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May we know you sir?
My name is Prince Lemmy Akakem. Okpataozuoha is the title.
Sir, your darling team Heartland FC formerly known as Iwuanyanwu Nationale is having problems. They are second to the last on the league table. Are you not bothered that your darling team is having this kind of problem?

May we know you sir?
My name is Prince Lemmy Akakem. Okpataozuoha is the title.
Sir, your darling team Heartland FC formerly known as Iwuanyanwu Nationale is having problems. They are second to the last on the league table. Are you not bothered that your darling team is having this kind of problem?


I have been really bothered and I am praying for them that, that kind of thing should not happen because since the inception of the club from the days of Spartans, the club has never gone on relegation even in the midst of lack of money, lack of welfare to the club, the players remain dogged and realizing at that point in time that they were the only tourism, the only excitement that you can find in Imo State. That was the only thing you can see during the 1970s and 1980s, that was the only thing you could find in Imo State that is exciting. People can go and buy ticket to go and watch matches. So you know, they had passion for the club. So we pray that they don't go on relegation no matter what is happening now, because it will be a record broken for Heartland to go on relegation. It was formerly Spartans Football Club before being renamed Iwuanyanwu Nationale before now presently called Heartland Football Club, so it's a long history.
Sir, this season alone, they have had two managements and now two coaches have been sacked in just one season. The team manager has also resigned. During your time, was it like this?
Well, I don't think you can compare my time with what is happening now. In fact, we put our lives and blood to make sure that the only excitement the people had did not suffer. Ab initio, if you know my history with the club, in 1981, the then governor of Imo State (Chief Sam Mbakwe) handed the Spartans over to my management. Then I was about 28 years. Most players then in the team were my seniors. But because of the passion I had for them, I was the only individual that was doling out my money, giving them sense of belonging, bringing them to my house for party, showing my joy whenever they have victory, I pay players my own personal bonus as my personal project. Then their salary was about ten naira (N10). Some of them were eight naira (N8). The little I could give them that time was very exciting. What the players needed was a sense of belonging showing them that they are important. So I was doing that privately. So because of what I was doing, using my own personal resources to care for them, the then governor realized these efforts that I was putting and then handed the club over to me as Chairman.
Of course, when I took over, I changed the course of the team; I changed the status of the team because I had time for them. I gave them my time because for you to run a football club, these players are like musicians and like I told my proprietor, Chief Dr. E. C. Iwuanyanwu, these players are like poultry. If they are in the market, they don't care. As soon as you go and buy them, you have a responsibility that they must not die. So they eat at the right time, you give them food at the right time, so with players. If they have any expectation or outstanding that you have not paid them, their mind is there and by the time you waste time, they are demoralized and when they tell you 'morale is low', before you recover their morale you might have lost five or six games. So the best thing is not to allow their morale to be low. So, that was what I did when I took over Spartans. I made so sure their morale was high.
I took over Spartans in 1981 and in 1982; we took second in the national league which never happened before. Because of the way I lifted their morale and gave them a sense of belonging, they were committed. We were supposed to carry that league in my first outing but because we played Rangers who knew the tactics more than us, the match was in Owerri here between us and Rangers, that was in 1981, whoever won the match would have won the league. Rangers knowing that our stadium had no restraining fence or security, they flooded Owerri with Anambrarians who came to cheer them and before you knew it they encroached into the field and the match stopped.  The referee stopped the match, took the matter to Lagos and the match was transferred to Calabar because of insecurity. We lost to Rangers there and came second. 1982 was the first time an international match was played in Owerri. I used my money to build that stadium. The Sports Council and the government couldn't dole out money. That restraining fence that is around the field, I built it with my own money, rebuilt the field, rebuilt everywhere and got the place ready for WAFU. Then, we qualified to represent Nigeria in WAFU and that was the year Nigeria would have lifted WAFU; we came second in the whole of West Africa. That is to say they need sense of belonging. In fact, Spartans were wearing colours of the rainbow. If you see them, you would be ashamed that they are your team. The only place you see them in uniform in jersey is the top, the pants are different colours. I went to Britain to buy the first umbro jersey with my money: white and orange. The first day they wore that jersey, they beat the next team that came to play in Owerri, Bendel Insurance 3-0 because of joy looking at them like Rangers, because Rangers used to wear immaculate white because Jim Nwobodo was giving them everything and I had to challenge it.
