Nigeria’s World Cup captain John Obi Mikel has described how he played against Argentina without telling anyone he had just learned of his father’s kidnapping.
Enugu state police in south-east Nigeria announced late yesterday via Twitter that Chief Pa Michael Obi and his driver, named as Ishaya John, had been freed after a forest shootout with kidnappers.
Police Superintendent Ebere Amaraizu said Pa Obi’s kidnappers seized him at gunpoint last Thursday while he was being driven to a funeral in south eastern Nigeria and had forced him to walk for about five kilometres barefoot in heavy rain. The Super Eagles’ had paid a ransom of 10m naira (£21,000).
No arrests have been made by police who have appealed for information from anyone with knowledge of persons with gunshots wounds. Ebere said: “The two men were rescued hale and hearty.” That health assessment was later disputed.
Mikel was informed of the kidnapping hours before he was due to lead out Nigeria for their final Group D tie against Argentina in St Petersburg. A relative had called him with ransom payment instructions.
He told no-one in the Nigerian FA or coach Gernot Rohr or any of his team-mates about the pressures he was under during the 2-1 defeat which saw the team eliminated. He said the kidnappers had threatened to shoot “instantly” if authorities were informed.
Mikel told KweséESPN and The Guardian: “I played while my father was in the hands of bandits. 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 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.”
Mikel understood that Obi senior and his driver had been rescued by police after a “gun duel” and that both had been treated in hospital. This was the second time Obi senior, a transport company owner, had been kidnapped. The first time was in 2011 when he was released after 10 days.
Obi senior had required multiple stitches to cuts and other injuries. He returned to hospital early yesterday and Mikel was considering flying him abroad for further treatment.
Mikel flew home to England as soon as possible after the game to deal with the situation and is scheduled to return shortly to China, where the 31-year-old former Chelsea midfielder plays his club football for Tianjin TEDA.
Remarkably, Mikel had led Nigeria against Argentina with his customary commitment.
The inexperienced Super Eagles – the youngest team at the 2018 World Cup -fell behind to an early goal from Lionel Messi but equalised from a penalty early in the second half.
They had a claim for another penalty, for handball against Marcos Rojo, rejected before the Manchester United defender struck a late winning goal which sent Argentina through to the second round instead of the Nigerians.