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My Memoir: How I Survived Nigeria/South Africa Match by Eric Elezuo

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If the term ‘final before final’ ever had any real meaning; this was it; the semifinal clash between the Nigeria Super Eagles and the Bafana Bafana of South Africa. It was a game that lived to its billing in terms of rivalry, tension, emotion, fate, and sadly enough, not forgetting tragedy.

There’s hardly any Nigerian, and to an extent, South African (if feelers before and after the game is anything to go by), who did not die many times before their deaths (apologies to William Shakespeare) as the game progressed and lasted. The death here has nothing to do with cowardice as in the case of Shakespeare, but of barefaced patriotism, seething pride and desire to dominate. The tension was palpable, shaking every nerve, irrespective of whether one is healthy or not.

The game went beyond the quest to qualify for the African Cup of Nations final match. Yes, while the players played to emerged winners and finalists, Nigerians cheered to retain pride and remain atop the rivalry echelon between both countries in every aspect of existence. Remember that the South African singer, Tyla, had unexpectedly beaten the combined strength of Burna Boy, Davido, Arya Star, Olamide, to cart away the Grammy just few days back. This is even as the Nigerians had led in music, entertainment and many more.

The match was therefore beyond the quest to play in the finals; it was a war front for superiority challenge where the winner takes all. Nigeria wanted to maintain their hundred percent invincibility against the South Africans in football while the South Africans seek to dismantle the monopoly.

It is worthy of note that the last time South Africa won the AFCON was in 1996 when they hosted. Nigeria was absent. In fact, Nigeria boycotted  the tournament because of the rofo rofo fight between then President Nelson Mandela and General Sani Abacha (that’s a story for another day).

The stage was therefore set for the extraordinary.

Like many Nigerians, I had prepared for the 2023 AFCON with less enthusiasm following some lackluster performances the Super Eagles had exhibited in recent past, especially after the game against Equatorial Guinea, where they struggled to force their tiny neighbours to a one all draw. I knew there was nothing in store for us with ‘these crop of players’. So watching their matches was by chance, that is if NEPA, PHCN, DISCO or whatever name they are known by various individuals gives ‘light’. I had sworn that I was not going to waste the little money I have to buy fuel to watch a game that will end up disappointing me.

But all that changed as the tournament progressed with the Eagles against all odds making it to the semi-finals, and to meet South Africa, of all the nations that participated in the competition.

I decided to buy fuel. I decided to watch the match, and give it full attention. I’m sure not a few Nigerians made the same decision.

The D-day was Wednesday, February 7, 2024, and 6pm was the time. I made it home on time. I wanted to see the beginning and end of it all.

I have already comforted myself with the fact that I made a decision many years ago never to allow football outcomes affect my health. I didn’t die in 1994 after Nigeria lost to Italy in the Second Round of the World Cup in the United States, was just divine. I was distraught and my whole being was revolving 360 degrees every 10seconds. Since then, I’ve told myself that never again will I watch any game no matter the team playing, with my heart or even head. I resolved to watch with my photocopy while leaving my original well laid at the bottom of my box like a Christmas cloth. That I have managed to do for a while, even surviving Arsenal’s e remain small agenda for years.

But how wrong I was! This was different!

Football is a spirit, and when it possesses you, there’s no going back. Surely, it heals, it also destroys, depending on the side of divide one is. On this day, it possessed everybody, yours sincerely inclusive.

Finally, it was 6pm Nigerian time, and like all international games, kick off was right on time. I watched with the free mind I, a few minutes ago, cautioned my friends through whatsapp status post to do. Was it easy? The tension from that point. The South Africans were businesslike, taking the game to us, and putting our goalkeeper, Stanley Nwabali to great test. Thank goodness, he lived up to expectation. Both teams were out for victory, praying to the same God, but in my own estimation, I knew that God was going to sit this one out. It was a battle of brothers; let them sort it out through their individual strengths, abilities and wisdom. God did sat out.

Then the goal via penalty through Captain William Troost-Ekong came, after Nigeria’s playmaker, Victor Osimhen, was fouled in the 18 yard box. It was hope rising, and at the same time the beginning of the artificial heart palpitation that later proved disastrous for some.

