columnBy Murtala Bala Habu
Initially, western education did not win hearts and minds of the northerners as it captured southerners freely and easily by the period colonial masters arrived in Nigeria. So are western sports- such as lawn tennis, football, basketball, badminton, volleyball etc due to cultural and religious believes. The game of lawn tennis as modernizes to 'tennis' like other sports was not welcomed in the northern because it was foreign, then was perceived devilish, later found not for the poor, more so considered only for the Kings and Queens and privileged. Like most sports relatively new with exceptions of "traditional wrestling, fishing, farming, hurting, sack race, langa, draft and horseback riding," which were dominants, tennis was not common. Only Kaduna, Benue/Plateau and Kwara adopted the sport as colonialists finally settled in the provinces in the early 20th century.
Strategically, as northern leaders began social affiliation with the so-called imperialists tennis began taking shape. Notable elders that have influenced the social, economic and healthy sport are Ibrahim Usman Sangari, (Beune/Plateau), John Lazarus and Machido Dalhatu (Kaduna). With time, as the game changes, gradually it was embraced by Habu Gumel, Ishaku Rabi'u (old Kano), Fred Yakubu Audu Jankada (Taraba), Ya'uba Duhu (Adamawa) and Sani Ndanusa (Niger), current President, Nigeria Tennis Federation spreading advantages of the refreshing game. Amongst, Ibrahim Sangari, First Vice President, Nigerian Lawn Tennis now Nigerian Tennis Federation was the most influential pioneer of tennis in the north-just for the love of the game. Sangari served in the first Constituent Assembly in 1977-78 and was member of House of Representatives from 1955-1959, Sangari built courts at his birth town, Wukari Local Government then Benue/Plateau to Gongola and presently Taraba State. The Nigeria tennis governing body commissioned Wukari Lawn Tennis Club in 1968 in which national champions Thompson Onipokun, Lawrence Owopegwa, Bulus Husseini and Agori Edward exhibited, etc. These courts are still serving pretty sizable nationalities for recreation, had produced and still producing champions.
Championships in the North
To expose and extend benefits of tennis to Nigerians and rest of the world, the clay, hard courts that colonialists built and left, later John Lazarus, Maccido Dalhatu, among others, organized tennis events-the Kaduna Clay Courts Open Championships for men's and Women's and Boys/Girls for many years. Kaduna Clay Courts as it's formally called had witness international players from Europe, North America and Asia in search of Association of Tennis Professional (ATP) points for world ranking. The next Championship is the Dala Hard Courts in Kano, Kano State, which started in the early 1980s, bring states of the federation and neighboring countries for unity. Further Nasco Biscuits Company in Jos, Plateau State, sponsored Nasco Closed Championships only for the northerners in the middle of the 1980s. Benue Cement Company in Gboko, Benue State to further such pride, sponsored Benue Cement Open Championships in the 1990s. The addition of Inter-cellular and Globacom-Minna, Niger and Milo Junior, Jos, Plateau States Championships were landmarks for players.
Landscapers of Northern Tennis
Northern tennis cannot be fully written without mentioning some of the landscapers that impacted and or reshaping how it is popularize, which included Bulus Husseini, Abdulrahaman Idi, Chris Mamman, Murtala Habu, Joel Adi, Shehu Lawal, Candy Idoko. Musa Habu, Sadiq Abdullahi, Yakubu Suleiman, Bulus Bako, Ubale Mohammed, Richard Odey, Dennis Akaa, Tom Ikpa, Romanus Nwazu, Clitus Osagi, Segun Balogun, Arummun Surma, Peter Adzongo, Mohammed Abdul, Ibrahim Yahaya, Malakai Bolufemi and Isa Adewale. On the famine included Aishatu Adamu, Ann Abineku, Aishatu Mohammed and Niger Kur are few competitors of different generations.
So far, how far is the game of tennis in the northern states? Is tennis fully a common sport? How can sports directors, parents, governors and the Nigeria Tennis Federation push forward the sport in the 21st century?