I used my money to run Spartans but when government couldn't fund it again like is happening now, they had to approach Iwuanyanwu. Chief Iwuanyanwu took over and first thing he did was to tell me that I should take the boys to Brazil, that they have to learn how to play football in Brazil. We paid for two months. We went with 42 players and 8 officials to Brazil. First time in the history of Nigeria, a club side is going out for intensive training. And ever, no other club has done it today. Iwuanyanwu brought out money, bought ticket for fifty people to go to Brazil Football Academy. Now we came back and he said increase their salary by 500 percent. I increased their salary by 500 percent. He said I should give them car loan, give all of them car. All the players had cars. We bought Naze Game Village and used it for camp. We rented quarters in Ikenegbu which became their private homes. They became human beings. Ab initio they were like nobody. They now became human beings, they now became excited, even to non players and we increased tourism in Imo State, we increased football viewing in Imo State. In our own time, we had commitment.
I Lemmy Akakem took it as a personal responsibility. I played football but my parents did not allow me to play full-time soccer. When I had the opportunity of getting, as God will permit me, some wealth, I started investing it on players and today what you are seeing is the carry over. So they should not allow the team to die.
During your time, the former Iwuanyanwu Nationale produced the bulk of the national team of Nigeria. What was the secret and why is it not done today?
Well, Iwuanyanwu had time for the players and brought in money. You can't find any good player in Nigeria now because they will all go on exodus to Europe. Then, the good players were domiciled here, the dollar and pound and naira were the same, even the naira was bigger than the dollar. So the players had nowhere to go than to stay here and we had big players and good proprietors who cared for these players and they were happy. That time we had welfare for the players and Iwuanyanwu provided the best. So every player in Nigeria wanted to play for Iwuanyanwu Nationale because he made sure their welfare was paramount and whatever they wanted we gave them. Then, they went to matches with aircraft. They way we used to do there before Iwuanyanwu took over Spartans, if we are going to play a match in Lagos on Saturday, we would waste time within the Sports Council, sewing boots that our players will use. Then we go late as not to incur wages in the hotel. So we arrive in the evening of that Friday, check into about two or three rooms for the players, the officials will hang around. We play the match the next morning and we start coming back. That was it.
Today, you can see our players travelling in ramshackle buses. Some of them, their buses will break down on the way and you start transferring them into another vehicle. Even government officials will not care to know how we succeeded. I'm happy you asked how we succeeded. They have nothing to do with records. People are claiming what they are in football, how did they make it? I had 14 players at the national camp, it was an attraction. Most of them were Yorubas, Ghanaians, Hausas and not Igbos alone. They were all here and they found their joy in Imo State. And that was how we raised tourism here. We won the league, five consecutive years, represented Nigeria in African competitions, every Thursdays and Fridays, everybody will return to Owerri, all the hotels will be fully booked to watch an international match, consecutively for five years; so we built tourism here. People began to know about Imo State. Before, Imo State was a dead end. What were you coming to Imo to look for? Is it aeroplane, train or seaport? No. the only thing that attracted people to Imo State was football. If football dies here, where else do we go? It is true that there are other entertainments because hotels are springing up but at a point, there was no hotel to accommodate people. People were checking into Umuahia, Aba to come into Owerri the next morning to watch football match because the whole West Africa comes into Owerri. When we played WAFU, the club benefits nothing other than but tourism. Because when we are playing a big match, the people selling ice-cream will sell, hawkers will be selling t heir foods, hotels will be fully booked, all the cafeterias are selling. If you go to the market, most of these people come with dollars to the market to buy electronics. Do you realize that most West African countries come to Onitsha to buy what they are selling in their countries? That was how they were coming here. They go to our market, buy electronics and everything they sell. So the tourism was on, raising money for IGR. Brazil just finished World Cup and they are hosting Olympics again, do you think they are fools? They know how much they made from hotels and internally generated revenues during that period. That's why people host all these things. But I don't think that they have value for sports.
