Iris Oliha, the widow of late one-time Super Eagles midfielder, Thompson Oliha, speaks exclusively to Completesportsnigeria.com’s IZUCHUKWU OKOSI in this heart-rending interview, on her journey in marriage with the departed hero who played greatly for Bendel Insurance, Iwuanyanyu Nationale (Heartland), Africa Sport (CIV), Maccabi Ironi Ashdod (Isreal), and Antalyaspor (Turkey). Excerpts…
Madam, may you introduce yourself to our readers…
I am Mrs Iris Oliha, the wife to the late Thompson Oliha. We are blessed with a daughter, Paris Inie Oliha who will be six years old on July 8. It’s just unfortunate that her father is not with us to celebrate her 6th birthday. I read Business Management from the Auchi Polytechnic.
Please could you tell us how both of you met?
We met in Lagos. Thompson was in Lagos to see a family who were his close friends. His friend’s name is Ugochukwu, a guy he met at Owerri when he was a player of Iwuanyanwu Nationale. Thompson used to tell me about the couple. So the couple was seeing him off while I was coming back from the market. I was living with my aunt and her husband in the same compound in Ikeja as Thompson’s friends.
That was the day we saw for the first time. He asked the couple whom this beautiful girl (me) was. They introduced us to each other and that was how we became friends. He later made his intention known to me.
So what was the attraction? Why did you marry him: his fame and fortune perhaps?
(Smiles) No. I loved him because he was never a proud man. Thompson was down-to-earth and saw everyone as being equal before God. On our way to Benin sometime ago, he wanted to eat Akara (bean cake). Someone traveling with us wanted to help him buy it but he insisted on alighting from the car and buying the bean-cakes. That was at Uselu Road on your way to UNIBEN. People were wondering why he had to stand with children and women on the roadside to buy Akara, then he responded politely by saying: Ehen, I’m Thompson Oliha and so what? He bought Akara for everybody. Thompson was a giver. He employed cooks for people to eat. He didn’t believe in class. His simplicity was what endeared me to him really because I hate arrogance.
Before you met him in person, did you ever watch a football match he played?
Yes, I did see some of his games, but I didn’t take particular interest in him because I never knew we would end up as husband and wife. I am a very passionate football fan. In fact, he used to call me FIFA because I was abreast of happenings in the game. I would have loved to go into coaching, but you know men have ego. Would they accept to work with me (laughter).
Was there resistance from one or both families as regard your getting married?
Yes. (Her mood swings and apparently tries to hold back tears) Thompson's mother and most of his siblings never wanted him to marry me because I wasn't a Benin woman. I am from Auchi. They wanted him to marry a Benin woman because they felt any woman who is not from their place will go away with the wealth of their children. Thompson stood his ground and insisted that if it wasn't me, he will never marry again. He was that serious. We got married on April 4, 2006 in our Benin home. A priest came to the house to wed us. It was a quiet wedding with only few family and friends around to witness our union.
You said marry again. Was he married before you met him?
No, but he had a son from another woman before we got married. They were not legally married. He told me about the boy, but we never lived with the boy. His name is Jesus Oliha.
Why didn't they get married as husband and wife?
Thompson used to tell me about the attitude of the mother of his son. She would demand for the boy’s school fees which were quite expensive. Thompson asked her to let him be with the boy, she refused. He later said: “Okay, let me have the account number of the boy’s school.” The woman still refused and my husband decided to let her have him because it became obvious that she was bent on taking more money from Thompson than the school fees.
The Federal government made a promise to the Super Eagles squad that won the 1994 African Cup of Nations. The team was promised houses but the said houses never got to the players. Your husband was vocal about it. Did he meet anybody for this purpose?
Thompson used to say that the greatest asset that he would have loved to get from the Nigeria was the house that the military government pledged in 1994 for winning the AFCON. It is unfortunate that the pledge was not fulfilled. He fought to see that pledge redeemed, not just for himself but for his teammates. This was a man who played as a youth international and also for the Super Eagles. Those 1994 Eagles remains the best Nigerian national team till ‘tomorrow.
So with the way things panned out, did he regret playing for Nigeria?
No, he didn’t regret playing for the national teams of Nigeria, but still, was not happy with the unfulfilled promise. He was proud to be a Nigerian and an African. He couldn’t find himself living abroad, if not for his career which warranted he travelled a lot all over the world. That promise can still be fulfilled, I believe. This government can still look into that matter because the players have families. We have already lost three players from that 1994 squad (Rashidi Yekini, Uche Okafor and Thompson Oliha).
Some of our readers still do not know how your husband passed on. May you share that experience?
My husband died in my arms. One Sunday morning, he started complaining of severe headache. He was usually a strong man and hardly fell ill. I was surprised by the way he was feeling, but still advised him to take medication. We argued this for about ten minutes before he accepted to go to the hospital, so went to see our family doctor. While in the car, Thompson told me he wanted to sleep more since we woke up very early that morning. He laid his head on my laps and closed his eyes as we drove to the hospital. I never spoke with him because I believed he was asleep. It was when we got to the hospital that I noticed he was dead. I passed out and was in coma for some days.
How have you been coping without the care and support of your husband?
It has been very difficult for me. When he died, his immediate family was busy selling off his properties – houses, cars, laptops, phones, generators, iPads , and so on. The extended family and their kinsmen were still supportive, telling them not to rub their family name in the mud. Three days before Thompson died, we had come back from a shopping trip we made because I needed to stock my boutique. My customers had made their requests before then. My mother-in-law and Thompson’s siblings auctioned my shop. My daughter had to stop schooling for sometime. All the cars and houses were gone and she asked questions. The family house in Benin was always a war zone. There was a day a television and radio crew from the state came to cover what was going on. This was because the siblings were fighting each other over who will own this or that property. The journalists who came to do their job had to run for their lives when dangerous objects like Machetes, bottles, cutlasses were flying in the air! They did all these because Thompson had no will for his family
Why would your husband, Thompson Oliha, not have a will for his family despite the resistance put up by your in-laws towards his marrying you?
His lawyer advised him to do so, but he said he would do that later. He said he still had time to do so, but he never did so.
Do you intend to remarry after what you passed through in the hands of your in-laws?
(After a long thought) I cannot say for now. It is an answer I cannot give at the moment.
But would you let Paris go into sports and represent Nigeria if she aspires to that?
I’m not her God, but I will support my daughter in anything she hopes to become in life
Tell us briefly about the Oliha siblings…
They are eight in number and Thompson was the third. Their last born is from another father. He had a cousin, Aigbe Oliha who played for the Golden Eaglets in 2005.
How did your husband unwind when not playing football?
He loved the music of Yinka Ayefele a lot and also Victor Uwaifo. We travelled a lot as well.
Take heart madam and a happy birthday in advance for your daughter, Paris
Thank you very much