By Merit Abaianyam

On Tuesday 23rd February, 2021, FC Robo Queens were robbed while travelling for League game in Delta State.

Not in relation to the feeling of being hard done at the outcome of a football match, but an actual armed robbery attack on an express way. Valuables were stolen and one person reportedly went missing.

The team were en route to honoring their Nigeria Women Football League (NWFL) Premiership Matchday 7 fixture against Delta Queens, when the gruesome incident took place. One week later, key members of the team Emmanuel Osahon Orobosa (team owner and head coach) and Esther Ndubuisi (team vice-captain) narrate their ordeal.

ON THE ROAD TO MAYHEM

Across the world, when football teams travel for away games, it is usually a very rambunctious atmosphere in the team bus. Loud music from stereo players and beatboxes, continuous chatter as team members poke fun, crack jokes, and have engaging discussions with each other, and the odd moments when the traveling contingent gang up to verbally attack errant road users. In this sense, at take-off, for FC Robo Queens, the journey to Delta State was not very different.

“Inside the bus, it’s always lively.” says Esther Ndubuisi, Vice-Captain of FC Robo Queens.

“On our way to Delta State, it was lively as well. There was music and we had lively discussions within ourselves.” she continued.

While road trips could be fun when you have you teammates and best buddies with you, it could also get very tiring when you’re confronted with one of the ills of long distance road trips; a bad – or in this case, terrible – traffic situation.

Team owner and head coach, Emmanuel Osahon Orobosa, explains how a terrible traffic situation kickstarted the teams woes on that fateful day.

“I received a fake [credit] alert and so before we left [Lagos for Delta] it was already around past 4pm. Then we got stuck [in a gridlock] at Mowe-Ibafo for almost 4 hours. Anyone who has traveled [via that route] will understand better [the traffic situation there].”

Mowe-Ibafo is an axis located on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. The Lagos-Ibadan expressway is notorious for its maddening gridlocks, and commuters who ply that route are usually subjected to spending agonisingly long hours in traffic jams – at different points – while in transit.

“When we eventually moved out [of the gridlock] at around 10:30pm, we decided that we would get some rest before proceeding with the journey. Unfortunately for us, as we approached Ijebu-Ode, we encountered a roadblock.” Emmanuel continued.

WHAT WENT DOWN?

If you’ve ever traveled between states in Nigeria, checkpoints and roadblocks are an all too familiar sight. In fact, a norm. They are usually set up by security operatives and sometimes the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), primarily for inspection of vehicles and road users, to check for illegalities, banned substances, vehicle and driver documentation. But in some [unfortunate] instances, these roadblocks are set up by the “Gentlemen of The Highway”.

“A trailer was stopped ahead of us, the driver laid face-down on the road, and so we thought he was just pleading with the police. We thought the roadblock was set up by officers of the Nigeria Police Force.” Emmanuel recounts.

But as they drew closer, so did the harsh reality of their imminent misfortune.

“Our driver quickly realised that we had just ran into an armed robbery operation, and immediately began to retreat.” said Emmanuel.

“Then, as quickly as our driver withdrew, there was a gunshot.”

Highway robberies (especially at late nights) are desperately perilous. Victims could easily get beaten, maimed, raped or even killed. Like in most cases, the sound of a gunshot at a robbery scene in the middle of the night evoked a feeling of terror and palpable consternation. Surely, someone must have been shot, they thought.

“As we tried to retreat, out of the blue, other members of the robbery gang emerged from the bushes at the side of the road. One of them held a gun to our driver’s head.” the Head Coach explained.

In no time, the vehicle was brought to a halt and the robbery operation was now in full swing. At this point, the Lagos Landladies – as they are popularly called – were dealt a rude awakening. They immediately realised that they were no longer in their own territory, in fact, they were now in no man’s land.

The team’s Vice-Captain, Esther Ndubuisi (who was the stand-in captain for the trip to Delta due to captain Monday Gift’s national team call-up), was in the midst of the horror and explains how it quickly played out.

“They told us to alight from the vehicle with all our belongings, threatening to shoot or rape anyone who tried to hide any item. We had never experienced such a thing in our entire lives. I had only seen such incidents in movies. Everyone of us was shocked, shaken.” the Vice-Captain said.

Suddenly, there was another shocking twist of events. The driver’s assistant, was missing.

Esther explains that while the traveling contingent were mystified concerning the disappearance of the driver’s assistant, the robbers continued with their operation.

“One of them made a statement in [Nigerian pidgin] and said, dem be footballers o, dem be footballers o, dem be girls (they are footballers, they are footballers, they are girls). Another said, dem dey pay dem well, dem dey pay dem well well, make we search dem (they pay them, they pay them very well, let’s search them).” Esther narrates.

“I was so scared. I was just hoping that nothing bad would happen to any of us. I didn’t mind us losing all our belongings.” she added.

According to the head coach Emmanuel Osahon, “They asked us to drop our belongings, then they asked us to sprint over two hundred meters (200m) away from the vehicle. After we had dashed down the road, they (the robbers) began to ransack the entire bus. [consequently] they took away our belongings including our kits and monies meant for our accommodation, feeding, transportation. A lot of items were stolen.”