Then I donated a boxing championship cup that was competed for by the entire old Imo State. Then it was old Imo State. Our champion in one of my trophies won Common Wealth Games for this country. He was discovered by Sports Council through this donation of trophies.
Sir, there is one issue that I want to clarify. This 'Naze Millionaires', how did it come about?
It came about because the money was there! We threw the money to the boys. Do you know what it is that time in Nigeria to increase their salaries by 500 percent , making sure they had cars, their bonus was increased, when they win a match they go home with fat bonus which no other team was paying in Nigeria. So it became a millionaires' club. They fly to match venues. We have aircrafts, Oriental Aircrafts at Owerri and Port Harcourt. We fly them to the venue, finish the match and then return them back so that they start training for the next match. There was a time because of our many competitions, we won the league with five outstanding games because we'll defeat you in your home and defeat you in our home because we had a national team. It was intentional that we bought all those players. I had to make sure that I deprive other clubs by bringing the big players so that we'll be winning, to bring pride to Imo State. So it's a millionaire club, if it was not who will come here? People go to where they will benefit and for the first time then, it was only the national camp that had the kind of camp we had. They had everything here; they had their own residential place at Ikenegbu. Two duplexes were rented for their families. They had everything they wanted.  They had the best jerseys, the best sports wears, and the best welfare.
Sir on the issue of 'Scientific Football' which they wrote on their bus, are you the person that brought the idea?
Of course! Do you know that when we came back from Brazil, we refused to play any local friendlies? The crowd that watches our training then is the crowd that watches our main match today even if they have any. People come from Aba, Orlu, and Umuahia to come and watch training because they have heard of the names of new players who are national team players that they have only heard about in the national competition, they are now in Owerri. Our trainings are like matches, people watch our training and get satisfied, looking forward to Saturday for who is coming.
We used to have a song 'Home and away, we no de fear'. In 1988, we won all our matches but lost only one match. We had the highest goals scored, least conceded goals, we won the league, and in short we were everything! We lost only one match and that match instead of being played in Kaduna, they took us to Zaria on a polo field. It was the only one match we lost out of a season of one year, we lost only one match. We had the best attackers and the best defenders. We won all the honours from Nigeria.
Sir, how can this team Heartland FC regain its lost glory?
The team needs a lot of focus and attention, it needs a lot of investment into them, and you need to invest to buy the best players. Do you know that in my days, I buy players that come to be redundant in the club? Because when I know that you are a problem to us in your team, the next season I'll buy you over. You'll come over and join the competition. We have about six players in midfield and they are the best in the nation so you have to work hard to fit into the team otherwise you will not play. So I buy them over. Sometimes I have like about fifty players in my team because Iwuanyanwu gave me the money to make sure I bring honour to Imo State. We won the league cups for keeps, we won Abiola cups for keeps. So how else do you know that we are scientific? That 'Home and away' song was waxed by a Ghanaian musician. 'Iwuanyanwu Nationale, home and away they no de fear', so we slot it in our bus.  The players would be sweating it out it out dancing to the song and when they come to your place, they defeat you or get a draw and then when you come to Owerri, we defeat you.
Finally sir, you are well known all over the world both in business and in sports. Can we ask, who is Lemmy Akakem? What is your motivation in life? What can you tell the youths that are coming up?
