They received the two 'intruders' with some level of suspicion, suspicion that people who live in Lagos usually have for strangers. The
plump, middle aged woman with an unusual gap tooth and a girl, who we later found out was her daughter, were hesitant to speak. The challenge became bigger with their inability to communicate fluently either in English language or Pidgin English.
Mrs. Babatunde, mother of Super Eagles' striker, Michael Babatunde, and his immediate elder sister with a weird tribal marks, later warmed up to the two reporters when they found out about their mission. Through the young girl that acted as an interpreter, the woman told the story of the footballer's rise to stardom, in Yoruba, with her daughter explaining the questions in native Togolese language.
Michael is actually a naturalised Nigerian, the sixth among his mother's seven children all born in resettled Maroko area of Lagos.
Michael's story is a typical grass to grace one. Mrs. Babatunde toldAsst. Editor Sam Anokam and Justin Akpovi-Esade (our columnist), a revealing story of her son's struggles, trials and challenges before he broke into Nigeria's national team, the Super Eagles, and above all why she won't stop hawking cooked beans called Ewa Agoin that she used in training all her children despite Michael's insistence that she stopped.
We serve you what you have probably not heard about the latest kid in Super Eagles' bloc.
Can you tell us your son's journey in the round leather game from childhood till the date?
From when Michael was a toddler, I used to strap him on my back as I hawk my cooked beans. Whenever he sees a kid playing football, he would want to come down to play football. I will then promise him that he will play after my round of hawking. He started playing football at that tender age. Whenever he goes to school, his teachers are always taking him to different places for training. After school hours his classmates living in the street will return but he will not come home. And when I ask them of his whereabouts, they will tell me 'he went for football training'. I have been suffering for him from his childhood. Whenever I go hawking and made some gains, I will give him money for transport to go and play football. I gave birth to him in this house as well as his other siblings including his elder brother who lives in the USA. They are seven in number and he is the sixth child. Most times when Michael would go out to play football, he will not have booth because I could not afford it. When I don't have money, I will call his elder brother who I gave birth to in Maroko, the one in the U.S. to send money, he will send money, which I will use to buy booth for Michael. When I make gain, I buy things for Michael. His elder brother at a point wondered if Nigeria would take him as their own to play for its national team at whatever level when the time comes especially with all of the trainings that they are exposing Michael to.
'Will they not tag him a foreigner' he would ask. But I usually tell him that God is taking him to places. I told him, I gave birth to him in Nigeria. Nigerians will not do that. Is Adebayo not playing for Togo? And he is not been victimised for that. Despite all these doubts, Michael insisted he will one day play for Nigeria. There is a football coach who lives across. He took Michael abroad to play in five different countries in Europe. Each time he travels, he will insist that he would one day play in the Nigerian national team. Interestingly, Micheal has never been to Togo. He doesn't know how Togo looks like until not too long ago when one of his custodians took him there. So why should he play for Togo when he has been in Nigeria all his life?
Another time, he was to be taken to play abroad by a coach who he calls Shahasha, they said his name came out as one of the players but all of a sudden, somebody brought N200,000 as bribe to remove his name from the list saying he is a foreigner. He came back and started crying. I also cried and wondered why such a thing should happen? Because this is a boy that has been suffering all his life and has had opportunity of playing abroad, suddenly when opportunity came for him to play in the Nigerian team, they refused him tagging him a foreigner. Michael was dejected and frustrated until one of his boss, Makanjuola, took him to Abuja. He started training there and I travelled to see him in Abuja. I stayed for five days. He kept on asking me to send money to him even to feed. I always do so to the best of my ability. If it is N200 that I have, I will send. He stayed with Makanjuola for four years. At some point, he became so frustrated that he wanted to return to Lagos but I discouraged him. I told him that the person who suffers is the one that will enjoy at last. That day he told me he would return to Lagos was the day I sold my four pieces of precious gold. I sold all four of them at a give-away price of N1, 000 each. I sent the N4, 000 to him. I had to do that because there was nobody to assist me financially and the wife of his elder brother in the U.S. underwent a surgery, so there was no money anywhere.
