team in the state. Of course, I came into limelight during the third Benue state sports festival that was in 1981. I represented Kwande Local Government in the intermediate and senior football teams. I was playing two matches each day, I was Captain of the junior team. After that match, I would pull off my jersey I would wear the senior team and we won silver in football. We lost to Gboko the intermediate and we won Gold in the senior team and I was voted Benue state footballer of the year 1981 and I think that was the beginning of my soccer career because I never expected I would achieve success very quickly like that. From there, I represented Benue state at the 5th national sports festival in Benin, I ended up being the nation’s highest goal scorer with four goals. Those four goals were scored in one match and I got invitation to the Flying Eagles in 1982. So, that is the brief story. Moses Kpakor is a very long story so let me allow you some other questions.
Sir, that draws us quickly to the fact that…. where is Kwande United football club today?
Kwande United has been defunct for a very long time. You remember that in 1980 after Kwande United won the Governor’s cup, the then Governor of Benue state, Mr Aper Aku wanted a situation where by Benue state would be represented at the national level, in other words, Benue state as at that time had no team playing in the defunct national Amateur football League. As a result of that, Aper Aku now formed a formidable club which was state owned called Hawks football club of Makurdi and some players were selected from Kwande United, some were selected from Juladaco Babes, some were selected from Otukpo and Katsina-Ala United. In other words, good players were selected from the state to form Hawks football club in 1981 to make the team strong so that Benue would also have a team playing in the defunct national Amateur football League and ever since then, Kwande United died. However, those few who were left, the team later metamorphosed into something National Union of Road Transport Workers in Adikpo and so on so forth. It’s unfortunate that Kwande United is no more but there are still very good players from there.
So, what is the future of these good players that you are talking about since it is no longer Kwande United, no more BCC, no more Hawks or what did you call it? What is the future of these players?
The future of our present day players in this country lies in great doubt because if I tell you that Moses Kpakor began his club side football here with Hawks, Lobi Stars, Amir Angwe, Alimin Aule, John Zaki, Barnabas Imenger and others, almost all the best players from Tiv land began their football career from Hawks which is today Lobi Stars. Hawks was looked upon as a team of Benue state that gave the indigenous players the opportunity to spring to stardom and that is why if I continue mentioning Benue payers, they have an affiliation with Lobi Stars today. But that was not all, we had many teams in this state, if your quality was not good enough for Hawks, it may be good enough for Hospital Management Board, it may be good for Green Seed. Makurdi alone had so many football clubs, the same thing in Gboko, there was Juladaco Babes, there was Strikers of Gboko, there were many teams so our generation players had many options to progress in football. But today, we don’t have as many clubs functioning as that, so it has in a way drastically impeded their football guts and that is what we are seeing today.
If you go to the Primary and secondary schools today, you will see children or young people playing football skillfully, but they don’t have such opportunity to showcase their talents simply because they don’t have people to connect them. What is your take on that?
Well, I think we as a people have not been enthusiastic about sports generally not only in football. I remember Benue state had basketball, they won many national competitions. We also had volleyball team, the problem is that we have not been enthusiastic anymore. I’m surprised because most of the good players of yesteryears from Benue state were products of the school sports. I think this is the beginning of the problem. We played for the junior team in the Primary school and we progressed to the senior team, from that you go to the college you play for senior team and like I said before, after you finished secondary school, there were many football teams around that suit your quality. But today, you ask a big question, how many primary schools after all have football pitches ? I’m not talking about basketball or volleyball, no, We have schools where the kids don’t even have recreational activities so that shows that sports is not recognized in our schools. It is something we need to start at that early stage so I think until we come up with a legislation or we have come up with collective efforts to ensure that all schools have at least a football field, a volleyball field, and so on so forth, then we start tapping them from young. But since we are failing to go back to the drawing board to start searching for young talents sometimes that is the word they use, catch them young and as long as we continue to neglect this, we will be putting our youths in jeopardy. They have other areas they can use their energy and we all know it is social vices because if they have nothing to do, then they go doing what is available.
Sir, what you have just said now is bringing a picture to my head, you were mentioning names of Benue people that formed the then Hawks which is now Lobi Stars and nowadays when you have opportunity to watch Lobi Stars or hear the outline of players of Lobi Stars, you will be hearing strange names not having correlation with Benue team. What is the problem?
