Nigeria’s loss from the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in the last-16 by Tunisia was a huge disappointment for the team’s fans.
The Super Eagles were not only favourites to win the tie, but also to advance all the way to the final, where they would face hosts Cameroon in an all-time rivalry match.
Augustine Eguavoen’s squad had taken the maximum possible nine points in the group stage, averaging two goals per match.
However, Nigeria’s 1-0 defeat was the team’s first since 1984 in failing to advance to the AFCON final eight.
The reaction was hot as expected. Two people in particular have been subjected to a great deal of abuse, much of it vicious.
Goalkeeper Maduka Okoye was hounded by Nigeria supporters on social media after appearing to be duped by Youssef Msakni’s low, swerving winner in the last-16. Comments ranged from mocking over his appearance to death wishes for him and his loved ones.
One remark predicted that he would die in a plane crash within a month, while another implied that if Okoye returned to Nigeria, he would be killed.
One user threatened the goalkeeper’s family with divine vengeance and accused him of match-fixing.
Okoye had no choice except to turn off Instagram comments.
Within five minutes of his debut, Alex Iwobi, a second-half substitute, was awarded a red card for an unintended stamp. He also received a lot of backlash on the internet. As a result, he deleted all of his Instagram posts.
The Nigerian camp’s response to the hate and insults was fast and disapproving.
Coach Eguavoen said Al Jazeera, “People need to respond appropriately and not transform their disappointments into hate speech and threats against specific players.”
“You can’t hold these players responsible because they gave everything they had.” Playing for Nigeria comes with a lot of pressure, but because you have access to social media, you can’t intimidate, threaten, or attack someone for protecting the country’s honour. This is both incorrect and irresponsible.”
Nantes winger Moses Simon, who received some harsh criticism in the build-up to his spectacular performances at the AFCON, emphasised an often-overlooked side of the debate: the players read the comments, which affects their mood and mental well-being.
“Players are people, too,” Simon remarked. “Intimidating or threatening someone demoralises them and has a bad effect.” I’ve also been the target of horrible remarks and harassment. However, as a player, you can only give your very best all of the time.”
The feeling that the players don’t care as much or aren’t as invested in the team’s success is at the heart of those feelings.
This seems to be the point of attack against Okoye, who was born in Dusseldorf and made his international debut in late 2019. Insider reports from the dressing room suggest the exact opposite.
Photographers caught a sight of Ola Aina, the right back, looking despondent on his hotel balcony the day after the elimination.
“The defeat and criticism he suffered gutted him [Okoye].” But I told him, ‘You’ve had a wonderful tournament,'” confessed Okoye’s roommate during the tournament, defender Kenneth Omeruo.
The participants’ only option appears to be to deactivate their social media accounts in order to avoid the unwanted feedback.
“One thing I do after such events is disable my social media,” Omeruo explained. “You discover people who don’t even know football.”
That outburst in response to Nigeria’s elimination was a little surprising, especially given the low level of expectation before into the competition.
Following a home loss to the 124th-ranked Central African Republic in October, the team drew with Cape Verde a month later.
Former coach Gernot Rohr, who had been in command for over five years, was fired in mid-December, with public support for the squad at an all-time low.
Fans expected the worse when Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) technical director Eguavoen was handed the task of organising the AFCON.
Instead, they got high-octane, high-octane football – at least in the group stage, with the Super Eagles dispatching seven-time African champions Egypt, decisively defeating Sudan, and turning Guinea-Bissau over with a second string.
As the team’s performance improved, so did the team’s hopes and expectations.
The manner in which the dissatisfaction was expressed gave a picture of Nigerian fan culture and society in general.
In Nigeria, there are no robust policies in place to protect individuals from internet abuse. The Nigerian government has made cyberstalking a crime, which includes cyberbullying, blackmail/extortion, and revenge porn.
Yakubu Aiyegbeni, a former Nigerian international, is the country’s third-highest international goal scorer.
His open-goal miss against South Korea at the 2010 World Cup damaged his image in the eyes of Nigerian supporters to the extent where Aiyegbeni stated last year that he still receives angry messages in person and online about the mistake.
“When I’m at a restaurant, people always talk about it,” Aiyegbeni remarked. “I need to tell them, ‘Please, eat and go home; we can’t talk about what happened 11 years ago.’
“I’ve received threats, some of which were quite severe. I’ve always tried my hardest to assist my country, yet this is strange.”
Odion Ighalo, a former Watford and Manchester United striker, came close to retiring from international football in 2018 after receiving online death threats directed at him and his family.
It came after Nigeria’s defeat to Argentina at Russia 2018, in which Ighalo squandered a chance with the score at 1-1.
In 2019, Eguavoen claimed that fans were still chastising him for conceding an extra-time penalty against Italy in 1994, which resulted to Nigeria’s elimination.
Following the loss to Tunisia earlier this month, Eguavoen attempted to defuse the issue by accepting some responsibility for team selection and disputing some of the officiating choices.
However, he recognises that such justifications are unlikely to alter popular opinion.