I actually set out today to do a tribute to the resilience of a very young British professional sports personality (Lewis Hamilton) who has successfully carved a niche for himself as a reference point on how to experience the real meteoric rise from childhood dreams of becoming world champion and indeed embracing the status in the real-life situation through a combination of hard work; good coaching/motivations and the enabling environment in the Country to power such individual talents to the global stage.
Whilst still in contemplation on modalities for drafting this article, a thought flashed through my thinking faculty to remind me also about a British born and raised Nigerian Anthony Joshua, who in his very tender age, miraculously and by dint of good fortune of a good mother, veered off from the world of crime to reach a phenomenal global position in heavyweight boxing. Anthony Joshua was brought up as a child of a single Parents who lived in what can be considered a slum in the United Kingdom but nevertheless, he had good upbringing but his youthful energies nearly misled him into a World of crime before he was properly guided to put his talents into good use. This singular personal decision has seen him net in millions of United kingdom's pounds sterling in such a rapid way that he is today one of the most successful boxers in Britain. He recently defended his World super heavyweight championship by defeating one of Russians most feared professional boxer and an Olympic gold medalist Alexander Havitzkan. Anthony Joshua or AJ, in short, grossed over N10 billion from the fight which lasted just a little above two hours.
Also, i recalled vividly that there are promising stories of phenomenal feats made in the World of academia, Sports; robotics/engineering; medicine and music by a lot of Nigerian youngsters all over the World.
These stories contradict any misperception that Nigerian youths are lazy. Far from it.
But just before settling down to begin my reflection today, another significant milestone that was achieved by another American youngster in the world of Golf Mr. Tiger woods became so tempting to also highlight. Tiger Woods, it would be recalled, was cruising phenomenally as a very successful professional golfer but almost crashed from Grace to grass due to some marital indiscretion which saw him bagging a very expensive divorce even as his sporting prowess began a downward journey to ground zero specifically because of physical injuries.
Tiger Woods nevertheless did not give up but fought back to defeat his temporary setbacks and from his performance at the weekend, his larger-than-life status as a sporting star has begun a rebound.
Sadly, all these major feats by youngsters from all corners of the earth pale into frustrating insignificance for a Nigerian observer in this current era when we critically analyze and synthesize the happenings from the very negative perspectives around the world of some Nigerian youngsters who have unfortunately embraced the world of crime and criminality.
I repeat that the fraction of these Nigerian youngsters bringing us global opprobrium are few and far between but because of the universal truism that negative news is good news for news reporters and such bad news stories travel far and wide, the negative tendencies of some of our Nigerian Youths are usually presented to look as if the entire body of youngsters from Nigeria are evil.
This is a big fallacy of hasty conclusion and remains existentially illogical and untrue.
However, we have set out here and now to discuss the involvement of some of our youngsters in the World of crime and will try to relate it to the twists and turns witnessed by some young icons who had conquered their youthful exuberance and indulgence to attain tremendous heights professionally.
Of all the sophisticated crime that some Nigerian youngsters have hooked on to, the most atrocious is their involvement in gangsterism as armed members of school cults. It will be stated from the start that cultism is also a big infestation in Nigerian politics because a lot of political top shots belong to one cult group or the other. That notwithstanding, the involvement of youngsters in cult-related crimes should be a cause for serious worry.
On daily basis, the local media is littered with stories of youngsters who have either been killed, caught up during an exchange of gun-fires between different cult groups or have been arrested for belonging to cult groups in their higher educational institutions.
On September 20th 2018, newspapers shouted in their news pages that gunmen suspected to be cultists gunned down five students of Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma in Edo State.
The students were said to have been killed during a graduation party at Ihunmudumun quarters in Ekpoma town.
The Media learnt that the deceased were four male and one female said to be a medical student.
It was also gathered that there had been a clash between rival cults in the area over some issues which might have led to the attack and death of the students.
It was learnt that the incident caused pandemonium in the area over fear of reprisal attacks by rival cult group.
The university’s Dean of Students Affairs, Prof Don Akhilomen who confirmed the killing, said the shooting did not happen within the campus.
He said the institution’s management is yet to identify the students that were killed in the incident.
“We heard that some people were killed at Ihunmudumun area of the town while at a graduation party. As at now, we are yet to identify those involved.
