Shefiu Mohammed, Allen Onyema, and The God of ‘small things’
It is Thursday morning.
I feel like story-telling.
‘Big things’ are happening around the world of sports.
The success of the Super Eagles of Nigeria last Sunday has revived some confidence in the national football team that has been long-struggling and long-suffering with poor performances.
Paul Pogba of Juventus has been suspended from all football activities pending investigation into allegations of doping by the footballer during a recent match he did not even play in.
A few days before the start of the US Open Tennis Championship, I told some members of the Tennis section of Ikoyi Club 1938 that, although she may be a great tennis player, Coco Gauf did not yet possess the repertoire of skills and mindset to win a Grand Slam. The 19-year old has made me to eat humble pie with her gutsy performance and well-earned victory last Saturday.
Nigerian, Israel Adesanya, Mixed Martial Artist fighting out of New Zealand, has now become former UFC World Champion with his unimpressive performance and eventual loss to Sean Strickland in a recent World Title fight.
The names of officials and referees to be trained to officiate at the 2024 African Cup of Nations in Cote D’Ivoire next January has been released by the Confederation of African Football, CAF. The long list does not contain the name of a single Nigerian. That speaks volumes as the reputation of Nigerian match officials keeps hurting Nigerian football.
There are also ‘small things’ happening around the world of Sports one of which has been niggling at my mind for three weeks.
Six weeks ago (how time flies) the Chairman of Airpeace Airlines, Dr. Allen Onyema resurrected, honoured, decorated and rewarded long-forgotten athletes for their unrequited service to Nigeria and humanity. It was an event that is still creating ripples in several places around the world. As my friend Idorenyin Uyoe says, with the genie out of the bottle, no one knows any more how far the ripples of that event would travel. Only time will tell.
Three weeks ago, I received a call from one of the recipients, Ex-international Shefiu Mohammed from his base in Jalingo, capital of Taraba State. Shefiu was my colleague in the Green Eagles of the late 1970s – 1977 ECOWAS Games football champions; 1978 Silver medalists at the All-African Games in Algiers; Third-place at in the 1978 African Cup of Nations; winner of the 1980 African Cup of Nations; and Olympians at the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games.
Shefiu was, therefore, one of the recipients of Allen Onyema’s munificense. His name is engraved on the ‘NIIA Sports Diplomacy Wall of Fame”. He was decorated as an Airpeace Airline Ambassador. He received a financial gift.
Shefiu, like most of the other recipients, is still in the trance of the pleasant shock of it all. The ‘manna’ from heaven has provided him with a second chance at a good life in the harsh reality of present-day Nigeria, far away from the chains of neglect, poverty and hardship.
After the events of July 28th, on the eve of our departure from Lagos, Shefiu sat down with me for a conversation on what to do with the money gifted him upon his return to Jalingo. He told me his story and together we agreed that he should go back to his first love – farming – rearing and selling cows.
His excitement was infectious. To demonstrate my confidence that he will make a success of it I promised to join him in expanding the business as soon as I had some resources to invest in his farm project. He left for Jalingo a very happy man.
At this point, permit me go back a little in time.
I coordinated and arranged the travels and other logistics of the awardees as they prepared to arrive Lagos for the July 28thprogrrams
In the case of Shefiu, he was to travel by road from Jalingo to Abuja, and, from there, take any one of the several daily Airpeace flights to Lagos.
Shefiu had other things in mind. He was not familiar with the protocols of taking flights. He would also not take the ‘risk’ of attempting to take a flight on the 26th. And for, any reason, miss the flight and miss the events.
So, whilst we were waiting to receive him at the airport in Lagos, he had already arrived the city two days earlier.
He left Jalingo on July 21, 7 clear days to the date of the events. He travelled in a lorry loaded with cargo, on a hazardous trip on treacherous roads that took 3 days. He arrived Lagos on July 24th.
Since awardees were not expected at the hotel in Lagos before July 26, without a plan of where to stay in Lagos till the appointed date, Shefiu quietly shacked up with one of the Hausa workers at the motor park in Agege where the lorry ‘berthed’
When he eventually narrated his experience to me, with a gleeful look on his face, I wondered at the total absence of an ego in his being. But for the occasion of that re-unification of the Green Eagles Shefiu would have remained in his narrow world with his small family in Jalingo, managing the harsh realities of his hard but spartan life-after-sports.
After the events of July 28th, Shefiu would make his wife and children speak with me several times on telephone in prayers for Allen Onyema for giving them the opportunity of a comfortable life again.
Shefiu is a very quiet, shy, respectful person, one of the most humble of human beings on the planet.
So, Shefiu called me up some 3 weeks ago to inform me that he was at the motor park in Jalingo about to board a lorry coming to Lagos. He wanted me to arrange for meet him and take him to deliver the gift he was bringing from Jalingo to present to Allen Onyema. He would arrive in 3 days time, he told me.
I was shocked to my marrow. What gift? He told me – some tubers of Yam from his small farm in Jalingo. That is what he was bringing with him to Lagos.
I was completely lost for words.
Why would anyone undertake such a long and hazardous journey by road in order to deliver a few tubers of Yam to show gratitude to a benefactor? His response left me stupefied. He went on: he had already started his small cattle farm with a few calves. He only wanted to show Allen Onyema, again, how grateful he is.
I could not believe such simplicity of heart.
As I listened to his excited voice, I sobbed silently in admiration and respect for the man. I begged him to stop and not embark on the journey. I told him it was not worth all the risk and trouble. I promised that I would convey his gratitude for the umpteenth time to Allen.
Reluctantly and painfully, Shefiu finally agreed to abort the trip, but not without extracting a promise from me to deliver his eternal gratitude to Dr. Allen Onyema.
So, here I am thinking about this simple and humble pilgrim.
The Creator of the endless Cosmos is the God of the big happenings in life, just as the ‘little things’ such as the heart of Shefiu Mohammed.
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