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“Stephen Worgu and Innocent Ofem; Do you know who they are?”

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Well-Known Member
Sunday, November 15, 2009

There is too much football in the air. This past week has been filled with loads of drama, tension, excitement, expectation and all sorts of emotions. From the CAF Champions League finals involving Heartland FC of Owerri last weekend, to the Super Eagles’ final push for South Africa 2010, and the somewhat fairytale run of the Golden Eaglets; it has been a week where football lovers experienced the heights of game! But in the middle of all these teams holding the attention of Nigerians, it was the story of ex Ocean Boys and Enyimba FC player, Stephen Worgu that caught my attention.

Stephen Worgu became an instant hit across the continent after he emerged top scorer at the 2007/08 CAF Champions League season with 13 goals (five goals more than the next best), and also helping the Aba based team, reach the semi-finals of the continental championship for the first time since they won it in 2004. Most football enthusiasts took notice and some of the best publications and writers in the world, called him ‘The next African-European superstar.’

But on October 22, 2008, he surprised everyone when at just 19 years old (do not laugh), he agreed to join Sudanese club, Al-Merreikh, against more established Belgian and Dutch clubs; or even African power house, Egypt’s Al Ahly, who all wanted to sign him on. The deal was worth USD$2.5million and so, it only seemed natural that he would jump at the opportunity. But Nigerians were livid. Why leave Nigeria, where football is better and more competitive, for Sudan just for money. Everyone was sure it was the beginning of the end of a promising career.

Most of those predictions seemed correct when almost a year later, very little else was heard about him and his progress at Al-Merreikh. In fact, he had a really poor start when he failed to score any goal in his first 10 games for the club. There was already a lot of talk about him being a flash in the pan by fans of the club. Then to make matters worse, when he eventually scored his first goal for the club, it turned into a nightmare as he got a second yellow card for celebrating by taking off his shirt, which meant he got sent off from the field.

His gradual slide into obscurity, finally turned to infamy when in August, he was caught and arrested for drunk driving. First, his club had to pay a fine for his behaviour and breaking the law by driving under the influence of alcohol, and then he was sentenced to 40 strokes of the cane for drinking in an Islamic country. Stephen has since appealed the decision but his sentencing has generated some serious debate across the world.

Nigerian callers on radio and TV talk shows were divided as to whether the Nigerian government needed to step in and help Stephen out of the mess, or whether he should be left to face the music since he should have known what the laws of the land were before he went drinking. My brother was more concerned why the person who sold the drink was not being arrested since Stephen obviously did not manufacture the drinks on his own!

I was all for him following the course of justice, getting the appeal sorted out and then facing whatever punishment he might be given thereafter, since he had lived in a sovereign nation for over a year and should have known what was right and wrong; even though ignorance of the law is no excuse anyway! But after hearing an interview of him, my stance may have shifted a bit.

According to him; “I have done absolutely nothing wrong. Really, I had not been drinking. I was coming back from my friends’ house (where) I had eaten Nigerian food and the police stopped me. He then entered the car and asked me to drive to the police station. If you are drunk, you are not supposed to drive. I don’t know how a drunken man can be allowed to drive a policeman.” He went on to say that his breath was not tested for alcohol content, neither was any alcohol found in his car! “These guys said I drank Aragi. I asked my lawyer what Aragi is and he said it is a local Sudanese drink made with alcohol.”

All that made me worry. If all these are true, where then did the Sudanese court find the evidence to convict him of drinking and diving? Were they, stereotyping him; or was he being witch hunted; or is he lying? Whatever the case, the fact remains that it is his word against theirs and at a time like this, the need for top level diplomacy has to come in. While he may end up being found guilty, it is important for the government to at least, make sure that one more Nigerian citizen, and a somewhat important one at that, is not made to look like an orphan once again. At least if we cannot have electricity and good roads or even hear our dear President speak, the Foreign minister can be sent to help Mr. Worgu find his voice and get justice, whether it is in his favour or against him. We as Nigerians love to say; “Do you know who I am?” Now is the time to show who we are; on a very small scale!

