The Rejuvenation of Bendel Insurance FC

The gateway international stadium on Sunday 20 January 2019,  saw Bendel Insurance make a return to the elite division of Nigerian league football after being absent for over a decade. 

Charles Omokaro opened the team’s account in the second half of the game. Despite seeing hosts Remo Stars equalize, the Benin Arsenal fought to the death to ensure they leave Sagamu with a point. 

Originally established in 1972 as the Vipers of Benin, the team had played its way to the top and managed to stay there without getting relegated until the 2007/2008 season when it was hit with a couple crises. The crisis led to at one time, two different clubs claiming the name Insurance.

They were relegated at the end of the 2007–08 season after finishing bottom, the first relegation from the top level in the team’s history.

The team’s woes started in its first month of the 2007–08 season which was delayed because of a management dispute over who controlled the team. There was ownership tussle between the Chairman of the club Igbinowanhia Ekhosuehi and the then Edo State Commissioner for Sports Brown Ebewele.

While Ekhosuehi claimed he had the right to run the club the way he wanted because he funded it solely when previous administrations in the state left the team to die, Ebewele insisted that as a government agency, the chairman must be accountable to his ministry. There indeed, was a deadlock. 

While the state refused to fund the team, Ekhosuehi soldiered on with the little he could muster from his poultry business. The team eventually hit a cul de sac when the Sports Council under Ebewele decided to have another Insurance. Then began the shenanigans of having two Insurance teams file out at Ogbe Stadium for the same match.

The then Premier league board led by Chief Oyuki Obaseki tried to resolve the matter to no avail. 

With Insurance missing crucial away matches and forfeiting points at home due to the matter of having two home teams for one game, it was inevitable that relegation was bound to be the final solution to deny Edo fans Premier League actions at the Ogbe Stadium.

It was the first relegation to be witnessed in the life of the club since its days as Vipers FC. That broke the heart of passionate football followers who remember the 1970s and 1980s with nostalgia.

It was more painful because the other teams in the state like New Nigeria Bank FC and Flash Flamingoes had gone into extinction. Attempts to bring back Flash as Bendel United failed to fly. And so, for 11 years, without good funding to attract quality players, Insurance wallowed in self-pity in the lower rung of the country’s club football.

In August 2008, the ownership crisis was settled and the Edo State government took control. Thus the name officially reverted to Bendel Insurance Football Club. However, the financial problems continued throughout the season.

In February 2009 Insurance was banned from using their stadium temporarily because it was not up to league standards. In March, they were one of eight teams threatened with having their participation suspended due to a backlog of debts and fines. 

The credit for the new lease of life must go to Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki, who made the team’s promotion to the NPFL a priority. As someone with private sector background, Obaseki saddled his deputy Phillip Shaibu with the mandate of getting the job done.

He was not ready for excuses of any kind. It, therefore, was not a surprise to see a serving deputy governor of a state joining the football club at training and even attending and playing some of their matches when time permits as a registered member of Insurance. 

Of course, critics who did not understand the scenario playing out at Insurance took it for granted and called Shaibu’s involvement with the team as a huge joke. Now they all know better. Obaseki has fulfilled his promise to get Insurance amongst the country’s top clubs again.

The Club which is now led by Chairman Julius Ihonvbere and coached by Monday Odigie boast of one of the most trophy-laden cabinet. Having been crowned league champions twice in 1973 and 1979, the vipers also have a continental trophy in their cabinet, winning the CAF Cup in 1994. They have won the Federation Cup, now known as the Aiteo Cup, three times in 1972, 1978 and 1980. 

All these trophies and glories came in the past, and of course, coach Odigie will be looking to take the club back to its glory days, even as he enjoys maximum support from the Edo State Government. They next square up at home against Kwara United on Wednesday  23rd January 2019.