When the second half started, it was obvious that not many can match the tempo any longer. I was one of them, unfortunately.

How could it be? I asked, knowing that I made a pact long never to allow this kinda matter bother me. But the more I stayed glued to the television, the more I can feel my heart panting, especially when the South Africans get closer to our goal area, which was more frequent than rare. I tried to prove the strong man. In our palance, we say try to prove jagaban. E no work!

I re-invented the philosophy of ‘Que Sera Sera’ that had helped me in times of this sort of situation, but it failed to work. My heart was not at ease. It was there and then, I decided. I no watch again!

But what would I be doing? I decided to go and fetch water. But there was water in the house. I emptied some into the toilet, and went downstairs to fetch from the well. Nobody sent me. I was coming in from my second trip when my little daughter said, ‘daddy, they scored’. My heart missed a skip. I said, who? She answered, ‘Osimhen’. I said, thank God.

As I entered the sitting room, my older son narrated how Osimhen scored the ‘clean goal’. It was 2-0. I concluded that no matter what the South Africans want to play from that 85th minute till when the game ends, they can’t score two goals. Meanwhile, my television had disconnected. We joked about it that the owners of DStv and GOtv have suddenly become angry with our two goals, and disconnected us from watching. I checked from my phone, and Google recorded 2-0. I concluded that all was well while we strive to restore viewing. Then I checked my phone again for update. That was when I thought I was watching a scene from Harry Porter. It read 1-1. I refreshed, thinking I entered the wrong site, but 1-1 continued to stare at me like a Lonely Londoner. Then my reconnection restored, and so was the shock of my life. The goal has been disallowed, and a penalty awarded to South Africa for an infringement that happened at the other end, which led to the goal.

Damn!!!

We were already under pressure, and with another 10 minutes of added time and 30 minutes of extra time, I reasoned it will be strictly difficult for us to win the match. But patriotism will not allow me abandon the match. Everybody was shouting in my house. My daughter will scream and fall to the ground when Nigeria try to score and miss, as well as when South Africa make dangerous incursions. It was pure bedlam.

After the 90 minutes finally ended, I told myself, this is it…no more watching. I saw what the South African goalkeeper did to Cape Verde during their penalty shootout. Williams, as he is called, was much better by prematch rating.

We agreed to watch Netflix, and follow scores on the net or screams from the neighbours. Of course, persuaded my family. If they scream in excitement, I will know Nigeria has scored, but if they scream in agony, of course, Nigeria has been scored. I again reasoned that Netflix will be serious, and our minds may still be very much in the game. We changed to YouTube to watch Broda Shaggy and Brainjotter. At least, we will be laughing, no matter what the case is.

My brother, na so we no even no when the 30 minutes extra time ended and penalty kicks ensued.

By the time I switched back to the match, Kelechi Iheanacho was standing behind the ball, and I could hear the commentator saying ‘will Iheanacho win it for Nigeria?’

Waooo…the match was almost over. The scoresheet read 3-1 to Nigeria’s advantage with both teams having only one kick left.

Kelechi scored, and my heart returned from its journey to wonderland. The shout of victory was deafening, echoing both from the stadium and the immediate surroundings. I looked from my balcony, and could see a crowd of supporters surging forward and backward in ecstacy. The last time we witnessed such celebration was in 1996 when Nigeria came from 3-1 down to defeat Brazil 4-3 in the Olympics. Kanu Nwankwo had sent the entire country into a frenzy with his superlative extra time goal. It was the era of golden goal rule. Nigeria went on to win the gold medal, beating Argentina 3-2 in the final.

It was however, early the next day that news began filtering in about our countrymen, who gave up the ghost in the heat of the tension. As at the last count, five brave supporters paid the ultimate price. May their souls rest in peace.

They said that whatever doesn’t kill us, makes us strong. There’s still one more adventure, one more world to conquer according to Ulysses.

