Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Nwankwo Kanu Is An Angel

I HAVE been following the activities of Kanu Heart Foundation (KHF) for several years. But the impact of its philanthropy had never hit me so tellingly until I came face-to-face with some of its beneficiaries last week in Lagos. It was a humbling experience which catapulted my hitherto high rating of the founder, ex-Super Eagles captain, Nwankwo Kanu, to even higher pedestal; angelic status if you like.

The event was the first raffle draw for the Kanu Heart Foundation’s Heal-A-Heart competition being organized to raise funds for the Kanu Cardiac Hospital project in Abuja. I was seated on the special guests table with Kanu himself, pop music artiste “African China” Chinagorom Onuoha and Nollywood star “Pawpaw” Osita Iheme of the “Aki and Pawpaw” fame. But the real superstars of the occasion, apart from the lucky winners of the bonanza none of whom was present, were the kids who had had their defective hearts repaired by KHF.

One after the other, KHF coordinator, Pastor Onyebuchi Abia, my good friend from the 1990s when we confronted each other at the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN) Cup football competition, called out some of the KHF beneficiaries present at the draw. Abia used his great sense of humour to make trivial an issue of life and death while telling us the stories of kids who, having related so closely with, are now like his own children.

I step aside temporarily to allow Abia tell us some amazing stories…

Isaac Ore (male): “Ladies and gentlemen, please look at this boy. His name is Isaac Ore. He is a lucky boy. He was 12 years old when he joined our waiting list at Kanu Heart Foundation. Soon after, one woman, Mrs Odunayo, walked into our office, scanned through our list and picked out a name which happened to be this boy. The woman gave us N1million for his treatment. We added the balance and took him to India. After his treatment, he said he wanted to play football like his hero Nwankwo Kanu. So, Kanu registered him for the Greenspring Schools Soccer Clinic in Lagos. Isaac performed so well that the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) gave him a scholarship to pursue his university education. He is 17 years old now. I call him lucky boy.”

Lekan Adesanya (male): “We took Lekan to Israel and he went under the knife. That was in 2003 when he was just eight years old. He is 18 years now and he has also completed his secondary school education. Now, he is seeking university admission.”

Michael Adeleke (male): “Micheal was 13 years when they brought him to us for intervention. He was operated in Israel and he is now 21 years old seeking university admission.”
Precious Nafinji (female): Her father is a military man and we took her from Ikeja Cantonment to India for heart surgery when she was five or six years old. She is now 17. She has completed her secondary education and also now seeking university admission.

Precious Obanuwa (female): “Ladies and gentlemen, look at this little girl.  We took her to Sudan for heart surgery four years ago. Look at her chest, the mark of the knife is very obvious. She was four years when we took her; she is now 8. If Sudan – Sudan o! – can have a cardiac hospital where they do heart surgery, why can’t Nigeria? That is why we want to build the Kanu Cardiac Hospital in Abuja. The money realized from this raffle competition will go into the project.”

Titus Bassey (male): Titus is a serious case. His father died when he was only three months old and his mother was jobless. We took him for surgery in Israel in 2004 and he could only start Primary One when he was 12 years old. He has been on a monthly injection since after his operation in 2004 and that will continue for 38 years. Yes, every month for 38 years! In order to monitor him properly, our founder Nwankwo Kanu decided to employ the jobless mother at Kanu Heart Foundation. She is now our computer operator.”

Dear readers, the foregoing are the stories of just six of the kids that Kanu has given a new lease of life with the support of kind-hearted donors like Mrs. Odunayo. Altogether, Kanu Heart Foundation has, since inception, carried out 467  of such open  heart surgeries on eternally grateful Nigerian children who otherwise may have died or faced an uncertain future. Just like many Nigerians, I had been hearing and reading about the foundation’s activities for many years. But seeing the children who had benefitted in flesh and blood and hearing their stories first hand was an absolutely humbling experience. As you read this, I hope you can feel what I felt.

The conclusion I’ve drawn from my personal encounter with KHF is that Nwankwo Kanu is a “Nigerian Angel” if there is anything like that.  We are all familiar with his own story: how he overcame an heart ailment which threatened to terminate his football career prematurely, how he went on to play for another decade plus, and how the experience inspired him to set up the Kanu Heart Foundation.

The Kanu story is already the stuff of legends and I will not bother going into its fine details here. All I will say about Papillo is that, after giving us so much happiness for so many years as a footballer with the Nigerian under-17, under-20, under-23 and senior national teams, – can we ever forget the boundless joy and glory of the historic Atlanta ’96 Olympic soccer gold medal which he led Nigeria to win? – Kanu is now doing it all over again by helping the fragile hearts of many ailing Nigerian kids to breath normally. If that is not a “Nigerian Angel” at work, someone should give me another description.

To all Nigerians who read this story, I ask you to make a decision today to support the Kanu Heart Foundation in whatever way you can. Kanu says there are presently more than 300 kids on his waiting list for corrective open heart surgery. If the proposed cardiac hospital project in Abuja becomes a reality, KHF will no longer spend so much money taking its patients to Israel, India and Sudan. For every child sponsored abroad, KHF also sponsors a relative (usually the mother) to support the patient. All that expense will be saved if the hospital is in Abuja. Children up to 12 years will be treated free while those above 12 years will enjoy a discount.

