An interesting match is going on presently in Nigeria that promises to be wholly entertaining and full of bone-crushing challenges in the best tradition of an English football match. The simmering duel is between two of Nigeria’s most talented footballers of their generation. Due to popular demand, this particular match is not taking place inside the main bowl of the national stadium, but rather it is taking place in the unlikely tripartite venues of a Lagos High Court, the pages of Nigerian newspapers and, I suspect, the court of Public Opinion. In the red corner is Jay Jay Okocha, the phenomenally successful Nigerian footballer. In the opinion of this writer, Okocha is the most skilful football player Nigeria ever produced, and in this i include players like Segun Odegbami, Adokie Amaesiemeka, Humphrey Edobor, Nwankwo Kanu etc. Although he never won the CAF African Footballer of the year award, it is universally acknowledged that he is the best African player never to have won that award. It will appear that after being released from his contract by the English Premiership newcomers, Hull Football Club, Okocha now spends his time in Nigeria where it is understood he runs a night club amongst other businesses.

In the blue corner is Etim ‘super brat’ Esin. Now, if ever the tag ‘wasted talent’ can justifiably be affixed after a Nigerian footballer’s name, that person is Etim Esin. He is a man who never really fulfilled his phenomenal potentials. He was a stupendously talented footballer and was dubbed Nigeria’s own ‘Maradona’ {i suppose a later alias might be Nigeria’s own Gascoigne!}. He had unbelievable skills, pace and vision. Between 1986 and 1990 when he was ‘reigning’ he was without doubt the most important footballer of that period and when after a night out in a club {which with typical indiscipline happened on the eve of a World Cup qualifier!} Etim was shot by armed robbers in Lagos, there was a national outcry and outpouring of emotion with the then self-styled ‘President’ Babangida sparing no cost to ensure that Etim received the best medical treatment possible. He continued his footballing career in Europe by joining a club in Belgium where his star soared considerably. However, the by a combination of brazen indiscipline and bad advice, Etim was accused of raping an under-aged girl in Belgium and instead of staying in Belgium to stand trial and possibly clear his name, he jumped bail and ran to Lagos. His career never recovered and he becomes a living example of how not to run a promising career.

Now many Nigerians are wont to speculate on what might have happened were Okocha and Etim to play in the same team. There is also occasional beer parlour argument as to who was the ‘better’ player. These are all academic exercises as the simple fact is that we will never know. However the present face-off between them should hopefully offer insight for Nigerians to make up their minds as to who is indeed more skilful of the two. The genesis of the on-going confrontation between the two was in December 2008 when Okocha, apparently in the spirit of Christmas and its attendant goodwill, invited Etim to the Christmas party he was holding at his residence in Opebi.  Etim attended with his wife and daughter. However in the course of the merriment, an allegation was made that a mobile phone belonging to Okocha had been stolen right at the party and Etim was a suspect. According to Etim {as carried by the Punch newspaper of 11 January 2009:

"Okocha invited me himself to his house; it was not as if I just went there. I didn't know he had a plan to mess me up. The Boxing Day party was going on when Okocha said he lost his phone and, of all the people there, I was the only one suspected of stealing that phone.

"You can't imagine the humiliation I felt when they began to search me; how could anybody think I would steal a phone? What's the price of a phone to Okocha that would lead him to treat me like that? What would I do with his phone? It's not as if I'm hungry, so why should I be accused of stealing an ordinary phone?"

Good question. Now i suspect that multi-millionaire megastar like Okocha probably uses top of the range i-phones and blueberries, but you have to agree with Etim, on the face of it that Okocha’s phone {whatever its brand} is unlikely to fetch millions in the Nigerian black markets.  As a veritable ‘schemer’ who in his heyday operated as an attacking mid-fielder,
Etim appreciates the finer points of feinting and dribbling and not going straight to the point. Hear him:

‘’Okocha has everything money can buy. He has the best cars; he has big houses and all the good things of life. God has blessed him so much, but is he jealous of me? If he is, then it is unfortunate.
"Even if people say I was better than he ever was, I don't think that should make him so jealous as to set me up like this and give me this horrible treatment. I've never been bothered by the comparison between us and I feel he shouldn't too. Besides, he didn't do a thing like this when he was still active and on top, it is now that he has retired that he is behaving this way. I used to respect him a lot, but that is no longer the case. You can't treat me like that and retain my respect; it's not possible...My daughter was not used to seeing me being surrounded and searched like that and she had to ask why after they let me go. I told her we were playing a game of hide and seek. She must have believed me but within me I was very sad; how could my daughter see me like this? It really was a painful experience. I  believe I was specifically invited to come along with my family because they wanted the humiliation to be complete. That was not the first time I'd been to Okocha's house, but that was the first time I'd be there with my wife and daughter. And that was the day they chose to search me for a missing phone."

