“O’boy, where you leave me run go for Wednesday night?”

I was confronting Peter, my football-buff friend, who, against character, disappeared without letting me know, when it became clear that the Nigeria-South Africa AFCON semi-fila match was heading to extra time and possibly penalties.

A couple of calls after I noticed that the seat beside me was empty, and his bottle of Goldberg was not properly attended to, I sent a message on WhatsApp to him, but when I noticed that he read it but did not reply, I decided that his nerves may have got the better of him and he slinked off to avoid watching the penalties.

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Peter had also bragged a little too much about how Nigeria was going to thrash South Africa; he was sure the Eagles were going to be two or three goals better, but the moment South Africa equalized on the dot of 90 minutes, his “liver failed him” as we say on Naija streets.

“Bros, I no fit lie, as that game don dey look like e dey enter penalty shootout laidis, I say make I bail comot. I not fit siddon watch that their goalkeeper catch our penalties….”

“You of all people,” I interjected, trying to control the overwhelming laughter that has taken over me. “You wey be football encyclopedia dey fear penalty shootout?”

“Abeg leave that matter,” he replied. “You dey house, abi make we meet for that place do one-one?”

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In 10 minutes, I arrived at our watering hole. Peter was already seated, his Goldberg almost three-quarters gone. I tried to yab him for the way he slithered off on Wednesday night, but he wouldn’t have it.

“Mr. P, you no be correct fan o! See as you take run…”

But he wouldn’t let the conversation dwell on that, and waved me to a chair.

“Shebi I don tell you to leave that matter? Wetin you go drink today? Life, abi you go follow me drink Goldberg?

I pointed to a bottle of Life beer on a table adjacent to ours and he immediately gestured to the bar attendant to comply with his unspoken directives.

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“Bros, you know say na Nwabali na im save us last night,” he started, having waited for me to have taken some calming gulps from my drink.

“O’boy, you miss o! That boy na cat! If to say you dey here that night eh…”

Abeg leave that matter, Peter interrupted me. “As I watch am for highlights beta for me. My heart wan jump comot from my chest…”

I laughed, as the barman arrived with a replacement of his Goldberg drink.

“I was afraid we were going to lose the match after the South Africans equalized with that penalty. As I dey look the guy, I feel say e no like that penalty. His confidence was zero.”

“But if na you nko,” Peter responded. “Match wey you don win finish?”

“Chai! But I like wetin e do that Mokoena guy wey score that equalizing penalty kick. He made sure he stopped his penalty, and that one sweet me die!”

“Oooo! Nwabali of life!!!” My friend weaved around in his chair in what his meant to be a celebratory dance. “Walahi, that guy good! The thing wey sweet me pass na wetin he do as e catch that guy kick. Na so e dey beat his chest dey shout, ‘You dey mad!’ Guy man na correct Naija.”

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“So, you sef see that thing? The way he shout after that, I come trust say he go even catch more penalties…”

“The boy is good, bros, Peter said in a tone that sounded like a religious veneration. “That guy too good! Come see as Naija babes dey love am for social media.”

“Men, I taya o! make dem no jus go distract the boy make he help us win this cup. Thank God he is married.

With the discussion appearing not to be tapering off, I ordered barbecue catfish to accompany our beers. The bar was still full, as folks were still celebrating the victory of the night before.

“Bros, you don see this,” Peter asked, as our grilled fish arrived.

I peered at his phone that he had raised to my face to read a post on his Facebook page;

“If your relationship is shaky, go and meet Nwabali. He can save it”

With mouthfuls of well-grilled, well-marinated catfish, we both laughed at the joke Nigerians were already making of the Nwabali goalkeeping phenomenon

“My brother, Nigerians are so funny, that’s why they said we are the happiest people in the world. If you see how I have been laughing since morning over the jokes our people have been making with Nwabali,” I responded.

As my right hand was busy shovelling catfish into my mouth, I struggled with the left to open my phone for my friend to read some of the hilarious jokes people were making of the Super Eagles goalkeeper.

With a mouthful of fish, Peter began to read, amid uncontrollable laughter.

“We have to hand over our Naira to Nwabali. Na only him fit save am now”

As he laughed, I retrieved the phone to show even more jokes…

“A new word has entered the English dictionary and the word is NWABALI, which means, ‘To save when all hopes are lost. For example, The only way to Nwabali the 2023 election is to use AFCON referees as INEC officials.”

“This AFCON was rigged in favour of Nigeria. If not, why are they playing all the matches at night, knowing that the name of the Nigerian goalkeeper is NWABALI?”

“Wait,” I said, reaching for my phone. “You see the one we dem create a Nwabali condom? Na dat one make me laugh pass.”

Scrolling through my WhatsApp groups, I was able to retrieve the video where a lawyer had gone to a pharmacy, with a lady, and was requesting for the best condom. Two were presented to him to his dissatisfaction until the Nwabali condom which was advertised to have the strongest protection against STDs and unwanted pregnancies, was brought out. Although it was reported to be more expensive, the customer did not think twice before demanding two packets.

Although I have watched the video several times, we were both in stitches, especially given the sudden meaning Nigerians have given to a name that should otherwise have elicited negative comments, had the outcome been the other way around.

Nwabali is an Igbo word that means “Child of the Night.” One can only imagine what people would have been putting out on social media, had Stanley Nwabali not been so excellent.

Ibeka Ogazi wrote in from Lagos.