By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, let me join others in celebrating our victory in South Africa last Sunday when the Super Eagles performed the miracle of Jericho by collapsing the wall of Burkina Faso. It would have been a monumental disaster if the result had been otherwise. The joy of over 160 million Nigerians and their well-wishers was at stake. The humongous investments of one man, of the past few years, were also on trial. I shall return to this shortly.
The crowd of travellers I saw at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos on the night before the final was the first indication of what to expect in Johannesburg. The atmosphere was electrifying despite the usual smelly heat oozing out of that seemingly jinxed international airport. The long queue at Immigration and SSS counters were unbearably long, yet this did not dampen the expectant spirits of Nigerian pilgrims trooping out to the shrine of football in South Africa. They were joined in supplications to God to give us this particular victory, this time around, no matter what it takes. The aircrafts were crammed full like sardine cans. One very big Nigerian had to squeeze himself into the economy cabin of South Africa Airways. The mission was that serious.
Landing at the Oliver Tambo International Airport on Sunday morning of February 10, 2013, was an exhilarating experience. Nigerians besieged everywhere. Those that were on ground came to welcome those that were just coming. You would have felt suddenly teleported to Oyingbo or Onitsha markets the way our people swirled everywhere. The hotels were not different. In fact, something funny happened. As I checked into my apartment in Radisson Blu Sandton, I saw chamber maids packing out cartons and cartons of emptied bottles of assorted champagnes and spirits from the next penthouse suite. Out of curiosity, I asked if the reveller was a Nigerian and one of the ladies answered in the affirmative. I was not surprised. None other than a Nigerian would start a victory celebration 24 long hours before the match even started.
On the way to the stadium, the traffic build-up was horrendous. Nigerians seized the opportunity to make their presence felt. Nigerian music exploded from many vehicles crawling towards the biggest game in town. Some of the drivers had their horns blaring without care. It was our freedom day, and the South African Police gave us full liberty to misbehave as much as possible. It was a day the whole of Africa bowed to the supremacy of Nigeria without argument or controversy. Not many people day-dreamed about Burkina Faso beating us. The cup was ours to lift, no matter the palpable tension that one could almost slice with blade.
The sacrifice made by supporters was unthinkable and beyond imagination. Most of them trekked several kilometres to get to the stadium. Making Nigeria proud was a task that had to be done. And our people left no stone unturned to accomplish this. Those who could not purchase tickets at the official price bought at exorbitant black market rates. VIP and Hospitality tickets were the hottest cakes and they sold like gold. Complimentary tickets from CAF were limited and restrictive. Security was water-tight. We had to bow to the superiority of South Africa in the area of infrastructure. At the snail-speed Nigerian government loves to operate one began to wonder if our Rome would ever be built in a thousand years.
Our players entered the field of play with an uncommon spirit of confidence and concentration. They clearly understood what was at stake. They played their hearts out like valiant gladiators and soared like true eagles. It would have been too tragic for them to disappoint Africa’s biggest nation. The pressure was on them but they were calm enough to deliver the goods. It was a great match to enjoy. They won by a lone goal but that was all that was needed to carry the continental trophy.
The entire world celebrated that goal and the scorer, Sunday Mba. The social media was agog with the joke behind the goal: “Burkina Faso said they will deal with us, we said MBA, not on a SUNDAY.” That single shot fired by a man who loves to score on Sundays ricocheted across the world. Nigeria got free publicity and immeasurable goodwill from the world media and a global audience. I felt the impact when our English printers congratulated us all the way from Enfield and our Yugoslav photographer was running commentaries and supporting Nigeria on social media. It was as if all our sins of 19 years had been washed away and we were cleansed and reborn.
I was back in the hotel monitoring comments on Blackberry and tweeting intermittently when the news broke that the Nigerian Coach, Mr Stephen Keshi, was on a South African radio announcing his resignation. All the joy in me instantly evaporated. I tried to put a call through to him and eventually sent him a text which I expected him to understand as a plea to reconsider his decision. Later in the night, I was told the energetic Minister of Sports was holding meetings with him. I had praised the Minister the day before the match as an effective administrator who has injected some life into our comatose sports because it is in the nature of Nigerians to accuse and never remember to acknowledge such contributions.
For me, Sports has been relegated completely in the scheme of things in Nigeria. It is now the worst Ministry a Minister can be posted. It is closely followed by the Ministry of Youth Development. Unfortunately for Mallam Bolaji Ganiyu Abdullahi, he’s been posted to both Ministries in quick succession. It is like being sent to Siberia but the young man brought colour to both. One cannot forget that the You Win project was conceptualised and launched under his stewardship at the Ministry of Youth Development. I was deeply touched when words filtered in that the Minister had succeeded in persuading Coach Keshi to sheath his sword. I went to sleep a happy man.
