By Emeka Obasi

Anytime the Super Eagles lifted the African Nations Cup trophy, they confronted Elephants, were unbeaten by the Ivorians and ended up producing the tournament’s Top Scorer.

In 1980, Taifa Stars of Tanzania were easy meat in the opening match. Although they came with two outstanding  goalkeepers,  Athumani Mambosasa and Juma Pondamali, the East Africans could not hold back the trio of Muda Lawal, Ifeanyi Onyedika and Segun Odegbami. It ended 3-1 for Nigeria.

In the second group game, Cote d’Ivoire proved so stubborn. The Nigerian forward line did everything but the goals refused to come. The Elephants arrived Lagos with Laurent Pokou, the only star to score five goals in an Afcon game. He was as inconsequential as the young Pascal Miezan yet Green Eagles were forced to a draw.

When Tunisia hosted Africa in 1994, the Elephants were defending champions. They met the Super Eagles in the semi finals. Some tagged it the final before the grand finale. Rashidi Yekini, the reigning African Footballer of the Year, did not quite click.

The day belonged to one youngster, Michel Bassole, who got a brace and made sure the Nigerians sweated to equalise anytime he put Cote d’Ivoire ahead. Ben Iroha and Yekini, both had played for Abidjan clubs, scored the other goals to end it 2-2, at half time, full time and extra time respectively. Victory followed Nigeria through penalty kicks.

South Africa 2013 was supposed to be for the Big Boys. The Nigerian Football Federation did not believe in Stephen Keshi and his Eagles. Just before the quarter finals match with the Elephants, flight tickets back to Abuja were confirmed.

Keshi’s first sojourn outside Nigeria was in Abidjan where he played for Stella alongside Omar Ben Sallah. The Nigerian coach was not in a deep blue funk over Didier Drogba. One dark horse, Sunday Mba, stunned the mighty Elephants with the winning goal, to end it 2-1.

When Christian Chukwu lifted the trophy in 1980, Odegbami was Top Scorer with three goals. He shared the podium with Khalid Labied of Morocco. Three Nigerians, Best Ogedegbe, Chukwu and Odegbami, made the CAF Team of the Tournament.

Captain Keshi was not only happy with the gold in 1994. Yekini was voted Player of the Tournament. The gangling striker also emerged as Top Scorer with five goals. Four members of that squad, Austin Okocha, Daniel Amokachi, Iroha and Yekini were included in the CAF Team of the Tournament.

In South Africa, Joseph Yobo, just like Keshi in 1994, did not have enough playing time but was happy that  Emmanuel Emenike finished as Top Scorer, with four goals. The Eagles had five stars, Vincent Enyeama, Efe Ambrose, Mikel Obi, Victor Moses and Emenike in the CAF Team of the Tournament.

All the years that gold came and the Ivorians were involved, Nigeria recorded, at least, a draw in one of the group games. In 1980, it was goalless with Cote d’Ivoire. In 1994, the same result was achieved against Egypt. In 2013, the first match ended 1-1 versus Bukina Faso.

It is remarkable that if you close your eyes to the Ghana 2008 edition, the Super Eagles won a medal anytime they came across the Elephants.

In 1980, it was gold. Silver came at Algiers 1990. Another gold followed 1994. Egypt 2006 produced bronze. Ghana 2008, during Berti Vogts’ disastrous short time, was different.

Salomon Kalou sent the Eagles out before the semis. South Africa 2013 was Golden.

However, all those encounters were outside Cote d’Ivoire. On January 18, 2024, the Eagles played the Elephants at home, for the very first time, in the African Nations Cup. The last time the Championships held in that country, Nigeria left Abidjan with silver.

There is this strange angle to all  these years that gave Nigeria gold. In the group stages, countries that supported Biafra, came on. It began with Tanzania in 1980, joined by Cote d’Ivoire. Gabon arrived in 1994. Zambia followed in 2013. The Ivorians are here again, in 2024.

Mwalimu Julius Nyerere made sure Tanzania became the first country to recognise Biafra, in 1968. Dar Es Salaam became safe haven for Biafrans and this continued until 1970. Professors Okwudiba Nnoli and Theodore Okeahialam got jobs at the University of Dar Es Salaam. Nnoli taught Yoweri Museveni.

Albert Omar Bongo offered Gabon to Biafra. He set up a large Children’s Hospital, managed by Okeahialam, to treat children suffering kwashiorkor. Libreville Airport was useful in handling relief and communicating with the Biafran Air Force.

Kenneth Kaunda joined Nyerere and Bongo. They were close to Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first President of Nigeria. It was emotional when Enugu Rangers could not be beaten at away in Tanzania by Young Africans ( Yanga ) and Green Buffaloes in Zambia, in the the 1975 CAF Champions League.

Felix Houphouet – Boigny offered Emeka Ojukwu soft landing in 1970 although the Biafran leader said he left in search of peace. As Squadron Leader Alfred Anowai piloted the Grey Ghost to Abidjan through Lisbon, he must have pinched Co – Pilot Francis  Osakwe.

There is one snag with this Golden Story. Emmanuel is missing in 2024. The 1980 squad had Emmanuel Okala. In 1994, there was Emmanuel Amuneke. Then came Emmanuel Emenike in 2013. It does appear gold may not follow Eagles back from Abidjan.