Nigeria's soccer team delivers message about kidnapped girls

Nigeria fans cheer the country's soccer team before a match against Greece at Chester's PPL Park. Players were shown onto the field by children bearing signs in support of girls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants.
Nigeria fans cheer the country's soccer team before a match against Greece at Chester's PPL Park. Players were shown onto the field by children bearing signs in support of girls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 06, 2014

Nil-nil was the final score of the World Cup exhibition game played Tuesday by the national soccer teams of Greece and Nigeria at PPL Park in Chester.

A no-goals tie hardly inspires. But for many green-clad Nigerians in the stands, it was a victory even before the kickoff, when Nigeria's players came out escorted by children with cards emblazoned with "#Bring Back Our Girls. Stand Against Terrorism."

It was a message about the 238 girls kidnapped in April and still missing after Boko Haram militants attacked their school in northern Nigeria. And it was aimed at a worldwide audience: The match was broadcast on sports networks in Africa and nearly every other continent, and streamed online.

Kira Destiny Prince, who was born in Nigeria, was thrilled to see its national soccer team, known as the Super Eagles, take a stand against the violence. "A silent protest makes the loudest sound," she said.

"It shows we are united," added her friend Mary Akhimien. Both are lawyers in Delaware.

A spokeswoman for Major League Soccer said it was the first time she had seen player escorts used to send a political message.

The stadium display was organized by Innocent Onwubiko of Upper Darby. Born in Nigeria, Onwubiko, 41, came to the United States in 2000. He has a bachelor's degree in nursing from Drexel University, and dual master's in gerontology and health administration from St. Joseph's University.

He is the founder of Successful Aging Home Health, an agency that trains and supplies home health aides.

In an interview, he said he is an avid fan of the Super Eagles, and hosted a private party for the team at the stadium after the game, a $15,000 affair attended by 250 of his friends and fellow parishioners at St. Cyprian's Church in Philadelphia.

On the menu were Nigerian specialties: pepper soup, egusi soup, and jollof rice.

The party was two months in the planning, Onwubiko said. When the team checked in at the Westin Hotel in Center City last Thursday, Onwubiko approached coach Stephen Keshi with the escort idea.

"I wanted to reflect what is going on in Nigeria and the world at large," Onwubiko said. "It's a war we all need to fight."

The team was consulted and quickly agreed, he said. The escorts, ages 5 to 13, were children from Onwubiko's church.

High in the stands and decked out in a white dashiki and bronze-colored headdress, Adekunle Kayode "Leonardo" Alliu cheered wildly for the Super Eagles. He is the founder and chief executive of United States-Africa Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture Inc., a Philadelphia international trade group.

Alliu said the violence in Nigeria is despicable, but unrest is to be expected because "not a single dime has trickled down" to the people from the ruling class. "The money does not reach the grassroots," he said.

Just at that moment the stadium erupted with a chant: "All we are saying: Give us a goal."

Innocent Onwubiko believes he has.


mmatza@phillynews.com

215-854-2541

@MichaelMatza1

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