Nigerian NFL Ambassadors
National Football League (NFL) is an American enterprise and absolutely American, although there is a Canadian emulation and attempt to create the sport in Germany and England. However, like most things American, there is always a disguisable recognition of British influence akin to rugby in football as well as cricket in Baseball.
The American football according to a friend “clearly defines the attitude and modus operandi of a typical American behaviour, foreign policy and war games – attitude period.” He buttressed his assertion by referring to the battle of ‘Iwo-Jima’ “the battle was fought inch by inch; foot by foot; yard by yard; cave by cave, and hill by hill, until finally American Triumph.”
Mr. Obed Ariri, from Imo State, Nigeria, a former Vasco-da-gama football club of Enugu Striker, who later featured in the National team-Green Eagles, was unarguably the first Nigerian born to play the sports. He was the place kicker for Clemson University against Ohio State University in 1979 NCAA finals where he made a record breaking successful sixty-three (63yds) yards field goal to win the game; he later played for one season for Tampa bay buccaneers. Then, followed by Christian Okoye, the running back ‘nightmare’ of the Kansas City Chiefs, and Donald Igwebuike, another kicker from Clemson University who later played for Tampa Bay Bucs and Minnesota Vikings; then, the rest as they say is history.
Today, there are about Twenty (20) active Nigerians playing and earning fantastic fees in the National Football League (NFL) and many of them born outside the United States. Again, the greatness of Nigeria’s potentials and contributions to the great American dream is immeasurable.
So, history was made in Nigeria, when on March 10th 2008, I was at the beautiful Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, in company of many armed policemen playing host to four active players of NFL, live; Although, they were to be eleven in number but only four were able to come. And the great four whom I called ‘Nigerian NFL Ambassadors’ or the ‘ Four Trojans’ are, Amobi Okoye (Defensive Tackle, 91 – Houston Texas and is from Anambra State), Adewale Ogunleye (Defensive end #93-Chicago Bears, royal prince from Emure royal family, Ekiti State), Osi Umenyiora (Defensive End #72 New York Giants, Super Bowl-winner, a royal prince and son of the Igwe of Ogbunike, Anambra State), and Israel Idonije (Defensive Line Man, Defensive End-Chicago Bears, from Lagos State). I was abducted to participate in this fantastic activity by my child hood friend Mr. Theodore Omalu, a US-educated and resident businessman, who also is the MD/CEO of Gaston Resources Nigeria Ltd, the Nigeria coordinator and partner of Invictus91, a sports & entertainment marketing company based in the United States. Invictus91 was indeed the trajectory force behind an idea called ‘ATHLETES IN DIASPORA COMMUNITY INTERVENTIONS’ programme.
Naturally I like to know what is going on around me all the time, so I quickly tackled the President of Invictus91, Mr. Arinze Okoye (Brother to Amobi-the player) and his Chief Operating Officer, Mr. Okey Chidume, to brief the Nigerian Media on their mission. The duo quickly went to work:
“Invictus91-Athletes in Diaspora: Community intervention (ADCI) is a mission established as a means for professional athletes, of all sports to give back to their respective and other communities. In Invictus91 and its premier client, Houston Texans own Amobi Okoye, in conjunction with several professional athletes, mostly of Nigerian descent, wanted to give back to Nigeria and help improve living conditions for the underprivileged. Some of these athletes include: Adewale Ogunleye, Osi Umenyiora, and Israel Idonije.
They both continued:
“ This is the first time that a group of Nigerian Professional Athletes – Players have made this trip as a group and will continue to do so while making sustainable differences in Nigeria:” After Kanu Nwankwo’s fantastic Heart Foundation.
The goals and future missions include but not limited to:
· Promoting education and aid in creating more conducive environments for learning in Nigeria and African.
· Raising more HIV and AIDS awareness, especially among the Nigerian Youths.
· Aid in improving health and water conditions in Nigeria.
· Helping fight breast cancer among women in Nigeria and Africa.
· Introduce American style football and promote fitness among Nigerian Youths.