You can support KHF either by donating cash, sponsoring or co-sponsoring a patient like Mrs. Odunayo or participating in the on-going KHF Heal-A-Heart raffle competition for which 12 brand new Kia cars are the star prizes. If you win a prize in the competition, good for you. But even if you don’t win any prize, you will derive satisfaction from having contributed to a good cause such as the KHF Cardiac Hospital Project. Like Nwankwo Kanu, you can be someone’s angel today!

BE AN ANGEL: To participate in the KHF Heal-A-Heart competition and stand a chance to win a brand new car, go to the ECOBANK branch nearest to you to buy your entry ticket. Each ticket costs N100 only. You can buy tickets worth N10,000, N100,000 or more to improve your chances of winning and also become an angel to a Nigerian kid. But if you just want to donate generously to the foundation without participating in the competition, make your donation to the following bank account: KANU HEART FOUNDATION, Sterling Bank account number 0011110018. God bless you.

The Return of Amos Adamu

FORMER FIFA executive committee member, Nigeria’s Dr. Amos Adamu is back among the football fraternity after completing his three-year FIFA ban from “all global football activities” on October 19, 2013.

Adamu was banned in 2010 following his indictment in the bribe-for-vote scandal that rocked the bids for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups. Adamu insisted on his innocence but when his appeal failed at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) he grimly took his punishment and has now served out the suspension.

A few journalists have asked me whether Adamu should be allowed to be fully re-integrated into world football. My rhetorical response has been “why shouldn’t he be re-integrated?”

Adamu is not the first to be suspended by FIFA or other sport-ruling bodies and he won’t be the last. If athletes, footballers, referees, coaches and even stadiums and fans are suspended either for doping, biting an opponent, poor officiating, racism or violence and are readmitted after serving their punishments, I don’t see why Adamu’s case should be different. Even ex-convicts are re-integrated into society while God our creator forgives our sins and gives us a second, third and fourth chance to mend our ways. I say therefore without any equivocation that Dr. Adamu is fully welcome back to world football.

A valid question, though, is what role he should play in Nigerian sports (nay football) now that he is back. Adamu himself has said in a press statement that he wants to focus on the business side of sport and he is not looking at administration for now. That is a good place to start but I predict it’s only a matter of time before he returns to administration.

Someone also asked me whether Nigerian football missed Adamu during the last three years. My frank answer is “NO” because, while he was away, there have been less rancor and less political power-play between the National Sports Commission (NSC) and the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF). The resultant “peace” partly resulted in Nigeria’s victory at the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa in February this year.

However,  Adamu’s absence probably accounted for why Nigeria missed out on hosting that same tournament. As the alternate venue designate, Nigeria should have got CAF’s nod when the hosting rights were withdrawn from the original designate, Libya. Adamu’s presence in CAF would probably have ensured that Nigeria was not over-looked. But with the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that winning the tournament is more satisfactory (and beneficial) to Nigerians than hosting it. So, nothing spoil!

Adamu will definitely not return to his former post as director general of the NSC and he is most unlikely to contest the presidency of the NFF having risen to the level of a king-maker even before his FIFA ban. But I made a prediction three years ago when he was suspended that he will return to become the first Nigerian to emerge as CAF president. Now that he has completed his ban, that prediction is very much alive and I stand firmly by it. Watch this space.

Ferguson’s Faux Pas

FORMER Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson lost a great deal of the respect I had for him by reportedly gloating about how he “conquered” the so-called big egos of his top players in his new autobiography.

Controversy helps a book to sell more copies but I would think Sir Alex didn’t have a dig at David Beckham, Robbie Keane and Ruud Van Nilsteroy in his book just for the money.
If he did it to show just how strong he was as a manager, he didn’t need to either because his strength is already well reflected by his tremendous success and achievements.

Writing graphically about how you “crushed” players who helped you to achieve so much success just because you felt they were growing too big for their boots is not my idea of greatness. I think Sir Alex should have been more modest in his documentation of better – forgotten locker room details. With or without a controversial bent, his autobiography is a must-read for true followers of the game.
As I write this, I’m trying to get a copy.

Euro Leagues Weekly Verdict

BEGINNING from today, I shall be sharing in this column my views on whatever I consider the major happenings every weekend in the top European football leagues and clubsides. Same will apply to the Nigeria Glo Premier League when it resumes for the 2013/2014 season next month.

Let’s begin at Camp Nou where Barcelona defeated Real Madrid 2-1 in the first El-Clasico of the season last Saturday. My take is that the game was high in intensity but low in excitement (too cagey) although Alexis Sanchez’s second goal for Barcelona was really top class.

Chelsea’s “El-Cashico” with Manchester City (credit for that coinage goes to a Nigerian who tweeted Talksport Radio commentators) on Sunday for me was far more exciting. Although The Blues won the battle of the Premiership Billionaires (The “EL-CASHICO”), I consider their coach Jose Mourinho’s admission that City are the “best team” in the Premiership quite honest and an endorsement of my own analysis at the start of the season that they (City) are the best tip for the title because they have the best squad.

My only problem with City is their inconsistency and penchant for self-destruction which they again demonstrated in conceding the last-minute winner to Chelsea last Sunday.

Immediately after the game, a debate erupted on social media on who was at fault between the defender and the goalkeeper for the mix-up that gave Fernado Torres the chance to score. My verdict: the goalkeeper.


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