Completesportsnigeria.com’s JAMES AGBEREBI recently had his first international experience covering the African Nations Championship qualifier between Nigeria and Benin Republic in Cotonou. Here he recounts his experience…
The dream of every sports journalist is to cover an international event and I got my opportunity last week as I travelled ‘abroad. Well, it was only Cotonou to cover the 2018 CHAN qualifier between Benin Republic and Nigeria on Sunday, 13 August, but I crossed the border so I went ‘abroad’, didn’t I?
I had to rush through my preparations a bit for the trip though, as I was covering the just concluded International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Challenge Open in Lagos when Complete Sports Editor Mr Dare Esan summoned me to his office. It was while I was in his office that he informed me that I alongside Complete Sports photographer, Mr Ganiyu Yusuf, who has covered the FIFA World Cup, Africa Cup of Nations, All Africa Games, would travel to Benin Republic for the CHAN qualifier.
Though I was a little surprised, this was something I had always looked forward to, so instead of going back home to pack some of my belongings, I had to go straight from the office to the motor park at Mile 2 to board a car to Cotonou.
Before we left the park at past 11 am, I had to change the currency from naira to cefa, and off we went. But one thing that struck me before we left the park was the fact that the naira, compared to other African currencies, has fallen badly in value. Because when I asked what the N1,000 exchange rate is compared to Cefa, after the calculation, the amount shown to me was 1,575 CFA.
We finally left the park and headed for Cotonou and getting to Seme border, which is the point that divides Nigeria and Benin Republic, we had to deal with immigration which was another annoying part of the trip as there were so many stop-and-search points.
After all the rigours and stress, I finally alighted at a place called Janke in Cotonou at 2:30pm. The good thing about this place is that there are Nigerians, mostly Yoruba, who were either born and brought up there or came over from Nigeria to settle. And luckily for me, I met a Benin-born Nigerian who is actually from Kwara State. He was very helpful as he first of all directed me to where I would buy a sim card which would enable me to browse the internet which I got for 3,500 CFA (over N2,000), something that is sometimes given away for free here in Nigeria.
My Nigerian brother later told me the I had been cheated, but who cares, I was paying the price for being ‘abroad’. The most important thing was that I could now communicate with my bosses and colleagues in Nigeria, who ceaselessly teased me that I was now ‘overseas’.
Prior to leaving Janke, one thing that really got to me was that while back in Nigeria coins have absolutely no value, in Benin Republic, that is not the case. Because in Benin Republic, the coins are as important as the paper notes.
So I eventually left Janke, took a bike, which is the most popular means of transportation in Cotonou, and went to look for accommodation. The ride from Janke lasted up to like 30 minutes. And luckily for me, I got accommodation directly opposite the Stade de l’amite known as Hotel Peace and Love. I spent three nights there.
Among some of the things I realised when I left the hotel to go out in search of news worthy stories was that they have more commercial bike riders than bus riders who put on yellow vests for easy identification. I realised that I did not spend up to two minutes at the bus stop before a commercial bike rider took me to where I was going. And, interestingly, they have a good percentage (about 30%) of women who go on bikes too.
Another interesting thing is that most of the commercial bikers who gave me rides could speak Yoruba. This really helped me because after kicking off with my terrible, probably annoying, French, my get-out-of-jail card was that I always switched to Yoruba and luckily they always seemed to understand even if not very clearly. But one sad part is that one can wait up to seven, eight minutes before crossing to the other side of the road, no thanks to the high number of the commercial bikers who seem to appear from all angles.
Another important thing to point out is that things are very expensive in Cotonou. In Nigeria, we can still get a 35cl plastic coke for N100. But in Benin, you have to pay 500 CFA (over N300).
And if there is one special thing I will always remember Cotonou for, it is that there is steady power supply. As in never in my life have I experienced constant power since I was born over 30 years ago. Throughout the three days I spent in Cotonou, there was never a time the power blinked or I was bothered about how to charge my phones or power banks.
So after getting back to the hotel, I went straight to bed looking forward to the next day. But my first night in Cotonou was actually one of my worst as there was no difference between day and night. As at past 1 am, I could hear music blaring, commercial bikers running up and down in search of passengers and I had to ask myself, “is it that these people don’t sleep?”
The truth is the good people of Cotonou can party from dawn to dusk. I had to live with this new experience and I quickly got used to it. Who would hate on partying people?
I finally fell asleep, woke up in the morning and went straight to the Super Eagles hotel where I met the team’s co-ordinator Patrick Pascal and also the team’s media officer Toyin Ibitoye who told me the Eagles would train by 4pm at the Stade de l’amite. I returned to the hotel, met Mr Yusuf, who arrived Saturdaymorning.
Together we went to the Eagles training which kicked off at exactly 4pm; while he was taking pictures of the team’s training, I was busy with interviews. On leaving the stadium, we went to a restaurant where I had my first real meal of rice, salad and chicken which cost me 1,500 CFA (over N900).
On match day, which was on Sunday, 13 August, we got to the stadium, got our accreditations sorted out. The Nigerian Football Supporters Club were already at the stadium three hours before kick-off to add colour to the atmosphere. We went inside the stadium which was not filled to capacity but unfortunately it was not the best of debuts for me as the home-based Eagles lost 1-0 following an 89th minute penalty.
On Monday, August, we headed back to Nigeria: myself, Mr Yusuf and two colleagues who are based in Ibadan. What I really enjoyed while returning home was that I got to know how highly journalists are held even by the police, customs officers and soldiers. Our trip went smoothly as every check-point we got to, especially when we got close to Seme border, immediately we showed our identity cards, they just waved us to go on.
As I mentioned earlier, although the home-based Super Eagles did not give me a good debut, I had a wonderful time and experience in my first ever trip ‘abroad’.
Nigeria lost on my ‘debut, but we live to fight another day.