Daniel Akpeyi kits up for training, John Ogu behind him
I
will be a bit rusty on this because I haven’t written a Super Eagles
diary for at least a year, but this Asaba trip for me was about a few
things for me.
I had
to see first hand the Stadium built in honour of Nigeria’s greatest
ever footballer, Stephen Keshi. I was not there for the Africa
Athletics Championship, neither was I there for the Nigeria v Uganda
friendly game nor the Federation Cup final, so this was my chance.
But
getting set for the journey was different this time.
Already
Sanipe Damiete, Chuma Nnoli, and Okey Onwugbonu had called to ask how
we would go and if I would be going for the game and when they knew i
would, they said they would join me.
I had
never driven my car to a Super Eagles game outside Port Harcourt.
Three
of them said they would like to ride with me and I obliged.
Chibuogwu
Nnadiegbulam also called to know more about the trip and if I would
be going, but she was more interested in hotel bookings and I told
her to speak with Bibian who I heard was doing that for journalists
from across the country going to the game.
The fear of Owerri
I
hadn’t gone on a road trip in a while and I was really scared of
crossing into Owerri from Port Harcourt. That road has/ had lots of
memories.
There
were so many kidnap cases on that road, you would wonder if people
still used it, but we had to travel, didn’t we?
The
area from Elele to the boundary between Rivers State and Imo state
was reputed to be the kidnap capital of Nigeria (arguably),
especially the Ubima axis.
There
were cases of whole commercial buses diverted into the forests,
victims, robbed, abducted and in so cases females raped, so it
became a bit of something I had to think about.
But
it became worse for me when my good friend, Cyril called me on
Wednesday and asked if I would go for the game and when I told him I would, he asked how?
He
began to remind me of the incidents on that road and how he would
have wanted to go for the game but had a phobia for that portion of
the road. Cyril was not helping matters. He now began to suggest
other alternatives- East/ West Road through Mbiama, then Warri; he
also suggested Abia State, then Owerrinta, through to Onitsha; he
also mentioned Etche, through Mbaise then Owerri and then Onitsha. As
far as Cyril was concerned it had to be any route but that one.
Asaba
from Port Harcourt would take us about three hours or a little less
from Port Harcourt, if we just went the straight route, but then this
quagmire.
I
called Sanipe to express my worries and he just shrugged it off,
saying Valar Morghulis,
meaning all men must die, then he continued by saying everyone’s
life is in God’s hand believing the road was not as bad. He reminded
me that a lot of those kidnap cases happened to transporters, who
rather than go through the high way, wanted to avoid the police and
army checkpoints and rather passed through Ubima village, where the
boys were waiting to welcome them with open arms.
Crossing
to Owerri
We
set off on Thursday at about 10.30 am. I first picked up Sanipe then,
Chuma, bought some food on the way and as I drove, the other two ate.
Okey Onwugbonu had called that he would not be embarking on the trip
any more.
At
Elele, I parked and told Sanipe to take over driving duties while I ate in the passenger’s side and this was funny. Sanipe did not
realise that he didn’t have his driver’s license with him since he
didn’t plan to drive my car.
Ekikere called and we found out she was in Onitsha so we picked her up
Not
up to fifteen minutes after he took over driving duties we were
stopped at a checkpoint and asked to bring forth our papers. Our
Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ sticker had given us a free pass
until then. The police and soldiers would just joke with us, as where
we were going and wave us on.
I
quickly told the man that I was supposed to be driving but just asked
him to take the wheel while I ate since we thought it was better
than parking the car on the high way to eat.
We
could have as well been speaking with ourselves as these men did not
care, but they were nice though. Thirty minutes later we were still
with them. They didn’t exactly let us go but rather engaged us in telling jokes, parables and other banter, all in a bid to get some money off
us.
They
began to engage us in stories of how to get drunk, how to have sex,
how to improve our body count and how as journalists who travel a
lot, we must have sex with at least one woman from every Nigerian
state and then from each tribe. They just kept us there and continued
to chat with us, once in a while asking subtly for money which we