The long and short of which is that Etim has employed the service of ‘radical’ Lagos lawyer, Festus Keyamo to institute a legal proceeding against Okocha for 100million Naira in damages {that should buy millions of handsets!}. He is keen to ensure that his ‘good name’ is not tarnished. He is also keen to clear his name via the court system for the sake of his present employers {Etim now works for the cable television company, HiTv as a pundit for their European league showing} because ‘the image will not be good for me and the cable company if i don’t clear my name’

Okocha as may be expected laughed off the report by saying ‘no shaken’ {well, he did not exactly say that}. He did states {according to the Vanguard edition of 31 January 2009} that {and please note the underlined words}:
‘Yes i laughed, because it really calls for laughter. I say so because I strongly feel that Etim knows what he is after. It is a pity that this is happening. When I saw them searching Etim, I ordered them to stop and duly apologised to him. I was not there when they started accusing him. I did not accuse him. I came down to see what was happening and I said why? I told Etim I was sorry.

They said some other persons had been searched too. I told them that it was wrong. What was the cost of a telephone for them to embarrass my guests. You only invite your close friends to the kind of party we had. And if I didn’t mean well for Etim, would I have invited him? I feel disappointed by the way Etim has taken it. I gave him gift that day and that was from my heart. People were calling me to react, even some ex internationals. I told them it was not necessary. I’m only speaking now because of the latest development. If he wants to go to court, I’m ready. Let’s go to court and sort it out.’

Fine, and at this point you will have to say the scores is 1-1 ‘goalless’ draw. However matter has now taken a new dimension when the cable company, HiTv, for whom Etim works and one of the reasons he has gone to court, has taken the decision to order Etim to, not only withdraw his suit against Okocha, but to apologise to him! Etim was stopped from appearing for the HiTv for their broadcast of the premiership match between Manchester United and Everton football clubs. The club apparently wanted to distance themselves from any legal action taken by Etim and they felt the fairest way to do so is to effectively sack Etim. According to the CEO of the company, Toyin Subair:

“Yes, I asked that Etim apologises to Okocha or he will stop appearing on air for us. I did so after finding out the truth. Honestly, my body was shaking when I found out the truth. I took that position because if Etim was allowed to go on like that, he could do it to anybody including those of us in HITV.

He could come up with something any day. He knew that Okocha was not the one that ordered him searched, he knew that Okocha was not there when they started searching him, he knew that when Okocha came and saw what was happening, he ordered them to stop and strongly apologised to him and the wife. Etim knew that he was not the only one searched. Other people had actually opened their bags for searching and they were on it when Okocha came, expressed surprise and ordered that stopped. Okocha’s wife knelt down to apologise to Etim’s wife, gave her a kiss and the party continued. When Etim was leaving, Okocha gave him N100,000.00 as Christmas gift.

He was happy. Again, Etim’s daughter was not there when they were searching Etim. She was upstairs playing with other kids. Even Etim’s wife admitted that Okocha apologised to them. Our generation should not accommodate such things because it will spread and some day it could be anybody’s turn to suffer this type of thing. What I really don’t know is why Etim should do this to somebody who has been supportive to him.

I don’t get it at all. I don’t get it. Honestly, I was shocked when I found out the truth. I invited Etim to join us. He did not apply for the job. I brought him because I felt our television could help him find another career. I didn’t like the way he was being treated, so I offered him the chance. If he could do this to Okocha, he could do it to anybody, so I’m scared. That’s why I asked him to apologise, so that he retraces his step and know how to live in peace. I was scared of him”

Now Mr Subair has failed to make available to the public the ‘truths’ he has learnt. How did he learn these truths? It is fair to surmise from available information that Mr Subair was not at the party. It can also be assumed that a copy of the video recording of the incident has not been made available to Mr Subair. Thus, any ‘truth’ now being regurgitated by Mr Subair are indeed someone else version of what transpired at the party. Yet, based on this, Mr Subair will want the world to believe that his body was ‘shaking’ when he learnt the ‘truth’ and on this basis he has sacked Etim from his employment. On what basis did Mr Subair make the assertions that it was not Okocha who ordered that Etim be searched? Etim has said that Okocha has failed to apologise to him, yet Subair is saying that Okocha has done so, yet Subair was not at the party. Was he there when Okocha’s wife kneel down to Etim’s wife and gave her a kiss {whilst still kneeling down!? How did Subair know that Okocha gave Etim N100,000.00 when he was leaving? And that Etim was happy? How did he know that the incident was not witness by Etim’s daughter? The man has apparently taken a side and in so doing could potentially become a PR liability to Okocha.  A clear impression is created that someone is out to hound and frustrate Etim. If i was Etim, my lawyers should be instituting fresh and separate suit against Toyin Subair and his HiTv.

Now back to the unfriendly match, it has to be said that although it is still a ding dong affair, Etim appears to be having an upper hand so far {especially since the ill-advised intervention of Toyin Subair}. Of course given the nature of these types of matches, it is too close to call and is likely to go to the wire. The match so far has contained all the attributes of a thriller with tackles flying from both parties. The only low point has been the commentary by the likes of Toyin Subair. What will undoubtedly liven up the match is to have someone like Ernest Okonkwo commentating on it. Now that will be extra terrestrial!
Adebayo Kareem, a solicitor writes from London.
Email: [email protected]

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