Sunday, 3rd December 2023

Oruma… Loved by Nigerians, haunted by old wounds

By Gowon Akpodonor
06 May 2023   |   4:03 am
In his book, titled, The Gods are not to blame, the late Nigerian playwright, Ola Rotimi, wrote that man’s struggles begin at birth. However, for former Golden Eaglets captain and Super Eagles midfielder, Wilson Oruma...

Wilson Oruma

In his book, titled, The Gods are not to blame, the late Nigerian playwright, Ola Rotimi, wrote that man’s struggles begin at birth. However, for former Golden Eaglets captain and Super Eagles midfielder, Wilson Oruma, his life struggles did not begin at childhood. Rather, it started much later after a blissful football career.

In his attempt to establish a business empire for himself on retirement from active football, Oruma ‘walked’ into the hands of fraudsters, who claimed to be in possession of some oil blocks they wanted to sell.

They talked the two-time African Nations Cup bronze medallist into withdrawing his investments across Europe and other life savings for the ‘oil business.’ He did not suspect any foul intention, but things turned out differently and Oruma lost everything he had laboured for. He was left in a confused state of mind for about two years. That was about six years ago.

However, despite his travails, Oruma stuck to the old Warri adage of never-say-die. But the more he tries to weather the storm, the more challenges he encounters.

Last week, a publication by a national daily portrayed Oruma as sick and helpless. Titled, ‘Oruma: The travails of an Olympic medalist, the publication, among other issues, stated that a video clip showed that Oruma was lying helpless in an unidentified hospital on a drip, snoring on his sick bed and receiving treatment via urinary catheters.

Oruma told The Guardian during the week that the publication was not only a big shock to him, but also to his family members, friends and business associates.

The Atlanta ’96 Olympics gold medallist was forced to speak through a video clip from his residence at the Victoria Garden City (VGC) in Lagos, explaining his present health condition to Nigerians.

“Thank you for the love you are showing to me and my family. I am healthy and sound. I never knew that Nigerians love me so much. I appreciate and celebrate you all,” Oruma said in the video clip.

In a one-on-one chat with The Guardian inside a Shopping Mall at VGC, Oruma described as sad, wicked and disturbing the publication, which portrayed him as sick and helpless.

“In the first place, I am not in any hospital, as reported by the newspaper. Those pictures displayed in that news report were images of four or five years ago. I am fine… I don’t know why some Nigerians will wish me dead. It is so unfortunate.”

Oruma continues: “That is high level of wickedness for someone to say that my health is deteriorating and I am bedridden. Here I am, enjoying myself. Do I really look like someone who is sick? I am so bitter about it because nobody made any effort to speak with me. That publication has hunted me greatly because it has brought back all those sad memories I had been trying to erase.

“But I will continue to appreciate Nigerians, particularly my fans for showing concerns about me. Help me to tell everyone that Wilson Oruma is healthy and sound,” he said.

The publication last week attracted comments from his Atlanta ’96 teammates, including Dosu Joseph and Sunday Oliseh. Oruma led the Golden Eaglets to win the FIFA U-17 World Cup at Japan ’93. He went on to help the U-23 team to win gold medal at Atlanta ’96 Olympics.

In 2018, the then NFF President, Amaju Pinnick, included Oruma as part of Nigerian contingent to the FIFA World Cup in Russia, to enable him mix up with people from different parts of the world, particularly his former colleagues in foreign clubs. The idea paid off, though Oruma was not in a hurry to interact with everyone that came his way.

It took this reporter almost two weeks before Oruma could agree to speak on his travail. On the eve of Super Eagles encounter with Argentina, Oruma opened up for the first time in an interview with The Guardian in the Russian city of St. Petersburg on his travail in the hands of fraudsters, who duped him of about N2 billion when he wanted to establish a business concept after retiring from active football.

He ‘walked’ into the hands of the fraudsters, who claimed to be in possession of some oil block they wanted to sell. He collapsed his investments across Europe, and also withdrew his life savings to invest in the ‘oil business,’ not suspecting any foul play. The ‘business partners’ soon vanished with his money.

“This is my first time of speaking with any journalist on this,” Oruma told The Guardian at his Park INN Hotel in St. Petersburg. “It is true that I lost all my savings to some people, who turned out to be fraudsters. I have read several stories in the media since then. Those stories did not emanate from me. They quoted different amount, which is not correct. I lost close to N2 billion.

“The most painful aspect of it all was the fact that some of my relations were involved in the deal. You can imagine losing such huge amount of money to people you trusted. I pray for them to have a human heart and return my money, even if it is part of it. That is my prayer every day, and I know that one day, the hand of God will touch their hearts,” he stated then.

Following the publication by a national daily last week, Oruma told The Guardian that he has since put that sad incident of losing his life savings to fraudsters behind.

“Help me to tell Nigerians that I have put those sad moments behind me, and nobody should make me to recall it. It is disheartening to receive calls from friends, relatives and business associates enquiring if I am okay.

“My family is taking legal action against some of the media houses, including some radio and television stations. Some people need to pay for the consequences of their action. It has to stop,” Oruma fumed.

Oruma played club football alongside the likes of Frank Ribery and Samir Nasri in his days at Olympique Marseille FC in France. Born in Warri, Delta State, Oruma was part of Nigeria’s U-17 team, the Golden Eaglets, that won the 1993 FIFA U-17 World Championships. He captained the team and was the tournament’s top goal scorer with six goals.

He played 19 international matches over 11 years for Nigeria, and was part of the team that participated at France ‘98 FIFA World Cup, where he scored in his only appearance against Paraguay. He was also part of the squad that won the Olympic gold medal at Atlanta ’96, as well as Nigeria’s squad at the 2002 and 2006 Africa Cup of Nations, finishing both competitions in third place.

Oruma arrived at RC Lens from Bendel Insurance in 1994. A season after being loaned to Nancy, he returned to the club, and played seven matches during their 1997–98 Ligue 1 title campaign.

After playing for the Super Eagles at France ‘98 FIFA World Cup, Oruma moved to Turkish side, Samsunspor. He returned to France one year later to play for Nîmes.

In 2000, Oruma was transferred to Swiss side, Servette, where he played two seasons before returning to France, where he played until 2009 for Sochaux, Marseille and Guingamp, winning the 2003–04 Coupe de la Ligue with Sochaux and the 2008–09 Coupe de France with Guingamp, despite them being a Ligue 2 club at the time. He retired from professional football in 2010 after a season with Greek club, AO Kavala.

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