•Challenges other corporate bodies to emulate FCMB, MY MY, SPAR, etc
By Jacob Ajom
Good dreams outlive those who bear them. And for those who dream, and pursue their dreams, the end is almost predictable; accomplishment and a sense of fulfillment.
Former Nigeria international, Peter Rufai retired some years back after a professional career that saw him play in Nigeria, Republic of Benin, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. He played in the national team, the Super Eagles for twenty years and attended two FIFA World Cups: USA ’94 and France ’98.
At 56, Rufai is still dreaming. The former goalkeeper want to see a Nigeria where the youth are liberated from the pangs of ignorance, lack and poverty. He wants to see the youth grow and become leaders of tomorrow because in his words, “if you don’t train them today their tomorrow will never come. And where the future of the youth is bleak then the nation is doomed.”
The former Super Eagles captain is presently preoccupied with his pet project, the Dodo Mayana Soccerthon, a project aimed at identifying young talents, groom them and lead them into professional football. The lucky lads will play and school as those who may not eventually go professional in football can follow the path of education.
In his office at Raji Rasaki Estate, Amuwo Odofin, FESTAC Extension, Rufai was all smiles. He expressed satisfaction at the success of the pilot programme. “The maiden edition of the Dodo Mayana Soccerthon was a huge success,” Rufai started. He disclosed that although the programme was meant to cover the entire nation, only 15 states participated, with Lagos presenting two teams.
“We started; by going to the various states, held several meetings with their sports councils. They held local competitions from the local government level to the state level. Through this method, players were selected to represent each state. The national final which held in Lagos had teams from all the participating states with Lagos having two teams.
The national final was a carnival of some sorts. The Agege stadium was decorated in captivating colours and the turn out of fans was quite awesome. Rufai was ably supported by his colleagues and former teammates in the national team and other prominent stars from the entertainment industry. The final day of the week-long event, Saturday 27th April, saw members of the Class of ’94 Super Eagles take on Nollywood stars in a novelty match.
Team Kwara won the Dodo Mayana Soccerthon after defeating Team Enugu 1-0 via the spot kick in the second half of the encounter.
“Forty seven outstanding players were selected from across the teams by ex-internationals and the scouts that were present throughout the tournament. Three of them have been invited to go for trials abroad. If they succeed, they will go professional immediately,” Rufai enthused. He disclosed that the others not travelling for trials will also embark on a playing tour of Africa and Europe. Those who want to school and play will enrol into schools and when they finish their academics they go professional and continue their football career.”
Asked what informed his decision to organise the Dodo Mayana Soccerthon, Rufai said, “I was reflecting on how I started as a youth, the overwhelming support I got from benefactors and Nigerians generally, through the different stages of my career up to my retirement. Without the help of others like you (the media) I would not have been what I am today. What my career has given me is the Peter Rufai you are seeing today.”
He said the more he reflects on his past, the more he feels indebted to the country, Nigeria. “I am a product of Nigeria’s investment. As I was playing, I was also studying and today I am a Masters Degree holder and I also hold some diplomas in coaching from the UK and Belgium. All this came about because I played for this great country,” the former Stationery Stores FC of Lagos goal tender recalled.
“When I reflect on all this today, I see how beautiful it is; how I started from grassroots to the top. After that I had to come back home to support the young ones. I also believe that if there is any platform that can best be used to assist young footballers who want to play professional football that platform should be former internationals. We have the experience, the connections and the wherewithal to play that role perfectly.”
Explaining further, Rufai said, “For instance, I have contacts in Europe, if I don’t use them to the benefit of the young ones, then I am a waste. I want to give back to Nigeria what the country has given me.”
Rufai said the project would not have seen the light of day without the efforts of the sponsors who showed a lot of commitment to the cause. “I must thank the board and management of First City Monument Bank(FCMB), SPAR, MY MY, Budweiser, Remita, Leventis and Staruf for demonstrating forthrightness and a high sense of commitment to our vision. I want to assure them that they have identified with a noble cause which will touch the lives of millions of Nigerians, and perhaps, beyond, who knows.”
Rufai enjoined other corporate bodies to emulate the aforementioned companies so that Nigeria would be the better for it.