A Fateful Gamble


We managed to sneak them through immigration even as they had no passports. Lagos security was easy, as a few dollar bills flashed in the faces of the immigration officials got us through. But we had landed in Cairo with two members of our travelling contingent without passports. How were we going to sneak them into Egypt? How were we going to get past these stern-looking immigration officials?
As consultants to Dolphins FC, the duo of Callistus Chukwujekwu and Chris Eseka made lots of blunders which, of course, had not been documented, but the encounter in Cairo could have had us all thrown into an Egyptian prison but for the fact that we were a football club. At least, that was what I thought.
At the Murtala Muhammad International Airport, we gathered close to immigration control as they announced that check-in had started for the Egypt Air carrier. Ours was a delegation of about 70 people: 30 consisting of players, coaches and back room staff of the club. The rest were government officials, journalists, supporters’ club members and well-wishers. As was the practice with the club, as soon as check-in formalities was to begin, the Team Manager, Diepreye Fiberesima and sometimes the club Secretary, Fatai Olayinka, would do the roll-call to hand passports over for the passage through immigration. We usually submit our passports to the club’s management to process the visas, then meet at the designated airport in Port Harcourt to board a flight to Lagos, and are later handed our passports on departure from Lagos to our destination.
We flew only a few times from Port Harcourt: in 2005 to Malabo, Abidjan, Douala and Libreville. Trips to South Africa, Rabat, Cairo, Banjul, Tunis and Dakar were from Lagos. Since Dolphins was a state government-sponsored club, no one really knew how visas were obtained. Club officials and other beneficiaries just submitted passports to the Team Manager for visa applications and proceeded to the airport on departure day.
As Fiberesima called out the names, individuals collected their passports and stood in line, waiting to proceed through immigration control as a group. Then it happened! He had called out the last name on his list, and with no passports left in his hands, two key players of the team, Owazuoke Wobo and Ochuko Ojobo had not been called. Both players were at the airport with us and on the team to Egypt for the game. He opened his bag and rummaged through it but there was no remaining passport. He tried to put an air of confidence but deep down he must have panicked.
In all fairness, he was not the one responsible for obtaining the visas from the Egyptian Embassy, so he called one Isaac Oguchi, an aide to the Commissioner for Sports. While they conferred with each other with the commissioner himself, along with the consultants, it became obvious that two of our best players were stranded at the airport without passports: someone had forgotten their passports in Port Harcourt!
Now, there was a background to this. The sports commissioner, at the time, had a few aides he was gradually trying to infuse into the team as officials. One of them, Oguchi, was given the task of applying for visas for the group. It was his first assignment and he was fully in charge. There was a theory that while unpacking and repacking his bags from the one he used for his trip to Abuja and the one for the trip to Cairo, two of the passports may have unintentionally fallen out and he did not do a final check before heading out to the airport.
So there we were at the immigration control gates of the Murtala Muhammad International Airport, Lagos, with two of our best players unable to proceed on the trip.
So what were we going to do?
My suggestion was simple: “It’s a good thing we are travelling five days to the game, so we have enough time. Let the two players remain in Lagos with the aide who forgot their passports in Port Harcourt. As soon as their passports are sent in tomorrow, they can then fly to Egypt.” That was my token contribution to sort out our predicament. The commissioner looked at me as if he liked my idea and was about to say something before Chris Eseka, one of the consultants, offered a brighter idea. Eseka was probably speaking the minds of himself, Fatai Olayinka, Musa Abdullahi and Callistus Chukwujekwu who had hatched this plan. He said the players could be smuggled aboard the plane with the rest of the crew and have their passports sent over later.
“How do you plan to do that – getting them past immigration at the airport in Lagos and into Cairo?” I asked.
Eseka laughed me off as if I was a kid who had no idea what travelling was about.
“We can get them into Egypt! That’s not a problem. We know the Nigerian immigrations very well. Relax!” he assured me, patting my shoulder.
I looked at Olayinka and Abdullahi and they seemed to have tacitly consented to Eseka. I did not think that was right.
“Let’s assume you can get past immigration control here. We are talking about entering some other country without travel documents. How do you plan to get past immigration there?” I asked again.
“Don’t worry. We have a plan. By the time we’re all in Egypt, the passports would be delivered to us by the supporters’ club members who will arrive before the game.”
I still was not convinced because we would have to tender our passports on departure to Cairo. Those passports will not bear the exit immigration stamps from Nigeria to show that the players departed to Egypt. But since the consultants seem to know their game well, – at least, the Commissioner for Sports thinks so – let us do as they suggested. Perhaps they have been paid a small fortune to be churning out such ingenious ideas.
I decided to relax and watch the whole thing play out.
Team Manager, Diepreye Fiberesima, the Secretary, Fatai Olayinka, the Commissioner for Sports, two of his aides, the consultants and Coach Musa Abdullahi clustered around, deliberating on the next move. I walked away, not wanting to be part of whatever it was they had up their sleeves, as I was certain it would fail. Besides, I was just the Media Officer of the club and facilitating players to travel to Egypt without passports was way above my pay grade.
After about ten minutes, Olayinka asked that we all return our passports and we would go through immigration control as a group.
Hmmm! So this is the plan, I thought.
After we all handed our passports to Olayinka, he took them to the immigration desk, placed them in a heap and told the man in charge, “We are members of Dolphins Football Club. We have a game in Egypt and these are our passports.”
“Why don’t you give each person his and we can have them go through the gates one after the other?” the immigration officer asked.
“You know it’s a group thing. Just count the passports and do a head count of the people here so we know that the numbers tally. Let them through while I sit with you here to process the passports,” Olayinka said.
The immigration officer, a tired looking man whose expression seemed like he wanted to be anywhere else but the airport, accepted the proposition and we watched them count the passports and then do a head count, and surprisi
ngly, the numbers tallied.
Olayinka and the consultants had done it!
We all jostled through the immigration gates while the Team Manager and the consultants stayed back to have the passports stamped. They had managed to check us all in, even though two of the footballers had no passports. Of course, a few dollars may 

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