Some of the victims may be our students, while others might not be. So, we are still watching the situation “he said.
Meanwhile, the Edo state command spokesperson, Chidi Nwabuzor who confirmed the incident, said it was a cult related killing.
“We heard that rival cult attacked and killed two people in Ekpoma, several people sustained serious injuries and have been taken to the hospital. Some arrests have been made by the State Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and investigation into the matter is ongoing,” he said.
The involvement of Nigerian young students in different cult activities has assumed frightening national dimension to such a scale that there is no state of the federation that cultism and violent killings have not occurred near the schools or even right inside urban neighbourhoods.
Around the first quarter of this year, Lagos was held spellbound by a cult group known as baddoo just as casualties from their daredevil activities reached dizzying heights.
Governors Ben Ayade of Cross Rivers State, who was a geology professor before he entered politics, was in the news recently to have lamented the large-scale involvement of youngsters in that state in cult activities.
Some state governments have decided to lobby their legislative houses to introduce stringent legal sanctions for involvement in cult-related activities. Poor enforcement of this law and the crude nature of justice system characterized by delay in the dispensation of justice have led to the defeat of the essence of such stuct laws.
So, a look at the rapid increase in the reported violent confrontations by different youth-led cult groups should compel a deeper introspection to demand that the necessary reforms be enforced in the justice system so laws passed to curb such menaces are effectively enforced. There is also the need for governments and proprietors of educational institutions to tighten all loose ends and brace up for the challenge of keeping our youngsters away from bad gangs and cult groups. Schools must be well equipped with the necessary manpower and resources to constantly engage the students in strenuous researches and academic/sporting activities to keep them very busy and to create the enabling environment for them to discover their innate talents in all fields including sports. Sports have the greatest potential of becoming the highest foreign revenue earner because professional sports are worth several billions in Europe, America and the test of the Free World. Sports when adequately prioritized is capable of redressing the huge involvement of some of our youngsters in gangsterism and hooliganism.
This brings me to the whole stories of how those youngsters became who they are at the moment.
I will start with Lewis Hamilton.
In a highly rated biography carried on Google.com, Mr. Lewis Hamilton reportedly set himself on a path to Formula One when he introduced himself to McLaren team boss Ron Dennis at an award ceremony in 1995. The nine-years-old walked up to Dennis, asked for his autograph and said: “Hi. I’m Lewis Hamilton. I won the British championship and one day I want to be racing your cars.”
It earned Hamilton the patronage and support of one of the top Formula One teams which, 13 years later, resulted in an F1 drive. Hamilton went on to equal the achievement of his hero Ayrton Senna, a former McLaren driver, by winning three championship titles.
Before that, there was the small matter of graduating through the lower echelons of motorsport, which Hamilton achieved with some astonishing successes.
Hamilton’s first contact with motorsport came through driving remote controlled (RC) cars. His father Anthony bought him one in 1991 and aged six Hamilton was runner-up in a national RC racing championship. “I was racing these remote-controlled cars and winning club championships against adults,” remembered Hamilton. After that Anthony wondered if Lewis’s skills might transfer to full-size motorsport.
He began karting aged eight and two years later won the British karting championship (cadet class) and STP karting championship. Hamilton remained in cadet class karting in 1996, winning the Champions of the Future series and becoming Sky TV KartMasters Champion and Five Nations Champion. The following season he raced in Junior Yamaha and won the Champions of the Future series again, plus the Super One series, and was British Champion again.
At their first meeting, Dennis had written in Hamilton’s autograph book, “Phone me in nine years, we’ll sort something out then.” In 1998 he was officially signed to the McLaren Driver Development Support programme. At 13, he was the youngest such driver to have been contracted by an F1 team. The contract guaranteed financial and technical support and even included a future option for entry into Formula One.
That year he graduated to the Junior Intercontinental A level and finished second in the McLaren Mercedes Champions of the Future and raced in the Italian Open Championship, finishing fourth.
More Junior Intercontinental A success came in 1999. He was Vice European Champion, Trophy de Pomposa winner and finished fourth in the Italian Open Championship again. Anthony Joshua grew from grass to grace as i earlier indicated. Today, whenever he fights professionally in Wembley stadium London, he usually pulls the largest crowds of audience in recorded history with the last number been 85,000 persons who turned up at the Weekend to chair him up as he defended his current rating as the holder of three of the only four accredited World heavyweight championship belts.
