Clubs use my past against me-Johnson

THE PUNCH Newspaper

Former Super Falcons player, Iyabo Abade, who had a sex change from female to male, tells ’TANA AIYEJINA about his challenges. Just a few years back, he was the darling of majority of Nigeria’s football-loving populace. But several years after changing sexuality from female to male, James Johnson has had to battle several challenges in her new-found world. He has had to live and contend with gross discrimination and prejudice.

The story of Johnson is truly intriguing. Named Iyabo Abade after birth, she was raised as a girl while growing up and then she decided to choose football as a career.

At Jegede Babes in 1996, Abade scored a record 38 league goals and caught the attention of Ismaila Mabo, then coach of the Super Falcons, Nigeria‘s female football team.

But two years later and on the verge of making her debut at the 1998 African Women‘s Championship, suspicions about her gender led to a confrontation with teammates and she was eventually barred from the team when it was discovered that he was a hermaphrodite.

She was sacked by her club shortly after she was dropped from the national team. Ultimately, Abade was thrown out of football and her world came crashing down.

With the financial assistance coming from then Federal Capital Territory Minister Nasir El-Rufai, Abade underwent a successful sex change in the US in 2004 and returned in 2005 as a man and with a new name – James Johnson.

But the player, who is looking for another N7.2m for a second surgery, says he’s been abandoned to his fate despite his new gender status.

“There has been no help from the Nigeria Football Federation or even my teammates in Falcons, except the FCT that helped me when I went for the first surgery. The NFF turned me up and down and I decided to seek help elsewhere. I decided to use other means to raise money for the operation.”

In his quest to launch his career as a male, he has also met a brickwall. He once signed for Crown FC of Ogbomoso after the first surgery. He scored two goals for them but he was thrown out after they discovered his earlier identity.

But he is unperturbed and insists that his dream of becoming the first player ever to play for the women and men’s national teams of their country is still realisable.

“Before I realise that dream, I need to play constantly for a club. My predicament has brought me too low and I have not been happy with myself because some people feel I don’t want to do anything.

“The discrimination I face when I go for trials at clubs is too much. Once they find out that I was the former Abade, they start behaving funny. It happened to me at Plateau United and Crown FC. I go to these clubs like every other player but suddenly there is bias towards me.

“So I felt there was no need to run after these clubs. My dream now is to play in Europe because that is where you have to be if you want to play at the World Cup. When they see me doing well, they will surely invite me to the national team,” he says.

“I almost achieved my dream when I missed the 2005 U-20 World by a whisker. I should have made the team because coach Samson Siasia was happy with my performance but I was slightly over-age.”

On the attitude of the general society towards her, Johnson says, “People see me as a new person. I have not experienced discrimination outside football; people are happy with the steps I have taken. Although some of my friends are not happy that I transformed from a woman to man, but it is God’s wish that made me take that decision.

“Some people say I should have remained a female but I want to have kids. If I had chosen to become a girl, I may not be able to have children. I sought doctors’ advice and they said ‘you might not be good looking in future if you decided to be a woman.’

“So I decided to be a male even though people said men’s football is very hard and tasking.”

However, he says he is living life to the fullest as a man.

“I am enjoying my life as a man right now. I must confess because I was living a life of confusion before,” he says.

“The only thing that has weighed me down is the discrimination from clubs. I don’t believe in using ‘long leg’ like they say to get a job. The clubs have really made me feel very bad.”

Once being courted by men as Abade, Johnson has suddenly found himself now having to make advances at women and he says he’s not finding any difficulty with that.

“Being courted by men was then; females like me for who I am but I don’t know how God did it. The girls are just after me even after knowing my status.

“They take me as the same person they used to know because it was never my intention to live the way I am right now. Girls welcome me even though I haven’t made advances at them. I have a girlfriend though and she is in school right now,” he adds.

He advised people diagnosed to be hermaphrodites not to give up saying they could live normal lives.

“They should be happy with themselves. I have a Sri Lankan friend who had a similar problem like me. He felt he was the only one in the world with such problem but I gave him hope and tried to make him enjoy life. It’s all about challenges.”

For now, Johnson’s main priority is to go for his next surgery which should have taken place in March. He was unable to raise the required funds for the treatment

But a former captain of Nigeria’s handball national team, Olajide Fashikun, who is behind the campaign to recruit 72,000 Nigerians to donate N100 to help Johnson undergo the surgery, is optimistic that the fortunes of the former NEPA Abuja player would change once the operation is carried out.

He says, “The plan is to secure the surgery for Johnson and then start a new training programme, but if the discrimination in Nigeria will be high, he may have to explore football in the US. The last time he was there for surgery, three teams were actually begging to sign him on but the patriotic zeal in him made him come back home, only to be discriminated against and was frustrated out of the game.

“Though he still trains well, he is very fit now to play in the Nigerian Premier League. We have opened an account with the names James Johnson with ECOBANK. The account number is 0510110209777601. Once we get the operation done; he will have the opportunity to realise his dreams again.”


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