‘Administrators don’t encourage athletes in Nigeria’
Christopher Chukwukadibia ‘Bobo’ Mordi played for the Green Eagles in the 1960s. He was a great hurdler and national record holder. The man, who was 80 years recently, spoke with GREGORY AUSTIN NWAKUNOR on his journey to limelight and how he would have been a priest.
It’s not every time you come across an 80-year old former national athlete with so much verve, vigour and excellence of spirit. Oftentimes, the image that you get, as if it is a screen replay, is poverty: Bones sticking through ragged clothes, rotten shacks overlooking affluence of the more fortunate. In fact, there’s always a very sense of mild irritation when you see a lot of former national athletes.
Christopher Chukwukadibia ‘Bobo’ Mordi has a different story. A positive narrative and hope for those still hoping to wear the national colours.
Though, he has lived a largely anonymous life since he quit the national sporting scene, Bobo has remained faithful to his game, lifestyle and philosophy. He is one person you’ll warm to.
“At 80, I owe everything I have accomplished in life to God Almighty. I’m contented,” he smiles. “The secret of my standing power is discipline. I never drank or smoked. Two vices that many-a-footballer had. I’m equally not a womanizer. A reason I have had a stable and happy home,” he says. “Above all, a faith in God, He is the reason for everything, but also, I exercise myself. I played tennis when I quit football to keep myself in shape. I have also curtailed what I’m eating.”
He draws a long laugh, saying, “I would have been a Catholic priest.” It was in Owerri, while a student of the Holy Ghost College, that he began to fantasize a life as a priest. He, in fact, wanted to be a Reverend Father, having been exposed in early life to the Catholic faith. He didn’t know any other life than Catholicism and missionary work. When he was growing up and tilting towards the seminary, his parents advised against that and said he should go and study.
In his school and around Irish priests’ lives had impact on him, as he thought. Their philanthropy excited him “I wanted to be a priest,” he confesses. “My principal then, Reverend Father McMahon, wanted me to be a priest. But other events of life changed everything.”
He says, “these Irish priests would come back from holiday and everything they had, they would give to the poor. They would also go to the communities to do charitable works.”
When he couldn’t be the priest, he started praying to have a priest as a son. “I was so happy when my son, Cosmas, told me he wanted to be a priest. I can’t define the feeling. I concluded that what I couldn’t get, my son got it,” he says.
Born on August 18, 1937, in Aba, Abia State, Chukwukadibia, a native name that means, ‘God is greater than the native doctor’, grew up speaking fluent Igbo. He admitted that he was “just an Ebu boy then”.
Though, his father, Josiah Aga Mordi, a washerman was from Ebu Iyaghoshimi in Oshimili Local Council, and mother, Margaret Aga Mordi (nee Eliemeye), a food vendor, was from Ugbolo in Oshimili North Local Council, the second child of five children was formed and nurtured in streets of Aba. It was in the streets that he began to collocate words.
His parents followed the convention of the time for a child’s hand to touch his ear, before he was registered for school, as they put him in St. Georges School and Christ King School, also in Aba, from 1949 to 1953, before he moved to Owerri, where he did his secondary education at Holy Ghost College from 1953 to 1959.
“Growing up in Aba was nice. Nobody knew where you were from,” he admits. According to him, “we enjoyed that time. There was no religious crisis. When the major religions were celebrating, everybody participated. There were no fights over ethnic group or religion.”
From early age, he took sports seriously. Chukwukadibia was a great athlete. He was a gazelle on the track. “I was into sports. In fact, I was involved in athletics: Short sprints, that is, 100 yards, now 100 metres, low hurdles, relays and I played football. My record in the hurdles, that is, 100 metres hurdles, that’s 12.6 hand timing, stood for almost 30 years,” he says.
Having conquered the East in the regional cycle of inter school athletic competitions, which was called the Fisher Shield, he went for the Hussey Shield competition between teams representing the schools in the North and South of Nigeria. He was again successful, but he couldn’t make the national mark he set in 1956. “Much as I tried, I couldn’t break my record. The best I had was to equal the records,” he says, regretfully. “A student of Holy Family College, Abak, eventually broke the record.”
He continues, “I was one of those selected to represent my region in Kaduna. I had already sat for my school certificate in 1959, but I went to represent our region in the national competition in December of that year.”
If he was great on the track, he was ‘greater’ on the football pitch. He played ‘total football’ even before it was invented. He had a stamina that was built up running through the streets of Aba and Owerri, as well as being a hurdler. “My dexterity as a gangling striker earned me the sobriquet, ‘Bobo.”
Over the next few years, he became a popular footballer winning a lot of laurels, including, the 1960 League Cup, then, Lagos Challenge Cup for three years, that is, 1960, 1961 and 1962.
By 1963, he was one of the stars that formed the Lagos State Football Association (LAFA) team.“We were the first to form LAFA team, which played during off-season. It was in one of the matches by the LAFA team that I met the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the premier of the Northern region. He had always wondered who Christopher ‘Bobo’ Mordi was. He just came to the team’s dressing room and asked, who was Bobo Mordi. He was surprised when he saw me. He couldn’t reconcile the name he often heard from Ishola Folorunso.”
Between 1960 and 1965, he was in the national team and was capped many times by Nigeria. In his words, “I played with Teslim Balogun in 1960 during what seemed his testimonial match. That year, Togo was celebrating its independence, I would forever cherish the experience of playing with Thunder Balogun.”
His contemporaries include, Godwin Achebe, who was the captain of the team, Paul Hamilton, Momodu and Emmanuel Omiunu, goalkeeper of the famous Police Machine team, who also stood at the goal post for the Green Eagles of Nigeria.
He still remembers some of the matches vividly. He reveals, “two games I won’t forget were against Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. Both countries were billed to play each other in a qualifying match. We beat Cote d’Ivoire in the opening match, which we won one-nil. But by the second match, the Ivoirians had prepared very well and they managed to draw the game. The president was very happy for the draw. One other game against was against Ghana. They beat us at home 2-0. In that match, the Minister of Finance, Festus Okotie-Eboh, came to our dressing room and promised that any goal scored by us would be rewarded with 5,000 pounds. But we didn’t score any goal.”
It is sad to note that the football authorities do not recognize their efforts. “In Nigeria, they don’t honor our players. Administrators don’t encourage us. They don’t visit our camp,” he says. “Administrators don’t like sports people. They have not changed whatsoever. In those days, people don’t consider the distance. They are always interested in watching our games.”
Bobo Mordi quit football in 1973 and became a coach until 1974, when he was seconded to the office. “I was promoted chief clerk and later an assistant chief executive officer, which I was until I left service.”
Bobo is married to his wife of over four decades, Felicia Ifeanyi Mordi (nee Akpala). The couple first met in 1973 and all the marriage rites were concluded on April 7, 1974. The union was solemnized on January 14, 1991 at St. Brigids Catholic Church, Ijeshatedo.
He has this advice for the young ones. “You should follow good friends, who will give you good advice. You should also be sincere to yourselves, don’t cheat others. Do not think evil of anybody and always be honest. Young ones always have clean hands.”