19 August 2013
After Many Years As An Hermaphrodite, Former Super falcon Player , Iyabo Abade Now living the life Of a man.
many years as a hermaphrodite - a person with male
and female organ. She/he had surgery in the US in
2004 and is now living as a man named James
Johnson. Punch caught up with him recently and he
opened up about his life
Now that you are a man, has it been easy
playing men's football?
I thank God for how far He has brought me. I have
made every effort to get to the top as a footballer
but there is no support from anywhere, even the
Nigeria Football Federation. I am just trying on
my own to get to the top but it hasn't been easy.
You go for trials and you do well and you are
recruited but after sometime, they will start
acting funny; they use my past against me. I try
to ensure that I don't let clubs know who I am. I
don't like telling them that I am the former Iyabo
Abade; I have to go there like every other normal
player and fight for a place in the team. But when
they hear that former Iyabo Abade has signed for
either Crown FC or Plateau United, they start
discriminating against me.
Meanwhile I got there as James Johnson but they
keep asking, "Can she cope in the midst of guys?"
They have forgotten that I am a man and I met their
requirements before they signed me up. Once they
now know my past, they won't allow me to play
anymore. Were they blind when they signed me?
With that, I feel frustrated and discriminated against
so I decided that there was no need disturbing
myself and I decided to quit. I am praying that God
helps me so that I can continue my career abroad. I
think things will be better over there.
Has the society accepted you for who you are?
Some do but some have not. Everybody cannot like
you for who you are, so you just have to take life the
way it is. My colleagues who we played together in
the women's league all welcome me. Some people
want to be my friends even when they don't know
who I am and even when they know that I am the
former Iyabo Abade turned James Johnson, they are
still happy to be my friends. I am happy with that.
There is no need for me to be feeling sad that God
created me the way I am. So, I am happy with life but
I feel sad because some people are out there to cut
short your happiness. I will be happy playing football
but some people don't like it.
What is your relationship with your Falcons
Some of them still welcome me; they see me just like
every other person. They don't discriminate against
me; we grew up together and did things together
even though I am no more in their group. I am so
happy about that. When the news first came out, a
lot of them were shocked because they didn't even
know anything about hermaphrodite. But later, they
sympathised with me; they said I am not God and
didn't create myself. That was how it went and we
are still friends till now.
Your rehabilitation should be in stages. How
far have you gone?
I am still on it. After I went for check-up in 2009, I am
due for the next stage, where a surgery will be
carried out to enable me become a full man and live
a normal and perfect life. But every effort has been
futile; nothing is really happening and I am looking
up to God to intervene in this issue. I have made
every effort and gone to the NSC but they did
nothing. I took a letter there and was going there for
about seven months. So I have to look elsewhere to
enable me complete the surgery. I also wrote to NFF
when Sani Lulu was the head and he gave me hope.
He said, 'Bring your letter and we will see what we
can do.' But at the end, they said, 'We don't know
what happened to your letter.' When it gets to
releasing money, that is when the letter gets
missing. Only Family Worship helped me a great deal
to go for the check-up.
How much do you need for the surgery?
I will need about N12m for the final surgery. My
doctor says I have to stay in the US for one year, so
that he can monitor the final process. Aside the
surgery, I will have to pay for accommodation for one
year and other things like feeding and transportation.
Now that you haven't finished the
rehabilitation, would you say you are living a
I would say I am living happily but my joy will be to
complete the whole stages of the rehabilitation. Then
I can boast of myself as a real man just like other
guys. I will say I still need the final surgery before I
can answer your question further.
You once had the ambition of becoming the
first person ever to play for the female and
male national teams of a country but the
dream seems dashed. How do you feel?
I feel rejected and frustrated because football is my
life but the NSC and the NFF are not in support of my
ambition. If we had a good sports commission, I
won't be in this situation. Do they want me to cry to
the US government? That will be a disgrace to
Who are those that stood behind you during
your trying times?
I want to thank former FCT ministers Abba Gana and
Nasir el-Rufai; they were very helpful. I wrote to the
former First Lady, Turai Yar'Adua, and Patience
Jonathan, who was then Second Lady. Though I didn't
get money from the First Lady but I was given the
opportunity to enter Aso Rock. Unfortunately, her
husband fell sick and she couldn't attend to me. She
asked some people to attend to me but I didn't hear
from them. The present First Lady has not done
anything to help me despite all the efforts I have
made to reach her, a fellow Niger Deltan like her. If
northerners can show concern for me, why not her?
Family Worship also gave me money for my check-up
as well as the Redeemed Christian Church of God. I
appreciate all of them.
Would you accept if the US says you should
naturalise and play for them?
I will accept it with both hands. It's everybody's
dream to be a US citizen, so I will jump at the
What is your advice to other hermaphrodites,
who are ashamed to come out or don't have
the opportunity you have?