Well, sometimes it depends on the objectives an organization sets in order to achieve and like I said earlier, during my time, Lobi Stars was a springboard for indigenous players to make their names but today, I believe we are playing the so-called professional football and professional football in the sense means you want to remain the best by the best of the players that are available anywhere in the country or anywhere in the world. But if we go extensively as we have been going at the time, we will be neglecting also one important aspect of professionalism which is youth development. Who then is going to discover those young talents in your area for them to rise to stardom? Nobody! So, that is the idea of the academics. You know, Man U has their own academic so of course, we cannot say we don’t have professional players of Benue indigene who can play them and we have been saying this for many years over 20 years today. When the national teams are formed, U- 17, U-20, U-23, we don’t see our boys there, but these are the cadres we donated; John Zaki, John Agum, Aondofa Akosu, call their names, if we never developed them from home, how could they have played for various national teams? I think that is the biggest mistake we are doing but like I said before, every organization has its set goals it wants to achieve and I don’t want to sound critical anyway, but we need to do that. Nobody will develop our youths for us, it is high time we go back to the drawing board to see why was Benue state able to produce national players it did in the past. If I begin to mention names, we are too many and that is where we are failing and I believe something needs to be done. I think about three months ago, I heard over the radio the Governor complaining about this same thing we are talking about, he was a kind of asking the club to put a certain percentage for our indigenous players. So, it is very important, we have deviated and we need to come back to the drawing board.
Let’s move out of Benue sports politics, it was at the national level that most of us appeared to realize the value adding football skills of Moses Kpakor. In 1994 or so, thereabouts, a particular South African player in the name of Rabah Madjer was a thorn in the flesh of the Nigeria Super Eagles or whatever. There are reports that in one of such matches, the Coach then, Westerhof, drafted you specifically to police Rabah Madjer and you effectively did it. Where are the Kpakors today? Two, some foreign Coaches were engaged at the same quality with Westerhof, What is the problem? Does that mean Nigerian Coaches cannot do anything? Can’t you fit into that position since you defended Nigeria in Such an area as well?
Een… , that was in 1990, the 17th edition of the African Cup of Nations. Well, it is true, we were in the same group and in the opening match. We lost 5-1, Madjer scored 3 goals and about four or five players were asked to mark him throughout that match but they couldn’t. Here were we after a long while in the finals and I was asked to mark him. Prior to that, I had never played defence but there was something that the Coach said. He called me before a pre-match conference, I went there and he asked me, Moses Kpakor, can you tell me why I have called you here? I said I don’t know sir. He said no no no, there is a computer in your head, I know you will know, think. Before the match, we trained in Holland for a month and we played so many matches. At the end of each match, the Coach would come to me and say that was terrible, and I asked, what was terrible? He said your marking was terrible. Then, I thought over that and I knew the dimension of Rabah Madjer and everybody suspected that man wanted me to mark Rabah Madjer one on one. Then I ask him, do you want me to mark Rabah Madjer? He said oooh! I told you there is computer in your head. That’s the only thing that man told me. Then when we came to a pre-match conference, I did not speak much, I said that we are going to win today. Two things told me we were going to win: number one, the Algerian keeper had plenty of beards, he said have you ever seen a keeper in the world with beards like that ? I said we will beat them and the second reason is this, Algiers are boasting of their superstar Rabah Madjer and Nigerians are boasting of their superstar Moses Kpakor, and Moses Kpakor is a better player. So, Moses, here you are if you want the world to know that Rabah Madjer is a better player than you, let him shine. Then, we went for the match and I did the job to satisfaction and in fact to the satisfaction of Nigerians. Even though to me I had played better games than that one, Nigerians still rate my performance with Algiers the best one I had ever had.
The second part of your question, you see, there is too much politics there for some of us who have been there in the national team for a period of eight years, we know what happens there and that is how our fortunes were being moved like a coastal bus, it will not remain on top like in Westerhof time until we have a coach who has those guts, the coach who is committed for the country who will take absolute control of the national team, who will decide who and who plays. So, at the moment, we have not had that coach like Westerhof. There is something that goes in between, until we have that, and the second part of the second question, why Westerhof succeeded so much was because he formed a team that was based on exposure and commitment. Exposure in this regards refers to these Nigerian players who are playing abroad, they have been exposed to the highest level of football in Europe, they know the tricks. Now, the clear determination here simply means those local players who have qualities and who have that desire to also play in Europe. They are rugged, they are determined, thy are ready to make name so that they too can be seen by foreign clubs. That was the mixture. In contrast today, we all have twenty best players and they are coming to play against African team and Africa has its own football and that is why we are finding it very difficult. We need to go back to the drawing board, those home based players will not give the chance there because they are determined, they also want to go Europe, that is the only difference.
You have told us what you did to Algiers, we ask you because some of us were part of it. After that match, you were drafted into the main team in the sense that there were speculations that the coach wanted you to capt that team and shortly after that, a miserable thing occurred during a club side engagement and he deliberately orchestrated the attack that came on you and your leg was broken, that was the allegation. After breaking that leg, it incapacitated you to function in the national team. Is that politics or what can you say about that?