I woke up to the news of the Dollar rain on the Super Eagles by Nigeria’s uppermost giver, Dr Michael Adeniyi Agbolade Isola Adenuga, the Chairman of Globalcom who has effectively stepped into the shoes of Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola as the new Pillar of Sports in Africa. Dr Adenuga’s unprecedented investments in the game of soccer are largely responsible for the success we are all celebrating today, lest we forget in our typical fashion of “collective amnesia.” Nigerian soccer took a cataclysmic dive after Chief Abiola dropped out of circulation at the height of the June 12 crisis. But for the benevolent intervention of the business octopus, Adenuga, the Nigerian league had become stone dead. Not only did he pump millions of dollars into it, he put his full might behind the supporters club. Today a lot of young talents have emerged from the Nigerian league. The GLO-CAF Awards has become a major boost to the development of soccer in Africa.
I believe Dr Adenuga decided to celebrate the Super Eagles’ win in this superlative manner because the boys did not waste his huge investments in Nigeria’s favourite game. We must remember to acknowledge other great Nigerians who donated most generously out of the kindness of their souls, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Mr Tony Elumelu, Mr Jim Ovia, as well as Governors Rotimi Amaechi, Yisa Yuguda, Peter Obi, Emmanuel Uduaghan, and Babatunde Raji Fashola who gave time and money to support our heroes.
The Federal Government now has an opportunity to take sports more seriously. It is now obvious that sports are our greatest unifier as a nation. No one complained that only an Igbo man scored the winning goal. We did not hear that Boko Haram complained that most of the players were “Southern infidels”. No one ever grumbled that our Constitutional injunction on Federal Character was not obeyed and respected.
As a young student in the mid-60s, Sports was a big deal. Our inter-house sports were festivals of talents. Like most things Nigerian, we’ve allowed everything to decay. This Super Eagle victory should, hopefully, jolt us out of our stupor and galvanise our interest in what can easily and readily propel many of our youths into prosperity and our nation into greater unity and emancipation from the shackles of parochialism and wasted opportunities.
Goldie, Gone Too Soon
I returned to Nigeria on Valentine’s Day, February 14, and felt the love around me whilst walking through the arrival section of Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos. I spent a long time waiting for my luggage. The Delta flight from Atlanta must have arrived while I was still at the airport. On that flight were two of my great friends, Chief Kenny Ogungbe, the President of Kenny’s Music and one of his extremely popular artistes, Goldie, born to Ekiti parents as Susan Oluwabimpe Harvey. I had known Goldie for several years but we became close last year when I invited her to sing at the Ovation Carol & Awards where she gave a superlative performance on December 21, 2012.
According to impeccable sources, Goldie left the airport with Mr Ogungbe, otherwise known as the world famous Keke and spent time with his family before his driver took Goldie to her house. She had complained of severe headache which apparently became worse somewhere along the line. She ended up at the highbrow Reddington Hospital but there are conflicting, now insignificant, reports that she was dead on arrival.
I was about going to bed when the news hit me like thunderbolt. I immediately went on Twitter where her news had gone viral. I made a few calls and eventually got Kenny Ogungbe’s partner Mr Dayo Adeneye in Atlanta, who confirmed my worst fear. Goldie’s death has almost overshadowed others news out of Africa. As I write this special tribute, her story is on BBC 4 by Zeinab Badawi. Seems we never appreciate stars until death takes them away from us. Though she was chunked out of the Big Brother House in South Africa, Goldie has kept herself relevant and newsworthy.
The world is indeed a strange place. Goldie had shared her 2013 dream project with me during our last Blackberry chat on December 25, 2012:
Goldie: Merry Christmas Chief. I wish you all the joy you deserve today and always sir.
Me: Goldie Mama
You were awesome
Proud of you
Goldie: Thank you sir. We will perform again next year and the year after that. Thank you for the opportunity
Me: Just landed in Ghana
Goldie: I’m coming to Ghana ooo
Goldie: In the new year.
I want to record a track with Sarkodie
Me: Ok it is a deal
Goldie: Pls sir if you can help me talk to him
I’ll be most grateful
Me: I’m attending his show tonight
Goldie: Thank you very much sir
Me: Yours sincerely
As I read and re-read that chat last night, tears of unfulfilled dreams rolled down my cheeks. The energetic lady was gone with the wind, just like that. I will never see her perform again at the Ovation Carol & Awards as she promised. She will never sing with Ghana’s hottest rapper Sarkodie, as she had hoped. And we will never chat again!
When she graced the cover of the current Ovation International, little did we realise it was going to be her farewell to the world. I will never forget the excitement she expressed when I sent the cover of the magazine to her. I believe she wanted the world to read her story, not the embellished ones usually splashed about celebrities.
I’m glad she got the chance to have her last say.
Adieu, my darling Sister.
Rest in perfect peace.