· Promoting the Knowledge and use of Information Technology and other forms of technology in African.”
Very tall order… was what was actually going on in my mind, so I asked again, how do you intend to raise this money and who will manage the concept for you in Nigeria?
I was quickly reminded that the four NFL players, millionaires in their own rights, had on numerous occasions engaged in charity works within their respective communities in the United States, therefore they and their colleagues in NFL and other sports remain the first veritable sources of funding.
Upon arrival and after checking into their Hotel rooms, at TRANSCORP HILTON, the group immediately went to see the Hon. Minister of State F.C.T, Mr. John Akpanudodedehen. Unfortunately, the Special Assistants probably forgot to inform the Minister, instead the visitors were instructed to go to Bwari Area Council and meet the minister where he was to commission a project. Upon arrival at Bwari a 45-kilometer drive, we were told that the Minister and his entourage have moved to katchia, another community; when we got there, the minister was also gone. So, on our way back to the city to hold a world press conference a tanker-trailer truck returning from dumping its fuel lodgment slammed onto our bus at the intersection of Bwari and Kubwa expressway. Thank God, no one was injured, however, traffic was delayed for another 2 hours before our Chisco bus was extricated from the punch.
Be mindful that these NFL players were armed with a Fifty Thousand Dollars check (approximately Six Million Naira) earmarked for academic scholarship to kids in the Five area councils of F.C.T; part of the vicinage constituencies under the F.C.T’s Minister of States responsibility.
Well, suffice it to say that the expected beneficiaries of the scholarship funds lost out because of lack of this miscommunication between the Minister of State F.C.T. and his Special Assistants (SA’s).
Undeterred, the visitors held their World Press Conference at the Transcorp Hotel, and all the press in Nigeria were present and Nigerian Newspapers were awash with the revelation of their noble intentions.
A visit to the Nigerian University Commission (NUC) was arranged by a young, tireless and beautiful lady, Ulonna Inyama, Personal Assistant (PA) and Academic Standard Officer to the indefatigable Professor, Julius A. Okojie, Executive Secretary of NUC. At the commission’s headquarters in Abuja, the Professor and his directors feted the group and they both jointly issued a communiqué to partner on another innovation of Invictus91 called C.A.T.E (Changing Africa Through Education): this is purely a scholarship endowment open for everyone to donate.
The funds contributed will be used to provide scholarships throughout Africa but starting with Nigeria, where 2 (two) students from 10 different Universities chosen will receive full scholarship. Selected Board of Directors consisting of some of the NFL-players, NUC-members and others, will govern this annual endowment.
The scholarship will cover books, tuition, and boarding. The selecting Board will be visiting local Secondary Schools where the successful candidates will come from. The group promised to donate testing kits for HIV-AIDS and early pregnancy once approval by NAFDAC to NUC, for on ward distribution to various universities in Nigeria.
The next day, the group moved on to Enugu, where they lodged at the newly refurbished Nike Hotel (Managed by Protea Hotels of South Africa). A courtesy call was arranged for the group to meet with the Governor of Enugu State, but due to previously scheduled state council meeting, the States Secretary to Government (SSG) Mr. Ilo, was assigned to meet the group, and this effort was coordinated by Mr. O’brien Ofordu and Barrister Jude Akubuilo, both Special Advisers to the governor.
The visit afforded Mr. Amobi Okoye and Invictus91, in conjuction with Nike Inc. to donate sports training gears to Enugu Rangers Football Club, worth about Fifty Thousand Dollars (approximately 6 Million Naira). The state government was delighted and pledged to work closely with the group.
At Akwa the capital of Anambra State, the ‘NFL Ambassadors’ met with the soft-spoken His Excellency, Chief Peter Obi, the governor of the state. The governor’s conference chamber was filled to capacity and all his commissioners were present to receive the visitors. Again the state and Invictus91 in collaboration with their Nigerian Partner, Gaston Resources Nigerian Ltd, pledged to introduce a scholarship scheme that will benefit the indigenes of the state, whilst the governor pledged to allocate lands to any Anambra indigene members of the Athletes in Diaspora project to set up base in their home state. The visit was well attended and the government wished that the group would spend the night for a ballroom party, unfortunately the next movement pointed towards Lagos.
