Photos show former Nigerian goalkeeper Peter Fregena, not Peter Rufai

Online users including a Nigerian government official shared pictures allegedly showing former Nigerian international goalkeeper Peter Rufai in an impoverished state and requiring help. But the claims are false: the images showed another former Nigerian national team goalie, Peter Fregene, who has been battling illness for several years.

“This is disheartening! Imagine what the former @NGSuperEagles goalie Peter Rufa’i has been going through,” reads a tweet published on January 15, 2023.

The post with more than 3,300 retweets was shared by Nasir Daniya, an official in the technology ministry of Sokoto state, northwest Nigeria.

The tweet features a screenshot of a Facebook post containing three photos: one shows an elderly wheelchair user wearing a green tracksuit; another is of the same man in only track pants sitting on the ground; and the final one features a young goalkeeper during a match.

Rufai, a former captain of the Nigerian national football team, played for the Super Eagles at the 1994 and 1998 World Cups in the United States and France, respectively. He also helped the team win the 1994 African Cup of Nations in Tunisia.

Before his retirement on July 1, 2000, Rufai played for clubs in Benin, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal and Spain.

Recent media reports in Nigeria said a businessman sued the former footballer over a failed business deal.

But the claim that the photos showed Rufai living in “abject poverty” is false.

Peter Fregene, not Peter Rufai

By conducting a reverse image search, AFP Fact Check traced the photo of the man sitting on the ground to several social media posts and news reports published in May 2019.

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A news blog published the picture, along with the one of the man in the wheelchair, on May 5, 2019. The story explained that the photos showed Peter Fregene, a goalkeeper for Nigeria’s national football team between 1968 and 1971, when it was known as the Green Eagles. The report said Fregene was suffering from "long-term stroke and paralysis".

Fregene’s wife, Tina, told government-owned broadcaster NTA on May 19, 2019, that he has been unable to walk since October 19, 2001. The video published by NTA on YouTube showed Fregene, 75 years old at the time, lying on a bed and struggling to speak.

A day after his initial tweet, Daniya acknowledged that the man pictured was Fregene and not Rufai.

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Meanwhile, in recent photos and videos shared on his Instagram page, 59-year-old Rufai appeared healthy and fit.

In December 2022, Rufai was in Kano state in northwest Nigeria, alongside other former Super Eagles players, for a rally held for the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress Bola Tinubu.

Screenshots showing the picture of Peter Fregene shared on Twitter (left) and a recent photo of Peter Rufai from his Instagram account (right), taken on January 17, 2023

In a video shared on December 31, 2022, Rufai could be seen praising his former teammate Ike Shorunmu. He did not immediately respond to AFP’s request for comments.