21 February 2013

Nigeria/South Africa: Of Durban, Raw Eggs, Juju and Football

As CAF General Coordinator of Group A that had host South Africa, Cape Verde, Angola and Morocco , I was to move to Durban immediately after the opening ceremony and kick off in Johannesburg.

Durban is a beautiful city. Before January I was of the opinion that Durban was the third largest city in South Africa after Johannesburg and Cape Town. But at a dinner for CAF members hosted by the Mayor we were told that Durban was in fact the second largest city, with a population of over 4 million people, the busiest port in South Africa and a centre of tourism, thanks to its warm sub tropical climate.

The Ushaka Marine World, Durban Botanic Gardens and Suncoast Casino and entertainment complex are some of the attractions of this heavenly city. The Gateway Shopping complex, considered the largest shopping complex in Africa and the biggest in the Western Hemisphere is the delight of any lady. Ask my wife!

The Suncoast Hotel, the official CAF Hotel, like most South African Hotels was a study in hospitality, as you were tempted to descend in the evenings and saunter through the sprawling restaurants, marvel at the casinos and end up watching the latest movies. The only thing I have against this hotel is that the day I sent a suit for dry cleaning, they found a kerchief in one of its pockets, dry cleaned it too and billed me 6 Rand!. I told my wife that the hand kerchief should not be used in a hurry.

This is where I was to spend 25 days in January organising high tempo football because South Africa was involved and always attracted a full house including President Zuma..

After the opening ceremony, I knew that the possibility of my handling the closing ceremony depended on Nigeria's qualification for the final!

Three other Nigerians were scattered all over South Africa, also with less prospects of hosting the Super Eagles. Dr Bolaji Ojo Oba was in Rustenburg and the only way the Eagles could go there was if they came out runners up in Group D and this we had prayed against!

Aisha Falode was in Port Elizabeth, venue of the losers final. When the Eagles landed in Durban for the semi final, Aisha was to book a flight to Durban, because as she told Keshi and the boys in the dressing room, she was not ready to host them in Port Elizabeth. The next place she wanted to see them was in the final in Johannesburg.

I had the same experience. By virtue of the draw, the Eagles as expected Group D leaders were not expected in Durban, only for me to wake up and realize that they were heading my way for the semi final against Mali.

On the eve of the match, Ade Ojeikere, Tony Ubani, Timi Ebikagboro and Calistus Ebare paid me a visit in my office in the hotel. They said they had come to tell me that when the Super Eagles visited Dr Ojo Oba in Rustenburg, he "delivered" by making sure they did not falter in his zone.

That now that he had passed the baton to me, I had a responsibility to make sure " he no spoil for my hand" besides Aisha was on her way because she did not want to see them in Port Elizabeth! I promised them that my story was to be a success one, conscious of the fact that the last time the Eagles appeared in Durban June 22, 2010, they could not beat Korea Republic to advance out of the Group stage of the FIFA World Cup.

In Durban, the fears of Team Secretary Enebi were eliminated as the Eagles got to wear their preferred green jerseys with Enyeama's all blue outfit in tow. In Durban the Eagles played perhaps their most convincing match in the tournament, in Durban the tension between the technical crew and the NFF big guns was so visible that it weighed down on the usual robust ambience of Nigerians. In Durban, before the warm up, coach Sylvanus Okpalla noticed that a Malian had broken two raw eggs in the Eagles side of the field, so he was told to report to the CAF General Coordinator.

Before ordering the stadium authorities to clean up the grass,I took a picture of the eggs, interviewed the accused Malian who swore it was not him, but most importantly told the coach to keep the incident away from the players as I was convinced it was purely psychological and of no foundation.

At the end of the match as we marched back to the dressing room, I stole a glance at Sylvanus who responded " I knew juju does not play football. I just wanted to bring it to your notice"

Tomorrow, a look at the glory boys.

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