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For UNILAG cricket community, It’s time to revive gentleman’s game

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Professor Ade Kukoyi (middle) with the gold medal winning Unilag Cricket Team at the WAUG Yamoussoukro in 1981.

• Alumni Celebrate Prof. Kukoyi At 80

They say if a man lives his entire life without playing or following cricket, his is a wasted life. To the faithful, cricket is a game that shapes one’s life and points the player to the way to relate with his neighbours and community. In short, adherents of the game believe that the discipline required in cricket distinguishes it from other sports.

Reputed as one of the earliest games brought by the British colonialists to Nigeria, cricket had its roots in government and missionary schools across the country. In the early years, it overshadowed other sports because it was seen as a game for gentlemen with distinct characteristics that make it selective in the choice of players. It is not for hooligans.

One of the earliest crusaders of the game is Professor Ade Kukoyi, a retired professor of Romantic and Comparative Literature at the Faculty of Arts, who introduced the game to the University of Lagos in 1966.  He had earlier in his life been introduced to the game at Government College, Ibadan, whereas a student he was involved in the cricket circuit, playing for the famous Dyak Club of Lagos.

Professor Kukoyi, who clocked 80 on Friday, served at UNILAG from 1966 till 2005 after an earlier short stint as a French lecturer at the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, from 1965-1966. He was the first Nigerian French graduate from the University of Ibadan in 1965.

As a player, Professor Kukoyi, a wicketkeeper, was a regular in the national team, who also played squash when he was not on the oval.

One of the doyens of the game, he led UNILAG to many NUGA victories and West African University Games (WAUG), with his team winning the WAUG gold medal when Cote d’Ivoire hosted the regional collegiate competition in Yamoussoukro in 1981. Three years later, he led the school to another gold medal at the NUGA Games hosted by the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.

As the UNILAG cricket community begins the task of reviving the game at the school, starting with yesterday’s revamping of the cricket ground, Professor Kukoyi, who was involved in the construction of the cricket pavilion, as well as the work on the main cricket oval itself, reminisces on the glory days of the game in the school and regrets that the Nigerian circumstance has affected the development of the sport negatively.

Fielding questions from The Guardian on the state of cricket in Nigeria recently, Professor Kukoyi regrets that most of the grounds where young players were developed in his days have either been left to rot or used to build housing estates and such other commercial ventures to the detriment of the game.

He said: “One of the greatest disservices to cricket, especially the schools, where the game featured prominently, is that the boarding house system that helped to build the sport and produce the players hardly exists again.

“I have said it before, if there is a will, there will be away. Schools, especially secondary schools, are where young minds can be nurtured towards the development and growth of any society, not leaving the family system away.

“Cricket was one of the things that helped us along the way. One of the things, which government at all levels should do, is to return the boarding school system. Then, cricket can also be re-introduced for maximum gains of society. The boarding school system helped to shape the future of British society and today, we still see the results. It is only fair that the children after us too enjoy the game and also benefit from the advantages associated with it. This will help develop them into more responsible adults.”

He acknowledged that the current administrators of the game are doing their best, adding, however, that more needs to be done.

“I told you that the British colonial government, which introduced the sport here, designed it on the framework of helping to develop individuals who should be disciplined. After the political instability of the late 1960s, things went comatose. I sincerely hope that things will change with cricket and other sporting activities.

“Cricket suffered from Nigeria’s political instability starting from the 1960s. Imagine people using cricket pitches for owambe parties today; it’s totally wrong.”

Looking at the future of the game, Professor Kukoyi believes that cricket will regain its glory if all the stakeholders came together to work as one in the interest of the sport. He also advises parents to encourage their wards to play cricket, which he describes as a great builder of a purposeful life.

He said: “If you are a cricketer, one of the things that you learn early is discipline. It is that discipline of the mind and body that will help you maintain a standard procedure and keep you in top shape. I have always been doing things in moderation. Right from when I was in primary school, and during my time as a pupil of Government College, Ibadan, where I learnt the game of cricket, that aspect of living a disciplined life has always been my style.”

At 80, Professor Kukoyi still plays squash and does other things that many people of his age no longer show interest or have the strength to do. This, he attributes to the lessons he learnt from the game, as well as his upbringing.

“I will say this, I live within my means. I am a product and beneficiary of the British model of education and other aspects of their instructions in being a gentleman.

“At Government College Ibadan, we were taught how to live life with a direction or purpose. So, with that kind of training from the colonial masters, one would learn to train the body and soul by disciplining one’s self. This has been the principle through which I live my life and I am glad I had that opportunity to enjoy the instructions, which our teachers at GCI gave us.

