Ex-Super Falcons Player, Iyabo Abade’s New Lifestyle
Got this from Punch
Former Super Falcons forward, Iyabo
Abade, is the most celebrated high-
profile case of a hermaphrodite in
women’s football, who subsequently
had surgery in 2004 and is now living
as a man, with a new name, James
Johnson. He tells ’Tana Aiyejina about
his travails trying to adjust to his new
life as a man, societal discrimination
and his aim to help hermaphrodites.
Please continue below.
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
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
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
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 man’s life?
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
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 Nigeria.
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 opportunity.
What is your advice to other
hermaphrodites, who are ashamed to
come out or don’t have the opportunity
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 hermaphrodites?
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
When ladies you approach realise later
that you were once like them, do they
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 success.
Aside not having a club side, do you
still play football?
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
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 male?
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
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 make it?
With God, I will make it. I am so sure
What is your word for coach Stephen
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.
Posted By K2I