By Oyediji Oluwaseun Babatunde
Sports Writer, kick442.com Nigeria
Writing after a return from a memorable journey to Cameroon for the African Nations Championship which took place from January 16- February 7, 2021.
Readers might be expecting a football filled account but the journey as far as I am concerned was a memorable one as it was my first international assignment as a sports writer.
CAF Media Accreditation
The journey of any journalist for a football competition organised by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) will normally start with the media accreditation.
The fact that Nigeria didn’t qualify for the tournament didn’t motivate me to apply for the accreditation but my publisher who resides in Cameroon and the U-17 football team Media Officer, Angu Lesley persuaded me to apply.
Knowing fully well that he resides in the host country and I don’t have the financial strength to make it to the tournament, I reluctantly applied in late December 2020.
By the first week of January 2021, I received a mail that my accreditation has been approved for me to attend the competition.
Worries and anxiety run through my spine as I don’t have an international passport neither do I have the financial support to make it to Paul Biya’s country. Pessimism steps in.
I don’t know how to get to Cameroon with less than 10 days to the tournament. Different thoughts started filtering through my mind. Where can I get money to travel to Cameroon by road or by air?
The first person that came to my mind due to his magnanimity was a Proprietor of a Club in Nigeria, followed by a sports group that I belong to on WhatsApp.
I don’t like to be a burden on other people but I had no choice but to approach the Executives of Excellent Sports Fans Club (ESFC), a sports WhatsApp group that I belong to.
With faith and belief, I began to make phone calls with inquiries on how to get to Cameroon by road as it’s late to apply for an International passport as I planned to set out on Thursday, January 14.
Journey to Idenau
With no hope in sight on Wednesday, January 13, the President of ESFC, Kelvin Chukwuma had a chat with me as the Executives of the group supported me with transport money. The President of my Alma Mata, Remo Secondary School, Sagamu, Ogun State, 2006 set, Comrade Adunmo Dolapo also made his financial donations before I set out on Thursday.
The journey started on Thursday morning at Sagamu express junction where I located a bus going to Port Harcourt for 7,000 Naira. From Sagamu to Ore (Ondo State), through Edo State, Delta State, Bayelsa State, I arrived at Port Harcourt (Rivers State capital) around 6 pm. The driver told me that I can get a car going to Oron, Akwa Ibom state at Eleme.
By the time I got to Eleme, it was around 8 pm and there was no way to get to Oron that night. I had to Lodge at a hotel for 4,000 Naira before proceeding on Friday, January 15.
It took more than two hours for the car heading to Oron to be full. At last, we arrived Oron by noon where I located the seaside.
I had to pay 11,000 Naira for the speed boat. A family was also traveling to Cameroon with up to six children and two wives. We met about five military posts on the sea demanding 1,000 to 2,000 Naira each from passengers. At that stage, I only have 50 Naira on me. The only thing to do is to beg the military men by telling them that I am a student journalist going to a tournament. They asked for my identity card and let me go while they bargain with other passengers and boat driver.
We got to Idenau (Cameroon border town) around 6 pm to face another check from the Police. Thinking it will be business as usual, I showed them my ID cards and CAF accreditation letters in English and French. They said the letter from CAF was not signed and stamped that I ought to have an International passport, resident permit, or Cameroon National ID card.
Fortunately, two guys took me away from the Police asking me whether I know anyone around. I gave them the phone number of my publisher’s younger brother, Desmond, who appeared and sort things out with settlement as he is a known person around Idenau.
That day, I almost regretted traveling to Cameroon, but as they say, traveling is part of education and experience.
I settled down enough as Desmond took me to a bar where I ate fried fish with malt accompanied with Bobolo (tastes like fufu).
The next day, bread, tea, with a mixture of fried egg and spaghetti were on the menu for breakfast.
I realized that Nigeria and Cameroon had similar cuisine when I took fufu with ogbono soup for lunch.
Trip to Limbe
Total CHAN 2020 was slated to kick off on Saturday, January 16, 2021, with the opening ceremony and first match between host, Cameroon and Zimbabwe to take place in the capital city of Yaoundé.
I was expected to cover the tournament from Limbe hence I had to leave Idenau for Limbe.
On our way, we met one military control station where passengers will have to tender their national ID cards, resident permit, or international passport as the case may be.
I tendered my ID cards and CAF Accreditation before proceeding. At that point, I realised the importance of national ID cards in Cameroon far more than that of Nigeria. Millions of Nigerians don’t have national ID cards and travel from one state to the other unhindered. Please try and register to get your national ID cards or National Identity Number (NIN) from the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC).
I arrived at Limbe in the evening and lodged at the outskirts of the town (Njalla Quan Sports Academy, Man O War Bay).
It was a nice and serene environment for me to cover the tournament asides from the fact that the location was a distance from the Stade Omnisports, Limbe.
The following day (Sunday, January 17), I had to enquire how to get cash, press tag, new Cameroon sim card, and get to the stadium.
