By Paul Bassey
During last monthâ€™s visit to South Africa, I was on my way to Durban from Jo’burg when Aisha Falode said she had planned to go take a look at the Eagles base camp in Ballito, near Durban.
I requested she waited for me to join her, since the flight was just an hour away. As with nearly all the airlines in Africa, we took off behind schedule and by the time I got to Durban, Aisha had left for the Hampshire Hotel.
Over the phone she tried to explain her disappointment, how the place was not befitting of the Eagles and how it lacked adequate security.Yet it was only when we got back to Nigeria that I appreciated the level of her worry given the visuals highlighted in her World Cup countdown programme which was further corroborated by a colleague, Kayode Thomas of Next newspaper who also saw the hotel, live.
My first reaction on this matter was to commend Aisha for a beautiful piece of investigative journalism which has, regrettably, abandoned our profession here. I praised her for getting to talk to the general secretary of the NFF, Dr. Bolaji Ojo-Oba, who said on camera that the hotel was ok, but that a second look will be required to take a final decision.
Unfortunately, when that opportunity came, with newly recruited coach Lagerback in tow, we did not take it, preferring instead to cut our nose to spite our face.
Interestingly, Aisha who can be stubborn if she is convinced she is fighting a just cause, has decided to pursue this matter to a logical conclusion, advantage Nigeria. The chairman of the media committee of the NFF has shrugged off all threats to insist that she is first and foremost a Nigerian and that the advantages of a good base camp for the Super Eagles in South Africa cannot be over-emphasised while the safety of our players and officials cannot be toyed with.
Interestingly, a journalist in South Africa has decided to join Aisha in the struggle against this sub-standard hotelÂ and this is the latest. Colleen Dardagan, writing for the influential Mercury newspaper has decided to wade into the matter, and some of her discoveries can be considered shocking.
For instance, she wrote:
â€œI have established that the Hampshire Hotel was not one of Fifaâ€™s original list of approved hotels as follows:
Phindile Makwakwa, the head of the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Governmentâ€™s 2010 office said:
â€œThe Nigerian Football Federation toured and scouted the major parts of the province: Pietermartizburg, the south coast, Ballito and Durban and Richards Bay and in the process discovered the construction of the Hampshire, met with the management and referred it to Fifa as their preferred hotel.â€
When I spoke to Taiwo Ogunjobi he told me that the Super Eagles were definitely going to stay in the hotel the only outstanding issue was the perimeter fence which the hotel had promised to put up.
Now, what was interesting about this, was when I interviewed one of the directors of the hotel, Yatish Nathraj.Â I asked him about the perimeter fence and he said that the two-metre retaining wall around the hotel was sufficient security.
But, when I phoned him later and told him what Ogunjobi had said he quickly assured me that the fence was going to be put up.â€
What the newspaper did was to also publish pictures of the hotel for all to see that there was no how that hotel could be fenced to satisfy the security demands of a World Cup team.
Swimming in the pool (that cannot accommodate six adults at a time) for instance is like taking a bath in the open. Then came the bit that raised my eyebrowsâ€¦..as the journalist continued
â€œâ€¦.Also, according to Olukayode Thomasâ€™ article in Next,Â Fifa pays $400 (R2 800) a day for the playersâ€™ accommodation. Nathraj told me that it will cost R1 400 a day for a double room sharing and R900 for a single room â€” just do the sums and you can see what is happening.
The NFF is yet to tell us why they chose the hotel – I think you and I both know why!â€
Why? Why? Why must we continue to be ridiculed abroad? Why must we sacrifice the safety and comfort of our team on the altar of selfish pecuniary gains? If there is anything this country does not need as we continue our epileptic walk down to the World Cup, it is for controversy to trail our preparation.
The Mercury newspaper, I can disclose here, has been printed in Durban for the past 157 years and enjoys a readership of 241,000 every week day. When on April 22, an article appeared with the title Choice, cut and dried for Super Eagles a reader quickly phoned and Colleen wrote:
â€œI have just received a phone call from a well known restaurant owner here inÂ Durban – Mr. Mauvis – he tells me that he stayed a night at the Hampshire Hotel and it was absolutely terrible.
He says : â€œI cannot understand how the hotel was chosen for a football team playing in the World Cup. There must be a backhand somewhere. I had one disaster night in the hotel. The roomsÂ and sheets were dirty, the air conditions were so noisy. The breakfast was a disaster and I was double charged. It is such a very poor hotel.â€
He tells me he sent an email complaining to the manager Rodney Bull but he had yet to get a reply.
He also says he cannot understand why the NFA didnâ€™t choose the Fairmont Lodge which is 5-star and only 2 kilometres awayâ€¦â€¦â€¦â€
In that same article marked â€œpremium contentâ€ by the newspaper, the journalist cut a pathetic conclusion when it was stated that â€œ The Nigeria Football Association has made its World Cup bed and now says FIFA it must be in itâ€ The direct interpretation here is that it may be too late to change base camp now. I beg to differ.
Going back to my introductions, the day Aisha would have resigned from CAF activities was the day she was posted to Cabinda where the Togolese were attacked in Angola. I know what it took us to convince her that adequate security measures had been put in place to guarantee not only her safety, but that of all the teams in that centre.
That Aisha has not changed. One important factor militating against this hotel is the apparent lack of adequate security, an issue of great concern to FIFA and indeed the world sporting community.
Before I forget, there is even an allegation that the American developers who built the hotel are yet to pay the contractors. Praying that our team will not be locked out during the World Cup!
South Africans do not joke with issues that tend to discredit their ability to host the World Cup. Now that one has come out to categorically say we made a wrong choice, we should please react, fast. May I also add that should the NFA refuse to treat with utmost dispatch, we are obliged to save them against themselves.
Of visas and home-based
Had a good laugh recently when I heard Assistant Secretary General, Technical of the NFF say on radio that the home- based players may miss the London camp of the Super Eagles, because their WAFU involvement did not allow for their visas to be processed.
The way the media reacted I believe also made JP to laugh, heartily.
How could the media take the joke so serious?
Please JP call and tell them you were joking. Please.