Rejoinder: The North’s Greatest Tennis Ambassador – Sadiq Abdullahi!

Having lived in America for almost 30 years, it is time to shift focus on sports development, particularly tennis improvement. For almost 20 years, I have observed events unfold in Nigeria without any means of influencing what goes on there.

Today, the story is being rewritten. I share two observations that will help the reader put my story in context. The first is from Segun Odegbami, a former national soccer star and Jose Fernandez, a casual observer of the tennis and sports in Nigeria.

Indeed, I won nearly all tennis tournaments imaginable from 1985 – 1988 and I was the national champion in 1986 to 1988. I played at the Olympics in 1988 and retired in 1989. I am now an adjunct professor of global education at Florida International University in Miami, Fl and a teacher in Miami-Dade County school district. Teaching is my passion.

Here are the two remarks:

A few months ago, following an unplanned visit to the tennis courts of the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, I wrote my impressions about the sport and the deplorable state of the once-beautiful courts that trained and promoted some of Africa’s greatest tennis players, most of whom came out of Nigeria. I was very privileged to have been around at the time to watch most of them play – Nduka Odizor, David Imonitie, Tony Mmoh, Rolake Olateru-Olagbegi, and so on. Domestic tennis at the time was heavily promoted through major tennis championships all over the country. There were the Dala Hard Court Championship in Kano, the Ogbe Hard Court championship in Benin, and so on, events that attracted a lot of foreign participation and followership and should have grown by now to become a fixture in the international calendar of global tennis. One of the most flamboyant players of that era came from Northern Nigeria. His name and performance spiced up Nigerian tennis. For three years he ruled Nigerian tennis and eventually joined the train of gifted tennis players that moved abroad to hone their talent and get some education in the American collegiate system. He came home many times to play and represent the country, but for over 20 years now I have not seen nor heard about him. This past week, he surfaced on my blog. Sadiq Abdullahi, Nigeria’s tennis champion from 1986 to 1988, is alive and doing very well in America. He now holds a doctorate degree and is still very involved in sports.

I had announced in my column a few weeks ago that my blog had become functional and the public was welcome to read my views on issues in Nigerian sports in my weekly writings!

Reactions and responses have started coming in from all over the world. One of the early mails caught my attention. It came from one of Nigeria’s most flamboyant and stylish former national tennis champions, Sadiq Abdullahi! Sadiq was one of those tennis players in the 1980s that dominated the African tennis scene and took Nigerian tennis to its zenith. After Odizor’s monumental feat of getting to the last 16 at Wimbledon, the only Nigerian in history to have done so, Nigerian tennis drew global attention and just needed the right programmes and exposure to get to the very top. Along with Odizor came Mmoh, Imonitie, Rolake, Abdullahi and a few others. They were to provide the platform upon which Nigerian tennis was to get a lift to the world stage! Many of them either came in from America or were on their way there in a deliberate strategy by the National Sports Commission to develop both the sport and the athletes through the American collegiate system, a programme started by Isaac Akioye and sustained by Awoture Elayae. The United States provided the best opportunities for the young talented Nigerian athletes to advance their sport and academics. Nigeria was borrowing from a model that has sustained America through the decades as the world’s foremost sports development country. Unfortunately, as the managers at the NSC changed hands so did the vision, to such an extent now that the vision has finally died! Last week, I saw the final admission of failure in some newspapers in a desperate plea by the NSC for ‘oxygen’ for Nigerian sports federations. They have all been put up for ‘sale’ to interested members of the private sector in Nigeria! My view on that is a discussion for another day!

So, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a response from no other than Sadiq himself pasted on my blog. I was elated to discover that Sadiq has advanced in his career and education. He now holds a doctorate degree and is still keeping in touch with his primary constituency. I reproduce below his mail. I am glad to note that he is interested in joining us in the trenches! I will surely keep in touch with him. He is one of those that Nigeria must now challenge to return home soon and join in the needed reforms in Nigerian sports, particularly tennis. Northern Nigeria, in particular, must lure him back!

From Dr. Sadiq Abdullahi, November 25th, 2008 at 9:41 pm

My big brother Segun,

The last time we met was at the Lagos Lawn Tennis Club in 1987. Before then we have watched each other doing our thing in soccer and in tennis. I know you love the game. I will be in Nigeria next year and I hope you will extend an invitation to me to visit you so that we talk tennis.

I am saddened to read that Dr. Bruce Ijirigho was attacked and robbed while in Nigeria for a short visit. I had the opportunity to work very closely with Dr. Ijirigho in forming the Nigerian Sports International Foundation, based in Homestead, FL., USA. The goals of the Foundation include: to serve as a voice for active and former Nigerian athletes, sports administrators in Nigeria and in the Diaspora; advocate for transparency and effective management and development of all sports in Nigeria; provide financial and technical assistance to empower Nigerian sportsmen and women, sports administrators and sports journalists; and to support its members in the realization of their aspirations for the greater good of Nigeria.

Indeed, Dr. Ijirigho is qualified to champion a change in sports direction in Nigeria, particularly how we approach sports development in Nigeria. There are many other Nigerians equally and eminently qualified to begin a dialogue for change. We need to join Dr. Ijirigho in this effort. The time is right. We need to first of all change the conversation about sports development in Nigeria. We can begin here at this forum. Many voices out there demand that we begin now.

Jose Fernandez writes: December 6th, 2008 at 9:28 pm

I empathise with Dr. Ijirigho and identify with his and Sadiq’s resolve not to be deterred by the dastardly acts of these miscreants, both in and out of govt!

Growing up in Benin, in the 80s, I was a fairly regular feature of Ogbe Hard Court Championship. I seem to remember that along with David Imonitie, The Duke,and Tony Mmoh, was a certain gentleman named, Bulus Husseini. Methinks, he was a percusor of Sadiq, from the north, and I think, with respect, he should be so acknowledged. I wonder where he is now! One of several unsong heroes of this potentially great nation.

Of course, Sadiq was not only very colourful but also mercurial in the mould of John Mc Croe and Andre Agassi rolled into one! And for the ladies; this period also saw such beauties like, Victoria Omoleme, Ceceilia Nnadozie, Ann Abimiku, Vero Oyibokia, Nosa Imafidon, I hope I am right about that name (its such a long time ago!) They undoubtedly deserve our praises too. A word for Rolake: She was a very worthy champion from a family of Tennis stars! I saw her as a shinning example for Clara Udofa, who unfortunately left for the US shortly after hitting the limelight and …whatever happened to her Tennis?

Please visit the Nigerian Tennis Foundation for more information and pictures about current and former tennis players. There is a deliberate plan to revive tennis in Nigeria. This is consistent with the vision of the Chairman, Nigerian Tennis Federation, Engr. Ndanusa.

Written by
Sadiq A. Abdullahi
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