New sim card and maintenance fee came from my media platform, www.kick442.com on Sunday, and on Monday I set out to get my press tag at Limbe II Council Hall.
Press tag collection
Getting to Limbe II Council Hall, I met some other journalists and volunteers there to get their tags. A Cameroonian asked me the country I came from and I told him that I am from Nigeria. The follow-up question that he asked me was “why is Nigeria not here?”. I told him that a lot went wrong from the league and other factors. He said it’s the same scenarios in Cameroon asserting that they are at the tournament because they are the host country.
First pre-match press conference and COVID-19 Protocols
I located the Stade Omnisports Limbe, in preparation for the first pre-match press conference of team Guinea, Zambia, Tanzania, and Namibia.
In the rush, I forgot my face mask and missed two of the press conferences before getting a face mask which allowed me to have access to the press conference room.
For the first time, I had the painful COVID-19 tests at Stade Omnisports Limbe. It becomes a routine for journalists to undergo the test a day before each game from the group stage to the semi-final game between Morocco and Cameroon which was the last game at the stadium.
It was a disappointing game for the host as they suffered a 4-0 defeat. The game was the fastest match report I published as I was on my way out of the stadium when the third goal was scored. When I left the CAF Media centre for the press conference room, the fourth goal came in. Morocco eventually retained their title.
Cameroon and Nigeria have almost the same foods. The only different food that I ate was Fufu corn which tastes like Hausa Tuwo Shinkafa and looks like Semovita. They also have eba and fufu to be taken alongside Eru or Jama Jama/Yama Yama (vegetables) as the case may be.
Cameroon people also eat rice and Koki. Koki tastes like Nigeria’s moin moin and it can be eaten with plantain.
Less I forget, I saw a food quite strange to me. Cameroonians do eat pap with puff puff. I was on the way to the stadium for a game and saw pap. Decided to taste it thinking that I will see bean cake (Akara) or moin moin only to see people eating pap with puff puff.
Cameroon is a bilingual country with English and French language depending on the region. Limbe is a region where they speak both English and French. Some regions speak only English with mother tongues while some speak French with mother tongues.
Sometimes I feel guilty about not learning French. Lesson learned ahead of next tournament.
I met new friends at Man O War Bay and Njalla Quan Sports Academy.
Ayota Erwin (Njalla Quan Communication guy) do help me get cash from my publisher for upkeep and took me around as well as guiding me from being exploited by bike and taxi drivers. Good guy.
Madam Irine, provision and food seller inside Njalla Quan Sports Academy compound. She provides food and stomach hospitality in a business sense. Businesswoman.
Mr. Francis ensured that water flows in the compound to avoid us stressing ourselves with fetching water outside.
My best friend, Santos (barber). Santos is such a hard-working guy and a true hustler. I met him at his barber’s shop where he was helping his boss manage until his boss locked up the shop before I left Cameroon. He also does menial jobs like ground digging and painting as well as jogging to be physically fit as he has a dream of becoming a soldier. He introduced me to his younger sister, Clara with the hope that I can marry her, but Clara didn’t stay long before she traveled to Yaoundé. Although, I still had her contact with phone calls before leaving Cameroon to keep in touch.
I also met my publisher, Angu Lesley for the first time. We met on WhatsApp and do communicate via that means. Other members of the kick442 team also made the tournament memorable for me.
People like Charles Embola (Mola Sconi), Anye, John Sama (our YouTube man), Esono, and others that I might not recall. The Cameroon Radio and Television (CRTV) crew at Limbe centre took me as their brother. The likes of Nana Walter, Ben Collins, and those that I can’t easily recall. Mr. Cudjoe (CAF Media department), a Ghanaian residing in South Africa also took me like a son and brother.
My publisher’s family at Idenau also took me as their family (Desmond, Mami Ngwa, and Christian).
Journey back home
After the end of the tournament, I made a short trip to Tiko to meet my publisher. From there I had to move to Idenau on Friday, February 12. Asides from the stomach upset, the journey back to Idenau was smooth.
The following day, Saturday, I linked up with a speed boat back to Oron after paying 30,000 Francs (CFA) and 2,000 Francs for documentation and other logistics.
On the way back, we met three military control station where I paid 1,000 Naira each at the stations before getting to Oron.
After the three hours journey to Oron, I had to lodge in a hotel before heading back to Sagamu the following day.
On Sunday, February 14, 2021, I left Oron en-route Sagamu by 8 am, getting to my destination around 5 pm. 12,000 Naira was the transport fee from a popular Lagos park in Oron for those that want to travel.
It was a memorable journey and I hope this long piece can guide and guard those that intend to travel to Cameroon by road ahead of the 2022 African Cup of Nations. By God’s grace, my next journey to Cameroon will be hitch-free from this exciting experience.
By that time I would have gotten my international passport and Nigeria’s qualifications might make the journey more splendid.
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