The annual Kano international polo tournament is one of the most anticipated events on the calendar for many.
Polo in Nigeria dates back to the early 20th century courtesy of the late Emir of Katsina (north western Nigeria state) HRH Muhammadu Dikko.
Polo has in some ways start to trickle down to ordinary people on the street.
It has its roots tied to the northern region and has become popular among the more conservative Nigerians.
This year’s event was special in a lot of ways; it was the first year in five years that events held without an obvious threat from the dreaded Boko Haram terrorist group which disrupted previous editions.
The country’s biggest polo team Fifth Chukker (in white) – powered by the son of the country’s former military ruler Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (Mohammed Babangida) – was on parade after missing the last few tournaments due to scheduling issues.
‘This year’s tourney will be long remembered because of so many things. The security across the country has greatly improved which allowed many of the teams, players and spectators to come out and show support,’ Sani Umar, a member of the organising committee said.
The sport like in many other countries is still heavily associated with royalty and the elites who sponsor teams and tournaments though in recent times, polo has in some ways start to trickle down to ordinary people on the street who have bought into the idea and have become massive fans.
One of such ordinary persons are Sani Danlami who paid to come all the way from Sokoto State (more than 450km from Kano) to enjoy the 12-day event in spite of the economic recession.
Football is too crowded and rough for my liking, everyone could claim to love it unlike polo which is for a selected few, special people.
‘I have been attending polo events for nearly two decades now and I don’t intend to stop now. I fell in love with the sport while living in Kaduna (Nigeria’s polo capital) and every year I grace either the Kano event or the one in Abuja.’
Why does he prefer polo to football? It’s something to do with its exclusivity.
‘Football is too crowded and rough for my liking, everyone could claim to love it unlike polo which is for a selected few, special people where the power and agility of ponies combine with man’s ingenuity and desire for achievement.’
Nigeria’s biggest polo star Bello Buba (a +4 handicap) was born to poor parents. But he was hired by one of the country’s elite to tender to his horses and he used the opportunity to hone his skills… the rest is history.
Sunday’s (October 2, 2016) finale saw a major upset occur as newbies Keffi Ponys (in black) upset Fifth Chukker (Nigeria’s numero uno) to clinch the prestigious Emir of Kano trophy.
The victory means more than a few goals.
Keffi Ponys team are bankrolled by the son of a peasant and entrepreneur (Ahmed Wadada) and represent ‘the masses or downtrodden’ who are inspired by his rag to riches story.
Fifth Chukker on the other hand are with the establishment – and belong to former military rulers and politicians.
I spoke with Alhaji Abdu Usman Nagogo, the Majidadin Katsina (a traditional royal title), the grandson of Alhaji Muhammadu Dikko – who is credited with introducing the sport to Nigeria. I asked him where he sees the game in the next two decades considering recent rise in interest by the people.
‘It will definitely grow bigger because when you look at this year’s Katsina tournament, Keffi tournament and now this one in Kano, they all point to the fact that more people are coming into the sport in terms of players and support base.’
Everyone can take part without any inhibition provided he has the necessary skills and tools.
The title holder also expressed pride that the sport had its roots from his family and presently there are over ten family members actively playing the sport.
‘As you rightly said, my grandfather brought the game over here in the 1920s after visiting London, so wherever you see the game in Nigeria, just know that we started it.
‘At the time, all the players were from the royal families, hence the name “The Game of Kings” but now things have changed and everyone can take part without any inhibition provided he has the necessary skills and tools.’
Argentine ex-player Frankie Menendes who has been coming to Nigeria for tournaments since 2002 said the game keeps improving every time he visits the country and that polo has a bright future in the country.
‘It keeps getting better every time I come here and particularly impressed by this year’s teams displays and hopefully next year will be better.’
I am sure Sani Danlami will be hoping that too.