At a time many Nigerians are holding tight to whatever they have due to the current economic recession, Rev. Ambrose Ezeala sees things differently. To him, no matter the impact of recession on Nigerians, it will not stop him from rendering his ‘selfless’ services to his fatherland, particularly when the female national team, the Super Falcons, are on African Nations Cup duty.
“Since June 6, 2000, God told me to channel my energy towards the female national team by offering them prayer whenever they are on international duty,” Rev. Ezeala told The Guardian on arrival at the Parliamentarian Flat Hotel camp of the Super Falcons here in Buea, Cameroon.
“It started on June 6, 2000, and for 17 years, I have been following the Super Falcons, rendering prayer for the team and we have been winning.”
Ezeala may have been having it smooth all these years, but his decision to embark on a journey to Cameroon, venue of the on-going 10th African Women’s Nations Cup, may have come with a big prize.
Rev. Ezeala was 15 years old when he was ‘forced’ into the Nigerian army during the Nigerian Civil War. Then, the young Ezeala and his parents were residing in Asaba, now Delta State capital. Like many other Nigerians, he was ‘captured’ and liberated into the army to defend his fatherland against the Biafran soldiers.
“But all through my years in the Nigerian army, and my 17 years of following the Super Falcons around African countries, I had not experienced this kind of journey,” he said, while searching his bag for a track suit to shield himself from the biting cold, which according to the residents of Buea, is an all year round weather because of the surrounding rocks, mountains, creeks and the sea.
Just after the Super Falcons departed Nigeria for Cameroon two weeks ago, Ezeala commenced his journey to the Central African country to be part of the opening Group match against Mali, which Nigeria won 6-0 on Sunday.
His dream of making it to Cameroon on time to render prayer to the team was nearly shattered. “I started my journey from Ikom, Cross River State, and I never knew the road to Cameroun was a death trap. The last time I travelled with the Super Falcons to Cameroon for an Olympic Games qualification ticket in 2008, I came through the sea from Calabar. The experience was not that good because of the high wave of the sea. This time, I decided to come by road, and I will say the experience was worse. I won’t try it again.”
According to Ezeala, the journey from Ikom in Cross River State, Nigeria to Yaounde in Cameroon took him four days. “From Ikom, I joined a car, which took me near the boundary between Cross River and Cameroon. From there, I joined a big bus to Yaounde. At first, I thought it was going to be a one or at most two days journey, but I ended up spending four days on the road,” he said.
According to Ezeala, his ordeal started shortly after the Luxury bus got to the Nigeria-Cameroon bounder. “Their Immigration officers and policemen were so unfriendly to me. They collected all my money. I told them I was a pastor and that I was on my way to the Super Falcons camp in Cameroun for the African Nations Cup, but none of them was ready to listen to my explanation. What they were after was the money, and I had to give out everything I had just to find my way to Yaounde.
“Before I started the journey, I had to change some of my money to Cameroon CFA. But I also had to keep some Nigeria currency (the naira) just in case I run out of their money. To cross the bounder from Cross River into Cameroon, I was made to pay 4,000 CFA. And from that point, the Immigration officers and policemen turned me into their ATM machine. They drilled my pocket and emptied everything I had. Even when I told them that their colleagues had taken all that I had, they will still search my pockets and pick the little that was left. It got to a point that I could not even buy water to drink not to talk of feeding. It is just by the Mercy of God that I got here,” Ezeala stated.
On arrival in Cameroon, Ezeala headed to Yaounde, the capital city, thinking that the Super Falcons would play their group matches there. He got it wrong. “It was when I got to Yaounde that someone told me that the Falcons were in Limbe. I met some Nigerian friends who assisted me with some money and I had to start another journey (about five hours) to Limbe. I got there only to be told that the Falcons camp is in Buea, so I had to start another journey down here. As we speak, I am down totally, but I know that God will see me through,” he stated.
The economic meltdown has equally affected the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), and as such, Ezeala’s hope of getting some form of relief from players and officials of the Super Falcons hit a brick wall the moment he stepped into the team’s camp at the Parliamentarian Flat hotel in Buea.
It’s a three-in-one problem for the Nigerian pastor here in Super Falcons camp in Buea. No money to pay for hotel accommodation, no money to feed and no money to move around. To compound his problem, there is no male official in the team’s camp to squat with. Things are really looking bad for the pastor.
Some officials of the team told The Guardian that they warned Ezeala not to venture on the trip to Cameroun. “During our preparation in Abuja, the man (Ezeala) came to our camp one day and introduced himself as the official pastor of the Super Falcons. I told him to get an official letter from the NFF to that effect. He left only to resurface two days later saying that we shall meet in Cameroun. But
I warned him not to take such a gamble because nobody will look his face, considering the tight budget we are operating with. There is no money anywhere to take care of unnecessary things. Beside the issue of no money, tell me why a pastor who is actually leading a church in Nigeria will abandon his congregation and members of his family to embark on such jamboree trip in the name of rendering prayer for a national team?
“Any time the Super Eagles are in camp, this man will be the first to reach there. He told me that he spent seven days traveling by road from Lagos to Senegal to support the U-20 national team. He was in Rwanda and he was also in South Africa with the Super Eagles. When Nigeria played Algeria in the World Cup qualifier in Uyo, he was there.