Nigerians are among the most talented people in the world. Regardless of the insecurity and harsh economic conditions of the country; they hone their skills and choose to thrive.
Football is the most loved and celebrated sport in Nigeria, it is also a unifying game as it brings all religions, ethnicities, and all the divides together. In 2017, Stanley Kwenda of BBC Africa reported the raw talent that brewed and is still brewing in a Lagos popular and notorious slum Ajegunle.
Stanley described Ajegunle as “Lagos toughest and most dangerous slums” it is known for the harsh living conditions as basic amenities such as light, basic healthcare, and others are lacking in Ajegunle. However, regardless of these limitations, several talented Nigerians have emerged from that slum and are doing great in industries such as entertainment, sports, and others.
Up until now, Ajegunle remains among the many hubs of upcoming football stars. In the past, the popular slum has produced renowned football stars such as Taribo West, Samson Siasia, Obafemi Martins, Jonathan Akpoborie, Brown Ideye, Odion Ighalo and many other football stars that have emerged from there.
Right from the 1990s, great football talents have emerged from the sprawling slum as young boys found safe spaces to play football away from the notorious boys in the area. According to the report by Stanley, he said many success stories can be traced back to the Navy Barracks Camp and St Mary’s Catholic Church as those were the safe spaces for the boys to play on.
The slum encourages young talents to play competitive football for local clubs at an early age through its established system of grassroots football which gives them an edge over other players from other academies. The love and connection the slum has with football have preserved the age-long success of the players that have emerged and are still emerging from there.
Another thing that has preserved the emergence of players from the slum is how the game is passed down to the younger ones in the community. According to Akpoborie in Stanley’s report, he said they watch the grownups play, and eventually, they are allowed into the field to play as well, he said the grownups were their inspiration. As rough and tough as the slum is, they have mastered the art of mentorship.
Though life in Ajegunle is tough, these players from the slum itself alongside other players from elsewhere that come to play in the slum because they are aware scouts come to the slum to look out for players, make huge commitments both financial and otherwise just to stay afloat. They work hard and put their best foot forward and that is why in the national team, there is always a player whose origin stems from Ajegunle.
In a way of giving back to society and to keep the legacy of the ever-growing football spirit in Ajegunle, Odion Ighalo’s O2 arena in Tolu, Ajegunle is housing Paddysco Sports Academy. According to the founder of the academy, the step was to move football to another level.
This move has further heightened the spirit of young talents from the slum, those football enthusiasts spend most of their time playing the game and with time and consistency, they become superstars in the game. With the academy within the community, it gives parents of young teenagers the opportunity to enroll them in the academy which further prepares them for the global space.
Author: Kangmwa Gofwen
Lagos Bureau Chief, Nigeria