Edema Fuludu

By Richard Johnson
EDEMA FULUDU made the Super Eagles team while still playing in the domestic league at a time many Europe-based players could not get a foot in the door. He was an attcking midfielder built in the mould and tradition of Nigeria’s finest ever to play in his wing… ..

Fuludu was a soldier of fortune. He started football when many of his contemporaries were still in diapers. He started ‘professional’ football playing as a mercenary for the highest bidder as a secondary school student in the then Bendel state. He had a way with the ball at his feet. He caressed the ball with the kind of affection one reserves for a loved one and had the ability, like they say around here, to ‘send the ball on an errand’ and it will deliver with pinpoint accuracy. And he was ice-cool even in the thick of the toughest games, always with a smile on his face. Yea, he was that good and brought joy to many.

Born in Burutu on the 8th of May, 1970, he was a thorough-bred Warri boy, growing up in the oil-city where he found fame and renown at a very early age. In another clime, he would have become a child prodigy and burst into national consciousness earlier than he did but his father’s strict decision that education must come first before anything else held him back.

He said of his growing up years: “My dad insisted that my school work must always come first or there would be hell to pay. In retrospect, I thank God for it because education became an integral part of my living and I’m better for it now. Unlike some parents who did not allow their children to play the game, I had a sort of agreement with mine that my duties at home and attending classes were non-negotiable. If I failed in my household duty or school report then I knew the consequences.”

From that early age, the young Edema learnt to balance education and football, a skill which helped him later in life as a national league player while in the university. And the lure of academics made him one of the most educated footballers of his generation.

Life as a youngster was fun despite the rigours and restrictions imposed by his academic demands.  At the Pessu primary school and the College of Commerce both in Warri, he was a star pupil as well as an acclaimed footballer even though football started for him by age 5 even before he saw the inside of a school.

At age 10, he was involved in inter-street matches across Igbudu, Essi Lay-out, Okumagba Layout, Dawudu, Cemetary, Iyara areas and the likes all in Warri. He was a member of the football team in both schools and, as a matter of fact, got into the high school team from Form Two, something not very common in those days.

At the same time, he played for and captained a local youth team called Oroke Youths FC which was bankrolled by a football-loving wealthy sponsor Chief Oroke. It was his first involvement in an organized football setting but it ended in disappointment barely two years later.

“Oroke Youth FC was my first really organized football club which was sponsored by the good Chief Oroke. However the team was disbanded before we could win anything because the managers were not honest in their dealings with the sponsor so he stopped funding the team and that was how the team collapsed,” he said.

Disappointed but not necessarily put down by the incident, Edema continued to play for his secondary school while still playing ‘for hire’ for the highest bidder around Warri and its environs. Humphrey Jebba (BCC, 3SC), late Richard Ojomo (Insurance), Mobossa Brodericks (Julius Berger) and a host of others were his contemporaries playing secondary school football around Warri at the time.

Cool as cucumber, even in the heat of war

Fuludu, cool as cucumber, even in the heat of war

Because he was so good at what he does, the demand for his services was never lacking but one incident remained from that period which made him to have a rethink.

“I was on the small side, size-wise, so it was easy for me to assume any age and get away with it. I remember going to play for a primary school and the opposing school which lost because of me actually came looking for me in the victorious school while in actual fact I was I was in my secondary school class at the time. It was funny and scary at the time but I eventually had to give it up when I got to Form Three because I couldn’t fool anyone again because I’d grown in size and my face was more recognizable.”

Soon secondary school was over and, again, his father insisted he must go to the university before any other thing. However, the senior Fuludu relented when a tenant of his, a certain Geoffrey Okpulor predicted that his son will one day play for Nigeria and bring honour to the family name. A truce was therefore reached that he can continue to play as long as he secured admission to the university and come out with a good grade.

In 1983, he sat for the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB) examinations and scored 286, enough for him to study his preferred Accountancy at the University of Benin (Uniben) but there was a snag. He had a P8 in English and A1 in literature in English but this did not meet the prerequisite for Accountancy so he had to opt for Business Administration with the intention to remedy the deficiency and change back to Accountancy.

However, after securing a credit in English in the November/December exam, the Department of Business Administration refused to let him go because he  he had very good grades. So, fate decided, he stayed put and eventually graduated from that department.

He easily made the Varsity team and was in the squad to the 1984 NUGA Games in University of Ife (Now OAU) where he helped Uniben to a bronze medal finish. In that Uniben team were players such as Ikponmwosa Omoregie, Isreal Akporero, Charity Ikhidero, George Ebojoh, Ogidi Ibeabuchi among others.

Meanwhile, the Uniben coach Godwin Izilien was also coach of Union Bank of Benin and he was able to convince the young but talented Fuludu to sign for his team. He was on a salary of 50naira which was considered lucrative for a young student in those days. He promptly repaid Coach Izilien’s faith in him by helping Union Bank to win the Bendel State Division 1 League and emerged as the top-scorer with 12 goals despite playing as an attacking midfielder.

