By Ikeddy Isiguzo
I GUESS it must be true – Richard Animam is gone, yes, dead. When the news first broke last week in the office, I did not pay any attention. I did not know it was about someone I knew or should know. I continued contributing at the office meeting, oblivious that Richard was the subject.
An hour after, I was in another part of our office, when I heard the story again. Richard was gone. I was glued to the seat. Only weeks ago, the controversial death of Uche Okafor hit us. Former Eagles strike Chief Gideon Njoku died last week.
These people I knew, but Richard was much closer.
I did not even know Richard was ill beyond the regular breakdowns that come with this job. He was gone, only months after we mourned the loss of his wife, and we took partial consolation in the fact that he will look after their daughter. At five, she is an orphan, unlikely to understand the buzz around her and the unusual attention she will receive.
Like all such news, my first wishes were that it was not true. I refused to tell anyone that Richard was gone. I was not going to be a part of a rumour mill. I have waited for a week and the news is confirmed by all who should know and funeral plans are real.
Richard came to Vanguard in 1998. We were starting SportsNOW, a weekly. Other members of that team were Eddie Akalonu, Ade Akosile, Humphrey Njoku, Demola Olajire, Henrietta Ukaigwe and Sylva Eleanya who took pictures.
I never knew him before then. We hired him on the insistence of Olajire and Apu (who brought him). They said he was enterprising and his youth was an asset. They were right. He mostly worked on our grassroots sports promotional stories that he handled with ease and he made a mark there. He later took on golf, the major sports he was handling before his departure.
Letter From Abroad, a feature in SportsNOW on Nigeria ’s foreign_based players , depended a lot on Richard. We called him Barca, an abbreviation for FC Barcelona, a team he loved more for one of its players, than its history. Richard knew Emmanuel Amunnike from the player’s youth. Everything about Barca was about Emma, as he called the former Eagles player. Each time we wanted to get his attention, then, we would make a sarcastic remark about Barca. He will jump to the defence of the Catalan team for Emma’s sake.
The wall of his corner in the SportsNOW office bore a giant Barca picture. He rarely missed a chance to show you Emma in the frame.
On days we dabbled into Saturday football at the grounds of Kirikiri Prisons, he would appear too dressed up in his glittering Barca attire for anyone to suggest he should do anything outside the occasional warm ups.
Henrietta called on the night the news broke. Like me, she was trying to make meaning of it all, that Richard was gone. I remember muttering some responses, I still thought someone could be making a mistake. Olajire later texted, “I am yet to recover from hearing that Richard Animam is dead. What a horrible tragedy. His wife died last year. I pray that God will look after their kid.”
I do not know who has recovered from the shock. At the office, people are battling with the hard reality that Richard is gone. For more than ten years, I have become used to seeing him at his desk as I make my way to my office. We will banter about our weight, which those SportsNOW nights of fatty meals enhanced, and his coverage of the English Premiership.
Sometimes when he has something important to say, possibly personal, he will deliver it in a whisper. He was ebullient and enjoyed the company of his colleagues.
As he goes home tomorrow, our collective responsibility lies in the sustenance of the young girl for that is how Richard will live on.
Litigations Will Continue
COURT cases in sports are in the early days. They will continue for as long as some selfish people keep appropriating sports resources to themselves with impunity. Nobody can take away the right of the aggrieved to seek redress in court.
We are all witnesses to the instability the cases cause. We should be interested in removing situations that promote lawlessness and the ascendancy of incompetence in sports administration.
The issues in football that are in court abound in other sports. Unfortunately, the establishment of the Nigerian arm of the Court of Arbitration in Sports, embodied in the constitution of the Nigeria Olympic Committee since 1995, has been ignored.
Regular courts cannot give the cases the required urgency so that sports can continue in peace. Since sports officials have refused to be law_abiding, the recourse to the law will be a prominent feature of our sports.
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