Friday, August 2, 2019

Sekibo and the Heritage of Boosting Business

Sekibo and the Heritage of Boosting Business

Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

The growth of business in Nigeria is fast entering into strategic connections, locally and internationally. The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Heritage Bank Limited, Ifie Sekibo, is at the hub of the welcome development. At the recently concluded 2019 yearly meetings of the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), in Moscow, Russia, Sekibo made the case for a stronger partnership between Nigeria and Russia for technological and infrastructural development.
Sekibo who has his finger on the good health of business stressed that Africa in general, and Nigeria in particular, needed to learn from the Russian Federation on how growth and development should be driven. He argues that Nigeria can leverage on stronger ties with Russia to enhance development in the multiform areas of infrastructure, aviation, technology, solar, hydropower energy, and mining.

According to the insightful banking guru, “If we carefully listen to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov, the Russian investment in Africa had increased over the years to almost $20 billion in 2018. This clearly shows Africa and Nigeria especially, need to key into these investments and get the best out of them. What we are seeing in Russia today is a testimony that they are giants in several areas of development, and Nigeria has a lot to learn and gain from them. Today, Nigeria suffers from huge infrastructure deficit, and a lot could be achieved from other countries of the world including Russia.”

Sekibo insists that Nigeria has a lot to gain in accessing Russian feats in technology and mining, stating: “Russia is advanced in technology and in mining and I feel such cooperation with them will help Nigeria harness its mineral resources. We have huge mineral resources deposit in a lot of states in Nigeria and we can tap from the wealth of experience of Russia either in training of geologists or mining practices.”

Building on this, Sekibo harped on the importance of Nigeria becoming a principal part of the African Free Trade Area Agreement (AFCFTA). For him, it is important for Nigeria to quickly join forces with other African countries on the agreement as the acclaimed biggest economy in Africa.

“Nigeria today is seen as the ‘Big Brother’ when it comes to the economy and African trade and we cannot shy away from such agreement,” he said, adding, “Such agreements give access to big markets and improved competitions among the member countries. I feel strongly that Nigeria has a lot to gain if AFCFTA is signed. I also believe if it is properly leveraged on, it will do us better as a nation.”

With the requisite international connections, the irrepressible CEO of Heritage Bank believes strongly that no business can succeed without committed and hardworking people who are driven by excellence. Heritage Bank’s support for small businesses to achieve their goals of transforming into bigger companies cannot be gainsaid, as Sekbo says: Heritage Bank’s philosophy is to create, preserve and transfer wealth across generations. We are in the business to provide service per excellence and to grow with our customers. We are here to help our customers create wealth for themselves, assist our partners preserve their wealth and guide them in transferring it to the next generation. We have specialized products that enjoy zero commission on turnover charges and high interest yields, amongst others for our partners. These products help us in supporting our customers’ businesses and taking them to greater heights.”

Innovation is crucial to the Heritage Bank drive. In Sekibo’s words, “We provide innovative services. To us, innovation isn’t only about creating something new, it is also about taking something that exists and transforming it into something bigger and better. As a new entrant to the banking sector, our edge is that we are starting from where our competitors stopped while being able to avoid all the mistakes they made along the way. Having imbibed a culture of continuous innovation, I am confident of Heritage Bank’s ability to adapt to envisaged customer and sector changes.”

Sekibo’s vision and mission at Heritage Bank are ongoing thus: “Our plans for Heritage Bank are unfolding. It is a gradual process. With the acquisition of Enterprise Bank Limited, Heritage Bank is now a bigger and better bank. One of our major strategies is to work with our partners to grow their business and take them to the stock market. As a service organization in the business of banking, we must be in the stock market ourselves for us to achieve this feat. That is our direction. “My tools for success are people and good processes. But most importantly, people, because people drive the processes. I believe that success is largely hinged on people who have been able to key into my vision, believing in such vision and turning it into a common goal. They are people who invested their time, efforts, ideas and energy in the business. They are people equipped with good business processes, and benefiting from lasting support from partnerships built over time.”






Friday, July 27, 2018

A Friendship Brewed By Beer

My father is a very funny man, funnier than all the comedians of the world put together. He wants me to get married to a lady from my hometown. In fact, without my knowledge he always arranges my marriage to this or that girl behind my back.

“Do you know Chief Nnoli?” my father asks.

