‘My biggest ambition in life has always been to see myself playing alongside some of the world’s biggest footballers in England or Spain,’ Musa Sani said immediately after the evening training session ended.
The Boko Haram crisis has meant a lot of camps have been set up for internally displaced people across Nigeria. Yidimi Camp in the country’s capital Abuja is for those seeking refuge from the troubled north-eastern part of the country.
Stories of struggle, hardship and suffering are being squeezed out from the refugees by some of the international media who hang around the camp. When it comes to Boko Haram, the media only seem to be after stories of what these people saw, endured and left behind.
These young men lost loved ones in the war but they will not let anything get in the way of their dreams.
But for me, it was about getting stories of sporting dreams being kept alive. It was about the hope, which still exists throughout the camp that all will turn out well after the troubles are over.
At only 17 years old, Musa Sani and Yohana John are some of the youngsters who lost loved ones in the war but they will not let anything get in the way of their dreams.
Every morning at 7am and 5pm in the evenings, the boys meet at the neighbouring Kuje local-education-authority primary-school pitch for their usual training session.
They have been doing this since they got ball and kit donations from an unnamed philanthropist who knows how vital sports could be for kids like John who lost both parents in Baga massacre in January.
‘I wasn’t at home when it happened; I’d left for a boarding school in Maiduguri; and two days later the news was everywhere of what had happened. A few days later our school was closed due to fears of attack and I joined a friend’s family at this place,’ John said while removing his football boots.
The sixteen children that turned up all emphasised how important the day’s session has become for them.
‘Arsenal inspired me to take up football for good. We had a “soccer-viewing house” in my town; it’s where we all would meet to watch sports of all sorts but as in everywhere, the English Premier League is the most popular.’
Before he only played the game for fun but it was watching Arsène Wenger’s team – they eliminated Italian giants AC Milan on their way to reaching the UEFA Champions League semifinal in 2008 – that helped him made up his mind that football is what he wants to do for a career.
The sixteen children that turned up for the day’s session all emphasised how important this has become for them considering they all have dreams of going into football full time.
It has also helped them psychologically after what some of them have gone through: fleeing terror; sleeping inside bushes for days; before finally finding a place of refuge in Yidimi camp.
‘I would like to call on the National Sports Commission, agents and club owners to come to our aid in terms of selecting us for organised youth amateur teams.’
The most interesting part of this story is that the training sessions are organised so that one would assume there’s a senior figure who acts as a coach.
Sani who is responsible for keeping the balls and kits with him uses a whistle to call out other players when it’s time for training.
‘I would like to call on the National Sports Commission, agents and club owners to come to our aid in terms of selecting us for organised youth amateur teams; I’m sure when they come to watch us play they will be impressed,’ Sani said.
He also said that since they started three months ago, no one has taken notice of their efforts with a view to helping them..
‘People pass by see us playing football and just assume we are just killing time not knowing that we see this as a step to greater things. By the grace of God some of us will be representing Arsenal, Barcelona and Chelsea in some years to come.’
There are no fans to cheer them on but credit to them for still having the strong belief to carry on.
Other events at the camp – like the distribution of food and other basic essentials – gather huge crowds. The media often make up a large proportion of those gathered there; but they sometimes seem to be there more for a propaganda mission (to prove that government or other corporate bodies do care about the displaced people’s plight).
These boys mostly play to an empty crowd; there is no one there to guide them technically. There are no fans to cheer them on but credit to them for still having the strong belief to carry on.
After putting the ball and kits into a tattered bag, Sani turned and said, ‘Now it’s time for dinner before we come back again tomorrow.’