7 Minutes with China: Nigerian clubs teach how to punish the dead

Sometime in the early 90s, 1994 to be precise, a Nigerian club, Iwuayanwu Nationale, now Heartland were returning from a CAF Champions League or Cup of Champions Clubs match as it was known then.

They had played in Tunisia against Esperance and lost 3-0 but their Oriental Airlines Flight was forced to make an emergency landing at the Tamanrasset airport in Algeria when the pilot noticed some engine problems.

Two of Nigeria’s best players of that generation in the home league, Uche Ikeogu and Omale Aimounwansa died in the incident.

I seriously doubt that there is anything in the camp of Heartland today that serves as a remembrance to those two gallant soldiers. I am not sure any member of the Heartland team up to the club chairman/ General Manager knows this story.

They actually died representing a Nigerian football club in the search to win the then elusive CAF Champions League trophy?

There is also the case of Kayode Oluremi, a member of the Nigerian silver winning team at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games who was involved in a fatal motor accident which claimed his life.

The most celebrated of them all is Samuel Okwaraji who also died while representing Nigeria and we still debate his story and situation of his family up till this day.

Between the Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, free thinker etc, man has not taken a position as to where people go when they die, so let, for the sake of this write up make believe that they just sit at some place watching us all, wondering what could have been if they were still on this earth.

How do you punish the dead? They are dead and gone for ever so what could hurt them?

Certainly not the carcass of their bodies that would eventually rot and be eaten by termite because nothing on this earth should bother the dead, right? WRONG!

You can punish the dead by making sure their family suffer for their death. It becomes punishment when the dead man is/ was not guilty of whatever you are punishing his family for.

The dead get punished in Nigeria
Joseph Izu celebrating a goal for Shooting Stars

Being Nigerian for the last forty something years has made me understand how to punish the dead.

Most of the learning was done in the last year as recently relegated side, Shooting Stars have taken the time and effort to teach us all how to perform this disgraceful act.

The sorry case of former Shooting Stars Sports Club, 3SC defender, Joseph Izu aptly describes how to punish the dead.

How and why he died is not in the purview of this read but why he is being punished by his former employers is what bothers me.

Joseph Izu died as a player of Shooting Stars and had an existing contract with them.

It has been back and forth between Shooting Stars and the late Izu’s family, led by his younger brother, Rueben ever since, while the now relegated club still owes him.

First Shooting Stars’ General Manager, Rasheed Balogun was reported to have told a representative of the Izu family that the sum of five hundred thousand naira was approved but only three hundred thousand naira will be given to them to offset burial expenses.

They however received two hundred and ninety thousand naira for the funeral.

On the day of the funeral, Shooting Stars management team, who were present, handed over the sum of one hundred thousand to Joseph Izu’s widow with a promise to send another one hundred thousand naira but only ninety thousand was received.

For a society that abandons the dead, it is worthy of praise that the club was represented at the funeral service of their late player (who died while holidaying in his home town, far away from Ibadan) and they even ensured they contributed financially to the burial.
Widow of Joseph Izu, Portia and daughter, Stephanie

However, whatever good deed Shooting Stars did before, during and immediately after the funeral of their late player counts for nothing if they do not pay what he was owed and that is the much the family have been asking for.

I remember just before Shooting Stars visited Port Harcourt for the league game against Rivers United, Reuben Izu had used various media outlets to speak out against the club only for the General Manager, Balogun to issue a statement indicting the brother of the late player.

Balogun claimed Reuben was going overboard because he wanted the money owed Joseph paid to him and not to any member of the family. That certainly created some ruckus, especially on social media and if the plan of that statement was to create a diversion, then Shooting Stars succeeded.

Shortly after Balogun issued this statement, the sum of one hundred and forty two thousand naira was sent to the account of Pa Izu, Joseph’s father without stating what the money was meant for.

Was that his salary? A gift? No one knew what that was and a call to Balogun from Pa Izu did not get an answer as the General Manager said he was indisposed and would answer later.

Nothing more was heard from Shooting Stars until recently.

