By Victor Gotevbe
Ikpe Ekong is undoubtedly endowed with great athletic skills. He surely has all it takes to deliver. From those days of playing handball in high school to his love for football today, sports has not only brought fame and fortune to him but to his family and those around him.
The Ajegunle born and bred Ikpe has played for notable clubs in Italy, Mexico, Russia, China and so on. He has received the attention of TV France, BBC, CNN, Asian TV and many other worldwide TV stations, and even Newspapers, magazines and other media outfits have reported extensively on the Ekong exploits.
Saturday Youthful Vibes listened carefully to Ikpe as he shares his story of a Nigerian International football player who also saw, came and conquered in Europe where he began his professional football career.
I was born into a great but very low income family of five with four sisters and I am the only boy. So one can comfortably say I am blessed amongst women. My father lost his job after my mother died when I was only six years old.
You can imagine how life was at that time. Thankfully, my father stood the test of time and still insisted that I must go to to school. It was so tough but God was with us all the way. I wish my mother was still alive because her memory lingers on.
My football career
I actually started out playing handball at Ajeromi Ifelodun High School (My secondary school). Thereafter, I concentrated on building a footballing career. Back in the days you would hide your football boots when going for training because it was not so much an interesting professional career most people would be proud of.
However, you can tell the rest of the story now; people even display football kits on their car dashboards or at the back of their cars. Today, it is a lucrative career. While still in school, I started playing for Ministry of Justice Football club, Lagos.
The team was well off financially and I was earning around one thousand naira monthly which was quite a lump sum back then. However, Julius Berger feeder team came calling but even though they couldn’t match Ministry of Justice’s package, being an ambitious player I knew my chances of advancing in my career were brighter with them so I joined them.
Like every other Nigerian kid with hopes of making a career out of football, my eyes were in Europe. I kept struggling towards it, but others will tell you that it’s not an easy road. There are always many hiccups in the way, and mine was no different. In fact, in my own case, there were more ups and downs, but above all I am most grateful to God that I never lost hope.
When I alighted from the plane on my first visit to Europe in the 90s, it was like a dream as everything happened so fast and I had no time to really comprehend what was going on. In fact, not until I felt the harsh, unfamiliar weather hit me did it sink in and when I signed the dotted lines for Reggiana in Italy did I realize what was happening.
One minute I was a clubless Ajegunle boy with no concrete plans of travelling abroad despite several promises. The next minute I was wining and dining with the top brass of an Italian club and a certain fast rising coach named Carlo Ancellotti. Every time I think of it, I find the story of how I turned professional quite amusing.
Visit to Nigeria
Just a few months earlier, 21 Buraimoh Street in Ajegunle was paradise to me, a place to lay down my head and rest my body in the midst of people that loved me. A couple of months later, I was content to stay there too and be surrounded by people that loved me once again.
Despite the mosquitoes, the electricity problems [which I solved by buying a small generator] and other small things normal with life there, there was no place like home as I was delighted to be with my family again.
However, the first time I stepped into the compound I remember it seemed to appear to have grown far smaller in my eyes. And before I used the toilet I always flushed it many times and washed and cleaned the WC seat before I could sit down on it to ease myself.
But it was home sweet home and I loved it. And for the very first time in a long time in the history of Pa Udoh Johnny Ekong’s family [ever since my mum died and my dad lost his job] struggling to eat three square meals was now a thing of the past. That’s when I realized that gradually, levels don dey change! [things were looking up]
I nearly fell into the category of players that didn’t get to represent their countries despite many attempts at youth level. Thank God that I finally made it at senior national team level, but I still remember with great pains what I went through in the hands of some handlers of the Golden Eaglets [Nigerian U17 national team] and the Flying Eagles[Nigerian 20 national team]. Well those pains have since been converted to gains.
Encouragement to young people
Nomen dat quod non habet (You cannot give what you do not have). Therefore, it takes a lot of determination, training and focus. Most importantly, I put my trust ultimately in God who has been behind my success story. Education, as I later realized is also very key in making a difference. I have successfully completed my University degree, an MBA and PHD in Sports Management. You too can make it as you keeping working at it and never give up.
Young Nigerians making the difference
JOS, PLATEAU STATE
Sir Bola as he is fondly called is one of the very active social entrepreneurs in Nigeria. His work and lifestyle have actively impacted scores of youth across the six (6) geo-political zones of Nigeria and few other Africa countries such as Ghana, Cameron, Liberia and South Africa.
He is currently sitting on the management board of Youngstars Foundation as the Administrative Officer/Director of Programs. Since 2006 up to date, Bola has managed several innovative/impactful youth projects that cut across democracy and good governance, leadership, media, among other issues.
He is primarily concerned with close working relationship with the entire Board of Trustees and the Executive Director (E.D) of the organization. It is Bola’s responsibility to ensure that projects are implemented according to what is obtainable in the proposals as well as ensuring that both financial and narrative report are submitted to donor organizations accordingly and in good time too.
He has been providing the required leadership that help keep every member of staff in Youngstars as a team, thereby achieving positive organizational and societal goals.
Bola is also a board member of Youngstars Apex Ltd, and married to Faith Ngozi Abimbola.
PHILIP OGHENERO DAFERIOGHO
In the 1980’s, at a very tender age of six, Philip’s mindset was focused on what the future would be – a socio-political leader of thought. He had a vision garnished with purpose and pursued such with vigour. He developed a positive mentoring attitude, modeling the likes of notable world leaders.
In the mid 1990’s, he was already deeply engaged in relevant activities consistent with his vision, as a member of the Red Cross in Saint Gregory’s College, South West, Ikoyi; as an undergraduate, he became the General Secretary of the Biological Sciences Student Association, the School (Faculty) of Science Students Association, and the Winner’s Campus Fellowship of Federal University of Technology, Minna, Niger State.
This became the platform on which he groomed his socio-political ideologies to achieve his vision. After graduation from the University, he is now (on the second term) the General Secretary of the Nigerian Red Cross Society, Lagos Youth Wing General Secretary, and he is still learning and climbing the rungs of leadership.
He has been involved in several programmes that are consistently changing the negative attitude of several young people. He has personally initiated many programmes such as Skilled for Life (Entrepreneurship workshop),Project Genesis (a quiz and debate competition for schools, Red Cross First Aid and Safety Camps and Annual Youth Leadership Retreat archive of close to 250 recorded songs and is still recording regularly a pointer to the Nigerian work ethic.
His attitude is also a breath of fresh air because unlike most, his aspiration is not only to be the local champ, but to be recognized worldwide as one of the best, if not the best, at his profession. It is most certainly a very bold ambition by this young Nigerian, and one that he realizes is not going to be easy to achieve, to put it very mildly.
But according to him “with back breaking work, belief in God,yourself and your team, absolutely anything is possible.” For Beazy, music is a tool to reach out to people and make positive impact in their lives. This he is doing one song at a time.