As God would have it, Michael was taken to Ghana to play. Impressed by Michael's performance, the Ghanians upon discovering that he is a Togolese, wanted to buy him totally into the Ghanian national team but Nigerians who took him there insisted that they cannot trade him off for anything that he will play for Nigeria. Whenever they play any match in Ghana, the Ghanians will take him out to clubs, restaurants and generally make him happy. When God wants to do His work, He will do it. If you are a hawker and God's hand is in your business, He will make a way for you in that trade and you will excel. Until he left Ghana, the Ghanians still wanted to buy him off but the Nigerians bluntly refused.
In this life, you can only see the face you don't know what is in another person's mind. I am from Togo. I gave birth to seven children. I was here during the time of General Yakubu Gowon. I was in Maroko when General Murtala Mohammed came into power. If you give birth to a child in any western country, that child is a citizen of that country. People should not say this person or that person is a foreigner when that person was born in that country. People say all sorts in Nigeria; I don't like it. Even when he was much younger, he played football to the extent that the boys in this area lifted him shoulder high and gave him a wooden gourd as appreciation of his commitment to the game of football. They said he will play for Nigeria one day. I have been keeping this as a souvenir and will continue to keep it till I die. That boy suffered, I also suffered. Since he has made up his mind to play football, my job is to support him. I told him to go to school first before playing football he went to school and was playing till he left school to play football. As he was playing, he became popular. And everywhere he went, people will be calling, 'Tunde', 'Tunde'. The name of his grandfather is Tunde. I am very happy that he was taken to Brazil to play. The first day, he didn't play. The second match he played and was injured. He was removed. Yesterday (Saturday), against Argentina, he played and somebody broke his arm with football. This morning, I was informed that he has been operated upon. I have not eaten since morning. They are the ones that called him play and I am appealing to them not to deal wickedly to him. After all, former goalkeeper of the Super Eagles, Dosu Joseph, is from Togo. When they won and they wanted to pay them, somebody said that they didn't know that Dosu was a foreigner, if they had known he wouldn't have been made the goalkeeper of the Super Eagles. The person that told me claims to be a Christian. That is what I am thinking and praying to God to let them leave him alone. If they win, it is Nigeria that will get the glory. I thank God for everything.
Did Michael's brother in the U.S. gave Stephen Keshi money to include Michael's name in the national team as some people are saying that Keshi collected money from the players before they became part of the team that are in Brazil now?
Who will give him money? Nobody gave anybody money and nobody asked for any money. It is just unfair that some people are saying all sorts. If he has money, he will give me his mother. It is his talent that is speaking for him. He has paid his dues and God is at work.
How do you feel now that Micheal is playing with the Super Eagles?
I am very happy. I am praying they should win and bring the cup. I don't know of any other person who is not happy but as for me, I am very happy.
Do you ever think Michael will play football to this level?
It is God's work. I believe he will get to this level because I really suffered. Whenever Nigeria is playing football, I am always happy and I say special prayers for the team. When Michael was playing then, his friends will always say, 'mama, soon you will no longer hawk cooked beans again.'
Now that Michael is a star, when are you going to stop hawking cooked beans?
I cannot just sit down and be doing nothing. I have once rented a shop to sell. If I have the time, I can rent a shop and be selling instead of hawking up and down but that I would not sell my beans because my son is a footballer, is not possible. I will do my business because it is this business that I have been doing before he went to play football. I am not old and I pray God to always give me good health. Whenever I am ill, Michael will call a doctor for me. I don't walk far. I just hawk around.
You have talked so much about your contributions and that of your son in America to the career of Tunde, what about your husband, his father?
He has gone to work. He is not usually around. You can only meet him on Saturdays. He will tell you more about Tunde. But you know the relationship between mother and child.