Yes, I was always a captain but my captain was a general captain. A captain that was beyond wearing a band and each time the coach never hesitated to let his players know whether they are foreign or not. We know that Keshi was very instrumental in the team, he had been there before me, he was there 1980-1981 even though he never made the final list for the 1980 nations cup. I came there 1982, he was the main Super Eagles captain. So, Westerhof used to give him respect but when it came to official and every other thing, I was the one.
There was no politics involved in the injury, it was a pure accident that can happen. I had three weeks to go to Holland or Netherland for medicals with Feyenoord, then I broke my leg! I don’t like remembering the incident but honestly I tell you, six months before that injury, I saw the injury coming and I kept telling my officials that I am sleeping and dreaming that I have broken my leg. Six months before it came, we were going playing matches . we came from Libya we played in the second round of Mandela cup defence in Libya. On Friday, we returned here on Tuesday, we played a match in Gboko 2-2. I scored the two goals against ACB. Then, I had the feeling, this match we are going, that is the match and I sat Amodu down, I sat Abubakar down, all the officials, I told them the feelings I had been having for over six months, it is like this is the beginning, so, I didn’t want to go. They convinced me they told me is it because you are going abroad you don’t want to play? I said, no, I have been telling you a story and these are my feelings and I was going to the national team the following day, they pleaded with me. I followed the team to Owerri, I shared the jerseys but I said I was not playing, I only came. There was nothing they didn’t talk. Then, I wore my jersey, I got into the game three minutes I broke my leg! That is to tell you how contentious that night was. We had a red card, we had a goal disallowed before my injury in the third minute. Well, I can say that was the will of God but at the same time today, I want to say I did not respect my feelings. I needed to have respected my feelings because to God, He showed me everything only that I did not respect. So that is what happened, if I show you the picture of my knee in that match, my leg is as big as this because I had a lot of bandages and I put a lot of very thick shin guards, yet it happened. So I think that’s just the will of God, there is no malice at all. But the guy purposely hit me but he didn’t know that my leg was going to break because up here, he left the ball very far so that was normal. And while I still came back, that was June 15th, 1991, I found my way back, I recovered within nine months and I rejoined the national team in 1992. I was fit for many games but I played only one world cup qualifier against Congo Democratic Republic on a Sunday and BCC played Rangers. I played 90 minutes, I scored the winner, I scored Enugu 2-1. The next day, 90 minutes for the national team we won 2-0. So I retired from active playing but there was no problem. I have always explained I didn’t want to play for the national team initially. I was in Cameroon in 1989 when somebody gave me the Punch newspaper, the Nigerian football association had given me 48 hours to report to the national team otherwise they would ban me from football. Remember, they banned Keshi, Nwosu and they left. I said okay, so I started coming from Cameroon, it took me one day. You know I was playing two clubs at the same time, I was playing BCC Lions Gboko and I was playing Prisons of Yaoundé, I was giving Prisons 10%, I would sneak out here, go there, play, take my money and come back. So I arrived Bauchi 10pm, I had two hours left. So I met the coach, Westerhof and he was happy seeing me. I told him I had come but I would be going back the following day, I didn’t want to play for this country. He asked me why? I told him the national team in this country has been biased, I have come from the Northern part of this country, I have been with the national team since 1982 but I have never played a single game, so I have lost my desire to play for the country. I am enjoying my career with BCC. I will form a national team that Nigerians will be proud of. I want to form a real national team for people from North, people from so and so. He said I shouldn’t worry, you are my captain and he addressed the players, that’s my captain because I sent three people to go round the country and write the names of good players and all the three coaches wrote your name. I spoke to you in Lagos when you played against ACB at half time you are my captain, I told the players. So look, you are a big part of the team. He convinced me and I stayed. I told him a lot about other politics, so when I played against Congo Republic and we started preparing for Algeria, something was happening and I didn’t like it. I lost my mother 1992, September 22nd, they brought the letter to the camp and I told the assistant coaches that I came for my mother’s burial. Westerhof went abroad, when he came back, he didn’t see me, he asked, they told him that I had left the camp without permission. The man was angry with me that I took errand, I told him no, my mother died, look at the programme, he said I am sorry. Then, Terfa died 1993 after our match against Democratic Republic. He came back, he watched the match and was impressed. He said ah! I wanted Moses to play against Congo DRC second match but people told me Moses was not fit. So you see? something was happening, now Terfa died, I came home, I did his burial and came back. When Westerhof came back against South Africa, I came a week to that day and they told him nobody had seen me in the camp. So, I went to training in the evening, he drove to the training ground. On seeing me for the first time he started yelling at me, where did you go ? bra! bra! bra! We nearly fought on the pitch o! I got very angry, you left camp without permission, see me crying like… Then, I told him Terfa died. After the training, he came to the camp, I showed him the programme. Terfa was in the camp with us, I wanted to send him for a training but he is dead. So, I told him well, I think I have had enough. Somebody here is trying to force a player into my wing but I don’t play one wing. I played right football, I played attacking