Nigeria’s captain, John Mikel Obi on Tuesday revealed he knew of his father’s kidnap hours before the Super Eagles played Argentina at the World Cup.
Mikel received the shocking news as he travelled on the team bus to the stadium in St Petersburg last Tuesday. A family member called him and told him that he had to call the kidnappers on a designated number. When Mikel did so, he was ordered to pay a ransom.
Mikel has told Guardian UK that he could not confide in anyone at the Nigerian Football Federation – partly because he did not want to be a distraction before the game – and how he asked himself whether he had the strength to play.
Pa Michael Obi was abducted as he travelled to a funeral along the Makurdi-Enugu expressway from Jos.
Mikel tried to put the trauma to one side and he played the 90 minutes against Argentina. Nigeria lost 1-2 to a late Marcus Rojo goal to exit the tournament.
“I played while my father was in the hands of bandits,” Mikel said. “I had to suppress the trauma. I took a call four hours before kick-off to tell me what had happened.
“I was emotionally distraught and I had to make the decision about whether I was mentally ready to play. I was confused. I did not know what to do but, in the end, I knew that I could not let 180 million Nigerians down. I had to shut it out of my head and go and represent my country first. I could not even inform the coaches or NFF staff and only a very tight circle of my friends knew.
“I was told that they would shoot my dad instantly if I reported to the authorities or told anybody. I also did not want to discuss it with the coach [Gernot Rohr] because I did not want my issue to become a distraction to him or the rest of the team on the day of such an important game. As much as I wanted to discuss it with the coach, I could not.
“Thankfully, my father was safely released on Monday afternoon. I thank the police authorities for their rescue efforts and the support I’ve received from friends and family members. Unfortunately, my dad is now in hospital receiving emergency treatment as a result of the torture he received during his capture.”