“You know I don’t know any family in this village!” I retort, feeling very tough.

“Chief Nnoli has this beautiful daughter, well-educated,” the old man says evenly as though he did not hear my somewhat harsh reply. “I believe she will make a good wife…” 

“Not again, Papa!” I protest as a matter of right. “I’ve told you I can only marry a girl who has been my friend for some time…”

“And where is the lady?”

“Give me time…”

“But I have been giving you time since you graduated over a decade ago?”

One thing I cannot deny is that my father is my friend. In fact, any friend of mine instantly also becomes his friend. It’s the same way that his elderly mates also share jokes with me, and end up becoming close friends of mine.

A very close friend of my father, Chief Okosisi from Awo-Omama in Imo State, is fond of drinking 33Export lager beer. He insists on both my father and I sharing the same brand of beer with him. For Chief Okosisi, sharing the same make of beer is the perfect bond of friendship.

While drinking with Chief Okosisi and my father in the rich man’s sitting-room in Awo-Omama, my old man suddenly raises the issue of my refusal to get married.

“He has not taken enough bottles of 33Export to get married,” Chief Okosisi says, laughing. The chief can knock down beers at will but remains quite sprightly.

“Stop indulging my restless son,” Father says, not laughing at all.

Chief Okosisi whispers something in my ear, but I can’t hear him clearly. I urge him to repeat what he whispered but he only laughs on.

Then Chief Okosisi’s daughter walks in. She is tall and dark and sexy. She sashays across the room in her rainbow-tinted mini-gown and greets my father.

“Papa Maximus, is this the wahala Maximus, your son?” she asks my father, pointing at me.

“Yes, he has come to marry you!” my father suddenly says, and the girl and her father burst out laughing.

I am so shy I feel like disappearing into the floor. The lady unabashedly sits by me on the aquamarine settee.

“Let’s leave for them settle their differences,” Chief Okosisi says and stands up, leading my father by hand as they depart the room.

So many thoughts run through my mind. But my father wants me to marry from my hometown. He wants me to marry from the Catholic Church. I do know that Chief Okosisi and her daughter are Anglicans and they are from a different state, Imo, as opposed to our Anambra.

“Let’s be friends,” the girl says, flashing a smile at me.

“But what’s your name?” I manage to say when I find my voice, after many moons apparently.

“Stacy,” she says. “Stacy Okosisi.”

“Well, you already know my name…”

“Who does not know troublesome Maximus?”

In my awkwardness I fall from the settee. She helps me to stand up, and I get weak in the knees with her soft touch.

“I understand you will be in Enugu next week,” she continues, still holding my hand.

“Who told you?” I am intrigued, puzzled.

“We shall meet in Enugu,” she says.

I am in Enugu for the Enugu Trade Fair, and I meet up with Stacy at the Polo Park. All my wild plans of romancing Stacy collapse as she is all over her tall and hunky boyfriend whom she introduces as Berry. There’s another lady in the midst, Judith, a buxom lass, Berry’s sister.

“Write her a poem since you say you are a poet,” Stacy says, shoving me in her unabashed manner towards the personable Judith.

It’s while drinking at the 33Export “Friendship is a Festival” Stand of the Fair that I write the poem.

Judith tells me that there are many suitors asking for her hand in marriage, and these suitors would not let her father rest. She doubts that she can hold them off for much longer…

Now I have to make my move.

I dash home to my father, and I holler: “Pop, I’ve found a wife!”

“What?” my father is thorn between excitement and confusion.

“I plan to go see her father this evening,” I say as my mother saunters out of the backyard to be with Father on the frontage.

“Who is this girl?” Father asks, taking no notice of Mother.

“Judith Nnoli,” I blurt out.

Father looks at Mother and silence arrests the moment.

It is a cool evening. As I make my tentative walk into Chief Nnoli’s ample compound dominated by two twin duplexes I can hear voices that are at once familiar and very unwelcome.

Chief Okosisi is sitting with Father and Chief Nnoli under a lush mango tree by a corner of the compound as I walk in. It’s the longest walk of my life – on very unsteady legs.

As Chief Nnoli motions me to the cane chair by his side, Judith walks out from the house, followed by Stacy. Before I can even say a word, Stacy delivers my 33Export-inspired poem:

 Darling angel, the living goddess,

Siren of sweetness, my eternal friend,

I’m intoxicated you’re all mine,

I’ve been caught by your timeless trap,

And freedom is the least of my needs,

Now I rock the prison of your bosomy embrace.

