Benguela, Angola – When Nigerian defender Joseph Yobo was substituted against Benin in a Group C match at the Africa Cup of Nations, many Nigerians feared the worst. After all, the Premier League-based player had already come to Angola carrying a bit of an injury, but still played the first two matches for the Super Eagles.
A scan conducted in Luanda because the facilities in Benguela were not good enough, seemed to prove the skeptics right and Yobo was said to be out for the rest of the tournament.
Yobo then went missing from the Nigerian squad and officials said that he had returned to his English club Everton to seek permission to go to a specialist in France.
Against Zambia in the quarter-finals Yobo was suddenly back on the bench and although he did not play, he is being considered for Nigeria’s semi-final against Ghana in Luanda on Thursday, especially as his replacement Onyekachi Apam was red-carded against Zambia.
Nothing more was said about Yobo’s return until Wednesday afternoon, when a Nigerian church-goer said that the Everton defender had not been to Europe at all.
According to Emeka Igwe, Yobo was actually visiting a church called The Synagogue Church of All Nations.
Housed in a poor suburb in Lagos, the church is not without its controversy.
For years it has welcomed tens of thousands of visitors from throughout Africa who have traveled to Nigeria searching for miracles.
Among them was South African Springbok rugby player Jaco van der Westhuizen, who had been told by doctors that his rugby-playing days were over after rupturing his posterior cruciate ligament.
In desperation the rugby player flew to Lagos where, he said, his knee injury was miraculously healed by the founder of the church, pastor TB Joshua, through prayer.
Another sportsperson who turned to The Synagogue was Nigerian coach Shaidu Amodu, whose side was last year facing elimination from the World Cup.
With just one game to go the Super Eagles were trailing Tunisia by three points and had to travel to Kenya for their final game. The North Africans played their last game in Mozambique.
Amodu, who is a Muslim, said that nobody believed that Nigeria could qualify for the championship.
“At that time, the journey of the Super Eagles to 2010 was on a cliff hanger, as some would call it, and it was only a miracle that would make it work. Some even said it wont work,” but Amodu said that after intervention from Joshua the team qualified as they beat Kenya and the Tunisians lost.
Joshua was also involved with the Nigerian under-17 side that came second at last year’s under-17 world championships and with the Ghanaian under-20 side that won the World Youth Cup.
It is hardly surprising then, that Yobo turned to the church in Lagos when his Africa Cup of Nations campaign was in doubt.
Igwe, who is not a regular church-goer, said that when he went to the church, he saw Yobo arriving at the same time. “I waited to see what would happen. Sometime later, I saw Yobo walking out, a huge smile on his face. I was taken aback as he neared and it became all the clearer – he was no longer limping, but walking freely. ”
Igwe said that Yobo was accompanied by two members of the Nigerian under-17 side who play for a club belonging to the church, My People FC.
He said that even if some people were claiming that Yobo had received treatment in Europe, he had not done so, instead going to a church in Lagos last Friday.
Igwe said he believed that Yobo will hold a press conference later to tell the world how he had been healed.
When confronted by the allegations that Yobo had gone to church in Lagos and not for treatment in Europe as had originally been claimed, an official of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), who asked not to be named, said it was true.
“I am very surprised that the story is out. Yobo told me what had happened, so I can confirm that he went to Lagos.”