25 May 2021

Taking to the roads in Nigeria today is not for the fainthearted as bandits, who kidnap for ransom, rule the highways of the most populous country in Africa.

Neither are the country's villages, towns, and cities safe as kidnappers snatch their victims at will in public and from the inner recesses of their homes. The situation is nationwide but particularly horrendous in northern Nigeria, especially Kaduna State.

It is against this backdrop of these real dangers that a group of 16 youngsters have been playing table tennis in Kaduna and around the country.

Following their 16 hour arduous road trip from Kaduna in the north to Lagos in the southwestern part of the West African country to compete in the 2021 Nigeria Table Tennis Federation National Championships, Olalekan Okusan met the group.

Olalekan Okusan, ITTF Member Relations Media Officer, reports:

When Ahmed Esan was heading home after a local table tennis tournament at the Kaduna Club in the city centre of Kaduna, a northern state in Nigeria, he decided to board a commercial tricycle. However, a few minutes after boarding, he lost consciousness.

On recovery, he found himself in a kidnappers’ den where he was held for more than one month. Only the sheer magnanimity of members of the Kaduna Club secured freedom for him as they paid the ransom demanded by Esan’s abductors.

Nevertheless, this ugly experience did not prevent Esan from returning to the table. As a member of the 16-man Kaduna contingent to the 2021 NTTF National Championships in Lagos, the experience in captivity has been erased by the passion for table tennis.

“Playing table tennis has really helped me to forget the bad experience I had while I was kidnapped last year. I am also grateful to the sport because it was through it that I gained admission to study Building Technology at the Federal Polytechnic, Kaura Namoda in Zamfara State. My life revolves around the sport. It has done a lot for me, including keeping me away from vices.” Ahmed Esan

Esan’s teammate, Binta Kabir, could not hide her joy of visiting Lagos for the first time. Full of life at the Molade Okoya-Thomas Hall of Teslim Balogun Stadium, venue of the tournament, the Lead Brain Academy student said:

“I am so excited that at last I am visiting Lagos; this is what table tennis has helped me to achieve since I started playing at a tender age. My father played alongside the likes of Olufunke Oshonaike and I am happy that I am in Lagos to witness what I have been hearing about the ever-bustling city. I am not disappointed with what I have seen so far since my arrival in Lagos a few days ago. I am beginning to fall in love with the city.” Binta Kabir

Binta Kabir aiming to emulate idol Olufunke Oshonaike

Like Kabir, Mohamed Umar is also a first timer in Lagos. He is baffled by the abundance of table tennis talents in Lagos.

“This is also my first visit to Lagos. I never expected the number of talented players I have seen in Lagos. I thought we had few talented players in Nigeria but my coming to Lagos has changed my orientation. Lagos is a place with many talented young players who are very good at the game. I am also impressed with what I have seen in terms of organisation of the tournament.” Mohamed Umar

Another member of the team, Abubakar Abdulsalam, said he remained grateful to table tennis for shielding him from bad company.

“I don’t know if I would have become a bandit if I had not taken to table tennis because the sport has shielded me from bad company. My parents were initially against my taking to the sport, but after they realised that it helped to keep me away from bad friends, they have been supporting me. I am happy to come to Lagos despite the stress of travelling for over 16 hours from Kaduna.” Abubakar Abdulsalam

The oldest member of the team, Abdulazeez Marwa, said the team was not discouraged by the dangers they faced coming to Lagos.

“It is the generosity of the elite members of the Kaduna Club that has kept us in the sport, especially with their huge support in terms of equipment. Apart from providing us with equipment, we have been able to attend several competitions outside Kaduna through their support. We had to charter an 18-seater bus from Kaduna to make the trip to Lagos. We left Kaduna at 10:00 a.m. and we arrived in Lagos at 2:00 a.m. the next day. It was a tortuous journey, but we are happy to be part of the tournament.” Abdulazeez Marwa

Kidnapping and related acts of banditry are on the rise in Kaduna. Some 17 students at Greenfield University abducted from their campus in the state about a month ago are still with their captors. They have demanded a ransom amounting to hundreds of thousands of United States dollars.

Abdulazeez was clear that table tennis has kept their mind away from the social crises in Kaduna.

“It is unfortunate what has been happening in Kaduna lately but for us, table tennis has kept us busy, and our mind has been taken away from the crisis. Even when one of us was kidnapped after training last year, we were not discouraged from going back to training and attending competitions. We are determined to make our state proud. Our coming to Lagos has opened our eyes to several techniques in the sport. We hope we can have more opportunities to be part of other national competitions.” Abdulazeez Marwa

Being one of the three female members of the team, Binta Kabir hopes to emulate former African champion, Olufunke Oshonaike, whom she said remained a role model for her.

“I’ll like to emulate Oshonaike because she played along with my father, and she has achieved so much in the sport. She is now very famous through table tennis, and I also want to be famous like her and travel all over the world.” Binta Kabir

General News Nigeria Kaduna