You fill in me the cream of blissful tomorrows,

Your juice soothes the innermost of my marrows.

The sun and the stars, the moon and the skies,

They all worship on the Altar of Beauty,

And what is beauty if not you,

My fount and finale of friendship.  


Thursday, July 26, 2018

Nollywood Founder Chris Obi-Rapu Hugs Anambra As Movie Hub

It was quite remarkable meeting with Chris Obi-Rapu, the director of the epoch-making movie Living in Bondage, in the office of Anambra State Commissioner of Information and Public Enlightenment, C. Don Adinuba, in Awka. Obi-Rapu had come in from the United States where he had been for a while putting finishing touches on his PhD in Organizational Psychology. 

It calls for revelation that the Nollywood phenomenon being celebrated globally started most inauspiciously with Obi-Rapu being the almost unacknowledged director of the Igbo language home movie Living in Bondage which became a blockbuster that launched forth the Nollywood revolution.

Obi-Rapu reveals that at a recent meeting in the US with Professor Jonathan Haynes, the pre-eminent scholar of Nollywood, the don admitted that he has at last met the missing link in the birth of the movie miracle.

Obi-Rapu directed Living in Bondage without using his real name because he was then a worker in NTA. He instead used the name Vic Mordi taken from his maternal side. He organized a camp for the artistes in Badagry to make the movie, and built landmark sets such as the compelling cult scenes.

Obi-Rapu is back in the country with “a better knowledge and better psychology.” He argues that half-baked knowledge is a big problem.

“I want to re-engineer the Igbo mindset,” he stresses, informing that the Igbo embraced education later than the Yorubas but eventually came out tops. “A group without direction is lost,” he asserts.

He has plans to make movies online and hopes to release the movie he shot with his daughter. He believes that Anambra State ought to be the hub of Nollywood. According to him, most movies these days are shot in Enugu and Asaba where the state governments are not harnessing the benefits fully. He argues that it is incumbent on Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State to use Nollywood as a joker in the drive to rebrand the state. Already 51 Iweka Road, Onitsha is recognized as the most popular address of Nollywood movies all over the world.

Obi-Rapu discloses that at the heart of the making of the breakthrough film Living in Bondage is the story and tenacity of one young man known as Okechukwu Ogunjiofor, popularly known as Paulo, after the character he played in Living in Bondage.

It was while studying at the Nigerian Television (NTA) College in Jos that Okechukwu (Okey for short) Ogunjiofor came under the tutelage of Obi-Rapu.

Okey found his niche in the course, but had to make do with hawking at National Theatre in Lagos on completion of the course because he could not get regular employment. Okey had the story of Living in Bondage in his head. Other theatre artistes such as Frank Vaughan, Ruth Osi and Wale Macauley who were rehearsing at the theatre could not understand why Okey should be hawking after his training. The personable Ruth Osi gave Okey a note to meet Kenneth Nnebue who was into the marketing of Yoruba movies on VHS.

On meeting Kenneth Nnebue who would eventually provide the funding for Living in Bondage Okey said he needed N150,000 to be able to make the film. Kenneth told him that the amount was enough to make three Yoruba movies. The self-assured Okey instantly did an analysis of how Kenneth could quickly recoup his money on the investment. Kenneth then told Okey to bring along his certificate to prove that he was “not a nobody.” Okey went home and brought his certificate. As Okey had said he was not willing to shoot on VHS, Kenneth told him he was about to make a trip to Japan to procure cameras.

Kenneth then asked Okey to put the story together while he made the trip to Japan. It was then that Okey made the momentous contact with his former instructor Chris Obi-Rapu to direct the landmark movie. As already stated, since Obi-Rapu was still in the employ of the NTA he could not append his real name to the project. Even so, he went to work “to turn what would ordinarily pass for a concert play into a pioneering movie.”  

