I was in Aba for the CAF Champions League match between Enyimba and El Merreikh, but my trip was more than just that.
I have always loved to go to Aba for football and this has been a regular since 2003 when Enyimba won the CAF Champions League. I have hardly missed a Champions League game in Aba and a few times they played in Port Harcourt.
I was also in Abuja when they won the 2004 CAF Champions League and in Calabar when they got knocked out of the 2002 edition, but I digress.
No trace of Covid 19 in Aba?
The first thing I noticed on getting into the town was that I was the only person wearing a nose mask. Apparently, the people there did not believe COVD 19 was in existence, or maybe they thought they were immune to it; or maybe the government was not enforcing measures to curb its spread.
Not a soul was wearing a mask on the streets. By the time I got to my hotel and checked in, they looked at me as though I was an alien from outer space. I was the only one in the hotel wearing a nose mask too.
The first signs of nose mask-wearing Aba people was at the stadium gates when I arrived there at about 3 pm, less than a half-hour to kick off.
Situation at the gates
The gates were crazy and it made me wonder how there could be these many people when there were restrictions on fans attending games.
I was told by the Media Officer the previous night that gates would be shut at 1 pm, two hours to kick-off to ensure the fans stayed away.
But I also let him know that I had a meeting at the office that morning and would not even be in Aba at 1 pm but we agreed on an arrangement that could get me in once I arrived, but this crowd?
The fellow that was supposed to bring me my accreditation tag and help me get it, Frank Okoye, also known as Orangeman, was also stranded at the gates alongside another journo, Adaeze Michaels. It would be a long day. I stayed away from the crowd, chatting with Adaeze, then got us bottles of water to drink while Orange man thought he could find a way for us to get in.
The fans at the gates could have been about a hundred. They wanted to get in and did not see any reason why they shouldn’t.
The chatter from them was that Enyimba needed to upturn a 3-0 first leg scoreline and needed them in the grounds to achieve this.
While we were at the gates waiting to get in, word came to us that there was an away goal. Now 4-0 on aggregate with Enyimba needing to score five to qualify. I thought it was already over, but in football, they say anything can happen.
After a thirty-minute wait at the gate which was about 15 minutes after kick-off, the gates were thrown open and the crowd surged in. I waited my turn and when it thinned out we went in and managed to find our way into the media tribune.
The match proper
The game was intense but it was the same old Nigerian football problem when a team is chasing a game.
I did not know what their game plan was (Enyimba) but I guessed it would have included at least passing the ball around to create openings.
But what did Enyimba do all game long? The keeper sends the ball to his full back and he kicks it long and far into the El Merreikh box, hoping for something positive that did not happen. In Nigerian football, we call that “loading”
There was no way Enyimba would get five goals playing like that.
Enyimba equalised though, through Victor Mbaoma and then there was another drama at half time
Kicking out a journalist from the media Tribune and stadium
So, there was some altercation at the media tribune at half time. I heard so much noise from behind and at some points, I thought the people there would engage in fisticuffs.
I wondered why journalists would be fighting at the stadium when they went to watch a game, then on further checks, I found out that the Aba Stadium like the one in Port Harcourt had no checks and balances as different people found their way into the media tribune during games.
So, apparently, a journalist, Chinatu, I understand is his name was escorted out of the Media Tribune and to the stadium gates to leave for home because they accused him of applauding the goal scored by the away team.
Wow! I wondered how that was allowed to happen. A journalist was told to leave the stadium? By a person who was not a journalist?
Orangeman and Henry Nna were really very angry and said they would address it, and for me, I will be looking into Aba every other day to know how the matter ends.
The after party/ book reading
Henry Nna had told me on the phone every time I had a radio tour in Port Harcourt and Lagos that I had to be in Aba.
When it was not forthcoming, he said he would organise one on the next trip.
When Enyimba played their preliminary round game in the Champions League just before Christmas, I was supposed to be there and they had planned something but I did not make it.
It had to be today so, off we went to Enitona Hotel for an impromptu gathering of about fifteen people, which was not bad.
There were lots of fish and drinks as well as short speeches made. Books were bought and I signed on them and we had a photo session before we dispersed.
I was back to Port Harcourt as early as 10 am the next day and I look back to Aba and know I will be back soon for a league game or one in the CAF Confederation Cup.
Aba folks were wonderful. Next up is Yenagoa.