I will watch again on Sunday, as the final unfolds, this time against the host country, Cote d’Ivoire. The tension this time, I’m sure, will be turbocharged. No doubt. But I have learnt to survive just like many others, so that I can join the victory party afterwards.

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Personality in Focus

Glamour, Glitz, Gifts Galore As Healthgarde Celebrates 30 Years Anniversary, Produces New Star of Africa

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By Eric Elezuo

It was a distinct show of excellence, glamour and reward for achievement as a crowd of multilevel marketers attached to leading healthcare group, Healthgarde International, gathered to celebrate 30 years of wellness, empowerment and creation of happiness.

It was more of a gathering of champions, headliners and Nigerians, who has distinguished themselves in their fields of endeavours, having made the choice of partnering with the leading brand, Healthgarde. 

Healthgarde International is a global firm proudly founded and run by African women for Africa, under the leadership of Nneka Nwarueze. 

The grand hall of Highpoint Event Centre in the heart of Agidingbi GRA in Ikeja, was a beehive of activities as early as 10am on D-day with members and their families and friends already seated and networking in earnest just as the event anchor, Hyenana Comedian, Kick-started proceedings with the invitation of the chief host and Chief Executive Officer, Healthgarde International, Mrs Nneka Nwarueze.

In her opening remarks, Nwarueze went down memorylane to trace the developmental strides of the brand since its days as Swissgarde to the present, noting that in 30 years of existence, lives have been affected and destinies either changed or reversed for the very best.

She acknowledged that just like many distinguished brands, the journey of 30 years has been ‘rough, tough and challenging’, noting that as organizers, they are not breaking even byt sustained by the that gesture to ensure that thousands of members are well taken care of, and not told stories.

“We have an active base of over 12,000 distributors in Nigeria and in Southern Africa, over 20,000 of them. My experience in this business is over 30 years since Swissgarde. Our business network and networth is spread across the United States, Nigeria, South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Ghana, Uganda, Botswana, and is still growing.

“Today, we are happy to celebrate our top achievers whose dedicated efforts continue to give our high-quality health products increasing market share. We also introduced into the global market today our new offering – the Healthgarde Relax Tea, which everyone here today received as gift in their souvenir bags. It is rich in antioxidants and boosts the immune system,” Nwarueze said.

She further encouraged the networkers never to relent as the business has consistently paid off for them, and proved to be a mainstay in today’s Nigeria’s economy.

“Our gathering today is to unleash the reward system for those who have done so well in the year under review,” she added.

Among an array of winners from various categories on the day was the Mrs. Benita Okonkwo, who emerged as the Star of Africa, coasting to victory as the member that made the best overall impact in the year under review.

Benita Okonkwo led the array of over 20 winners in different categories. She emerged a double winner as Business Leader of the Year and Star of Africa as the Lagos convention of wellness and gathering of multilevel marketing giants held. 

Okonkwo who was obviously, but pleasantly surprised at her double win, had trumped the sales earnings and figures of every other Healthgarde consultant (as the firm’s salespersons are titled) within and outside Nigeria. Her crowning as ‘Star of Africa’ was done with pomp and pageantry with a blast of fireworks and confetti.

Other major award categories included Entrepreneur, Depot, Rising Star, Social Media Star, Staff, Top Performers and Recruiters of the Year, not to mention the series of lucky draw winners that spliced and spiced up the convention.

Other major winners on the day include Charity Ikedife, who emerged as the Staff of the Year, Oluwaseyi Funmi Hannah as Social Media Star, Bolanle Aina as Rising Star of the Year and Fatima Yusuf as Entrepreneur of the Year.

In an moment of excitement, so many women testified of how their multilevel marketing of Healthgarde products had upped their fortunes and mental wellness. Among them were Juliana Idakpo, Baba Ijebu and another, who used to hawk fairly used cloths (okirika). They won the awards as uplines and carted away several prizes including microwave ovens, refrigerator, washing machine, gas cooker, and flask.

Also at the event as its live wire, South Africa-based Chief Operating Officer, Healthgarde International, Lovelyn Bassey, explained: “Our products have deepened the global market and we are proud of the thousands of women who, despite growing economic hardships, spousal job losses, etc have been empowered to boost the wellness of Nigerians as well as create wealth to support their homes.”