According to Chris Obi-Rapu, “What made the Nigeria home video industry to take-off was the input from Okey Ogunjiofor and my direction. Nobody had wanted to do anything in Igbo or Yoruba among television producers around then because they felt it was degrading. There had been some shootings of Yoruba and Igbo videos. Mike Orihedimma recorded Igbo home videos in Onitsha, while NEK (Kenneth Nnebue) was recording and marketing Yoruba videos in Lagos. They were poorly produced and hardly ever directed. It is a known fact in filmmaking that it is the director that makes the film. If I had not shot Living in Bondage and Taboo there could not have been any Nollywood. This film business really took off because Living in Bondage was well shot as at that time. If I had not stood my grounds the financier could have influenced the production and direction in a negative way. I resisted him because I knew that he lacked the knowledge of filmmaking. It was a deliberate directorial effort that brought about the home video revolution. It was not accidental.”

The making of Living in Bondage, according to Okey Ogunjiofor, marked “the first time some people were paid in thousands of naira to act on a film. I got N500 because I had not made a film then. People like Bob-Manuel (Udokwu) and Francis Agu were paid a thousand naira each. As a producer and an actor, what I got was only N500.”

As the director, Chris Obi-Rapu was paid N10,000. 

Okey stresses that the formula that pushed him on was that unlike in the western part of Nigeria where the Yorubas always went to the theatres to watch movies the easterners, especially the Igbo, needed the movies to be brought to their homes. The words flow almost childlike from Okey’s mouth: “Since the Eastern part of this country does not have cinema culture, and all of them are rich enough to have video machines in their homes, why don’t I take the film to their homes so that they can watch it?”

Chris Obi-Rapu took up the challenge as the director, and Nollywood is now here. He shot other pioneering movies such as Taboo and Circle of Doom.

Obi-Rapu had worked in the NTA from 1973 to 1995, developing and directing such national programmes as “New Masquerade, featuring the inimitable characters Zebrudaya, Ovuleria, Clarus, Giringory and Jegede Shokoya. He flew to Enugu every Friday to direct “New Masquerade” and flew back to Lagos every Monday.  

Popularly hailed as Skippo in his NTA days, Chris Obi-Rapu who hails from Asaba in Delta State is poised to give Nollywood a new lease of life once he is done with his PhD dissertation in the United States.   

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Legend Of Pat Ekeji

Odyssey Of A Green Eagle: From The Pitch To The Summit by Patrick Ekeji; Kachifo Limited (Prestige), Lagos; 2014; 185pp

