Heartland coach Fidelis Ilechukwu has shockingly revealed that he is homeless after the Nigeria Professional Football League side stopped paying for his accommodation.
Ilechukwu, while making a passionate plea to the Imo State Governor Hope Uzodinma, added that Heartland owed him five months salary and an outstanding N1.5m in sign-on fees.
A frustrated Ilechukwu, who joined The Naze Millionaires in 2019 after 13 years with MFM, said he may be forced to step aside if the working conditions at the struggling club, who are 18th on the NPFL log, don’t change.
“They owe me five months salaries and an outstanding sign-on fee of N1.5m. Do you know what it means to be working and not get paid? It’s so painful and it’s not good. If you talk they say you are sabotaging the team. I believe it is time to talk and inform our fans about what we are passing through. If I have my way, I will step aside,” Ilechukwu said in an audio interview that went viral on Friday.
“We don’t have accommodation for the past one year, they haven’t paid for my accommodation, sometimes we come back from training and we stay outside because there is no accommodation for players.
“We also got a FIFA ban for terminating contracts unlawfully and the players we are supposed to sign have joined other teams. We just got few players from the grassroots because we couldn’t register new ones. Eight first team players left the club last season and it’s been difficult replacing them.
“I’m calling on Governor Hope Uzodinma, I’m begging him to look deep into this team. We have a lot of challenges which most times we won’t want to talk about. I know that if our governor knows what we are going through he will come to our aid and make sure this team does not go down.”
Heartland have often been engrossed in scandals over non-payment of salaries and allowances to players and officials, despite reported financial backing from the Imo State Government.
Newsmen learnt the club receive N30m monthly allocation from the Imo State Government, with N17m budgeted for players and staff salaries, but the club officials have often been accused of funds misappropriation.
Last year, Charles Ezekwem, immediate past chairman of the club, slashed players’ salaries, saying the decision, which had goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa’s monthly wages cut from N700,000 to N500,000, was “in full agreement with all the players.”
Ezekwem’s board also pointed accusing fingers at the previous management led by Chibuzo Etuemena, alleging that €15,000 was missing from the club’s domiciliary account under the watch of the Etumena-led board.
Power play, political bickering and scramble for juicy positions in the club by politicians have also affected the smooth running of the five-time Nigerian champions.
Last year, the Imo State sports commissioner Chike Ogu was involved in a widely publicised rift with the management board of the club, which led to his dissolution of the board.
But then General Manager of the club Godson Onyemaobi insisted Ogu “lacked the locus standi (authority and power) to dissolve a board duly instituted by the governor of the state.”
Ezekwem alleged that accusations of funds misappropriation by his board were targeted at the removal of Onyemaobi, who was eventually replaced by the returning Ifeanyi Chukwudi.
“I know that I’m not the target in this crisis, but the GM (Onyemobi). So, if he is sacked, I will resign because I know he is a performing GM,” Ezekwem said.
In an interesting twist, Ezekwem had sacked Chukwudi in 2019, and brought on his preferred candidate Onyemaobi.
But Governor Hope Uzodinma overturned the decision last October, when he reappointed Chukwudi as the club’s GM, forcing out Ezekwem in the process.
However, off the pitch battles for the soul of the club have cost Heartland dearly this season and in recent years.
At the moment, they are languishing in 18th position, with just two wins from their opening eight games, losing five, much to the dismay of their fans.
On his side’s poor start to the NPFL, Ilechukwu blamed it on the poor work environment at the club.
Heartland drew 1-1 at home to IfeanyiUbah in a rescheduled game on Thursday.
“It’s football and its very painful. I know the fans are not happy just as we are not happy too but it happens in football and we must take it in good faith.
“Give me an enabling environment to work and let me pick my players, I will deliver. I know my capabilities as a coach. We had no pre-season prior to the start of the season, so how do you expect me to know the quality of the players I have.
“This team didn’t have pre season, no camping. How can we know the players? I’ve been begging but no one has come to our rescue.”
Heartland face MFM, Ilechukwu’s former employers, in their next NPFL game on Sunday at the Agege stadium.