While luxuriating at the expensive Eko L’ meridian Hotel located in Victoria Island, the group was treated to a sumptuous dinner at a Chinese restaurant owned by Prince Ugo, and they later partied at a Club-lounge owned by Austin ‘JJ’ Okocha, and they had a ball. A scheduled meeting with the Governor of Lagos State could not hold due to unexplained issues attendant with governing a complex state like Lagos.
The Ambassadors had opportunity to feature on Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) AM-express programme, giving Nigerians who missed seeing them on African Independent Television (AIT) ‘Kakaaki Program’ at Abuja, the opportunity to hear their respective programs directly from them; Nigeria was really buzzing.
On Saturday, March 15th, the group departed by road to Ado Ekiti, on their way to Emure, Ekiti State. On getting to Ado Ekiti, they were quickly ushered in to meet with the state Governor, His Excellency, Engr. olusegun Oni, to present Adewale Ogunleye (the Ekiti Prince) who plays for Chicago Bears. The Governor was very happy to the extent that he pledged to work closely with the group to establish the much needed academic scholarships. He also offset part of the hotel accommodation for the group at the prestigious Path Finders hotel. The opportunity to pay a courtesy call to the Governor was indeed facilitated by my friends YInka Dangunduro, a media consultant, and Dr. Ajayi, S.A to the Governor.
From Ado Ekiti, we moved another 45 kilometers to the old city of Emure, the actual hometown of prince Adewale. The Oba feted the group, and the entire community came out in style to welcome back their prince and to also bless him for constructing 2 water borehole-wells to ease the water problems in their community. It was indeed a magnificent contribution and the crowd showed their appreciation to their prince.
The next day, we proceeded back to Abuja by road, and upon arrival to Abuja, the group was quickly invited to meet Ambassador Keshi, representing Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, secretary to federal government (SGF) and the Presidency. Keshi also used the platform to apologize to the group for their inability to meet with His Excellency, President Umaru Yar’Adua, and promised that on their next visit they will get to visit Aso-Villa.
The curtain closed on Monday, March 17th when the group left Abuja for the United States where the journey started.
The efforts of these young ‘Nigerian NFL Ambassadors’ at community interventions are commendable. Before these young men came to Nigeria, various and numerous Nigerians have immeasurably contributed to the upliftment of their respective communities. The Nigerian Medical Doctors in Diaspora are doing their best; hopefully their Engineering counterparts will do theirs.
I hope the Nigerians in Diaspora Organization (NIDO) group will sheath their political swords and excogitate ways to partner with these young ‘Athletes in Diaspora’ to fulfill their objectives in Nigeria.
When I spoke to their Nigerian partner, Mr. Theodore Omalu, the MD/CEO of Gaston Resources Nigeria Ltd, he posited that the direction and challenges to be surmounted lies with a plan to set up an academic academy that will catch them young, while at the same time establishing the already articulated scholarship programs in partnership with the Nigerian University Commission (NUC), and synergize with Nigerian Athletes playing soccer in European to make the envisaged project a successful venture.
Having traveled with these young men and having listened to them too, I am convinced that Mr. Austin Okoye, the proud father of Amobi Okoye who traveled along with the group, raised his son (Amobi) to succeed in anything he does; and if this very brilliant son can convince the rest of his colleagues playing in the NFL in collaboration with their counterparts in the National Basketball Association (NBA), to contribute to this great idea, then the realization of C.A.T.E. will succeed.
Then again, there is always a Nigerian factor to consider when doing business in the country, no matter how noble one’s intentions may be; however, when faced with such factors, we should always remember the old Chinese proverb that says, “a journey of a 1000 miles begins with one step.”
God bless these young ‘Ambassadors’ who have done their parents, Nigeria and their adopted country, the United States proud. Keep the flag and spirit of entrepreneur flying.