“Kingpin Ekeji” was a nickname coveted by most young footballers playing in the defence in the years following the end of the civil war. Patrick Ekeji was a rock in the defence of the East Central Academicals that won the Manuwa Adebajo Cup in 1971. Ekeji would go on to distinguish himself in the national team, the Green Eagles. He upped the ante by becoming a coach, and ended his career on the lofty note of retiring as the Director-General of the National Sports Commission in 2013.
Most sportsmen and women all over the world are not reputed for book knowledge. Ekeji has the singular distinction of graduating from University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 1978 with an Upper-Second grade despite his football demands that even made one of his lecturers to subtract 40 percent class attendance score from him! Even as sportsmen and women overseas may not be gifted in writing they almost always publish many autobiographies through their careers, mostly ghost-written by sports journalists. Ekeji’s book initially started out as collaboration with the journalist Joe Nwachukwu (Atinga) but that initial effort fell through. It is indeed a thing of great joy that Ekeji eventually on his own wrote and published Odyssey Of A Green Eagle: From The Pitch To The Summit to blaze the trail of our sporting legends telling their stories from their own perspectives.
Born on March 11, 1951 to a policeman father in the autonomous community of Nguru-Nwenkwo, Aboh-Mbaise in today’s Imo State, the young Patrick started primary schooling at St. Jude’s Catholic School, Amuzi before his father took the family to his station in Lagos. He got enrolled into St. Mathias Catholic School, Lafiaji, Lagos, a 25-minute walking distance from his home in Obalende Police Barracks. His talent in football got noticed quite early, and his leadership potentials manifested when he got his playmates to compete for mock trophies in 100 yards sprint, long jump and 400 yards race. When he switched school to the farther St. George’s Catholic School, Falomo he turned truant which led to his being thrashed by his father. At the famous St. Gregory’s College, Patrick was a notable hurdler and footballer, and he made it into the school football team in 1965 at class three.
His sojourn in Lagos ended in April 1967 at the approach of the Biafra war when Igbo lives in Lagos were greatly endangered. He continued his schooling for a brief period in Stella Maris College, Port Harcourt where he equally played football with the likes of Ugochukwu Uba who bore the nickname of Pele. He left Port Harcourt before the city fell and settled in his hometown. He wept when his attempt at recruitment into the Biafra Air Force failed because he had a prominent navel. He was once conscripted but escaped only to eventually enlist into the Biafran Army Signals (BAS). He was once caught sleeping on duty.
He survived the civil war and was back to school in 1970 at Community Secondary School, Amuzi. He had planned to study Medicine in the university but the local secondary school could not offer Physics and Latin. He had to take the WASC exams at the farther Mbaise Secondary School that had a provision for Physics. His first attempt in 1970 was cancelled by WAEC and he had to do a retake in 1971. His football prowess got noticed by the scouts of Holy Ghost College, Owerri, and he was promptly offered a scholarship for Higher School Certificate by the esteemed school. The self-assured Patrick had earlier met Coach Dan Anyiam, asking to be tried out for inclusion into Rangers Football Club of Enugu. Anyiam had told him to come back on the next Monday only for the poachers from Holy Ghost College, Owerri to intervene on the weekend, thus sending him to Owerri for his higher school studies.
