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My gold gift to Abacha worked against me – Fatusi

June 8, 2013

Teslim Fatusi was favourite for a starting role at the Atlanta ’96 Olympic Games after he emerged as the  national U-23 team’s leading scorer during the qualifiers. But when Nigeria played their Group D opening game against   Hungary in the men’s football tournament of the Atlanta Games on July 21, 1996, the Switzerland-based winger was surprisingly dropped to the bench by coach Jo Bonfrere.

The Servette star found himself in the same situation when the team beat Japan 2-0 two days after defeating Hungary 1-0.

Fatusi finally got his chance to play in the tournament when he replaced Tijani Babangida in the 81st minute against Brazil on July 25. Nigeria lost the encounter after the Dream Team could not find an answer as Ronaldo’s 31st minute gold helped the South Americans claim three points to top the group. His electrifying runs and deft touches were the hallmark of his game and he made a big impression in the encounter.

The former Stationery Stores of Lagos forward was a second-half substitute in the 2-0 defeat of Mexico in the quarterfinal, when he came in for captain Nwankwo Kanu in the 66th minute.

Nigeria beat tournament favourites Brazil 4-3 in the semifinals and went ahead to  post a 3-2 victory in the final against another South America powerhouse Argentina to grab gold at the Sanford Stadium, Athens, Georgia. A sellout crowd of 86,117 attended the game on August 3.

Fatusi, who did not play in the final, however stole the show when the late Head of State General Sani Abacha hosted the team.

It was the first time any African country would win the men’s Olympic football gold medal.

At a ceremony to reward the team and other athletes who won medals at the Olympics, Fatusi sensationally handed his gold medal to Abacha.

While the former ASEC Mimosas player earned presidential plaudits for his   golden gift, he came under sharp attacks from many Nigerians, and it marked a turning point in his career.

The Abacha administration was unpopular for its human rights abuses, including the hanging of Ken Saro- Wiwa, the muzzling of the media and detention of  the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election,  Chief MKO Abiola.

Although Fatusi was promoted along with his teammates to the Super Eagles after the Federal Government rewarded each member of the victorious Olympic team with N1m, he was a peripheral figure in the squad. Fatusi only featured for the country in  qualifiers and unrated tournaments  despite his top form.

He was denied a place in the France ’98 World Cup, 2000 Africa Cup of Nations and the Sydney 2000  Olympic Games squads.

This might have been in some way responsible for  his inability to  attract   interest from top European clubs.

The last time Fatusi donned the national colours was  in a friendly match between Mozambique and Nigeria in Maputo in 1999. After the encounter watched by former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, Fatusi, who was playing for South African club Mamelodi Sundowns then, fell into oblivion and it took his brief return to  the domestic league with Ibadan side  Shooting Stars in 2005 to remember that he played for the country in the past.

“I really don’t know why I was no longer selected to play for the country after the Olympics,” Fatusi told our correspondent on the telephone during the week.

“I’m sure it was  because I presented my gold medal to Abacha.  I later discovered that the Nigeria Football Association officials  and many of my teammates were not happy with me for presenting my gold medal to the Head of State.

“They didn’t say anything to me after the ceremony but I observed a change of attitude and behaviour in their relationship with me.

“They probably felt I made the presentation to curry favour with the Head of State or to draw undue attention.”

The ex-footballer insisted that he made the presentation with good intensions.

He said, “I felt he (Abacha) deserved a gold medal for being the leader of the first African country to  win the men’s Olympic football gold medal for the first time.

“It wasn’t a ploy to  get money from him or to  draw attention to myself. Nobody in government asked me to do it.”

Fatusi said he had no regrets over his decision.

“I went to Aso Rock where I met Al Mustapha (Abacha’s Chief Security Officer) and he gave me back my gold medal,” Fatusi said.

“I wasn’t given any extra money by the government for presenting my gold medal to Abacha.

“Mustapha only asked me to come back to see the Head of State, which I never did.”

Posted from WordPress for BlackBerry.

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