The story of Tiger Woods is that which should necessarily inspire the youngsters in Nigeria to rise from the ashes of misfortune to do positive things with their lives and to aim for the skies.
As I had earlier stated, Tiger Woods was at his very best when due to some mistakes he made in his marriage, the union collapsed and brought him pain and huge bills which significantly weighed him down but few hours back, the British Broadcasting Corporation reported that an emotional Tiger Woods completed an astonishing comeback to win the season-ending Tour Championship by two shots and record his first win in five years.
The 42-year-old's victory in Atlanta was his 80th PGA Tour title - only fellow American Sam Snead has more - but his first since August 2013, so reports the BBC.
BBC recalled that less than a year ago he was 1,199 in the world after spinal fusion surgery - the latest of multiple operations.
"I was having a hard time not crying on that last hole," Woods said.
"I just can't believe I've pulled this off."
The media reports that thousands of fans spilled on to the 18th fairway to follow Woods to the green chanting "U-S-A" and "Tiger, Tiger" after his approach found a bunker on the edge of the green.
The global media reports that Mr. Woods holed out for par to complete a final round of 71 for an 11-under total before holding his arms aloft in celebration of a brilliant win just days before the Ryder Cup gets underway in Paris.
Woods, who was two clear of compatriot Billy Horschel, said: "I had to suck it up and hit some shots. Once I got the ball on the green, it was done. I could handle it from there."
The 14-time major champion's last tournament victory was in August 2013 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, since when he has had surgery on his back four times
"It was just a grind out there," Woods added. "I loved every bit of it, the fight, the grind and the tough conditions.
"At the beginning of the year, it was a tall order but as the year progressed and I proved I could play, I knew I could do it again."
BBC reports that he came into the final day of the tournament - the last of four FedEx Cup playoff events - with a three-shot lead over Rose and Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, who faded from contention with a 74 to finish on five under in a tie for seventh.
Woods birdied his first hole - one of two birdies and three bogeys - with his place at the top of the leaderboard in little danger during the final round.
"It's been tough. I've had a not-so-easy last couple of years," he said. "I've worked my way back. I couldn't have done it without the help of all the people around me.
"Some of the other players knew what I was struggling with. It was really special to see them at the green on 18. It's just hard to believe I won the Tour Championship."
The media reports that the win for Woods, who is part of the United States team for next week's Ryder Cup in Paris, means he is now two short of Snead's all-time PGA Tour title record of 82.
It comes less than a year since Woods said he might never return to competitive golf following multiple back operations, BBC reports.
Historically, in April 2017 he had his third surgery in 19 months to try and cure pain in his back and leg.
Tiger Woods reportedly returned to competitive golf in November 2017 and admitted he was "winging it" as he waited to see if his back would hold up.
"I've been in bed for about two years and haven't been able to do much," Woods said before the Hero World Challenge, where he would finish ninth in the 18-man field.
Media reporters recalled that when he came back on the PGA Tour in 2018, Woods missed the cut in his second event but crucially felt fit enough to add tournaments to his schedule and the results soon followed, most notably when he led the Open Championship at Carnoustie with eight holes to play and then finished runner-up in the US PGA Championship.
"All year long he's looked like winning," said Rose about Woods. "He's played some great golf and he's looked world class again.
"It was just a matter of time and I'm so happy for him."
To the politicians and private sector industrialists, i appeal to you to invest in the manpower and human resources' development of the Nigerian youngsters. There are a lot that can be gained if the 36 states and the Federal government can put square pegs in square holes by ensuring that talents' hunting becomes a priority project. Grassroots football and other sporting activities should be encouraged as of topmost priority so we can fully engage our millions of youth in the different sports from which we can derive maximum benefits in such a way that Nigeria could become the power house of sports development to attract international agents from Europe and America and even China to hire on full term basis, our thousands of talented youngsters who have what it takes to become global sporting champions like Lewis Hamilton, Anthony Joshua or Tiger Woods. Yes we can!
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head, HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and blogs @ www.emmanuelonwubiko.com; www.huriwanigeria.com; [email protected]