To forget may be man’s greatest weakness.
We always forget. Even with the challenges, we face on a daily basis, plus the endless vicissitudes of life, ‘forgetfulness’ seems to be a big challenge. I recall Chioma Ajunwa and the unfortunate circumstances surrounding her first ban by the IAAF on the eve of the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. Following the announcement of the ban, the Nigerian sports authorities, without hearing her side of the story, condemned her to ‘hell’. Thereafter, life went on normally for everyone else but her, as if Chioma never existed in the first place. Yet, here was a young Nigerian girl that had just run and recorded the fastest 100 metres race in the world that year, and was poised to win an Olympic medal for her country, suddenly sentenced to a ban from all sports on the eve of her possible greatest triumph. Nigeria did nothing to help her, even with a simple enquiry.
Chioma’s life could have ended the day the ban was announced, mostly because she was not given a chance to tell her own story. Alone and humiliated, she carried her cross until the elements came to her rescue and rose to her defence. It took 4 harrowing years but, in the end, she was ‘rewarded’ with the ultimate prize in all of sport. Still partially affected till today by the tar of that ban decades ago, she stands alone on a pedestal unmatched by any Nigerian (even African), living or dead, since that eventful evening in the city of Atlanta, during the 1996 Olympic games, when her story was re-written in Gold letters, in a life-time best jump that can no longer be ever forgotten.
Samson Siasia’s present plight reminds me of Chioma’s story.
Until two weeks ago, Samson was a football hero, the third-highest goalscorer in Nigeria’s history at the national team level. He had been struggling to make ends meet since he was relieved of his national teams’ assignment. He was going through tough times without a regular job when his mother was kidnapped several weeks ago, and he had to face the new ‘impossible’ situation of raising a ransom demanded by the terrorists that kidnapped her. With that noose of survival tightening around his neck, the ultimate humiliation (a ‘death’ sentence) came tumbling down from FIFA, a body that Samson does not ordinarily have any direct dealings with, slamming him with a life ban.
I had him and the memory of Chioma at the back of my mind, knowing how sportspersons are disrespected and disregarded in this clime. I was willing to give Samson the benefit of the doubt and find out directly from him the only thing that I needed to resolve in my mind, an unanswered but very important question – why did he not respond to FIFA’s written enquiry?
Last week, I was in Abuja to see Samson. Just as in the case of Chioma, I wanted to peer into his eyes and find the truth in his words. The man was badly traumatized. He was in a state of disbelief. Like me, Samson is an Olympian, sworn to certain ethics and conduct. He told me his truth, and I choose to believe him. I wondered after all, why it is so easy for people to dismiss the matter the way most did as if FIFA is infallible? I had to put myself in Samson’s shoes to appreciate his simple and very innocent response.
I have been in football for almost 5 decades. The only time I have ever dealt directly with FIFA, in all that time, was when I lodged a protest concerning the integrity of the local elections into the Nigeria Football Federation, and they responded to my petition. Beyond that, players and coaches have no business or a relationship with FIFA requiring any form of communication. If FIFA wants to contact me now, it makes sense that they would either go through my national football federation or through the email address they must have received from me several years ago, a Hotmail account that I discarded many years ago. Once in a very blue moon, I visit the box and find thousands of ‘useless’ mails that I never even bother to read or respond to.
That’s the challenge of my generation. We pretend to be very IT savvy yet engage very little. I know some well-known footballers that would not even bother to engage social media. If Samson saw FIFA’s mail I believe him that he would have responded. Period. Thereafter, there was nothing else for me to consider. His job was limited to coaching Nigeria’s national teams. FIFA had not listed any match involving Nigeria as being fixed. Or could Samson have fixed a match not involving his own team? So, if no Nigerian match is listed anywhere as having been fixed, how come Samson would be accused of match-fixing allegations?
If the charge is only that he did not respond to their mail, then, surely there is a big mistake somewhere. FIFA, I believe, was in haste or in anger when it took its decisions to fine and ban Samson Siasia. Even the letter that was written to him requesting for his response to the allegation clearly states that failure to respond would attract a penalty of at least 10,000 Swiss francs and a possible maximum sentence of a two years ban. That’s what the letter said.
So, what justifies a life ban?
Well, that is FIFA’s headache to deal with Samson’s advised move to take the case to the Court of Sports Arbitration and to FIFA itself. What I learnt looking him straight in the eye resolved my only confusion. My problem now is how Nigeria and Nigerians are taking the matter outside of FIFA. Samson has been left in the lurch to carry the can of his ‘sin’, condemned and abandoned to his fate. Even his kidnapped mother’s situation has now receded in serious attention, forgotten and consigned to the back burners of public interest. This is another classic Chioma Ajunwa scenario unfolding before our very eyes. The least we can do is look again at the issues, and not dump Samson Siasia in the heap of our amnesia.
I need to remind us all that our national hero is going through the most horrifying, extremely painful and difficult experience of his life. Nigerians must not forget or abandon him now. I remind us all again that the design of the world order, of which FIFA is a very powerful and influential component, is never so that the Nigerian would thrive or succeed. For all we know, Samson may be a victim of such prejudice. So, rather than forget him and his mother, who is still in captivity, let us stand by him and help him! My prayer is that the elements take charge quickly as they did in 1996, and re-write the story of Samson Siasia. May the moment of this greatest challenge become the moment of his greatest triumph.
Femi Otedola – Thank You!
By the time you are reading this, it would be the fourth day since Peter Fregene was wheeled out of surgery for a lifesaving operation performed by a renowned Nigerian neurosurgeon based in the United States of America. Dr Olawale Sulaiman was flown in for that purpose. At the time I am writing this on Thursday morning, I have just spoken with Peter on his bed in the Intensive Care Unit of Reddington Hospital in Victoria Island, Lagos, one of the most expensive and best-equipped hospitals in Nigeria, where he is recuperating after his surgery that was pronounced successful. The big story is that since Peter Fregene entered Reddington for treatment several months ago, he has not set his eyes on his benefactor, the man who is footing the entire bill! This same man also intervened in the known cases of Christian Chukwu and Sadiq Daba both of whose overseas hospital bills he took care of. Now, this.
The man does not want any of the noises associated with his generous philanthropy. He wants no attention or even acknowledgement for his gifts of life to the people he helps. I use this opportunity to express, on behalf of all generations of Nigerian football players, our most sincere and deep gratitude for your intervention, help, support and unbridled philanthropy to Mr Femi Otedola.