Dangote & Arsenal

One of the lessons I have learned in life is that you should not offer free advice to a rich man. Even if he were to listen to you politely, it is very likely that, in his mind, something is telling him that “if you were that wise, how come you did not become rich like himself”? This article, despite the title, is not a free advice to Mr Dangote – reputed to be the richest black man alive.

Growing up in a provincial town in the early sixties, there were three primary schools and three secondary schools within two kilometers of my childhood home. Most of these had lush, green and well-maintained playfields for games and football. The school I attended was a Roman Catholic Teacher’s College with two primary Schools on the same large compound. There were at least three football fields in shared among them. I cannot remember any time of year (rain or shine) when these were not well-maintained as the white missionaries sometimes did the lawn mowing by themselves using motorized mowers.

The competitions among schools in those days were so fierce! You could cry all day if your team got defeated. The winners would be on their way, singing through the town: “Three tororo l’a fun won, tororo/E lo fi jeba n’ile yin, tororo, etc.”

I later went to secondary school in a nearby town. My secondary school had a Roman Catholic Novitiate attached to it. I can picture in my mind’s eye now, that we had three football field and another playfield of a similar size. Again, these were always green and well-maintained. The rivalry between secondary schools in football competitions was a notch higher than what I experienced in Primary school. Inter-house sports, Amateur Athletics Association, etc. were so competitive. By the end of the first decade after independence, I had left secondary school. The Gowon regime took over the schools and there was a nose-diving of facilities thereafter.

These days, when I see primary and secondary schools that ask parents to pay hundreds of thousands if not millions of Naira, I shudder to remember what we were given almost free of charge in those days.

Fast forward to the 21st century. I am no longer a football fan. However, my present job puts me in contact with young people on a daily basis. I am often appalled by their slavish following of foreign sports especially football. They talk in the first person plural about these clubs as their very own clubs! Initially, I thought it was a joke; I used to laugh! Now I know we are dealing with a very serious matter.

Three years ago, I wrote an article, “Against Manchester United” http://oafak.com/2012/06/against-manchester-united/. I was drawing the attention of young people to the implications of their preference for foreign sporting activities. I was concerned to ensure they know that there are serious economic issues connected to these organizations. I wanted them to know that supporting their own clubs at home can actually create jobs for them in the future and that it is actually enlightened self-interest to support home clubs. In another article, “How to get zero in Olympics”, http://oafak.com/2012/08/how-to-get-zero-in-olympics/, written only two months after that, I tried to draw the attention of readers to the fact that unbridled consumption of foreign sporting products cannot help us develop economically. It cannot also allow us to unleash the capabilities of our own youthful population. I did not hesitate to offer free advice to the youth since they were not usually very rich people!

Now, I am dealing with a more difficult issue. Mr Dangote, Nigerian super-rich man wants to buy Arsenal Football club! This to me, is the most terrible display of self-immolation on several grounds: 1. There are more football lovers in Nigeria than in the UK. 2. There are so many possible levels that the intervention of good investment in maintained infrastructure can do to transform our lot. 3. As a business venture, there are great opportunities to develop these as businesses and make profit eventually.

The kind of schools with well-maintained fields that I alluded to are no more to be found in Nigeria. At least, when they exist, they are not available to poor people like I was in my youth! Rent a block of six flats, you are ready to start a school! The concept of a missionary school as a community center where you can hold meetings, have sporting activities and even take some free fruits home belongs to a forgotten generation. Today, a whole state, with a large slate of civil servants, may not be able to maintain a couple of football fields for their teeming youth population! On “Environmental Saturdays”, these youth use the opportunity of reduced vehicular traffic and turn the hard asphalt road to their make-shift stadium! For goal posts, two pairs of stones will do!

A rich man facing this reality and having investible capital takes a decision! It is to go to England! In London, I saw a location with 47 seven football fields where parents take their children on Sunday mornings to play! The government officials are busy enlarging their wardrobes and awarding themselves “hardship allowances”; those sufficiently powerful are busy sharing out the minuscule play areas in the planned parts of town – turning them into monstrously large estates they sometimes lock up! The few schools that still have land are facing encroachment from powerful neighbors determined to choke the schools with “developments” on lands that children should use for play.

Please, Mr Dangote, leave Arsenal alone! Do some justice to the children at home! Set an example by doing this in Kano and let the southern rich men follow your steps!