Super Eagles Asaba Diary, Day 1: The fear of the unknown

Daniel Akpeyi kits up for training, John Ogu behind him
I will be a bit rusty on this because I haven't written a Super Eagles diary for at least a year, but this Asaba trip for me was about a few things for me.

I had to see first hand the Stadium built in honour of Nigeria's greatest ever footballer, Stephen Keshi. I was not there for the Africa Athletics Championship, neither was I there for the Nigeria v Uganda friendly game nor the Federation Cup final, so this was my chance.

But getting set for the journey was different this time.

Already Sanipe Damiete, Chuma Nnoli, and Okey Onwugbonu had called to ask how we would go and if I would be going for the game and when they knew i would, they said they would join me.

I had never driven my car to a Super Eagles game outside Port Harcourt.

Three of them said they would like to ride with me and I obliged.

Chibuogwu Nnadiegbulam also called to know more about the trip and if I would be going, but she was more interested in hotel bookings and I told her to speak with Bibian who I heard was doing that for journalists from across the country going to the game.

The fear of Owerri

I hadn't gone on a road trip in a while and I was really scared of crossing into Owerri from Port Harcourt. That road has/ had lots of memories.

There were so many kidnap cases on that road, you would wonder if people still used it, but we had to travel, didn't we?

The area from Elele to the boundary between Rivers State and Imo state was reputed to be the kidnap capital of Nigeria (arguably), especially the Ubima axis.

There were cases of whole commercial buses diverted into the forests, victims, robbed, abducted and in so cases females raped, so it became a bit of something I had to think about.

But it became worse for me when my good friend, Cyril called me on Wednesday and asked if I would go for the game and when I told him I would, he asked how?

He began to remind me of the incidents on that road and how he would have wanted to go for the game but had a phobia for that portion of the road. Cyril was not helping matters. He now began to suggest other alternatives- East/ West Road through Mbiama, then Warri; he also suggested Abia State, then Owerrinta, through to Onitsha; he also mentioned Etche, through Mbaise then Owerri and then Onitsha. As far as Cyril was concerned it had to be any route but that one.

Asaba from Port Harcourt would take us about three hours or a little less from Port Harcourt, if we just went the straight route, but then this quagmire.

I called Sanipe to express my worries and he just shrugged it off, saying Valar Morghulis, meaning all men must die, then he continued by saying everyone's life is in God's hand believing the road was not as bad. He reminded me that a lot of those kidnap cases happened to transporters, who rather than go through the high way, wanted to avoid the police and army checkpoints and rather passed through Ubima village, where the boys were waiting to welcome them with open arms.

Crossing to Owerri

We set off on Thursday at about 10.30 am. I first picked up Sanipe then, Chuma, bought some food on the way and as I drove, the other two ate. Okey Onwugbonu had called that he would not be embarking on the trip any more.

At Elele, I parked and told Sanipe to take over driving duties while I ate in the passenger's side and this was funny. Sanipe did not realise that he didn't have his driver's license with him since he didn't plan to drive my car.
Ekikere called and we found out she was in Onitsha so we picked her up

Not up to fifteen minutes after he took over driving duties we were stopped at a checkpoint and asked to bring forth our papers. Our Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ sticker had given us a free pass until then. The police and soldiers would just joke with us, as where we were going and wave us on.

I quickly told the man that I was supposed to be driving but just asked him to take the wheel while I ate since we thought it was better than parking the car on the high way to eat.

We could have as well been speaking with ourselves as these men did not care, but they were nice though. Thirty minutes later we were still with them. They didn't exactly let us go but rather engaged us in telling jokes, parables and other banter, all in a bid to get some money off us.

They began to engage us in stories of how to get drunk, how to have sex, how to improve our body count and how as journalists who travel a lot, we must have sex with at least one woman from every Nigerian state and then from each tribe. They just kept us there and continued to chat with us, once in a while asking subtly for money which we were not willing to give them. I always believe I can talk my way out of every situation.

They accused Sanipe of impersonating me since he was driving my car without his license when I had mine in the car (Our police na wa). My explanation to them was that it was just for a while since I wanted to eat and it would not have made sense to park the car by the dangerous highway to eat did not resonate well with them.

Suddenly, one of them, seeing we would be impossible to break said he needed just five thousand naira from us and that we should help them. My response was that we had five hundred naira or some cold drinks in our boot, all brands of drinks and I would rather he followed me to my car and made his choice from what i had because I would give him any money.

The young man then explained why I had to give him money.

He said those of them on checkpoint duty had to make returns to the office or they would be taken off the highways. Apparently, they had specified sums of money they paid to the office weekly to keep them there. He added that this is from the very top.

Then he looked at me and said, “I like this place I am staying. I am making money from here, but if I do not pay to the office, they will withdraw me from this place..”

He then said he was no longer telling us to pay anything, but was now begging us for money and that we should just give anything we had in mind because they had to make up for their payment to the office which was due.

Now this was funny. I knew we had him. I still offered to give him drinks but he responded that as much as he loved to drink, the bottles or cans would not help them at that point.

I gave him a thousand naira with no drinks and we moved on. I moved over to the driver's side and it was smooth sailing to Asaba. We passed at least 20 police/ army checkpoints between that point and Asaba and not one asked us to stop for any checks. They just joked with us, asked where we were going and waved us on.

Moral of the story, never give Sanipe your car to drive on the highway because the police are attracted to him.

The Super Eagles presser is a difficult place to be
From where I sat at the presser, I could not see Ahmed Musa and Rohr

We drove straight to our hotel, got checked in and had to head out for the presser which i heard was at the Stephen Keshi Stadium. I wondered why the Stadium and not the team hotel. Then I realised that the Eagles had to train and it would be easier to hold the presser then jump into the pitch to train.

i had stopped attending Post Match press conferences in Uyo when the Eagles played there because after I was manhandled by the DSS in one game where I lost my smartphone, I realised there was really no need. The rooms were always overcrowded, stuffy and had journalists who didn't know the first thing about good behavior.

However, the pre-match presser was always not bad in Uyo because it would hold at the Meridien Hotel and kudos to Toyin Ibitoye, it would be well organised.

Getting to the Stadium for the prematch presser and it was not something that surprised me.

The room was, as usual, crowded and the journalists were as usual unrully. People were moving around noisily, phones were ringing and I felt Toyin Ibitoye was having a hard time getting his colleagues together.

We survived the presser and to be fair, as soon as Ahmed Musa left and we faced Gernot Rohr, it became a bit more organised.

Crowd control issues again?

We stepped out of the press room to the stadium car park as we waited for the Eagles to begin their training and that was our mistake. We should have stayed in.

We could hardly get back in because the police and other security operatives in black would not let us in. Then they suddenly said only ID card carrying journos could go in. That was not a bad arrangement.

Suddenly, we got into the main bowl and the number of fans already inside and pitch side was amazing. How did they get in? Did they have ID cards too? Some even got into the technical area and were taking selfies with the players.

It was at this point that Victor Modo exclaimed that the crowd control measure at this venue was poor and wondered how all those fans got it. It was worrisome but there were no incidents.

I fraternized with a few of the players, took pictures and then left to pick up my accreditation tag from Ayo Ibidapo, who had just arrived.

Enjoying my view of the Super Eagles' presser

Another view

Toyin Ibitoye and Gernot Rohr always do a good job

Sanipe Damiete, Chibuogwu Nnadiegbulam, Emmanuel Etim and Ekikere Udofia have all bent the knee to me

Fans enjoying the Super Eagles training session

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