Comparing colonial period and recent years, tennis is common sport, but still very expensive for the less privilege hidden talented individuals to be discovered. Tennis has exposed few northerners to the highlights by achieving greater highs for Nigeria. For men on average, it has grown or from non-scientific statistical scale level 1-10, it has a scale of 4.8, from 1.4 percent before independence. There's still resistance to grow the sport by studying (table I), majority of the players are males.
In the north that has 20 states namely; Adamawa, Abuja-FCT, Borno, Bauchi, Benue, Gombe, Jigawa, Nasarawa, Niger, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Kaduna, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe and Zamfara. For example, in Sharia states of Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Niger, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara have not produced or producing quality male player(s). However with exceptions of Kaduna and Kano producing international stars like Sadiq Abdullahi, Yakubu Suleiman, Shehu Lawal, Candy Idoko, Bulus Bako, Muhammed Abdul, Ibrahim Yahaya and Sani Sa'ad and so forth. Katsina probability of producing quality players in the future is high looking at the table, the rest are not showing sign. In non-dominant Islamic States-Adamawa, Abuja-FCT and Nasarawa are producing players but not enough to bring glories. Equivalently, Kogi is yet to produce male player(s). Among non-dominant Islamic states consistently producing quality male players are Benue, Taraba, Plateau and Kwara.
Women representation is still very low, from 0.00 to 1.5 percent. From 1960-2006, females that had opportunity to play internationally are Niger Kur, Aishatu Adamu, Aishatu Mohammed, Mata Ikpa and Ann Abineku. Again, Sharia states as Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Niger, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara have not produced female player(s), except Kaduna produced Aishatu Mohammed, while Katsina is attempting to break barrier. Further more, non-sharia sister states- Kogi and Nasarawa equally have not yet produced female players, however Abuja and Adamawa are drawing closer to producing quality players. Consequently, Taraba, Benue and Plateau have not produced quality players since the exited of their players. Kwara has not produced any quality player except recently is in the merge.
As northern states have adopted western education, so must sports in reference to tennis be fully integrated to balance the quality of life for the indigents, shari'a and non-shari'a states with "Little or No Players Data " in the table must be given urgent attention to further develop programs.
The pride of the northern tennis, Kaduna Clay Courts must be revamp to continue the Tradition of Excellency. Also, as a matter public policy, state executives should sponsor annual tournament in respective states. Players already in the Nigeria tennis scenes playing very well must be motivated and encouraged engaging in various international tournaments by well-to-do to produce more of Sadiq Abdullahi, Bulus Husseini, Mohammed Abdul, Abdulrahaman Idi, Yakubu Suleiman and other champions.
Essentially, more women must be encouraged to play tennis by both parents and sports directors by providing appropriate dresses code to foster decency as results of cultural and religious influences, tennis of our time has no cultural and religious sentiments. Sani Ndanusa (now Sports Minister) must pursuit virtuously to promote tennis among northern states if tennis is to be evenly matched with the southern states. NTF should work diligently with cultural and religious leaders and experts and or Islamic Women and the Christian Women Associations on appropriate cultural and religious correct dress codes those befit and other related issues.
Tennis is source of inspirations for the few northerners, it's has not only proven to be a way of keeping fit for a healthy life style but also is source of employment. Tennis according health experts is good prescription and or better helps prevent or reduces cardio vascular disease, which is number one killer in women. With such tremendous benefits, thus the vision of Ndanusa must ensure that every state produces two elite female players, as it shall promote popularity among famine gender. Should the parents, wealthy individuals, governors and directors of sports fails to encourage women participation across unjust of cultural and religious bigotry is denying them access to a lifetime sport. And should NTF ignores to implement strategic policies on issues in dress code for example, that helps advance northern tennis is only contributing to the denial of a lifetime sport for many devout girls and women.
Notwithstanding, where is northern tennis heading from here? Be the umpire and or lines man or woman. Let's play more tennis, shall we?
By Murtala Bala Habu, writes from Chattanooga, Tennessee, United States