midfield, I played number four(4), all the five matches I played different positions and Westerhof that time was playing number five for Super Eagles. So, I told him no, I am leaving, I have had enough, we made an agreement but that thing is resurfacing, so I am leaving. He came to Gboko here, I told him I would not go, I have made up my mind. So this question has always come but you are the only people that I have revealed what happened, I have always not told anybody the reason. That’s the reason and I know the Coach was bringing one small Ibo guy, I don’t want to mention names. Incidentally, the greatest thing there let me put it this way, in all of my successes, 90% of my successes came during post injury. Before my injury, we won African cup 1989 and we won the the Mandela cup 1992. After the injury, we won the FA cup 1994, 1997, we won the League Super cup 3 times. So, I made a lot of gains after my post injury than my pre-injury. But I have not regretted at all that I played for the national team, I was satisfied as one of the players who contributed to the qualification of Nigeria to World Cup and we went to the world cup in 1994. In 2002, the Mikel’s group, I was also offered an assistant coach of the same U-17 in 2007 but I declined, that time I was working for FC Abuja. I was the one who formed the club as interim coach. It was Ribadu and El-Rufai that called me and gave me the job, two big men. There was something I was looking for, unfortunately it didn’t work out but I don’t have any regret at all. I applied for the U-23 job three years ago but I was not considered. Not only me, Fidini George applied too but was not considered. What is happening today began about 20 years ago. The management of sports not only in football, they are very scared about people who had played the game before, they want people they can stage manage, they want people they can manipulate. When you stand out and tell them this is your task and there should be no interruption, they don’t like it. So, that is what is happening, Fidini George applied for the U-23 coaching job, they didn’t give him. I don’t think somebody like Fidini George should be applying for a coaching job for the U-23, they should call the guy straight to come because this generation of players were watching these players. It’s a great pleasure for them to play under Fidini George, under Amunike, under Moses Kpakor and the whole rest of the people. But you hear coaches for the national team you have never seen them play, you have never heard their names before and that is not helping the youths to grow.
There is another second part of that question, somebody asked if I am not interested to coach. Well, I am no longer interested because I quit coaching since 2009. You know, my last involvement in football management was with Lobi Stars here as a team manager in 2008 and something happened. I went back to academics, I wrote JAMB, I did my first degree, I did my Master’s, I am undergoing my Doctorate and I am happy there is nothing that will take me back to coaching. No, it will not but I have not left football. That is why I am studying Sports Administration. I can count on the capacity of an Administrator, I know the challenges, I know the expectations of footballers having been one. If I am an Administrator of a club, I know how I can relate with the players, I was a player, I know what it means to be a player, I was a coach, I know what it means to be a coach, the challenges and expectations from the management team. I can still relate as an Administrator with my coaches knowing that I was also a coach, I will also relate with my other managerial staff. I was also a team manager, I know what it takes. I’m not going back to football to coach, I am coming as an Administrator. In football, I know that you support a football team, you later play the game, after playing the game, you become a coach, after becoming a coach, you become an Administrator. So, I am still going into sports, at the same time I am the Assistant Chief Coach at the BSU football team where I combine that. I also combine some lectures, I teach them. There are some courses that I lecture there. But I am changing completely to academics, maybe in the next four years because I’m not getting any younger you know? Teaching and coaching are the same, they have the same methodology, so I am sharing my knowledge in sports with students.
On a final note, the event that we discovered you at Benue Hotels was meant for media workers. If you look at the award, “Best Benue Journalist Awards 2020” was designed for journalists who performed well, you came and snatched an award. It is that award that conveyed you to some of us. How did you find yourself in the mist of journalists? You are not a journalist, but you got the award, what operated on your mind?
Well, I think it is just one of the most important aspects of journalism. I think their task is to give information to the general public, good or bad and all that we have said here, with all that I have achieved, it is good for the general public to know that some body has done something very well and I feel terribly honoured because when we began playing football, neither did I know that there would come a time that people especially an organization would come and say thank you for what you have done for this country and that remains my biggest prize. I will be going on the street, somebody will come and say hey! Moses, thank you for what you have done for this country. It is worth more than millions of naira, somebody there appreciates you and I value such prizes, it’s very important to my life. At the same time you know, they are encouraging the younger ones, they know that one day, they too will be recognized. So, I think it is a part of journalism that will give information to the general public. I have never failed to say this, irrespective of the grace of God and people who helped me from childhood to where I am today, I think the press has about 30% involvement in my achievements today as a footballer because the press can do and they can undo. They can shoot you to the top, they can shoot from top to down. All these, the press has the power to do do it, so I owe them for their contribution to my life.
Thank you very much for sharing your valuable time with us. We pray that God continues to be with you.
You are welcome.