Late Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola, MKO, was a man of many parts; business tycoon, politician, publisher and above all extraordinary philanthropist. One other area that stood him out was his passion for sports, which he sponsored and financed lavishly. He was the Grand patron of the Sportswriters Association of Nigeria (SWAN).
My first official encounter with him was in 1992,when I led a delegation of newly elected National Executive of SWAN, accompanied by who is who in sports journalism then, especially Editors, in Nigeria to his palatial home in Ikeja, Lagos on a courtesy visit. Before the election in Kaduna, in December 1991that brought us into office, the association which MKO funded substantially had been embroiled in crisis to his embarrassment. The crisis seemed intractable, forcing respected members of the organization to abandon it.
As he stepped into the venue of the meeting, an obviously elated MKO, beamed with his usual infectious smile and started calling some of the gurus by their names. To reassure himself that the reunification was real, he remarked; “with this array of sports journalists present, I want to assume that the crisis is over, and this new executive has the endorsement of all of you.” The response was a rousing applause. He was not done yet, “what did you say is the name of the new president?” Fan Ndubuoke, we chorused. Trust MKO, he probed further; “are you sure this Fan will rotate?”, in apparent reference to previous failed attempts of reconciliation.
MKO did not only provide the new executive with the takeoff funds but a brand new exotic car for the office of the president. We became very close and I was always part of his entourage to major sports engagements. Some of my colleagues always approached me to share some of his hilarious proverbs. It will be unfair not to share some of them here.
While receiving the victorious Golden Eaglets of 1993, at his Ikeja residence, MKO told the young lads: “You see all of us cannot be possessed by the Holy Spirit at the same time, some will be possessed, others, will be chorusing hallelujah. We are here today to sing hallelujah on your behalf.” Again, “if rape becomes inevitable, a wise woman should relax and enjoy it instead of endangering her life.”
The sports philanthropist always stressed the need for unity as according to him; you cannot clap with one hand, if in doubt, try it. He always insisted on fairness, after all, you cannot shave a man’s head in his absence.
Sadly, MKO’s quest to see Nigeria take her rightful place in global sports, especially in football didn’t materialize in his life time. At an event organized by SWAN in Lagos in 1993, he expressed strong voice on the way forward for Nigerian football.
Particularly, the revered Pillar of Sports in Africa was saddened that organisation of the round leather game in our country was and is still not devoted to long term development planning, even when it is known as the only panacea for success. According to him, even the best armies in the world cannot win battles without proper organisation.
Equally worrisome to him was lack of continuity in administration, while advising that we should discontinue with the shameful practice of pointing accusing fingers every time we lose a game.
MKO recalled that our painful defeats at hands of African countries especially North Africans and Cameroon was due to what he called lack of ‘football Intelligence’. He explained that ‘football intelligence’ had to do with information gathering about opponents, playing pitch, mental attitude, crowd behaviour, diet and weather conditions. He regretted that all these were not taken into account when Nigeria confronted Cameroon in the last 1990 World Cup qualifier, hence Nigeria’s shocking loss.
The business mogul alleged that two days before the game against Cameroon, the field was watered, being in the dry season, to give the hosts added advantage of playing with hard studs on a wet pitch, while the Eagles unaware of this, wore short studs. He said Cameroon has structures that ensures continuity and transition of players, coupled with the fact that the football authorities in Cameroon fund scouts to go in search of players including those who have dual nationality, just to ensure they assemble their best at all times.
The philanthropist advised that Nigeria should make a choice of which formation suits the crop of players we have at any given time; is it the Brazilian 4-2-4 which won them the World Cup in 1970 or total football which made the Dutch dominant from early ‘70s. He observed that Cameroon at every given time, adopts a system that frustrates their opponents’ strengths and advised that to beat them to their own game is to analyze their strengths and weaknesses. He warned against giving out too much information about the team’s preparation, strengths and weaknesses.
He disagreed that any coach would deliberately undermine his team for the simple reason that it must be assumed that every coach would like to have a good CV, which means good results to enhance his career and bargaining power. The late sage frowned at constant change of invited players to the national team, noting that from Senegal ‘92 qualifiers to 1993, about 60 new faces had been invited to the national team. He said this should only be done when the technical crew is building a new team and not at the time of preparing for a crucial international engagement.
• Till next week, keep attacking.