He was an instant hit as a footballer, helping Holy Ghost College to defeat St. Theresa’s College, Nsukka 3-1 in the final of the 1971 ECS Academicals Cup. Patrick was then a redoubtable Central Defender nicknamed Powerhouse. He was invited alongside other notable schoolboy footballers to make up the state team billed for the Manuwa Adebajo competition in Lagos. A versatile player, he played at right fullback, giving up the central defence to Dominic Ezeani. The crack ECS team made up of Ahamefula Umelo, Ekeji, Christian Chukwu, Dominic Ezeani, Innocent Nwokeji, Paul Agu, Moses Nweke, Obed Ariri, Skipper Godwin Ogbueze, Kenneth Ilodigwe and Tony Uzoka defeated all-comers in Lagos to cart home the coveted trophy. All the players were awarded scholarships by the ECS government of Ukpabi Asika, with the name of Ekeji being singularly put forward as the one to study Physical and Health Education.
A very unassuming lad, he registered for his club football career with the less-fancied Jonathan Ogufere-inspired Vasco Da Gama as opposed to Rangers. He was in the East Central State football team known as the Spartans that won the inaugural gold medal at the 1st National Sports Festival.
A child of destiny, he gained admission into UNN in 1974 to study Physical Education as though ordained on high. He somewhat fortuitously broke into the national team, the Green Eagles, in 1975. He did not receive a letter of invitation into the team which he believed he deserved. He went to the office of the pioneer Chairman of the old Anambra State Sports Council, Patrick Nwakobi, who sponsored his young namesake’s trip to the Eagles camp in Lagos. It was the first time of him travelling in an aircraft. He got to the Eagles training ground and Coach “Father” Tiko was very happy to see him, stressing that he had actually sent out an invitation into the team to him! The Eagles Team Manager Ibikunle Armstrong who protested at Patrick’s inclusion was overruled by Coach Tiko who instantly ordered him to change into playing gears for the practice session. He thus became a bona fide Green Eagle, representing his country whilst schooling in the university.
He was in the Eagles team to the Montreal Olympic Games in Canada which was boycotted by the Supreme Council for Sports in Africa. His saddest day in football was on November 12, 1977 when his fellow defender Godwin Odiye scored the own goal in National Stadium, Surulere against Tunisia that denied Nigeria a first-time qualification for the World Cup. Meantime, his bosom friend Chuka Momah urged him on to sign for Rangers International which he did on the invitation of the then club chairman Jim Nwobodo. He was offered a Volkswagen car or the cash equivalent by Nwobodo, and he took the cash, not wanting the distraction of riding a car on campus.
It was in the course of the preparation for the hosting of the 12th African Cup of Nations in 1980 that he opted out of being a member of the Green Eagles following a misunderstanding with Coach Otto Gloria. He then underwent a coaching course in then West Germany between 1980 and 1982. On his return to Nigeria, he did a rescue mission as the coach of the Green Eagles in the matches against Zambia in 1985. Afterwards he served as the coach of African Continental Bank (ACB) team, in Lagos.
He was thereafter appointed the Director of Sports in his native Imo State. On December 30, 1994, he was appointed the National Director of Sports at the NSC. He survived all the multiform political intrigues until then President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua approved his appointment as the Director-General of the NSC on April 15, 2009. He retired meritoriously in 2013. Ekeji deplores the high turnover in sports administration, stressing that “from 1995, when Shola Rhodes SAN, got me back into the National Sports Commission up to 2013, when I retired as Director General (a period of eighteen years) I served under 15 different ministers. With this scenario, it has been difficult to establish consistent sports administration with a focus on policies and management.”
This is a well-packaged book. The only minuses are minor mix-ups in memory such as mingling the names of the players in the squads of the East Central State Academicals of 1971 and 1972, and giving the alias of the player Innocent Nwokeji as “Trigger” instead of “Stagger Lee”. Patrick Ekeji has indeed lived up to the words of his mentor Augustine Otiji who said, “in the future when you talk sports, Nigeria will listen.”                           

