‘I’ve never seen my mum happier after I broke the story to her, she was ecstatic, dancing up and down,’ Bako Danladi said about the day he told his mum that his dream of playing football professionally abroad seemed to be coming true.
Danladi is one of hundreds of young aspiring footballers who hold high dreams of emulating their predecessors by plying their trade outside the shores of Nigeria.
For the 24-year-old player Bangladesh was supposed to be his stepping stone to bigger things in professional football. Unfortunately, it turned out to be his worst nightmare.
‘As you know, every player had to start from somewhere. Who knew John Obi Mikel when he was at Lyn Oslo or Ahmed Musa before he went to CSKA Moscow? They all started from lower divisions outside Nigeria.’
In the year 2013, on February 15, Danladi said someone approached him immediately after finishing a training session at the Kuchingoro (a town on the outskirts of Abuja) football field.
The person told him he was an agent for some foreign clubs and was impressed with what he had seen during the game and was willing to help Danladi actualise his ambition of playing abroad.
Like most in Danladi’s position who are in deep poverty and are hoping their footballing talents would one day pull them out of the misery, the proposition sounded exciting and difficult to turn down.
‘My father is retired after working for 30 years as a gateman for a water-bottling company while my mum is just a housewife without skill for any kind of work,’ he said.
‘I couldn’t sleep that night, just imagining how immense this new development would be for my family.’
Danladi is the eighth child in a family of twelve and the only one to have gotten any sort of tertiary education among all the family. His other siblings all had to drop out due to financial troubles.
His talent always seems to bail him out. He says that since from the age of 14 when his abilities became prominent, he started representing local teams for competitions and usually earned enough to pay for his school fees.
He had just graduated from the College of Education Zuba in Abuja when he met Ikechukwu Samuel who promised to get him a club in Dhaka, Bangladesh where he has already taken four other players like him and are now doing well.
‘I couldn’t sleep that night, just imagining how immense this new development would be for my family and what it would really mean to find oneself abroad for the first time.’
Samuel asked him to talk with his family about raising the required US$2500 for paper works and the trip itself promising to call him the next day to know how the discussions went.
Danladi was anxious and spent the remaining days in Nigeria imagining his new buoyant life overseas.
After all the excitement had died down, reality dawned on Danladi and his family who have been given the huge task of coming up with 500,000 Naira within a month. (No member of the family has ever owned that sort of money.)
‘At first I went to talk to some of the richest people around my neighbourhood who I know have the means to assist but all that efforts which took days only raised 500 Naira.’
To cut a long story short, Danladi’s family was able to raise the sum after concerted efforts from other extended family members who all chipped in with something to help the mission after 12 months.
He submitted the fee to Ikechukwu and the trip was fixed for February 19, 2014. Danladi was anxious and spent the remaining days in Nigeria imagining his new buoyant life overseas.
He thought he was going to play for Feni Soccer Club which plays in the Bangladeshi Premier League and was supposed to be expecting the left-footed striker with a wonderful reception in waiting.
‘The promise was US$1000 a month, amazing accommodation and more accessibility to European clubs which had agreements with the Asian team.’
His arrival in Dhaka was as low key as it could get. He called the number he had been given several times before he got a response and spent hours waiting before someone was sent to get him. They also took a taxi to their location. It didn’t look good.
It was his arrival at the club’s headquarters that made Danladi realise that it wouldn’t be as rosy as he’d imagined.
‘I met two other Nigerian players, John Uche and Oluwatosin Yemi, who had just arrived and we were asked to sit in a hall before the team’s coach would come and see us with other details.’
After briefings, they were taken to their abode. It was a hostel facility within the team’s ground. It lacked some basics like clean toilets and water and to make matters worse, none of the players were asked to sign any paper. There was even less talk of receiving payment.
The season hadn’t started at the time so the players were just undergoing training sessions with the club’s Portuguese trainer Nuno Petit.
‘Feeding was irregular and we were yet to be paid anything, so after two weeks we summoned up the courage to make enquiries through the gaffer, who wasn’t really aware of the situation.’
‘The monies we raised for the trip would have done a lot for our family by now, would have enhanced my brother’s grocery business which the whole family relies on at this time.’
Danladi got US$500 after four weeks in Dhaka with a promise from the club that the balance would be offset in days. This never happened. The next two months was excruciating for the trio who now decided to move out of the hostel since conditions were very poor.
The Nigerian embassy was the next refuge which harboured the players for a week before arranging for them to be flown back home.
His family was already aware of the situation; he usually updated them via telephone but all efforts to trace Ikechukwu proved abortive as he has changed his address and telephone number.
‘I learnt a big lesson. The monies we raised for the trip would have done a lot for our family by now, would have enhanced my brother’s grocery business which the whole family relies on at this time.’
Coming back home with only US$300 and a bitter experience wasn’t the main issue that continues to trouble Danladi but the fact that Feni SC still owes him about $2500 (minus deductions) for his stay over there which the player hopes will be paid to him one day.
Meanwhile FC Seni denies Danladi’s allegations, saying the player was a never a bonafide player of the club and was only with them for a three-month trial which failed to land the striker a deal with the Dhaka-based club.
The club went on further to say that no contractual agreement was signed between them and the player, hence stories of exploitation and violations are baseless.
‘We will never go against sporting ethics, laws guiding player transfers and contractual agreements, have always treated our foreign players with utmost respect and professionalism,’ part of the statement reads.
The Nigerian embassy in Dhaka failed to respond to series of emails on the issue which might be connected to the fact that the country’s new regime is yet to appoint an ambassador for Bangladesh to approve any disclosure.
Meanwhile Danladi continues to wait.