By Paul Bassey
Different strokes for different folks.The NLC tried to make us believe that going on strike was the best way of making the government to restore the fuel subsidy. I believed them.

The government through its top officials drummed into our heads the need to remove subsidy now in order to guarantee the future of our children. I also believed them!

Meanwhile. I was holding on to a CAF ticket reservation that said I had to be in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea by Saturday to participate in pre Nations Cup meetings and seminars that will guarantee the smooth hosting of the Continent’s most prestigious soccer event.

By Monday, when the protest started, I told friends that I believed before Friday things will normalize. I was so sure that by Wednesday the government will call for negotiations and this was buttressed by the intervention of the House of Representatives as early as Sunday.

On Tuesday, our focus shifted to Linus Mba who was due to travel out on Thursday to Sao Tome and Principe as Match Commissioner for a 2013 Nations Cup qualifier against Lesotho.

Protesters on the 5th day of protest against fuel subsidy removal at Gani Fawehinmi park, Ojota, Lagos.

The next day, Mr Mba decided to call CAF and withdrew from the assignment, since he could not travel out.

In far away Abuja our women referees were caught in the same problem. They were billed to travel to Abidjan for the 8th African Women Championship qualifier between Cote Divoire and Guinea, holding Saturday, January 14. The women do not have too many matches so efforts had to be made to honour this one.

Thursday, after meetings with Senate and the Government, the NLC President was to tell the media that talks were “ongoing”……..so the expected Friday date of the resolution was not realistic after all.

Meanwhile those of us in the Nations cup duty were in constant touch with CAF. The Embassies were not open and CAF sent letters that will enable us get visas at the point of entry, if we could get out of the country.

A visit to the Murtala Mohammed airport Thursday afternoon revealed another riot of its own. The departure hall was jam packed as few international airlines struggled to clear the back log of passengers with air force personnel and senior aviation staff manning the control towers.

To cut a long story short, I managed to get out and arrived Malabo safely.

The Nations Cup is on. Equatorial Guinea is ready to host Africa. The airports says that much. Bill boards and signs are every where. There is a special immigration form designed for the purpose. The CAF Hotel, Hilton Malabo as usual is an impressive five star facility. Opened june last year the freshness and virginity can be felt in every room…..

The who’s who in African football are here. Today, the General Coordinators will have their workshop before taking off to their various centres. Tomorrow it will be the turn of the security officers. Thereafter the Nations Cup organizing committee will meet, then the Executive Committee before the grand kick off in Bata on Saturday January 21 involving co host Equatorial Guinea and Libya while a more explosive encounter pitching Senegal against Zambia kicks off three hours earlier.

On the 22nd, Malabo will open her matches, Libreville on the 23rd and Franceville on the 24th. By the 25th things will start to take shape, with all the cards on the table.

“Nigeria is not here” “Yes I know”. This has been the standard discussion on the corridors and meeting rooms. Am I going to hole up myself in the room to avoid constant, sometimes embarrassing questions concerning the absence of the Super Eagles of Nigeria?

Before now, I was fond of wasting time trying to explain why and how we could not make it. Very unconvincingly I tried to explain how that miss has made us come back to the basics with the appointment of Stephen Keshi and the concentration on the domestic league……not any more. Now my answers are curt and straight forward. “Nigeria is not here” “Yes I know. I am here” …laughter and we shake hands and go our ways.

At other times, depending on who pops the question I add “ Egypt is not here, Cameroun is not here too”

Will the absence of these high profile teams impact negatively on the competition? Maybe yes, maybe no. There is no doubt that Nigeria, Egypt and Cameroun add value to the competition by their display of top international stars and football culture, but how often ( Apart from Egypt ) have they failed in the recent past?

This year’s competition promises to be more open, more exciting. Already pundits are having a field day. They have narrowed the title contenders down to Ghana, Senagal and Cote Divoire, not necessarily in that order. Our own Stephen Keshi who went to Ghana and gave his own opinion without mentioning Ghana was nearly crucified by a Ghanaian coach! Not to worry, in this Nations Cup surprises abound, lots of it. Botswana, Mali, Guinea, Morrocco, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Angola…..they are all waiting in the wings.

I can’t wait. Let the Nations Cup begin.

See you next week.

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