I have some already and I have given my doctor in
the US their contacts. They are two and they are into
female football. They say a problem shared is half
solved. If people don't know your problem, you will
die with it, so they just have to come out and let the
world know what they are passing through. They
need to look unto God. If not for God, I would have
been a forgotten issue because at times, I feel like
committing suicide. You will want to run into a
moving truck but I thank God for being in charge of
my life. I am happy today and everybody wants to
mingle with me. So, life goes on.
Are you thinking of setting up a foundation for
Yes, so that many people with such issues can be
treated. I hope to make it a worldwide foundation.
There are a lot of hermaphrodites but they are shy or
afraid to come out. There was a case that happened
in Delta State when they almost killed a
hermaphrodite. They said she is a witch. But it is not
proper because these people didn't create
themselves. They should use me as a sign of hope.
They can also be treated and be happy just like
myself. I won't blame them for not coming out
because the support is not there in Nigeria. If they
come out, they will be discriminated against.
When ladies you approach realise later that
you were once like them, do they run away?
I am loved by women, there's no doubt about that.
They want to be my best friend. Everywhere I go,
women always appreciate me because of my looks
even when they later get to know about my issue.
They always want to grab the opportunity to date
someone like me. Some of them are happy to be with
me because they have never seen such a person
before. Every woman is mixing with James Johnson.
How was your trip to the US in 2012 with the
Marasata Soccer Academy?
Marasata Soccer Academy brought me back to life
because I felt so frustrated when I was neglected. The
academy brought me in to lead the female team
because I once played female football. That was how I
became head of the coaching crew and with time, I
will get to the top. The trip to the US last year was a
Aside not having a club side, do you still play
Of course yes. Football is part of me and I play every
now and then, even with my boys in the academy. I
derive joy in football; I play with Karo All Stars in
Abuja and we play so many competitions.
If you look back now, is there a time you will
recount with joy while playing female football?
Sometimes I feel sad that I didn't continue what I
know how to do best in the midst of the girls but I
ignore it and let go. It's not over, I still feel I will play
for this country one day as a man but whether I play
or not, I am happy with life. I was excluded from the
1999 Women's World Cup but when the team
returned home, my club FCT Queens had a match
against Pelican Stars, which paraded all the
superstars like Ann Agumanu, Mercy Akide, Eberechi
Opara and Stella Mbachu. I was the only star in my
team. It's a game people still talk about. We were 2-1
down and I scored an incredible goal from the flank.
That goal helped us beat Pelican 3-2 and they were
complaining that why did they allow me to play the
game after it was discovered that I am a
hermaphrodite. People still say it was the best game
they saw me play. My goal gingered my teammates
to beat them. I will never forget that game. FCT
Queens also won the Challenge Cup and I was one of
the team's trainers. That was how I got help to go for
surgery. We were hosted in Sheraton and the then
FCT Minister Nasir el-Rufai sponsored me to the US
for the surgery.
Initially, was it easy blending from a female to
It was not easy in the beginning playing with the
men but I took up the challenge. I didn't get support
as a male footballer. If I had remained as a female
footballer, I knew where I would be now. In men's
football, it's all about who you know. If you don't
have someone to back you up, forget it, no matter
what you play. I felt there was no need going to a
club and telling them that I was Iyabo Abade. I
wanted to be there on merit but after signing, I faced
discrimination. I played for NEPA and Plateau United.
At Plateau, they brought me in always as a late
substitute because they didn't believe I could play.
But we were five they selected out of over 100
players that came for trials. If I was not good, why did
they pick me from such a large number of players?
Do you sometimes feel like being a woman?
I chose to become a man because it is what God
wants me to be. I didn't use money as my priority in
opting to be a man. If it was for money reasons, I
would have remained as a woman because I was
getting to the top of female football in Nigeria. I am
happy with the decision I took. If I became a female, I
probably wouldn't have been happy with my life. So I
just decided to move on. I am not regretting the step
I made. I can tell you, women are running after me
like Usain Bolt and I think it is better for me. I like it
that way. I never expected it that way. Today, I am
pleased that people want to know me.
We know you have been very close to Agatha
Agu for a very long time. Are you planning to
get married to her?
She is a very good person and if God says she is
going to be my wife, I will be the happiest man
because she deserves it; she has always been there
for me right from our days in female football. She has
been my backbone even when things are not working
well. I know by His grace, we will get there.
Can you tell us your best moment?
I don't have any yet until I wear the colours of the
national team. If I cannot play for the main Eagles, at
least I can for the home-based Eagles. I will
appreciate if I get the opportunity.
If the home-based Eagles camp is thrown open
ahead of the 2014 CHAN, do you think you can
With God, I will make it. I am so sure of myself.
What is your word for coach Stephen Keshi?
I wish him the best. He has won the AFCON trophy,
so we should appreciate him even if he is making
some mistakes. We shouldn't be criticising him
always. He is a good coach and he needs our support.