At his Feet – Latest Nigeria News, Nigerian Newspapers, Politics

Sam Omatseye


THE most enduring legacy of Diego Amando Maradona for us in Nigeria, may not be on the turf of play. It may be political. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida was the victim and culprit. He manipulated politics in a way that evoked the magisterial vista of the Argentine maestro.

Both men mastered their turf. One left sweat, tears, cheers and boos. The other deposited blood, fear, tears and cheers. One was a thieving genius, the other a self-proclaimed evil genius.

While the diminutive ball juggler made an obstacle course of defences, IBB slalomed the world of politics. He turned election against politician, politician against soldiers and soldiers against bureaucrats. From the stands, the people cheered and booed, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes together. At times, they were not sure whether to do either, or both. At long last, the sunset came for both men. But for people such as Diego and IBB, they make too much impact, good or bad, for the sunset not to leave a halo.

As Diego passes we know the folk hero as god, a god of soccer in the Argentine shrine. But his worshippers transcend race and borders. Black and white, Asian, European, African and South America, including Brazil where they love to hate him. He started as a rough-hewn area boy, but after riches and fame, he died still a rough-hewn. He enjoyed the fame. But he was not comfortable with celebrity. He loved the wealth, and unfurled it in a lifestyle whose obscenity seemed a revolt against plenty. Drugs, women, Rolex, parties. Many wanted him to be a light. He never saw himself in that light. He probably rebelled against it. He might have loved the contradiction. He a poor man who associated with the people’s politics. He was an anti-elitist elite. A traitor to his class.

The story of his life was told within four minutes in 1986. He scored a goal with a hand. While many were panting over a cheat, he dazzled with honesty. He picked the ball from his own half and undertook a dribble run, beating every player on his way including the goal keeper. He netted perhaps the best individual goal in the history of the game. The British press called him the Argentine thief. He said it was a holy, transcendental moment in soccer. So he said it was the “hand of God.” In the words of Peter Abelard of the age of Transformation, God became man. But his hand was Satan, his feet divine. Rather than punishment, he earned victory. Rather than infamy, he found redemption, a golden boot and a world cup trophy. His aerial larceny became a lance on England’s skin. The thief handed England a humiliation. He became a Barabbas of soccer. He got absolution without confession, or he let out a confession as defiance.

Again, Maradona was a metaphor for crime with a reward. It also was comeuppance for England, a deuce of doom. The South American nation had recently sunk a British warship in a war over the Falklands Island. The World Cup match was not just two nations sweating and trading tackles in a friendly affray to entertain a bored world, it was a grudge from sea storm to turf of play. If all was fair in war, Maradona was not the sort of guy who did not know its significance for a critical world cup match. The British press anticipated revenge. Instead, the former colonial power crumbled. The press expected England to do its duty. The argentine stole it. It was not fair. So, too, was colonialism.

Nigeria did not have a great memory with the bard of soccer moves. They beat us in USA, and when the match ended, he likened the Nigerian defence to Mike Tyson. He was perhaps the most bruised soccer forward in world cup history. Pele is second. If he triumphed against African countries, he did not forget Cameroun till he died. The African nation was led by Roger Milla, 38, who danced to scorn after scoring. I remember that evening at the weekend Concord newsroom. Editor Mike Awoyinfa, with an eye for moments, titled: the story, Maragoner.

The story of the Argentine player is often interlocked with Pele O’Rei. Who is the GOAT, the greatest player of all time? The problem with many assessors of Pele is that they were not in the moment as they were with the Argentine. They watched the clips. They never witnessed the tension, suspense, surprise, the immediacies or value the victory first-hand. They are too close to Diego to be impartial. They tend to give it to Maradona. There are quite a few parameters to use. They include skills, set pieces, goals, great moments, team player and legacy. Some have said the Argentine wins in skills and team player categories because he was an attacking midfielder, who had to sweat through thickets of defence. Pele, on the other hand, played advanced forward, and did not have the fight that Diego had.

They also say Pele savoured a complement of great players like Jairzinho and Alberto.  They may be right, but Pele was a master of ball control around the eighteen yard box. He hardly scored an easy goal. Was it the one in which he, a small man like Diego, lofted high and crowned the effort with a header? He did not use a divine hand. Or the play in which he beat every player in sight on the goal keeper’s box and lifted the ball over a defender’s head? Was it a goal he scored from the centre field? Even if they give it to Maradona, they cannot take away Pele’s number of goals, netting 12 goals and 10 assists in 14 world cup appearances while Maradona had seven goals and 8 assists in 21 appearances. The point that Maradona played for Napoli in Europe and Pele at Santos in Brazil does not diminish the Brazillian club games. Santos was a great club that even won two club world cups. Pele said if Diego scored over 1000 goals as he did in his career, the conversation could begin. Goals make soccer’s fruition, and the master of it is the master.

The stats show Maradona wins the set piece category. For great moments, Pele clutches it. He has three world cup, Maradona has one. If Pele had big players, we cannot punish him for his blessings. Legacy goes to Pele with three world cup wins, and a scandal-free career and life. Diego was a colourful hero, Pele a bland brand. The game is about legends, and Pele tops the Argentine.

Nevertheless, the humanity of Maradona is inescapable. He associated with the Argentine poor, and even spent as though he wanted to be poor for plebian authenticity. He even associated with leftist leaders like Da Silva, Chavez, Castro.

But there is one person he reminds me of: Haruna Ilerika, Nigeria’s best. I have seen players in the country since the 1970’s. No one had the ball control abilities, dribble run, colour and team spirit like him. He played at the wrong time, before global television age and universal scouting. Ilerika would have been in a conversation of the greats today. Unfortunately, we don’t even have the videos of his plays.

Diego’s deity is his feet, even when they are made of clay.


In Jos, Barabbas and Jesus


TWO things happened recently, all connected with Plateau. One gives you reason to cheer about Nigeria’s moral future. We all saw the theater of looting of palliatives. But about two thousands of them confessed after a sermon by Pastor Ezekiel Dachomo of the Church of Christ in Nations. Of their own freewill, they returned the loot from a penitent heart. They asked for forgiveness. Their souls no longer warehouse guilt but pardon. They are the Barabbas of the Nigerian soul. They stole but had the audacity to confess. Penitence tortures far more than hardihood. It takes a crumbling of the spirit to confess in public to stealing, especially if you did it with a mob and got away with it.

The contrast is that of Yakubu Gowon, former head of state. A British member of parliament said Gowon brought “half of the Central Bank” of Nigeria with him to the UK after he was ousted in Murtala’s coup of 1975. He had no evidence. It adds to the apocryphal tales of the EndSars narratives. No one has ever vouchsafed Gowon to any scandal. When he was a student in the UK, he was even mocked by the British press for lining up, plate in hand, for food in the dining hall. He was a former head of state. They expected him to be dining in a London mansion.

Jos posted two countervailing skeins. A lie about looting, and looters who confessed the truth. It’s like the story of Jesus and Barabbas. Barabbas the thief gets redemption. Gowon, like Jesus, was innocent, but the MP installs a hangman’s noose for him.


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