were not willing to give them. I always believe I can talk my way out
of every situation.
They
accused Sanipe of impersonating me since he was driving my car
without his license when I had mine in the car (Our police na wa). My
explanation to them was that it was just for a while since I wanted to eat and it
would not have made sense to park the car by the dangerous highway to
eat did not resonate well with them.
Suddenly,
one of them, seeing we would be impossible to break said he needed
just five thousand naira from us and that we should help them. My
response was that we had five hundred naira or some cold drinks in
our boot, all brands of drinks and I would rather he followed me to
my car and made his choice from what i had because I would give him
any money.
The
young man then explained why I had to give him money.
He
said those of them on checkpoint duty had to make returns to the
office or they would be taken off the highways. Apparently, they had
specified sums of money they paid to the office weekly to keep them
there. He added that this is from the very top.
Then
he looked at me and said, “I like this place I am staying. I am
making money from here, but if I do not pay to the office, they will
withdraw me from this place..”
He
then said he was no longer telling us to pay anything, but was now
begging us for money and that we should just give anything we had in
mind because they had to make up for their payment to the office
which was due.
Now
this was funny. I knew we had him. I still offered to give him drinks
but he responded that as much as he loved to drink, the bottles or
cans would not help them at that point.
I
gave him a thousand naira with no drinks and we moved on. I moved
over to the driver’s side and it was smooth sailing to Asaba. We
passed at least 20 police/ army checkpoints between that point and
Asaba and not one asked us to stop for any checks. They just joked
with us, asked where we were going and waved us on.
Moral
of the story, never give Sanipe your car to drive on the highway
because the police are attracted to him.
The
Super Eagles presser is a difficult place to be
From where I sat at the presser, I could not see Ahmed Musa and Rohr
We
drove straight to our hotel, got checked in and had to head out for
the presser which i heard was at the Stephen Keshi Stadium. I
wondered why the Stadium and not the team hotel. Then I realised that
the Eagles had to train and it would be easier to hold the presser
then jump into the pitch to train.
i
had stopped attending Post Match press conferences in Uyo when the
Eagles played there because after I was manhandled by the DSS in one
game where I lost my smartphone, I realised there was really no
need. The rooms were always overcrowded, stuffy and had journalists
who didn’t know the first thing about good behavior.
However,
the pre-match presser was always not bad in Uyo because it would hold
at the Meridien Hotel and kudos to Toyin Ibitoye, it would be well
organised.
Getting
to the Stadium for the prematch presser and it was not something that
surprised me.
The
room was, as usual, crowded and the journalists were as usual
unrully. People were moving around noisily, phones were ringing and I
felt Toyin Ibitoye was having a hard time getting his colleagues
together.
We
survived the presser and to be fair, as soon as Ahmed Musa left and
we faced Gernot Rohr, it became a bit more organised.
Crowd
control issues again?
We
stepped out of the press room to the stadium car park as we waited
for the Eagles to begin their training and that was our mistake. We
should have stayed in.
We
could hardly get back in because the police and other security
operatives in black would not let us in. Then they suddenly said
only ID card carrying journos could go in. That was not a bad
arrangement.
Suddenly,
we got into the main bowl and the number of fans already inside and
pitch side was amazing. How did they get in? Did they have ID cards
too? Some even got into the technical area and were taking selfies
with the players.

It
was at this point that Victor Modo exclaimed that the crowd control
measure at this venue was poor and wondered how all those fans got
it. It was worrisome but there were no incidents.
I
fraternized with a few of the players, took pictures and then left to
pick up my accreditation tag from Ayo Ibidapo, who had just arrived.
Enjoying my view of the Super Eagles’ presser

Another view

Toyin Ibitoye and Gernot Rohr always do a good job

Sanipe Damiete, Chibuogwu Nnadiegbulam, Emmanuel Etim and Ekikere Udofia have all bent the knee to me

Fans enjoying the Super Eagles training session

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