China Acheru, Ebi Avi and Loveday Herbert

I had not been to Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital for a long time, maybe, eight or ten years and that was simply because there had not been any football there for a long time before their stadium was reconstructed.

But my mission in Yenagoa was two-pronged, maybe three as I was rounding off my two weeks’ leave from work and had to finish it in style, then there was the Nigeria Premier Football League Game between Bayelsa United and Dakkada FC to watch. There was the little matter of some politicking I had to be involved in, so I set out on Saturday, January 17, 2023, while the game would be the next day.

The plan was to use the first day to meet with folks and then focus the next day in the stadium. I also planned to use my spare time to complete the last chapter of my book so I could send it to my editor. I plan to publish it after Nigeria’s General elections in March 2023.

And that was how I got in my car and started my journey Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State.

On arrival, I could hardly recognise the place. There were so many things different about the Yenagoa I knew ten years ago. Thanks to Google Maps, and passers-by, I found my way to the hotel, around the Air Force Headquarters.

The first thing I did was to call Alambo Datonye Fred, in order to meet with him, but he would not be available, and then Loveday Herbert, so we agreed to meet the next day.

Ebi Avi, our own Kaveh Solhekol

Me and the legendary Ebi Avi

There is hardly any radio listener that lived within and around Rivers State in the 80s and 90s that would not know Ebi Avi.

He was the golden voice of sports on our airwaves and you would not want to miss his sports show.

Now as a young university student in the 80s, I had nowhere to turn to apart from BBC radio sports for foreign news and Radio Rivers for the Nigerian and Rivers State news. On Tuesday nights, from 10 pm, there was a popular reggae show hosted by Mabelas Macaulay Apuloma Junior, who always said he was the Radio DJ with the longest name. At 10.30 pm, he would introduce Cyril Dum Wite and Ebi Avi for a segment they called, Sports Junction. That was our own Skysports news, and Ebi was our own Kaveh Solhekol. You’d enjoy Sports Junction the most during the transfer season and they would tell you the players to expect at Sharks, as well as those who were about to leave. It was a mad experience then, and we loved it.

I met Ebi Avi at the Samson Siasia Stadium in Yenagoa. Maybe, Ebi Avi did not understand how important he was to some of us, because he was an icon. Ebi Avi was one of the reasons some of us were pushed to improve our craft in broadcasting, but here he was celebrating me, as though I was bigger than him. They don’t come bigger than Ebi Avi.

He told me we had to meet at night after the game and he meant it.

They dragged me to a bush bar at Jubilee hotel and we chilled until almost midnight. It was disappointing, though, for he and Loveday Herbert as I did not drink beer. They thought I was wasting their time. Why would they come out at night to host a person who was comfortable with a bottle of water? Make una no worry, I sabi fall hand.

The hang out

Ebi continued to wonder aloud why there was no beer in front of me, and I continued to say I would have one later. Loveday was worried that we were making Bayelsa look bad without the beer and he wondered if I was really an apostle of Mazi Njoku (If you know, you know).

John Jacobs, the young chief turned up. He was loud and always had something to say. He had loads of stories to tell and there was no dull moment with him around us. Hanaleel Jackson, who used to call on my radio shows back in the day was there. I watched Hanaleel grow from being a sports enthusiast on the radio to being a sportscaster and now Media Officer of Bayelsa United.

Between Hanaleel and Jacobs, they taught me a word, Malafakumo and told me to use it as a response to anything I am told.

Me and my water

I don’t know if I should trust them on this. I am yet to use the word, though, until I hear from a neutral party that I will not be selling my soul to slavery if I say it.

The Bayelsa State Police Public Relations Officer, Asinmi Butswat was also with us, as well as Patrick Ndubuisi and Tommy Amegba. Of course, Wilson Bodise joined us later.

Wilson Bodise and my journey to online writing

That’s me and Wilson Bodise

In 2003, I had struck a relationship with Oluwashina Okeleji, before he joined the BBC. Every now and then, he would come to Port Harcourt, and sometime in December he asked if I knew Wilson Bodise, and I said I did not.

He told me Wilson had just returned from a sojourn in Europe after working with the Vanguard Newspapers and Ovation Magazine. Wilson had come around to set up, Shina wanted to know if I wanted to be part of the project and I said I did. That was how I became a writer with the website.

Wilson did not pay me, but he gave me a laptop. My first ever. Shey na to write?

But he was a nice, easy-going fellow. I remember the National Sports Festival of 2004, how we were all there to do it with him. But soon enough, that project ended for me.

I hadn’t seen Wilson in at least fifteen years, so it was good to know he was in Yenagoa. I called to meet with him, but he said he was going to come out and meet us, which he did.