Esther Ndubuisi estimates that the team was robbed of at least over Four Hundred Thousand Naira (N400,000) in cash.

AFTER MIDNIGHT

After watching from afar how the armed robbers had marauded their vehicle and carted away with their valuables, at around 1am on Wednesday morning, the team went back to the bus. They found the head coach’s phone where it was previously hidden and began to take photos of what remained. After a while, the head coach Emmanuel Osahon Orobosa, rallied his troops and dished out some words of encouragement, to settle their – well wrecked – nerves and think of a way forward.

“Our coach gave us words of encouragement. That helped us decide to go ahead with the match [against Delta Queens]. There were already posts on social media suggesting that the [robbery] incident [we had posted on the internet] was just a hoax we came up with, to enable us avoid the game.” says Esther.

After waiting for a few hours on the expressway till it was dawn, the bus driver suggested that they returned to the spot of the robbery incident, suggesting that after these kinds of robberies, the assailants usually filter through the items in a nearby bush to sort out what is or isn’t of value to them.

“We waited till around 6am, then we drove down in search of the crime scene. After a short while, we located the spot. We noticed a narrow path by the bush beside the road and decided to follow it in search of our belongings. We went a long distance into the bush and found a heap of items apparently stolen from other travelers as well as us. Some of the girls were lucky enough to locate some of their belongings, but some others like me, couldn’t find any.” head coach Emmanuel Osahon lamented.

But this wasn’t their only finding on their return to the crime scene. To the pleasant surprise of the entire group, at the site of the robbery, they also found the driver’s assistant who went missing all through the robbery. According to both coach Emmanuel Osahon and Esther Ndubuisi, the driver’s assistant claimed to have jumped out of the bus at the sight of the armed assailants, as he thought they were kidnappers and had no one to pay his ransom [if required].

At this point it was clear and comforting for the traveling contingent that in the midst of the terror, no one was hurt, kidnapped, or killed during the robbery. A reason to feel glad.

“That remains our greatest joy in the world. No one was injured.” a grateful Emmanuel Osahon recalled.

Then came time to proceed with the journey to face the battle against Delta Queens.

POLICE REPORT, NWFL, AND DELTA QUEENS..

When asked if his team had registered the robbery incident with the relevant authorities, Emmanuel Osahon said “Yes we did.”

“We drove down to the Police Station at Ijebu-Ode to make a formal entry about the robbery incident. Then we proceeded to the match venue. After the match, on our way back [to Lagos], we stopped by the Odogbolu Police Station which is bigger than the one at Ijebu-Ode, reported the incident and submitted a formal statement.” he continued.

“On the other hand, the NWFL (Nigeria Women Football League) were magnanimous enough and even suggested that our match against Delta Queens should be played a day later [than was originally scheduled]. But since we had already agreed to proceed with the match, we didn’t take up the offer.” he added.

“Our team is like a family. It is not a team where someone just bosses people around. We like to throw the cards on the ground and allow everyone to speak their mind.” he further explained.

FC Robo Queens would go on to play their Matchday 7 fixture against Delta Queens. A game which they played with grit and purpose, but unfortunately couldn’t get a fitting result for their show of resilience. They fell to a 72nd minute Tejiri Edward goal from the penalty spot. The Lagos Landladies almost got an equalizer late in the game, but we’re denied by the Delta Queens goalkeeper.

Talking about their NWFL Premiership Matchday 7 performance, Esther Ndubuisi who captained the side insisted that the gruesome incident they had suffered the night before, had no impact on the teams performance.

“The [robbery] incident did not affect our performance in the match against Delta Queens, owing much to our manager’s words of encouragement. I thought we even played better than Delta Queens.” she said.

In its best moments, the game of football is a game of fairness, unity, and solidarity. Word about the ill fortunes of Robo Queens spread very quickly and consequently, the team started receiving financial support – even – from their counterparts, as a show of support and goodwill.

“We received One Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira (N150,000.00) from the Chairman of Delta state sports Commission, Chief Tonobok Okowa. We also received One Hundred and Thirty Thousand Naira (N130,000.00) from my friend Barr. Paul Edet, much to the delight of the girls.” coach Emmanuel Osahon confirmed.

Soon, it was time for the team to return home (to Lagos), and the girls were already in high spirits, looking forward to what lies ahead.

The team coach said that “Although they [the players] had not experienced such an incident before, they were in [rather] high spirits afterwards. I tried to take their minds off it [the robbery]. Some of them even made jests of the armed robbers [after our match].”

Despite the loss to Delta Queens which left Robo Queens 5th on the log and 6 points behind table toppers Bayelsa Queens, Esther Ndubuisi is still hopeful of Robo’s prospects this season.

“By the Grace of God, we hope we can do enough to help us finish in 1st place or 2nd place on the league table.” she said.

Due to the alarmingly increasing levels of insecurity in Nigeria, highway robberies and kidnappings are sadly not so rare to report these days and being a recent victim, head coach and owner of FC Robo Queens, Emmanuel Osahon Orobosa, alludes to this fact.

“That is Nigeria for you. I don’t want to apportion blames anybody. These things happen all over the country. People get robbed even in daylight.” he concluded.

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