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Prostrating Patiently To Purchase PhD

What It Takes by Lola Akande; Kraftgriots, Kraft Books Limited; Ibadan; Nigeria; 2016; 316pp

It is acutely annoying and unacceptable to my temperament that in the bid to earn the coveted PhD some ambitious students are made to stretch from three years onto eternity the task of writing a so-called dissertation that ordinarily can be completed over a cool weekend. The professors who supervise the doctoral candidates in the universities almost always turn the poor wannabes into quivering servants and genuflecting slaves. Lola Akande’s What It Takes lays bare in cold print the shenanigans underpinning the earning of the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) epaulette.
 Back in September 1998, the somewhat vain middle-aged single-mother protagonist, Funto Oyewole, could not contain her joy when she procured the PhD admission letter to the National University of Nigeria (NUN), Abuja. Even as Funto had lost her job in the civil service, she is full of hope that there is a solid future for her as Dr Funto Oyewole, a joy shared with her daughter Deyemi who had just gained admission into the secondary school. Immediately she sets foot on the campus in Abuja everything literally turns upside-down. To get a supervisor for her literature studies proves well-nigh impossible as the Head of Department (HOD) informs her thusly: “It’s fairly difficult to find a PhD supervisor due to a mirage of problems confronting universities in Nigeria. The number of academic staff in every university is grossly inadequate; hence, what has to be done is left in the hands of few academics who can only struggle to cope.” When she tries to get the lecherous Dr Durojaiye as her supervisor the man asks for sex upfront: “All I ask of you is a piece of the ‘action’ and you’ll get my consent to supervise you in return. Fair bargain, isn’t it?” Funto then goes in search of a lady, Prof. Lara Owoyemi, as a would-be supervisor, and gets the shocker thus: “If you are serious about becoming a PhD candidate under my supervision, you must have thirty thousand naira to get the consent letter you are required to submit at the PG School. After your registration, I will spell out other terms of engagement to you.” Funto in the end ends up with Prof. Charles Ephraim as her supervisor who according to the HOD demands three things of his students: “The first one is patience, the second is patience, and the third is patience.”
Funto Oyewole is reduced to tears by the evil machinations of Prof Ephraim, an ethnic jingoist who orders her against her wish to fill in as a part-time student while brazenly registering the lady of his tribe, Agnes Ellen Noah, into the fulltime programme. Prof Ephraim also insists that Funto must spend an entire year in understudying her project before writing a word of the dissertation. She learns the hard way what PhD actually means, as she is told: “In Nigeria, PhD means, Prostrate, Hard work and Dobale. You are Yoruba; you know the meaning of Dobale. It means you will prostrate to them, you’ll work hard and you’ll prostrate again. It also means you’ll do more of prostrating than hard work.”
Funto’s reasons to believe are anchored on her poor mother living in Ibadan, her daughter Deyemi, and her bosom friend Folake. It’s through the care of Folake and her fiancé Geoffrey that her accommodation problem is solved. By September 2001, three years into her programme, she had finished writing the thesis but there was the fear of submitting the entire work to her insufferable supervisor. When she eventually reveals that she had written all the chapters, Prof Ephraim replies: “I have misplaced the chapters you gave me.” He then recommends a new list of books to be found in South Africa, USA, Canada or England which will entail rewriting the entire thesis. Funto is as ever reduced to tears.
In the light of her frustrations with Prof Ephraim, Funto recalls her miserable undergraduate lecturer at Eastern University of Nigeria, Dr Ugochukwu Mbanefo, who even after his students had spent umpteen hours on their knees, begging him, made the entire class to carry over the course. In her moment of weakness Funto falls to a one-night-stand with the happy-go-lucky Adams after a nightclub dance, much to the chagrin of her friend Folake. Funto’s solicitation for the HOD’s help in appealing to Prof Ephraim boomerangs as the enraged supervisor swears that he would no longer supervise her work.
Funto in her lowest moment barges in on Folake and Geoffrey after her friend’s husband-to-be had dismissed Funto as “a miserable, low-life parasite.” Her attempt to find part-time work at Clamorous University is disaster writ large. Only the love of Shettima somewhat uplifts the distraught Funto after the departure of Folake and Geoffrey to England. Funto somewhat succumbs to the use of fetish prophets, spiritualists and shamans in the struggle to get her PhD programme back on track. It all comes to naught.   
In the end, Prof Ephraim agrees to resume the supervision of Funto’s thesis. It is not until December 2009, after more than a decade, that the dream manifests in the freshly-minted Dr Funto Oyewole. It is a glorious happy-ending shared with her daughter Deyemi who had graduated from the university and was serving the nation via the NYSC in the Presidency. In a final twist, it is Prof Ephraim who selflessly signs Deyemi’s referee letter for a workshop in the United States.
Lola Akande has in What It Takes written a very insightful novel for the modern age as per university studies in Nigeria. It extends the frontiers of the inanities of the ivory tower as exposed earlier in The Naked Gods by Chukwuemeka Ike. What It Takes by Lola Akande takes no prisoners and ought to be recommended reading in all Nigerian universities. It is indeed significant that Lola Akande is today a lecturer at the Department of English, University of Lagos, where Prof JP Clark as “the first African writer to be appointed to a chair in an African university, and as the first African indigene to occupy a chair of English on the continent,” delivered the inaugural lecture entitled “The Hero As A Villain” on Thursday, January 19, 1978. Clark of course dedicated a poem “to my academic friends who sit tight on their doctoral theses and have no chair for poet or inventor.” It is all so obvious that a no-nonsense guru like JP Clark, author of America, their America, would have had no stomach to undergo the PhD prostration of Funto Oyewole as narrated by Lola Akande in What It Takes.               