“Don’t forget, these are people who also had the opportunity to attend the English public school system in England. As a colony, Nigeria benefitted from this system and I am bold to say this, few schools had such advantages.”

He disclosed that when he began his studies at the GCI, he decided to choose cricket ahead of more popular sports like football and athletics because he found peace in the sport.

According to him, “In school, we played every game, depending on the season. At GCI, we had football, hockey, athletics, basketball, tennis and swimming.

“In athletics and swimming, everybody in your house had to score some points. In fact, it was worse in swimming, where you had to do three lengths and it applied to everybody. If you couldn’t do the three lengths in swimming, they subtracted the total score from the points available. So, when I got to GCI, one of the games that I had that passion for happened to be cricket and I haven’t regretted it. I play squash too, but cricket is one game I just love to play always.”

Reflecting on the challenges of being a cricketer, Professor Kukoyi said, “cricket as a sport is different from every other game; it is a way of life, a character-building game. It is also an embodiment of on-and-off-field discipline. Don’t forget, this is a game, which the upper class of the British society brought to us and those of us who played it were expected to be sound in mind and body. If you are a lazy person, cricket may be hard for you.

“I was able to surmount some of these challenges because I was disciplined… When it was time for reading and studying, I did that and when it was time for sports, I went for sports.

“We even cut grass too. It was normal for every child at that time. Usually, when you got in there, it was not funny, but when you mastered it, it became a part of you, and that is the substance of building any nation. Education then was an all-encompassing endeavour and we benefitted immensely from it.”

“We learnt the essentials of cricket in those days. It was ingrained in us. We came from different families and had to succumb to discipline. You had to bat, and as a cricket keeper, you had to be focused. I remember when a ball hit my teeth; it took some weeks for me to get myself. And if you failed at batting, be ready for your teammates’ anger.”

On his days in the national team, Professor Kukoyi said although it was tough juggling a lot of activities, he enjoyed the privileges and fame that came with it.

“When I was in university, we had this gentleman, I can’t remember his name now. He would drive from Lagos to Ibadan on Fridays to pick four others and me, specifically to play with the national team in Lagos. We played with colonial officers and others at the Tafawa Balewa Square those days. It was easy then if you had the passion.

“I took my chance when it came and played to the best of my ability with the national team. It was fun playing for Nigeria.”

Becoming an octogenarian is one milestone some of the cricketers Professor Kukoyi taught have been celebrating since last week. They see in their former teacher a mentor who helped them shape their lives.

On Friday, they gathered to celebrate him and just yesterday, they were all at UNILAG to lay the foundation for a new cricket ground. They also had things to say about their former teacher.

In a tribute entitled, ‘Professor Ade Kukoyi – 80 Runs Not Out,’ the University of Lagos Cricket Alumni (UCA) wrote: “An erudite scholar, gentleman, mentor and stalwart behind Cricket at the University of Lagos from 1966 to 2005. Despite his busy academic schedules, Professor Kukoyi devoted over four decades to manage University of Lagos Cricket teams successfully, year in year out, in a sport which he played to the highest level in the land – featuring in the national cricket team at international competitions for several years.

“Little wonder he spent much of his time to nurture budding talents at the noble sport – many of whom went on to also represent Nigeria and West Africa at international tournaments under the aegis of the International Cricket Council (ICC) including the Associate World Cup.

“That Professor Kukoyi is passionate about the gentleman’s game of cricket, upholding its basic tenets of discipline, respect and team play, is probably stating the obvious. In his younger days, he played for one of the foremost cricket clubs in Lagos and Nigeria as a whole – Dyaks CC. Upon his retirement from competitive cricket, he took to coaching and managing successive University of Lagos teams to vie for honours both at the national and sub-continental levels – specifically the Nigerian University Games (NUGA) and the West African University Games (WAUG) until his retirement from the University in 2005.

“A complete sportsman (also an ardent squash rackets player), he believes firmly in the wholesomeness of mind and body as a sine qua non for the attainment of athletic and academic excellence. He was a stickler for fitness and time – both of which he infused generously into training sessions (akin to Boot Camps) in the lead up to competitions. The norm was for fitness training to commence at 6.00 am at the Sports Centre with several jogging laps around the athletic tracks, followed by muscle toning exercises. In all of these, Prof. Kukoyi led from the front – always there well before time in his yellow coloured three-series BMW sedan ever ready to gracefully do his 40 push-ups to the utter amazement of his mentees, who were, at the time, in their late teens and early twenties.

“Over a 22-year period spanning 12 competitions, the University of Lagos CC played in nine finals, coming out victorious in six and placing second in three. It is to the credit of this first Nigerian graduate of French that he never lost in any finals played in any tournament hosted by any university in Francophone West Africa.”


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