Speaking of which, one Mr. Ofem, a member of the National Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), recently found out in a very strange way, who the police are (or can be). His crime; he was doing his job!

Mr. Innocent Ofem, works at the gate of the Governor’s office in Calabar, Cross River State. The rule says that every car that drives past that gate (whether going in or coming out) must have its booth or trunk searched by security like Mr. Ofem. But on Tuesday; November 10th 2009, Mr. Ofem got a taste of police brutality for doing exactly what he was told to do.

A police officer dressed in plain clothes had driven an Assistant Commissioner of Police to the Government House and before they crossed the gate, Mr. Ofem made sure the car was searched; including its booth. Five minutes later, the police officer drove out without the Assistant Commissioner of Police and asked Mr. Ofem to open the gate. Mr. Ofem refused and asked that he open his booth again to be searched before he is let out. But the police officer refused. Mr. Ofem refused to open the gate and the police officer tried to force his way through, damaging his car in the process. That got him angry. The police officer stepped down from his car grabbed Mr. Ofem (who was trying to explain that it was a rule that all visitors driving through the gates must have their booth checked, regardless of how much time they spent in the premises), and slapped him twice! He then started dragging Mr. Ofem by his collar to his car, saying he would take him to the

police station for disrespect. The police officer screamed; “I joined the police Force before you were born. What do you think you are? What is inside my booth? Who trained you? Is there no more respect for seniority in the force?”

Mr. Ofem, at that point was intimidated and begged to be set free (even if for doing his job). The police officer eventually let go of Mr. Ofem after pleas from members of the public, but only after promising to report Mr. Ofem to the head of the NSCDC in the State!

What bothers me is that like other cases like this, Mr. Ofem may eventually get fired knowing how Nigeria works and nobody would hear about it anymore. He could be fired simply because he tried to do his job and it got in the way of a big fry! There have been many situations like this that have gone unnoticed and the person who is actually right, sadly gets to bite the dust and slides back into the already bloated unemployed market. But thankfully, like the Uzoma Okere case with the Navy, there were members of the press there to get Mr. Ofem’s side of the story!

Like my friend Chris says, the problem with Nigeria is less about corruption and bad leadership but more about the lack of dignity in labour. People do not really care about rendering service. The customer care lady sees no reason why she should be polite on the phone; the bank teller sees no need to smile when dealing with a customer; the waiter at a restaurant feels (s)he is doing you a favour even where you are spending your money; the security man at a door feels you owe your existence to him and so, is aggressive for no reason! With a combination of all these, it becomes sad to see people being discouraged from doing their jobs just because some other people have bloated egos!

We flex our muscles at the wrong places. What has that police officer done to better the police force? After 30 years of service, how many merit awards has he won? How many robberies has he stopped? Why did he not try to flex his muscles when he still had the Assistant Commissioner of Police in his car? Was aggression and violence the best way to handle that situation?

We are guilty of many things in Nigeria but we seem to want to intentionally make the guilt list longer at every opportunity? While I am not pronouncing either Stephen Worgu or Innocent Ofem innocent, it is pretty obvious that they are both victims of the same thing; silencing them before they are even let to speak. If what Mr. Worgu said is true, then he has no reason being sentenced. Alcohol tests are the most crucial part of finding a drunken man guilty; and there is no way he could have been found guilty without a test. Same way Mr. Ofem would not have suddenly developed a love for checking booths and insisting on it without being instructed to by a superior!

The Federal Government needs to intervene in the Stephen Worgu case for what it is worth, as diplomacy may be the only way out now; just as I hope the Cross River State Government does make sure that Mr. Ofem is treated fairly. We have bragged enough in the face of the world and still have nothing to show for it. Now, every time we say; “Do you know who I am?”, the rest of the world may just answer ‘Yes’; but I have a feeling what they would be thinking would be different from what we expect them to think!


Is the Nigerian Under 17 Coach John Obuh the new Samson Siasia; or is it too early to judge him?

Yes I know Stephen Worgu. He made his name in the CAF Champions league and was signed with big cash in Sudan.
I heard he's been sentenced to public flogging. Too busy to read the article right now, but like someone rightly said: his case proves that "all that glitters is not gold."
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