A Nigerian footballer has arrived back home from Mongolia following an ordeal that saw him scammed by a shady agent who promised him a glittering sports career that never materialised.
Moshood Afolabi, 24, arrived at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos on Saturday having left Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolia capital, a day earlier.
He had been trapped in Mongolia for 16 months and was overstaying a tourist visa, a situation which made it impossible to secure work, get his travel documents in order or afford a flight home.
“I’m very happy to have gained freedom leaving Mongolia,” he told Al Jazeera. “I didn’t believe I’d be in Nigeria on Saturday. I didn’t believe it. Now, I’m experiencing so many things in Nigeria. Fresh air, fresh food. I’m really happy.”
Al Jazeerareportedon his plight in August and the challenges faced by many other aspiring African footballers who are stranded in several countries, having been duped by people posing as agents and tricking them into paying significant sums to travel and play for foreign clubs.
In Afolabi’s case, a Nigerian man who lived close to his home spun him a tale, took his savings and sent him to play for local Mongolian club Western Khovd FC, but the job did not last beyond his tourist visa and he quickly fell into serious financial and personal problems.
Moshood Afolabi, right, and Christopher Hannah, left, pictured in Mongolia [Courtesy of Christopher Hannah]
Christopher Hannah, a Scottish businessman who had lived in Mongolia for six months, read and empathised with Afolabi’s story and volunteered to help him.
“I had come across Moshood two weeks before I contacted him. I saw the article on Al Jazeera and at the time I was in Scotland,” Hannah told Al Jazeera.
“I flew back to Mongolia and I saw it posted again on a forum and I remember someone was asking, ‘Why doesn’t someone help this guy?'”
Hannah, who was working on setting up a cashmere business in the East Asian country, had previous experience in the football industry and a passion for the sport.
He was previously an image rights agent for several European football clubs and footballers.
“Football is one of the best ways to break communication or culture barriers. This was the main reason Moshood and I could come together,” he said.
After the Nigerian footballer spent a week in detention in late September at the Mongolian immigration service, Hannah booked and paid for Afolabi’s $900 flight home, while Afolabi’s friend Wael, an Egyptian immigrant, gave him the $750 he needed to pay to Mongolia for overstaying his visa.
“I felt sad because I hadn’t experienced it in my life to be in a detention room for seven days,” said Afolabi. “For the first three days in detention, I was drinking water, fasting and praying to Almighty Allah to save me.”
Hannah claimed that his life in Mongolia took a turn for the worse after he helped Afolabi, saying he was treated with hostility by locals and was eventually denied a business visa extension.
He has now returned to his native Scotland and is in the process of opening a new football agency focusing on regions such as Africa.
Up to thousands of scammed African footballers
It is not clear exactly how many hopeful African players are stranded across the world but according to some estimates, the number is in the thousands.
In 2017, there was an influx of more than 100 African talents to Nepal, a south Asian country known least for football.
British media reported that an estimated 15,000 players are trafficked to Europe annually.
Beverley Agbakoba Onyejianya, a Nigerian sports lawyer, said being deported can seriously impact a person’s state of mind.
“Being deported may leave a footballer being stigmatised and even anxious about their future opportunities and ability to earn a good income,” she said. “The player’s career may or may not be affected depending on how they work to find new opportunities.”
Back at home and reflecting on his journey,Afolabi says he will continue to play his beloved sport.
“Football is my passion,” he said. “I want to use football to help my family and other people that do not have the means. I believe I’ll make it in football and I want to continue.”
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