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Can any of our leaders anonymously take a bus ride to gauge the people’s feeling?

by Ahmed Yahaya Joe
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Ahmed Yahaya – Joe

Godwin Odiye. 1978 Argentina FIFA World Cup qualifying match. Nigeria Vs. Tunisia. November, 12 1977. Kick off time, 2pm, at the Main Bowl of the National Stadium, Surulere.

The rest as they say is now history.

Mr. Odiye recently recounts in his own words;

“How can I forget?”

“That goal was the highlight of my football career and it defined the course of my life, thereafter,”

 “We were hard pressed to score a goal when the game was about 15 minutes to end and we went into massive attack with Christian Chukwu overlapping and supporting our midfielders.

I was the only one behind and I got a pass from Muda Lawal supporting the defence and I immediately passed it on to Sam Ojebode at left-back. Ojebode ventured into attack but his cross was headed back to a Tunisian who controlled the ball and raced down the left side position.”

“As I was alone with no help coming, I took a decision that, if the Tunisian player crossed the ball, I will go for a corner kick header. The player did what I expected from him, but it was a spin, which grazed my head. Meanwhile, goalkeeper Emmanuel Okala had come out and the ball was in the net.”

“What surprised me mostly was the noise from the commentary box. Okonkwo was shouting repeatedly, ‘Nigeria score Nigeria’ and that must have enraged our fans and many Nigerians that were listening on radio. I was really disappointed. It was not funny after the game as I was smuggled out of the stadium by my friends.”

Odiye at San Francisco bay area high school

“The following day, I wanted to gauge people’s feeling, so I got on a bus heading towards the National Stadium and all the talks were about the game and me and I was called all sorts of name and some even abused my forefathers.

One man sitting beside me rained curses on me not knowing he was talking to the same Odiye. I did not say a single word but when I alighted, he looked back, recognised me and I waved at him.”

“It was the headline on Daily Times and in all newspapers the next day. It was like a torture, Godwin Odiye’s header and own goal was reeled in news round ups on Radio Nigeria every hour. It was first on 9 O’clock news on NTA. I felt like a murderer. I murdered the hope of over 100 million Nigerians then.”

“Thereafter, I made up my mind that football was not for me. Though I came back to win the Nations Cup in 1980, I knew football wasn’t my thing.”

“Even in the United States many years after, I was in a social gathering of Nigerians and a man was boasting that he would beat me up should he meet me because of that own goal. I just smiled and left the place.

It is like a stigma that wouldn’t go away. Till today, if you introduce me to any Nigerian, ”this is Godwin Odiye,’ he or she immediately recall and refer to that own goal.”

I would not recognize Mr. Odiye even if he sat next to me on a Tea seller’s table or across me in a beer parlor or indeed near me in a football viewing center. Regardless, I will always acknowledge his genuine intention while on national assignment – to head a Tunisian missile into a corner but didn’t exactly work out that way!

On the flip side, we Nigerians thought we were cunny. The match was fixed for 2 pm to use the tropical damp heat of Lagos in tiring out the North Africans more used to lower dry temperatures.

Anyway, when Odiye relocated from the land of wailers to that of opportunity he acquired tertiary education became a banker earning an MBA.  He now coaches in a San Francisco bay area high school.

I can imagine how he would have ended up if he had he remained back home. All that negativism and guilt complex. We Nigerians could be so merciless and unforgiving.

Godwin Odiye’s candour is however exemplary. Time heals but certain regrets never go away!

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