Back from NUGA games, life resumed as a student but on the football front there was a massive change. Coach Izilien had moved from Union Bank to the bigger New Nigerian Bank (NNB) FC and asked his trusted player to come along. Fuludu did not need much convincing before making the move. His pay-packet did the talking. He was offered a massive 1000% pay-rise from N50 to N500 or N6,000 (six thousand naira) per annum. Life for the young Fuludu couldn’t have been better. He became a big student on campus but was wise enough to remain grounded and focused on his education.

He finally got national recognition at NNB. His performances attracted the attention of national selectors and he got a call-up to the Flying Eagles preparing for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Chile in 1987 but academic demands scuttled his participation as he was about writing his degree exams so he had to pull out of the squad.

Captain Fantastico: At the 1986 NUGA Games in Ibadan

Captain Fantastico: At the 1986 NUGA Games in Ibadan

Same 1986, he was back on the NUGA circuit and led his Uniben to the games hosted by the University as captain. This time he was hoping to go one better to win the gold medal but, again like in 1984, they stumbled at the semi-finals and could only settle for another bronze medal. In that Uniben team were Austin Etoh, Joshua Ikioda, Freedom Obasa, Henry Onianwa, Victor Okoh, Peter Okonji and Okey Nwanmadu amongst others.

Fuludu played two seasons with the Benin Bankers and won a WAFU silver medal with them and was captain in his second season. At the end of that season, he moved to NNPC FC of Warri where he played for one year before moving up north to BCC Lions of Gboko.

At BCC, he joined a crack squad of players which won the African Cup Winners Cup competition, otherwise known as the Mandela Cup in 1990 under the tutelage of coach Shuaibu Amodu.

In that team were players like Moses Kpakor, Humphrey Jebba, Amir Angwe, Bolaji Douglas, Sam Pam etc and they defeated the usually hard-to-beat North Africans, Club Africaine 4-1 on aggregate with Fuludu scoring one of the goals. The team was so good that they went all the way to the final again the second year before losing out to Dynamos FC of Zimbabwe on 5-4 aggregate.
Standing fifth from left with the great BCC Lions of Gboko

Standing fifth from left with the great BCC Lions of Gboko

Super Eagles coach Clemens Westerhof had seen enough of Fuludu’s talent and duly capped him in the 1-1 draw away to Burkina Faso on January 13, 1991 in a Senegal ’92 Nations Cup qualifier. He did not make the squad to the final tournament but did enough to return two years later to receive a winner’s medal at Tunisia ’94, one of only two home-based players in a star-studded Super Eagles squad.

At the beginning of the 1992 season, Fuludu moved to Julius Berger of Lagos who had qualified to play in the CAF Champions Cup by virtue of winning the league the previous season. However the club was bundled out of the competition in the second round after a 2-1 aggregate loss to Wydad Casablanca of Morocco.

After another season at Julius Berger, he returned to familiar terrain by rejoining BCC in 1994 and was on hand to help them to a league and cup double that season.

Newly appointed Super Eagles coach, Amodu Shuaibu who was drafted in in the post-Westerhof era and, incidentally Fuludu’s former coach at BCC Lions, drafted him back into the national team and listed him in the squad for the 1995 US Gold Cup, an invitational tournament in the United States of America where he played his most difficult Eagles game of his career, detailed to mark out Colombia captain, the raven-haired superstar Carlos Valderamma.

“Against Colombia, coach Amodu gave me the duty to mark Carlos Valderama, a very sleeky player and one of the world’s best at the time. It was difficult and he made life hard for me but I think I succeeded in reducing his influence on the game though we lost 2-1,” Fuludu reminisced about that period of his life.

Seated second from right on national team duties

Seated second from right on national team duties

And, though he didn’t know it at the time, he played his last game for the Super Eagles in the next match of the US Gold Cup, a 1-0 loss to Venezuela. Finally, after a decade of top-flight action in the domestic league, Fuludu took his game to Europe and signed up with Altay Izmir of Turkey. He was to play there for the next three years before returning home to rejoin old club Julius Berger but his days in the round leather game were already counting down.

In 1998, he got married and completed his Post Graduate Diploma in Computer Science, hung up his boots and went back to his old school, the University of Benin for his MBA two years later.

“I quit the game because my body had slowed down and was no longer kicking as much as I would have loved. I hate to play second fiddle so I thought it wise to retire from the game and put my education to good use. I worked in the oil and gas sector for 10 years before going to Holland for a coaching course. I then started an academy called New Vision Soccer Academy. I’m still involved in football although on the administrative side. I’m presently vice chairman of the Delta State FA, chairman of the state football league board and Director of Finance of the Association of Professional Footballers Of Nigeria (APFON).”

Fuludu (standing first from right) with Altay teammates

Fuludu (standing first from right) with Altay teammates

And, of course, he still kicks the ball for leisure with the All-Stars team.

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