By Paul Bassey
Saturday, November 7, I drove from Uyo to Enugu where I reunited with a long standing friend,Christian Chukwu MFR ( Chairman Chukwu, a living legend of Nigeria’s football, winner of CAF Football Legend award needs no introduction).
Before I go ahead, let me appreciate the possibility that yesterday, the Golden Eaglets of Nigeria must have been crowned Champions of the World after beating fellow Africans Mali at Vina Del Mar venue of the final.
I regret having to send this write up before the match was played, but deadlines must be met. The first text message I received Sunday morning was from former Secretary General of the NFA, Alhaji Sani Toro. In it the Yerima of Toro wished me a happy Sunday and prayed that “……by the special grace of God, the Golden Eaglets of Nigeria will retain the FIFA U-17 World Cup today by beating Mali”
I do not know how many people he must have dispatched this message to, yet for me it was special and a demonstration of patriotism. He must have gone to bed thinking the Eaglets, he must have dreamt about the match and woke up spreading the prayer of hope and success. I chorused a loud AMEN.
The odds against the Eaglets by yesterday were frightening. Mali are African Champions, South America has not been a favourite hunting ground for the Eaglets while we were yet to retain the trophy.( 1985/’87, 2007/’09, …..) But as will always be told, Jinx are meant to be broken. As you are reading this, Eaglets are world Champions. Yes?
Back to my trip to Enugu.
After the graduation of my son Johnson at the University of Uyo, Saturday November 7 2015, I had the privilege of driving with Akparawa Nse Ubeh to Enugu for a make or mar Premier League clash between Rangers International and Akwa United.
Akparawa Nse, the amiable chairman of Akwa United and PDP faithful who is at the Threshold of history as winner of the Federation Cup with Akwa United, joined in the lamentation of the state of the roads in the Eastern part of this country. From Uyo to Umuahia was a night mare. Then came the one they call “ Enugu Highway” Deplorable.
Anyway, by the time I hit Enugu, I quickly got in touch with Christian Chukwu. After his playing and coaching years, I was lucky to serve with Christian Chukwu in the Technical Committee of the Aminu Maigari led NFF and it is an experience I will cherish for life.
Our bond was strengthened in Morocco in 2013 when we shared an apartment during the CAF U-17 tournament. The high point of that tournament is that we (Chukwu and I) hosted Alhaji Maigari and some Board members to a lunch of home cooked food………
In Enugu, I told him I was in town and pronto got an invitation to lunch the next day. It was nice seeing him again and in company of the Akwa Chairman, we were hosted by a superstar of Nigerian football.
As expected, the discussion was hundred per cent football, from Oliseh and the “new look” Super Eagles, The Nigerian league, referees, clubs and attitude of players.
Generally, the professionalism of Nigeria’s football was called to question even as we tried to get back to his playing days and draw a line to what is happening today.
As an example, Chukwu who is the Technical Consultant to Rangers International believes and strongly too that chairmen of clubs can help a great deal in turning around the fortunes of our league. Addressing Akparawa Nse, he said “ Chairman sir, I believe and strongly too that if all of you Chairmen come together and resolve, as an example, not to have anything to do with the enticement of match officials, our league will improve a great deal”
He gave an example of coaches, even players going as far as asking club management on the eve of matches whether they have “seen the referee”. Believe me, if you are a player or a coach, by the time you ask such a stupid question, I throw you out of my team!
Recent decisions and disciplinary pronouncements were considered “crazy” and “abracadabric”. In our days, the moment match officials have performed walk over ceremonies, that was it. That the referee can get to the venue of the match, minutes to kick off and without any information to the contrary, performs the walk over protocol, then that match is history.
How about Plateau United, a visiting team that is about to be castigated for the sins of match officials who for one reason or the other decided to start a match later than scheduled? Did Plateau arrive late for the match?……….too many questions begging for answers…..
What about the non implementation, or the late implementation of the decision to duck points from clubs who erred in the meeting of financial obligations to their players?
There was so much to regret. We wish we had the benefit of the league top shots to “explain” to us and indeed all Nigerians about some of the current happenings that should not be allowed to ruin what has been declared and acknowledged as the best league season yet.
Then of course, the match. Rangers against Akwa United. Despite their match in hand, Rangers were not comfortable with just two points advantage over Akwa and vowed to go all out as defeat will see Akwa jumping over them. Akwa on the other hand needed at worst a draw to move further away from the drop zone.
Very competitive, exciting and nail biting encounter. Victory could have gone either way, but let me celebrate two outstanding free kicks, the first by Chinedu Justice of Rangers while Nnamso Edo alias Cameroon converted a classical training ground effort. The two goalkeepers were rooted to the spot. 2-2 the final result, fair play reigned supreme. Players from both sides exchanged pleasantries, officials shook hands, spectators applauded good football and trooped out amicably……..the same day, all hell was let loose in Akure and Sharks abandoned their match in Lafia against Nasarawa.
As Chukwu will say, what does the rules and regulations say about match abandonment? I will get back to him on this, should there be any attempt to turn the “text of the matter” upside down. Don’t laugh.
Meanwhile the Regulations loopholes that have celebrated the manipulations and legal somersaults of this season must be plugged as we look forward to next season.
See you next week.