During the 1st year remembrance of his death, more accusations were made by the Izu family in a press conference and once again, a statement was issued from the club citing disagreements within Izu’s family over who collects monies owed him.

I was in that press conference and they spoke in one voice.

In all of these, Shooting Stars still refused to reveal to the family how much Izu was due monthly, how many months salaries he was owed at the time of his death and how many match bonuses he was owed too.

Shortly after the second accusation against the family, Shooting Stars sent the sum of one hundred and forty two thousand naira to the account of Pa Izu and still could not explain what that money was for.

What Shooting Stars should have done

Joseph Izu had a contract with Shooting Stars, details of which I am privy to. I have seen it and I have a copy.

If the management of Shooting Stars were sincere, they would pay the wages of a dead man to his family rather than throw accusations that are uncouth.

Joseph Izu had a wife and daughter at the time of his death. He also had living parents and siblings.

Maybe if Shooting Stars had shown proof of payment of all Izu’s wages to any of these mentioned above that was not eventually accounted for, then they would have had a point to all their accusations.

Joseph Izu was on a salary of N300, 000 (three hundred thousand naira) monthly and was owed for 8 months in the 2015/16 season at the time of this death.

He was also owed a backlog of N1, 560, 00 (One million five hundred and sixty thousand naira) as salaries from the 2014/15 season.

Austin Popo, of the National Association of Professional Footballers, NAPF in a press release pointed out that Joseph Izu is currently owed N3, 810, 000 (three million eight hundred and ten thousand naira for 2015/16 season.

Izu was also owed twenty one match bonuses.

But what I personally do not understand is why Shooting Stars have decided to punish their late defender this way.

I have spoken with Pa Izu, Reuben, his brother, wife and daughter too and the common denominator here is they are not begging for any favours, but what their dead benefactor had already worked for. How difficult is that?

I know the Shooting Stars media team will put up a damning press statement after these 7 minutes go viral and probably accuse me of a lot of things, but the best defense and statement would be one that has proof of payment.

An excerpt from the latest press statement from Shooting Stars read, “Our Attention has been drawn to a letter from one Reuben Izu to the Oyo State Government on behalf of the family, appealing for the payment of salaries and allowances the Club owed the Late Player”
While we acknowledge that the club is still owing the late player, it is very pertinent to put the records straight that, hardly would a month pass, without paying into the account of Pa Izu Snr, the father of Late Izu, as requested by the Family in the last 6 months.”

If hardly a month goes by without paying money into the account of Pa Izu and only twice has it happened in 12 months, then there is something wrong.

There is a lot that is wrong with how we treat our sports people both dead and alive and we must change that attitude now.

There is an Izu Joseph in every one of us. Today, we treat this case as though it doesn’t matter but as surely as the sun will rise and set everyday, we will all need justice at some point in our lives.

It’s Argentina again at the World Cup. Some things never change

it seems like there will be no FIFA World Cup without a Nigeria v Argentina game, or so it seems.

In 6 sojourns to various World Cups we have drawn Argentina 5 times so there is nothing really left to say about that game except a piece advise to Nigerians.

That we beat Argentina in a friendly match does not count as the Argies will be tipped to win the World Cup by 8 out of 10 pundits but Nigeria will not.

You know why? Form is temporary and Class is permanent.

Argentina no be Nigeria mate (as we say in local parlance) as they have won the World Cup twice and been finalists three other times. Nigeria has no such track record.

For Croatia and Iceland, we must understand that the Scandinavians may be the most inexperienced side at the World Cup but what they have done in two years means they should be taken seriously.

As Ufuoma Egbamuno said on his radio show, “Iceland may not be superstars, but the most organised in the group. Croatia are no minnows. If we make second round, that’s success for me.”

The point is, though ours is not the easiest of groups, it could have been worse. We could have been playing Spain and Portugal.

And for NFF president, Amaju Pinnick, his time starts now in his desire to win the World Cup.

Nigeria must get out of that group and see what fate has in store for us. I will enjoy the World Cup and you should too.

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