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!

9 comments on “Dangote & Arsenal

  1. Adebesin says:

    Mr Dangote built Sugar Factory no change in the market of sugar, Cement Factory in Obajano, Ibese and Mugher a bag still go for N1800+ no difference, he went to telecoms no result, oil and gas what do we expect. Now that Arsernal just won FA cup back to back he want to buy.
    He said he has solution to Arsenal problem. I join my Prof to tell you to invest in our teeming youth that are more than the whole population of United kingdom (63,000,000).

  2. Kofo Awojobi says:

    To the good Prof. and writer of this piece, I say: Let Dangote be.

    I grew up on the grounds of the University of Lagos where the likes of Table Tennis, Badmington and so on, were popular sports easily available for us, the teeming youths to enjoy – even when the imported Table Tennis table and “Banner” bats were absent, we made do with our make-shift “Pako” bats and plank nets. Afterall there has never been a point in my lifetime that “Pako”(Wood) has ever been a scarce commordity in Nigeria. Nor has Rubber, for that matter – so why wait to import these reacreational objects that gave so much pleasure to so many.

    This brings me to my very point. Live Dangote alone if he sees the commercially lucrative UK football club as a good business acquisition, or for whatever other motives. Dangote is a single Nigerian citizen. In my opinion, the good Prof. should rather point the accusing finger at the collective Nigerian citizenry who never hold the institutions accountable to more acceptable standards.

    I refer to various societal and government institutions such as campuses of higher learning that mould youths’ lives towards greater endeavor. I refer to policy makers in youths and sports ministries at all the tiers of government.

    To think that a low-budget sport like Table Tennis – as just an example once again – constitutes a full-time career amongst professional league players in the Euro-Asian block. So, why not here that’s bursting with natural talent in the sport, and others such like.

    Quite honestly, it indeed is a “Nigerian thing” – our seeming inability to progressively advance.

    • oafak says:

      First, let me thank you for taking the trouble to discuss this matter in this forum. It is good to have a conversation as that will likely make us to cause changes for the better in our society.
      The other issues you are raising are addressed in two other articles hot-linked to this one. Secondly, I am not going to leave Dangote alone. He is NOT an ordinary Nigerian citizen. The monopoly concessions that make him as rich as he is are results of the absence of proper anti-trust rules in the Nigerian economy. This is itself is related to absentee governments we have had in recent years. I hope the present government will begin to make some changes in that area.

  3. Kofo Awojobi says:

    Prof, I concede to you, your refusal to leave Dangote alone, insofar as it relates to the larger Nigerian politico-judicial context.

    Where it relates to his desire to acquire a notable football club however, my mantra to leave Dangote alone is to suggest that the issue is indeed a fundamental and deep-rooted one.

    You are correct in your exhortation that Dangote is no ordinary citizen, that he can help set the right course in sports advancement in Nigeria with all of its attendant socio-economic benefits. But would it not have been easier for he and other capable investors to plug-in to such indigenous ideas if hitherto there was a meaningful sports culture.

    A sports culture taking its roots from neighbourhood sports parks. From local and state government policy ear-marked sports centers that dove-tails with primary, secondary and tertiary schools’ curiculums; that justifies why physical-health education personel exists not to talk of advances in sports medicine and modern sports coaching technics in general; that would naturally feed on the huge marketing industry including Broadcasting, from company level right down to vendors – both media vendors and physical ones present at periodic sporting events happening at all tiers, both private and government.

    An absolutely huge – and missed – industry full of socio-economic potential to say the least.

    • oafak says:

      Again thanks for your comments. Let me first ask if you are related to my former teacher, the late Professor AO Awojobi. I was his student from 1974-76. If you are one of his children, then I might have met with you when you were much younger, and it would be good to meet again!
      Second, I am not actually fighting to deny Dangote the freedom to pursue ventures that suit his pleasure and convenience. In my article “How to get Zero in the Olympics”, my focus was on Government and its organs. In the earlier article, “Against Manchester United”, I was addressing the Nigerian Youth so they see the implications of the choices they make. These articles are hot-linked inside the main article and they are on this site. A richer discussion of these issues will benefit from reading them if you have the time to do so.
      Our country is broken. But we must not despair. To live is to be a prisoner of hope. That is why we must do all we can not only to keep hope alive but also to ensure we do not hand despair to the next generation. After doing what you can do personally, it is important to draw the attention of others to what they too can do.
      Dangote is beneficiary of weak laws and processes in the country. If those governments had been alive to their responsibilities, the easy cash he has made would have been more difficult. A more competitive terrain would have released funds for more social activities. It therefore follows that he has to fill in the gap and not rush to already “finished products” such as the UK Football Associations.
      Of course there is a lot to debate here and I do not claim the last word.

      • Kofo Awojobi says:

        I have gone ahead to read the topics “Against Manchester United” and “How to get Zero in the Olympics” – interesting reading and subsequent commentry, indeed.

        I see a commonality, your basic ideology and mine but at the same time there are key areas of strong deference that I highlighted in my comments.

        Do excuse my typo and spelling errors – using a phone, I find it difficult proof-editing on the type-pad, and I’m naturally a bad speller never mind being my late father’s son.

  4. L says:

    If dangote made so much money by taking over the market through the wrong or unconstitutional means, then maybe he needs to pay back some money to the country. Then we can talk about which football sneakers Dangote feels like buying. If we must change this country, we cannot leave any stone unturned.

  5. Osanyinbi Oluwaseyi says:

    Dear Prof,
    I enjoyed the reading your write ups and can not but thank God for the years gone bye. Your experiences of the past will be difficult to believe with the reality that stares at us in the face today.
    I also grew up in Unilag and enjoyed some of those privileges of playing good football at the sport center and the small pitch located within the faculty of Education sub campus. But today, the pitch has been over ran with buildings. Many of the green areas no longer exist because of the need for expansion that the university authority deemed for important than the opportunity for the youth to develop their talents.
    But Dangote buying Arsenal just tells us that he is not as nationalistic as we thought. His investing in Nigeria has nothing to do with his love for his country, that is why the prices if sugar and cement are still high. His business is driven by self interest and not for the common good of his country men and women. I wonder what it will cost him to fund a national secondary schools football competition or a national table tennis completion for the secondary schools (To accommodate Awojobi’s sport), will definitely open up the sports industry for Nigeria.
    He and Ogunuga can help pressurize our governments at all levels to begin to do the right things but unlike Ogunuga, he Dangote wants to go buy a foreign club. Truth be said, he is on an ego trip not just business. That decision is to announce his arrival as a world player. Nothing to do with his love for the round leather game.
    So until we as a country gets our acts together, the beats goes on.

    • oafak says:

      I am not even going as far as the contentious issue of questioning Mr Dangote’s patriotism. I am expressing the following obvious facts:
      1. Arsenal and the UK Football industry will do just fine without him – they don’t need him.
      2. The youth of Nigeria – on whose backs he became wealthy – need him.
      3. He is in a position to help them. He can do that by himself and can even cause governments (State & Federal) to collaborate.
      4. This can be used to raise the economic well-being of his people and make them more able to buy his products.
      5. He can develop local brands that can challenge Arsenal given sufficient time.
      These require much thoughtfulness and orchestrated actions. When our rich men don’t help us, we depend on the paltry donations from the rich in other climes. We need to begin to hold them to account just like we do to governments!

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