Lemmy Akakem is the man you know as I have mentioned before from Orji, The first son of His Royal Highness Eze Ben Akakem (late). I am the Managing Director of Lemmy Akakem Construction Limited, Solid Foundation Construction Company Limited and Benwood Row Construction Limited, these are my companies. I am a construction expert, a trained engineer and I work with zeal. I get committed because I have passion for my training and that is why whenever I am given a job I execute it thoroughly to the satisfaction of my clients so I make money and so many other people want me to work with them. In sports like you know, in my school days I played football but my parents did not allow me to continue professionally. In those days, it's like today, if you are a soldier you are the excitement of your people, same for footballers in those days. They believe that they are never do wells but later it's now proved wrong now football is an exciting thing. And in my youth days, I've been a motivator. Right from my infancy days, if I get a football, people would like to play in my camp. So I have been a motivator. I love people, I show compassion, and I show whatever I can. In fact I have no age grade. I am 65 now but I fit into the 30s and 40s. They are my friends so I don't feel superior to anybody, I feel that we can co-exist and be happy. That is why even in my house here, somebody asked me why did I have 13 children and I said yes, if I manage football but I cannot have a team to play with, then it's unfortunate. I have to raise a team even though the economy has made me to stop. I have raised a team with two extra abi? Today we have male and female football, is it a lie? So I can compete anytime. So that is me, I like jokes. In my community, they gave me title okpataozuoha. I didn't give myself title, it's the youths of Orji because in 1979 when I built Orji Youth Town Hall, they gave me that title and that title means that my money is not for me alone, I circulate it, that is why it is okpataozuoha, that's the title they gave me, I didn't choose the title for myself and that is me. I like to be jovial, I like to be friendly. I am a politician too. I help people to ascend to heights. I have never competed for any position because I know that my people trust me. As a youth who started early to be popular, at a point in Owerri you need to be a friend of Lemmy Akakem for you to be heard about because I will do what I can, I will make sure I lift you. When I became a politician, everybody joined me and I didn't want to dissolve the opportunity that they are supposed to get so that is why till today I've never competed for any position even when I was the most popular to compete for a position, I made sure that I used it to ascend people to various heights, that's my life. Life of concord is what I live and I have no enemy.
Sir let me add this. Will you come back to sports or have you divorced sports completely?
No at this age I cannot do what I did that time and I don't have the materials to do it. But suffice it to say that if my advice is sought, I will give my candid advice because I'm interested. But you can't go to a place where you're not needed.
Throughout my time in football, I wasn't paid one naira rather I was investing my money even as Chairman of Iwuanyanwu Nationale. When I left the club, the club owed me N1.8 million, my own personal investment. But what is N1.8 million when your proprietor is investing N30-N40 million into the club? And he created avenue for me as a contractor to be getting jobs and making money so I have to invest part of that money into the club. You can't find such people now and you can't find such relationship as I had with Chief Iwuanyanwu. Chief Iwuanyanwu took over Spartans because of my interest. He saw that I love the football club. Ab initio he didn't have interest in football in fact he reported me to my father that I left all the works he gave me and be following footballers. So I now used Alison Madueke to coax him into the club, he didn't know I played the game outside. He took over the football club and now he is investing huge amount of money, it became incumbent on me to popularize his name by making sure we win matches. I staked my life into the club because he was investing a lot of money. He thought that football is a rascal thing, it took him four months to allow us to use his name to name the club. I told him sir, you don't make any money out of football in Nigeria. You can't even recover ten percent of your investment in many years in Nigeria. It's just philanthropic. The only thing that you'll gain is your name. If you're doing it well your name will be heard. I permeated his name all over Nigeria; I permeated his name all over West Africa and the whole world. Initially they said that it was difficult to call 'Iwuanyanwu' we said don't worry, when we'll start winning matches, nobody will now force you to say who has won the match. They started calling 'Iwuanyanwu'; Africans started calling 'Iwuanyanwu', Nigerians all over knew Iwuanyanwu. So that is how I used that name to permeate Chief Iwuanyanwu in all the nooks and crannies of the whole world.


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