By Paul Bassey
The day is Friday, November 29. Time now is 4pm. I am sitting in my room in Dundee’s Hotel in Lubumbashi, Congo DR. As member of the CAF delegation to the final of the CAF Orange Champion’s League, Africa’s premier club competition.

We have just finished inspecting the installations of P.T.Mazembe and E.S.T of Tunisia, this year’s finalists and my mind goes back to the glory days of Nigeria’s club football and I remember Rangers of Enugu, Shooting Stars of Ibadan, Bendel Insurance of Benin, Stationery Stores of Lagos, Raccah Rovers of Kano, Alyufsalam Rocks of Ilorin, Rovers of Calabar, Leventis United. Then came Iwuanyanwu Nationale, Enyinmba of Aba……….

Twice in two months I have come to Lubumbashi to celebrate a club that can define professionalism and success in concrete terms.

Before I continue, let me bore you with my travelling experience. It is customary for us to travel with our CAF suits whenever we are going on official assignment. The CAF inscription opens doors all over Africa. The Customs let you pass without you opening your bag, you are exempted from taking off your shoes etc….

This time around, the protocol was a bit different. At the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, I came across these uniformed guys ( I am yet to come to terms with the uniforms of Customs, Immigration, Prisons, NDLEA and so on.

Can someone tell me the difference? ) Any way, one of them stopped me and routinely asked “ Oga Bassey you are going for the Women Championship in South Africa?”
I said “No”. He looked at me in disbelief.

“ I know say una de collect money. I no know say una de follow lie”
“I beg your pardon” I voiced.

“I asked whether you were going to South Africa and you said no”
“That I am flying South African Airways does not mean I am going to South Africa. I am just passing through Joburg”

“Sorry. What about the Adamu case?”
“I don’t think I want to answer that question”

“Ok sir be careful don’t be caught…..” ( Some giggles by his colleagues )
By this time I was boiling. Collected my passport from him and sped off.

The five hour plus flight was very unpleasant for me as a thousand and one things flew through my mind.

I went back to Angola Nations Cup,  South Africa World Cup, the intervention of Mr President, the trial of Lulu and co, the election of Maigari, NANF court action, FIFA’s ban, NOC election farce, drug disgrace at the Commonwealth Games ( out of the five athletes that tested positive, three were Nigerians ) the Adamu saga…..all these in one country…in one fell swoop.

This was certainly a “Conversation with myself”
The latest best seller by Nelson Mandela with the above title whose foreword is written by President Obama has it that “ ……The cell is an ideal place to learn to know yourself, to search realistically and regularly the process of your own mind and feelings…..internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being.

“Honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, pure generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve others—qualities which are within reach of every soul——are the foundation of one’s spiritual life.

“Development in matters of this nature is inconceivable without serious introspection, without knowing yourself, your weaknesses and mistakes. At least if not for nothing else,the cell gives you the opportunity to look daily into your entire conduct, to overcome the bad and develop whatever is good in you….”

For Mandela, it was the cell, the confines of prison. For me the plane. Whenever hostesses ram shut the doors and I  see myself trapped in the belly of the plane with nowhere to run to, whenever the plane takes off and I come face to face with the vanity that is man, helpless and hopeless, surrendered to the grace of the Almighty, my thoughts wonder. Last Week was no exception.

Yes CAF has honoured and trusted me with key assignments yet back home my country’s football lay prostrate, struggling to break free from the shackles of corruption and self serving Nigerians.

Back home the league cannot start because Ray Nnaji and Baribote will not let Owumi be.

As it stands Davidson Owumi has a herculean task running a league that has lost its sponsorship only to be punctuated by what I will, with due apology regard as needless and unwanted punctuations.

One day, I will take space out to tell the story of Tout Puissant ( All Conquering ) Mazembe, a club run by one man, who flies out the team in a chartered flight every time they have an away match.

How can I forget that one of the reasons why Heartland fell in the final to Mazembe was because the Imo State Governor had travelled abroad and could not be traced in time for him to order the release of funds to acquire a chartered aircraft to Lubumbashi?

Trapped in the belly of an aircraft, helpless, thousands of feet above sea level hundreds of kilometers to nowhere, you soliloquise, converse with yourself, wonder where we got it wrong, wonder whether we will be able to retrace our steps and veer into the right path.  Such a great country blessed and endowed with abundant human and material resources.

By the grace of the Almighty, my feet touch mother earth again as I drive through the streets of Lubumbashi, bedecked with flags and buntings, all in black and white colours of T.P. offering solidarity to a club that has written the name of the country in football gold, at the threshold of winning the champions league back to back…..I remember Enyimba, Rangers, Shooting Stars…..I remember Ijebu Ode and the Super Four when a player’s torn jersey could not be replaced because his club came to town with only one pair! Here you can only exchange a jersey at the end of the match if you are ready to play the remainder of the league bare bodied.

Here, when one player leaves the club, cello tape and plaster is used to write the name of the player that takes over from him. Here, players do not have track suits to warm up in, not to talk of suits and ties. Here shirt sponsorship is taboo whereas JSK of Algeria plays with eight sponsors names on their kits. Yes eight. Buttocks, shoulders, hoses….walking billboards.

I remember watching the South African MTN 8 Final the other week and counted the number of sponsors that had come to the party-Super Diski, Adidas, Castle Lager, Coca Cola, Volkswagen, SABC, Vodacom( Instructively Pirates wore their Vodacom sponsored jerseys for the MTN Competition ) Standard Bank, Gauteng, Old Mutual and so on- Here, they would have said because MTN is the sponsor “don’t go near”, forgetting that MTN was just the title sponsor, full stop.

Here, friends have called to congratulate me as it where on my appointment into the technical committee of the NFF. I thank Chairman Green, President Maigari and the NFF Board for considering me worthy of service. I have passed through this way before.

Under Chief Onigbinde I was one of those who resigned from the technical committee because it was just a figment of some one’s imagination, devoid of powers and functions. I pray that things will be different this time around. AMEN.
Back to the altar

Last week I sent a text message to some of my friends and colleagues. The text read “ After nearly six years as a widower, it has pleased God to give me a wife after my heart.

The blessing of this marriage will come up by the grace of God on Sunday, November 7 at the Apostolic Church, near Airforce Base on Agege-Oshodi expressway by 11am.We count on your presence, your support and your prayers.”

The response has been humbling. My answer to all your prayers is a loud AMEN.
See you next week.


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