Wilson na correct man. He was now deep into politics and he did not hide his persuasions. We discussed sports, and a lot of politics and we drank beer… Well, they drank beer.

Madam Big Nyansh

So, I had stepped out to eat on Saturday evening at Oxbow Lake and came across this signpost belonging to Madam Fibigha, a Resto. But it was not about her food or the artwork on the signpost. It was about her alias, as written on the signpost. She said she was Also Known As Big Yansh.

Please, my people, what has the size of a woman’s behind got to do with the kind of food she cooks? I need answers from my Bayelsa people here. But, I present to you, Madam Big Yansh.

Loveday and Alambo

That’s me, Loveday Herbert, Alambo Datonte Fred and Azubuike Finecountry

Loveday Herbert is my senior in the profession and is older than me too, by age, but he came visiting, alongside Alambo Datonye Fred, the state SWAN (Sports Writers Association of Nigeria) chairman and we had a fruitful discussion.

Loveday was a name I had known in Port Harcourt from the early 90s but we had never really been close, and I wouldn’t know why. But I had loads of respect for him. We would meet at events and we would greet each other, but that was it. However, I did not discountenance the fact that he was a major player in the industry down in the south of Nigeria.

Alambo Datonye Fred started his trade in Port Harcourt with the Niger Delta Standard (at least that was where I first knew him) and then Radio Nigeria before he moved to Bayelsa State more than ten years ago. We had fought many battles together and retained our friendship even though we did not see much of each other these days.

Azubuike Finecountry, who is now a sportscaster at People FM in Yenagoa also turned up. For those who do not know, Finecountry was instrumental to my joining Cool FM in 2010 when he dragged me there to help him start a sports program in the morning. This was after my return from Lagos.

So, there was a lot of history in that hotel room. We caught up on old times, discussed football, politics, women and of course agreed to meet at the Stadium later that day. Okay, that was after Alambo paid for the drinks.

The stadium proper

At the stadium, I met the usual ultras I had not seen in ten years. One of them tried to engage me in banter and was shouting at the top of his voice how I tried to challenge Chris Green to the state FA chairmanship seat and then he chased me out of Port Harcourt.

I told him there was no such thing, then he talked about how I went to court against Chris Green and how we are still in court until this day.

I just laughed and told him I was not chased out of Port Harcourt, nor did I go to court.

As I walked in to take my seat I wondered how these rumours start, how they spread and for how long the people of Bayelsa believed those things.

The game was a lively one. The pitch looked great from where I sat. Whether it was bumpy or not at close range was a different matter entirely. Both teams also did well.

At half-time, the Bayelsa State governor addressed the players pitch side, and made promises.

The governor’s entourage addressing the players at half time

It was a good thing he saw first-hand the state of the dressing room. Maybe he could order amends. Bayelsa United scored early, but could not hold on. They conceded a late equaliser and could have lost the game at the death.

Eventually, 1-1 was a fair result.

Arugo Monkey

I had seen Chijioke Ejiogu pitch side in Bayelsa United’s colours. He was the reserve goalkeeper on the day.

For those who do not know, Ejiogu broke into the Nigerian football scene in 1999 when he played for a non-league club known as Arugo FC, based in Imo State. They managed to qualify for the FA Cup and against all odds made it to the semi-finals, only losing to Iwuanyanwu Nationale FC. They were giant killers. In the Benin zone, they beat Wikki Tourists 1-0 and drew 1-1 with Lobi Stars. In the quarter-finals they drew 2-2 with Eagle Cement FC and won via penalty shootouts, then they lost the semi-final to Iwuanyanwu Nationale 1-0. Because of his ability to stop penalty kicks, and his eccentric nature, he was known as Arugo Monkey

Julius Berger signed Obinna Nnodim and Chijioke Ejiogu a year later. In 2004 he joined Dolphins FC and won the League and Cup double. He won the FA Cup again in 2006 and 2007. He has since then played for Heartland and now he is with Bayelsa United. He still looked good, yet he had been in the Nigerian football playing scene for twenty-four years.

The fuel situation

I was told in Port Harcourt that we are very wicked to sell petrol at three hundred naira a litre. They told me that the people in Bayelsa State were buying easily at two hundred naira per litre and there were no fuel queues.

I looked forward to this trip. I drove with an almost empty tank and had three 25-litre gallons in my boot to return to Port Harcourt.

It was shocking for me to see long queues at petrol stations in Yenagoa, but I did not bother until Sunday night when I drove into one and they told me it was three hundred and fitty naira per litre.

So, Port Harcourt was even better. I just bought ten litres to get me back home. I was going to buy my petrol at home cheaper and maybe better than in Yenagoa.

I will return to Bayelsa for more league games. I like the place.

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