Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, recently encountered Apostle Osmund Gabriel of All Nations Charismatic, in Durban, South Africa. He is a renowned volunteer, whose service has attracted recognition from FIFA and CAF, organizers of the World Cup and African Cup of Nations respectively. His volunteerism brought him in contact with Late Stephen Keahi in 2010 and 2013, as the Chief Coach of Super Eagles.
Gabriel, who again was in charge of the Nigerian delegation to the just concluded IATF 2021, recalled the interaction with Coach Keshi and how the news of his death impacted him, leading to lost appetite for a week.
Tell us about your work as a volunteer during the 2010 and 2013 World Cup and how you met with the late Stephen Keshi?
I will start by introducing myself. My name is Apostle Osmund Gabriel of All Nations Charismatic Chapel International here in Durban South Africa. I am a citizen of Nigeria, from Enugu State. I came to South Africa in 2008. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the first ever to be hosted on an African soil, I happened to be one of the volunteers. I volunteered as a language interpreter. And when the position was being shared I was delegated to be the one who will be receiving Nigerian delegates, that is the Super Eagles at the airport King Shaka International Airport, Durban, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa.
It was a great moment, it was a very endearing moment and I was privileged to have met so many people. And I was really privileged to receive our team led by the late Stephen Keshi. At the airport when they saw me with our flag, they smiled at me, I went to him and I started introducing myself. He then introduced me to the rest of the team. He asked me a few questions which I answered, the climate conditions and how safe the area was. Even though he knew this place, because of the World Cup and its preparation he wanted to have the latest information. So I gave him some clues and he was very happy with my service. It was a very great event of which our people, the Super Eagles, made us very proud even though they were rated so low, but God took charge and they made us proud.
I’m so sad that the photographs we took with my then Nokia E21, I didn’t bother to print them out. And today, the phone is dead and I can’t find the battery in the market to enable me to retrieve those pictures.
Take us back to the World Cup in 2010, how will you describe that scenario. How long were you with Super Eagles?
Coming back to the 2010 World Cup, when I cast my mind back, I saw Keshi as a father who had a good relationship with his children, the Super Eagles. I saw a family that related well. We had the privilege of visiting them where they were training, you will see nothing but a family training together. The camaraderie between them cannot be described. It was awesome because they trained hard, played hard, related well and I think that is what triggered their victory in 2013.
Did you know much about Keshi before you eventually met him in person?
Well, I started hearing about Keshi when I was still young and it was a great privilege for me to have met him as an adult in person. Back then we use to watch him play on television. We use to shout his name when he played for Green Eagles, we use to praise his style of play, analyze his style but I never believed that I will come in contact with him one day. But God opened up that opportunity for me to be one of those that was privileged to be in charge of the team when they came into the country in 2010.
Did you keep in touch with him after that?
To be very sincere No.
How did you feel when you heard about his death?
I was heartbreaking because when I heard about his death, it was like something left me. You know, when a husband loses his wife something goes out of him and that man would never remain the same until he dies. So the death of Keshi brought back all the memories of what I witnessed 2010 and 2013 because I was with them in both games. I welcomed them in 2010 and I welcomed them also in 2013. So when I heard about the death, it brought back all the memories and it became fresh in my mind to the extent that for almost a week I could neither sleep nor eat. The pictures kept coming, and I recalled our encounter during their training in the field. I remember that in 2013 when I went to the airport to receive them, he looked at me and said “were you not the one that welcomed us in 2010?”
I said yes. He said, you must be a a good person. And after that tournament when they were about to go, when we got to the airport, he called me aside and gave me a gift. He said, “I want to bless you for your hospitality, your good heart and your kindness.” He said to me, keep it up. No matter what you see, don’t be discouraged, keep it up and don’t allow anyone to deceive you because service pays. As I am talking to you now that scenario is playing in my head, his words are still in my memory.
You must have met other personalities, maybe sports icons as well but what made Kashi stand out for you?
Yes, as a volunteer I have been privileged to meet a lot of people and people behave differently. All the coaches we have had in the past and even the one we have presently, it’s not about your technique, it’s about seeing everyone as your own. Keshi saw everyone as his own family. There was nothing like tribe nor religion when you see him with the team, it did not matter if you came from the same state or region with him, he saw everyone as his own and that makes him an exceptional human being. This is not even about keshi but you must understand that going to school is one thing and having wisdom is another thing. So he mastered intellect and knowledge with love and accompanied them with passion. One of the thing that made me admire and respect him was because he had too much passion for what he’s doing. He never joked with his people, the Super Eagles. The little I knew about him between 2010 and 2013, he was passionate. There was a time we were invited to where they were eating. Others were eating but he was not eating. Instead he was going from table to table forcing them to eat, you will constantly hear him say, “remember we have a task ahead of us, eat. And you will hear some of the players shouting coach coach, and others were calling him daddy.
Just recalling that scenario makes me sad. I pray that God will give us another coach like Keshi. We need a father like him that will help our youths in the area of sport.
