By Bassey Ibiatisuho
“I swore for them in the NFA or NFF when we came back from Mali 2002 African Nations Cup. They treated all of us: Shuaibu Amodu, Stephen Keshi and myself just anyhow. What basically happened was that, I was very angry at the time. So I went back home, stripped naked and put a curse on Nigeria football and they will know no peace until I am paid my money.”
Those were the words of Joseph Bassey Eric, popularly called Joe Erico or Jogo Bonito after being a part of the Super Eagles technical crew as a goalkeeper trainer to Mali 2002 Nations Cup and the qualification to the World Cup in Korea/Japan.
An indigene of Odukpani local government area in Cross River State, Erico was one of the best Green Eagles goalkeepers who represented Nigeria at many international matches and won several records.
Worthy of note is the fact that the Akwa-Cross region has produced great goalkeeping talents and emptied them into the national treasury, the likes of Eyo Essien, Moses Effiong (MON), Patrick Udoh, Vincent Enyeama, Bassey Akpan among others have at different times been a part of the national team set up.
Erico made his debut for then Green Eagles in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match against Zambia in Lagos in July 1973 (which Nigeria won 3-2), and then kept goal in all of Nigeria’s six matches at the 1976 Africa Cup of Nations in Ethiopia, where the Eagles finished third – the first time Nigeria would win a medal at the AFCON.
He was also in goal in all of Nigeria’s pre-tournament friendlies against Kenya, Zambia and Tanzania just before the team flew to Ethiopia.
In 2002, Erico, Stephen Keshi and Shuaibu Amodu, all late, were brought in to turn the tides around for Nigeria as they prepared for the 2002 FIFA World Cup finals after unimpressive results under Dutchman Johannes Bonfrere.
With three matches left in the campaign, and a must-win mandate for all, the trio got the job done and qualified Nigeria for Korea/Japan.
They also led the team to a bronze-medal finish at the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations finals in Mali early 2002. They were sacked soon on arrival from Mali.
The agony of Erico sadly, is also the pains of others who sacrificed for the country and were given a promised but till date those promises are not fulfilled. Many like Erico have died without getting the reward of the promise made to them while the ones alive have no hope of getting theirs.
Late Keshi and Amodu who both passed away in 2016 were owed by the Nigeria Football Federation until their death. The likes of Christian Chukwu, Eucharia Uche, John Obuh, Austin Eguavoen, Florence Omagbemi, Samson Siasia and Sunday Oliseh – a veritable who’s who of Nigerian football – have all taken to the media to complain over outstanding salaries down the years, having coached the national teams.
Dismally, the trend continues today as it was in ages past and now moves to football clubs in Nigeria where coaches and players are owed salaries, allowances and bonuses and many times dismissed without their due. This is ‘crime’ against the dignity of labour, a labourer deserves his wages on time and while alive.
Unfortunately, the NFF cannot punish clubs that fail to abide by the terms and conditions of contracts by paying their players and coaches because they are the biggest culprit and the records are there for all to see.
During the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup, the Super Eagles deliberately missed a training session in protest at the non-payment of a bonus for qualifying, in 2016, the Super Falcons staged a protest to the National Assembly in Abuja over unpaid bonuses after winning the eight African Women Cup of Nations in Cameroon, in 2019, the same team refused to leave the team hotel after their exit from the women’s World Cup, demanding that the NFF clears all of their outstanding bonus payments. The Under 17, Under 20 and the Under 23 teams have all had a fair share of the NFF’s unfairness.
If the labour of our Heroes’ past must not be in vain, legends like Stephen Keshi, Shuaibu Amodu and Joe Erico must not be owed till death. Let the culture be broken and let labour be rewarded appropriately.
Goodnight Jogo Bonito!