Keshi was wrongfully banned in 1984, says Rufai

rufaiFormer Super Eagles’ Goalkeeper, Peter Rufai, believes the Nigeria Football Association (NFA, headed by Tony Ikhazaboh in 1985, would not have taken the decision to ban the late Stephen Keshi for one year if they knew how patriotically the ‘Big Boss’ treated national team duties.

In 1984, Keshi alongside Sunday Eboigbe, Henry Nwosu, Clement Temile, Humphrey Edobor and Bright Omokaro were suspended from Nigerian football for one year by the NFA because they did not arrive in the national camp on time.

Nigeria was at that time preparing for the Mexico 1986 World Cup.

Rufai played with Keshi from 1982 to 1996, winning many laurels for the country, including the Tunisia 1994 African Nations Cup, as well as qualifying Nigeria for its first senior World Cup appearance in 1994.

Rufai, who revealed that Keshi did not deliberately shun the camp in 1985, said he would never forget his past moments with the late coach.

“We grew up together playing and eating bread and beans (ewa agoin) as regular meal together. We were to join NNB FC together but I hastened out of Benin to Lagos after a busload of Stationery Stores fans stormed Benin targeting Keshi and Henry Nwosu, whom they accused of luring me to change of base.”

According to Rufai, “Keshi was a super patriot. Towards the end of 1984, we had secretly gone to train and join Tottenham of England, but Keshi reasoned that we should return to Nigeria because the NFA badly needed us for a game.

“When we returned to Nigeria, Keshi headed for Benin and arrived camp late, while I went straight to the Lagos camp. That was how I managed to escape that suspension. His family was then in Benin and he had to see them before coming to camp. So, I believe the NFA was hasty in suspending him.

“With no hope of playing football in Nigeria, Keshi headed for Stade d’Abidjan Cote d’Ivoire and eventually took many Nigerian stars to Lokeren Belgium and other parts of Europe. A great motivator has sadly passed.”

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