A sad week – my condolences.
This week has been a very sad one for me with two tragedies that left me numb and mournful.
After the sad news of the death of my friend and former colleague in Shooting Stars FC, Ogbein Fawole, who I personally recruited into the Ibadan Club in the early 1980s, a few weeks ago, I am once again confronted with the futility of man’s struggle against death and of our eternal quest to find a meaning for life in the face of the useless vanities we all celebrate!
About 76 persons, including journalists, players and officials of a Brazilian football club, ACF Chapecoense, perished in a plane crash on the outskirts of Medellin in Colombia.
The team was going for the first leg of the Copa Sudamericano championship finals against Atletico Nacional of Colombia when the accident happened. Only six persons, three players, two flight crew members and one journalist are reported to have survived but with serious injuries!
The second tragedy, a more personal one, is the death of my friend, social activist, public commentator and constitutional lawyer, Fred Agbaje, this past week. His left me in a complete state of shock! He was one I always associated with in life, helpfulness, unsolicited kindness, laughter, fun-filled social engagements and, generally, happy tidings, not death!
I commiserate with the families of all the dead and pray that they find some consolation and comfort even within these tragedies to accept the situation, give thanks to God for the opportunity of the ‘short journeys’ of their beloved and lost ones whilst fully acknowledging that even the rest of us alive today are living on borrowed time, stalked by a lurking death that, inevitably, ‘will come when it will come’.
May all the departed souls rest and find peace in the bosom of our Creator, who knows and understands it all, and who gives and takes as he pleases.
It is in this sombre and mournful mood that I still have to write this week, with life seeming so meaningless and man’s attempt to make some sense of it all, so futile.
My mind is on basketball. It does not matter whether you like the game or not, it is the story around it that should provoke some interest.
I am in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, a city of some two and half million people known for their passion for basketball. Maputo is nestled along the South-East African coastline washed by the waters of the Indian Ocean.
Mozambique used to be one of the poorest countries in the world, surviving mostly on foreign aid by generous Western donors. But, all of that may change with the recent discovery of vast reserves of natural gas and oil in the country.
Unlike several countries where these mineral resources have turned from a blessing to a curse as a result of corrupt leadership, internal crisis and conflicts, wasteful spending and bad investment by political leaders, it is hoped that Mozambique’s leaders will use them wisely and prudently to empower and prosper their people and not themselves.
In the camp of the Elephant Girls of Nigeria.
I am with the Elephant Girls, the women’s basketball team of First Bank of Nigeria.
The team is vying for the 2016 African Women’s Basketball Club Championship. 10 teams are in the race for the title: from Algeria (1), Kenya (2), Cameroun (1), Togo (1), Angola (2), Mozambique (2) and Nigeria (1).
First Bank has a very rich history in the yearly international competition that was established in 1985 by FIBA Africa.
Although it started 31 years ago, only 21 editions have been held. It was initially a bi-annual event but became yearly in 2005.
Of the 21 editions held so far, the Elephant Girls have recorded the highest attendance (15) of all the clubs in the continent, followed by Interclube of Angola with 11 appearances.
First Bank is also the only club from Nigeria to have won the championship twice – in 2003 in Maputo, Mozambique, and in 2009 in Cotonou, Benin Republic.
Although Nigeria has hosted it once in 2011, by First Deep Water Basketball Club, First Bank only managed to get to the finals on that occasion and lost to Interclube of Angola in a surprisingly one-sided 81-55 game in Lagos.
The Angolan clubs have been the most successful in the championships. They have won the title six times and got to the finals 15 times.
Mozambican clubs have also won it five times and got to the finals eight times.
The only other big performers in the championship are Senegalese clubs, four-time winners and six-time finalists.
On an individual club basis Interclube of Angola has been the most successful club in the history of the championship with four titles.
The most consistent team in terms of performance is last year’s defending champions, Primiero de Agosto. It has won the championship twice and has been to the finals nine times!
For the records, the other two-time winners are Despotivo de Maputo of Mozambique and Tourbillon of DR Congo.
First Bank in this year’s edition
So far, the 2016 edition has been a feast of some great basketball.
The Elephant Girls have put up a good show considering that the team did not have the best of preparation this year, due in no small measure to the current national economic recession that no sector in Nigeria (including sports) appears to be immune from.
It is for that reason that First Bank Basketball Club is Nigeria’s sole representative at the championship.
However, the Elephant Girls have been exemplary here, demonstrating great discipline, typical Nigerian fighting spirit, temerity, grit, guts, determination and resilience against all odds.
As at the time I am writing this, at the end of the group stage matches, First Bank has won three of its four matches to qualify for the quarterfinals. It has lost only one to the defending Champion from last year – Primeiro de Agosto.
Between Primeiro and their bitterest country rivals, Interclube, they have dominated the African Women’s championship for most of the past decade.
In the past 10 years, between them, they have won the title six times – four times by Interclube and two times by Primeiro.
The only other club to have won it three times (and that was in the 1990s) was DUC of Senegal.
For the records, First Bank won the title for the first time here in Maputo in 2003 playing against Primeiro de Agosto of Angola in the finals. The winning score line was a heart-wrenching, hypertension-laden cliffhanger with a final score line of 55-54!
Is history going to repeat itself here again for the Nigerian club?
So far in the ongoing edition, the two Angolan clubs are once again the only teams not to have lost in any of their group matches.
Next week, I shall tell you how the rest of the championship goes and, particularly, how it ends for the Elephant Girls.