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Great Stephen Keshi

Today spells death. It was a classic case of death at dawn. Stephen Okechukwu Chinedu Keshi was in his playing career arguably the most influential player ever to play football in Nigeria. The image that overwhelmed me immediately his death broke was of Keshi standing by my side while the Super Eagles of the golden era trained in the main bowl of National Stadium, Surulere. Keshi was not training with his mates. We just stood by the side of pitch. Elite athletes such as Mary Onyeali, Falilat Ogunkoya etc were training on the tartan track. Keshi told me many stories. In short, we were gossiping and generally having fun until he suddenly stopped talking and asked me this question: “Did you come with him?” He pointed at a fellow squatting behind me. It was only then that I saw the young reporter who was behind me writing copiously in his notebook all the words coming from Keshi’s mouth. Of course I made sure I tore up all the “reports” that the overzealous reporter had copied. If it had been published it would have been the greatest scandal of all, a total betrayal of trust!  
Keshi is dead. He died at about 3am today. He was the lionized of players. As the head coach of Nigeria, Keshi added yet another feather to his cap by becoming one of only two people, along with Egypt's Mahmoud El-Gohary, to have won the Africa Cup of Nations as a player and a coach. Keshi won the cup as a player in 1994 and as a coach in 2013.
Born on January 23, 1962) in Lagos, Keshi hailed from Ilah in the Anioma area of Delta State, a town renowned for producing great football stars and administrators such as the celebrated administrator late Pa John Ojidoh, former captain of Leventis United Matthew Onyeamah, Bendel Insurance legend Sam Ikedi etc. Keshi was conferred with the high national honour of Commander of the Order of the Niger by the then President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan for leading Nigeria’s Super Eagles to win the 2013 AFCON trophy in South Africa.
Popularly acclaimed as “Big Boss”, Keshi led a team that was largely unheralded to defeat all comers. Keshi started his football career quite early in Ebenezer Primary School in the Ebute-Meta, near COSTAIN, Lagos. He then starred for St. Finbarrs College, Akoka, distinguishing himself in the Principal’s Cup competition among secondary schools. He was drafted into the Greater Tomorrow age-group league at the national level before graduating into the Under-21 National Team, the Flying Eagles.
Keshi started his football club career in 1979 with the African Continental Bank (ACB) team, Lagos. He played just ten games for ACB, scoring one goal, before transferring to the star-studded New Nigerian Bank (NNB) of Benin in 1980. Between 1980 and 1984 he played 42 times for NNB, scoring four goals and winning the WAFU Cup in 1983 and 1984.
Keshi was drafted into the then Green Eagles as a replacement for the ageing skipper of the team Christian Chukwu after the winning of the African Cup of Nations in Lagos in 1980. He led the Eagles to the final of the 1984 African Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast under coach Adegboye Onigbinde where the team lost 3-1 to Cameroun.
The Nigerian Football Association (NFA) under the chairmanship of Air Commodore Anthony Ikhazoboh, now late, banned Keshi and some of his mates for indiscipline. Keshi travelled to Cote d’Ivoire in 1985 to sign for Stade d’Abidjan where he played 13 times and scored two goals whilst winning Coupe Houphoet Boigny for two years in 1985 and 1986. In 1986 he moved over to Africa Sports of Cote d’Ivoire, playing 22 times, scoring two goals, and winning the double of Côte d'Ivoire Premier Division and the Côte d'Ivoire Coupe.
Keshi then led the charge of Nigerian players playing professionally in Europe when he was signed-on by Belgian club Lokeren in 1986, and in his one season for the club played 28 times and scored 6 goals. He then transferred to the giants of Belgium, Anderlecht, in 1987. He starred for Anderlecht from 1987 to 1991, playing 99 matches and scoring 18 goals. He won the Belgian Cup in 1988 and 1989, and the Jupiler League in 1991.
Between 1991 and 1993, he was with RC Strasbourg in the French League, scoring nine goals in 62 appearances. He then went back to Belgium, playing 40 times for Molenbeek and scoring one goal in the 1993/94 season. He played 20 games for CCV Hydra in 1995 where he scored one goal. In 1996 he took his services to Sacramento Scorpions, USA, playing 16 times whilst scoring three goals. His last club was Perlis FA in Malaysia, playing 34 games in the 1997/98 season and scoring four goals. In 2000, an unprecedented testimonial match was arranged for him in Lagos.
His national team career with the Eagles spanned from 1981 to 1995. He won 64 caps, scoring nine goals. He took over the skipper’s band in 1982, and capped his career with the appearance in the 1994 World Cup in Atlanta, USA with a match against Greece which the Super Eagles won 2-0. 
Keshi then took to football coaching, becoming at various times an integral part of the coaching staff for the Nigerian national team. He was the head coach for the Flying Eagles at the 2001 African Youth Championship which also served as qualification for the 2001 FIFA World Youth Championship. The team could not qualify.
In 2004 Keshi was appointed the head coach of the Togo national team, and he shocked the world by qualifying the minnows for their first World Cup tournament, Germany 2006. Even with the epochal qualification for the World Cup the Togolese officialdom surprisingly replaced Keshi with the veteran German coach Otto Pfister. The excuse the Togo officials put to use was Togo’s dismal performance in the 2006 African Cup of Nations in Egypt where the team failed to advance to the knock-out stage.  
However, Pfister did not last beyond a controversial World Cup campaign that nearly resulted in a players’ strike over pay. Togo remained without a manager until February 2007 when they re-engaged Keshi in time for a friendly against Cameroon.
Keshi worked as manager of the Mali national football team, after being appointed in April 2008 on a two-year deal. He was sacked in January 2010, after Mali's early exit in the group stages of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Keshi was eventually appointed the head coach of the Super Eagles in 2011. He of course led Nigeria to qualification for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, which the Super Eagles went on to win, defeating Burkina Faso 1–0 in the final. The following day, there was the disturbing news that Keshi had handed-in his resignation. The resignation was rescinded a day after. There of course followed the melodrama of Keshi’s sack, re-appointment and eventual sack by the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) but that is neither here nor there for now.
 Married to his beloved heartthrob “Nkem” Kate Aburime for some 35 years, Keshi was Nigeria’s legendary role model, a precious gift to Africa and the world at large.