What are the challenges Nigerians face in South Africa and how have you been able to tackle them?
In this place where we are, well, one thing I know is that there’s no nation in the world, there’s no misconduct, crime or complaints. But what we’re seeing here, and what we’re experiencing here is something else. To the extent that it is unbearable. Yes, many came here looking for greener pastures. Many sold their things, sold lands, shops and borrowed money to come here hoping to survive but after coming to this country the opposite became the case. Some are frustrated. I can tell you that some of our people are now living on the streets, not because they want to but because they have no choice. Take me for instance, I didn’t come here looking for a greener pasture. I was already ordained as a pastor in Nigeria before coming to South Africa. But looking at our people and what they pass through in this place, it is very unbearable and frustrating. Yes, there is no place in the whole world where it’s citizens don’t commit crimes and other things. But there are so many crimes attributed to Nigerians, of which I can say to a reasonable extent that our people are not responsible for them. Sometimes I begin to question and wonder whether there is anything between South Africa and Nigeria that is causing this maltreatment. The worst part of it is this, every black person in South Africa is tagged a Nigerian, any crime he or she commits they attribute it to have been done by a Nigerian. I can tell you what Nigerians do in this country but all other things they attribute to Nigerians that they are the ones committing is a lie. And I begin to ask myself if there is any hidden problem between Nigeria and this country (South Africa) that they’re not telling us. Worst of all is that, when you go to the Home Affairs to renew your papers in this country, when they see that Nigerian passport they will dump it.
I will use myself as an example. I submitted my request for permanent residence in 2017, till date it has not come.
With my pedigrees and credentials, the document I submitted for permanent residency is not something anybody can question. Since I came here, I have garnered a lot of experience because apart from being a pastor, I am also into community service. Here, in this country, we have a Nigerian citizen association which is called Nigerian Citizens Association, South Africa (NICASA), here in KwaZulu Natal province and we are very well known in this country.
For instance, in the 2010 World Cup, we were given certificates signed by then FIFA President Sepp Blatter and also in 2013 AFCON by CAF, and I also have a certificate signed by then President of CAF, Issa Hayatou. And some other presidents which I have volunteered to serve and I have my certificate to show as proof. I did my diploma here and I have it.
Any volunteer work in this country, irrespective of the status of the person involved, I have rendered my service which has never been questioned and I have certificates of recognition for that. Because I believe that life is about community service and you showing humility in what you do.
What efforts have you people made on your own to try to resolve this issue with South African government?
We have made several efforts to try and solve this problem. But we later found out that what is happening is political because I cannot say why this is still happening. During their last election we noticed some political parties were using foreigners to campaign that when they are voted into power they will chase out all foreigners who came here to take their jobs. And the recent attack although it wasn’t meted out to foreigners it was also political. So, we are engaging some political people in this country to see if they can help to quell this because I know that before they come out on the streets to attack, they must be a voice behind them urging them to do so.
I’m interested in finding out what effort NICASA is making to insulate Nigerians from a repeat?
We have tried our best in the sense that we the executive of NICASA in this province led by Hon Bartholomew Ezeagulu, who is a resilience leader. We have been making sure we resolve these issues with sleepless nights calling different agencies and at the same time, even unavailing ourselves. I remember that we have invited the locals several times, unveiling ourselves for us to have a round table conference to see a way of quilling this issue. Because we are not the only foreigners in South Africa, but every black person in South Africa is seen as a Nigerian . Any crime the person commits is attributed to Nigerians. And we have discussed with a few of them despite the assurances and promises made they have kept their words.
And people are getting to the limit of their tolerance. So we have seen it. The recent happenings some foreigners were forced to take up arms to defend themselves because you see the group of boys burning a foreigner’s shop or beating somebody and the police will be there and they will not do anything to stop them. That is what breaks everyone’s heart.
So looking at that incident and the character of the police, you don’t need anyone to tell you that they were being sent.
On your own, have you been able to ensure that all your members abide by the laws, rules and regulations of the land and those of you involved in doing business? Have you been able to pay your taxes do whatever is required of you to ensure that there is peace and tranquility?
That question is very good and interesting, why because it was a very great campaign they used during the last election. I cannot tell you that we have gotten it 100 percent but at least we are willing and are people are cooperating with the executive of NICASA to ensure these people do not have reasons to make us unnecessary targets. Many of these shops I’m not saying only Nigerians occupy them but many of these shops before they are rented by foreigners, you will go straight to the municipality, after your payment they will give you a receipt but still these people during the last crisis came and chased everybody out. And the government did not doing anything about it and nobody is refunding the money paid to the municipality. They all kept mute, they were all quiet. So we try as much as possible for our people to be compliant as regards to obeying the law of the land. So we are willing to make sure that our people stay away from major crime in this country.
I believe in 2018 December, if I’m not mistaken, we won a case in this country, in this province because one of their policemen killed a Nigerian and we took the case up which lasted almost two to three years. And as God may have it, we won the case and the policeman is now in prison.