Media reports at the time claimed the trio were sent packing from the national team camp for gross indiscipline but the team manager at the time has now shed more light on the unfortunate episode.
Former Super Eagles head coach Christian Chukwu has revealed that Celestine Babayaro, Victor Agali, and Yakubu Aiyegbeni were thrown out of the Nigerian camp at Tunisia 2004 African Cup of Nations because the players broke camp rules by inviting women into their hotel rooms.
Nigeria had some of the tournament’s most talented stars in Austin Okocha, Nwankwo Kanu and John Utaka, and the 1980 continental champions were looking to repeat the glorious feat of 1994 in that same country.
But the team was stunned in their opening group match, losing 1-0 to Morocco side inspired by the exciting Youssef Hadji.
South Africa were the Super Eagles’ next foes, and with preparations in top gear at their Monastir base, news filtered out of a crisis in the Nigerian camp.
When the dust settled, then Chelsea defender Babayaro, Portsmouth striker Yakubu and Schalke’s Agali were all asked to leave the team camp in Tunisia.
Speaking to Brila FM as per CompleteSports, Chukwu confirmed that the players were guilty of inviting women into the team’s hotel.
“We got report from the security people of the hotel who confirmed they (Agali, Aiyegbeni, Babayaro) came in with women into the hotel,” 1980 AFCON winning captain said.
“The three of them didn’t deny it, and it got their teammates really angry.
“First thing is discipline, and if that decision was not taken what kind of message are you trying to send? And that’s why Osaze (Odemwingie) came up and proved himself.”
Despite losing three big stars, the Super Eagles managed to beat both South Africa and the Benin Republic to advance past the group stages.
Nigeria then defeated Cameroon in the quarter-finals only to lose on penalties to eventual winners Tunisia at the semifinals.