The event was not without the spices that give every gathering the leverage that makes top notch as Dancerapy, a motivational dance led the audience into a dance choreography that was magnificent to behold.

Also, a special adviser to the Miniter of the Interior, Tunji-Ojo, was also on hand to give the guests a charge that inspired them into rooting for Healthgarde as a brand.

Responding separately to Point-blank.ng, both Mrs Nwarueze and Bassey called on the Federal government to give attention to multilevel marketing as it has proved to be reliable and rewarding.

“This is not ponzi scheme or what people know as MMM. It is a business venture that has stood the test of time, and been putting smiles on the lips of families. It is a Nigerian thing, and deserves the attention and support to the government to take it to greater heights,” the CEO and COO said separately.

Healthgarde, a first class health multilevel marketing organization, in 2020 stood on its own, away from Swissgarde. In those four years, the brand has held a reward for excellence gathering where the year is reviewed, and members made to smile home with mouthwatering prizes.

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Personality in Focus

Fidelity Bank Extends Employment Contract of Its CEO, Onyeali-Ikpe, by Two Years

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Fidelity Bank Plc has announced its Board of Directors’ decision to extend the employment contract of its GMD/CEO, Dr. Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe, from 2024 to 2026.

This was contained in the company’s notice to the Nigerian Exchange Limited (NGX), according to Nairametrics.

The statement signed by Ezinwa Unuigboje, the Company Secretary noted that the decision was taken at the Board meeting on February 12, 2024.

It added that the extension is in furtherance of the Bank’s strategic objectives and premised on Dr. Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe’s sterling performance since the assumption of office on January 1, 2021.

The statement reads:

“Fidelity Bank Plc (the Bank) is pleased to announce its Board of Directors’ decision to extend the employment contract of its GMD/CEO, Dr. Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe, from 2024 to 2026.

The decision was taken at the Board meeting on February 12, 2024. The extension is in furtherance of the Bank’s strategic objectives and premised on Dr. Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe’s sterling performance since assumption of office on January 1, 2021,”

The Board noted that it is confident that the Bank’s performance will continue its upward trajectory under Dr. Nneka Onyeali-Ikpe’s leadership, and looks forward to working closely with her and the Executive Management Team on execution of various strategic initiatives including international expansion.

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Personality in Focus

Healthgarde ‘Star of Africa’ to Emerge at Lagos Convention

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Wellness and multilevel marketing giant, Healthgarde International, is revving up for its 2024 convention this weekend in Lagos, Nigeria and plans to celebrate its high achieving sales heroes with pomp and pageantry.

Previewing highlights of the convention in a media statement issued February 14, the Chief Executive Officer, Healthgarde International, Nneka Nwarueze, said: “We will recognize and celebrate our top achievers whose commitment and sales drive continue to give our high quality health products the marketing edge.

“We will be crowning a new ‘Healthgarde Star of Africa’ as well as launch a new product that we are introducing to the market at the Lagos convention. At Healthgarde International, our goal is to maintain a thriving direct selling company developed in Africa by Africans for Africa. Our passion is to keep making a difference in people’s lives by creating wealth through sustained wellness” Nwarueze said.

South Africa-based Group Chief Operating Officer, Healthgarde International, Lovelyn Bassey, who arrived Wednesday ahead of the convention, reviewed Healthgarde’s 2023 business strides for health journalists, and said: “Our products have deepened the markets in a few more countries, including Botswana.

“We are also happy to report that quite a few Healthgarde consultants from Nigeria qualified and enjoyed a well deserved, all expenses paid five-star holiday to South Africa last year, while some others won impressive cash prizes. Our 2024 celebration of excellence this Saturday, February 17 will be very colourful and exciting too,” Bassey said.

Healthgarde Nigeria has an active base of over 12,000 distributors, and in Southern Africa, over 20,000 active distributors. Its business network and networth is spread across the United States, Nigeria, South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Ghana, Uganda and Botswana, and is still growing.

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