By: Deji Yesufu

Two days ago, I saw an open letter on Nairaland. It was written by a childhood friend of Kelechi Iheanacho. Apparently having exhausted every available means of reaching his friend privately, he resorted to writing an open appeal to him. The two boys had grown up in Imo State and done practically everything that boys do together. They played on the same pitch (the guy attached a photo of a young Iheanacho and himself playing football), they watched foreign matches together in the same viewing center, they lived in each other’s houses, etc. But fate smiled on Iheanacho who went on to become a rich professional footballer while this friend of his is probably still struggling somewhere in Eastern Nigerian. The guy lamented in the letter that he had tried to reach Kelechi but every attempt had been rebuffed. Kelechi’s elder brother would not even give him Kelechi’s private contact. He concluded the letter by saying that he did not intend to beg money from Kelechi (as by God’s mercy he was doing relatively well too) but that he simply couldn’t understand how a friend would forget another all because of fame.

That story touched my heart deeply and I just could not respond to it. I chose to ruminate over it because there is a Kelechi Iheanacho in me also. As I thought about this situation, I began to see careless statements on social media: “…guy, Iheanacho does not owe you anything – get a life…”; “…Nigerians and their entitlement mentality sha…”; and so on. I just smiled. Although these responses are right in themselves, but none of us will know the hurt in that young man’s heart except we are in his shoes.

Before I go into my reason for penning this piece, let me share some of my discoveries in life. Friends who knew you and loved you when you were nothing are the friends worth keeping. Many today may be your friends because of what they can get from you. The moment you lose those things, most of these people will flee. I do not have connections with many of my childhood friends anymore, but I deeply appreciate the small number I still associate with.

So, yesterday, as I goofed around on social media trying to get some sleep at the same time, a friend from my university days, Taiwo Bawonda, sent me a picture of himself, Israel Akinyele, and me (photo attached). The three of us were members of Christian Teaching Center, Samaru branch. I think we were nearing graduation at the time the picture was taken, and had been somewhere around Main Gate, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Somebody had suggested we take the picture (there was this craze for “motion” photographs back then). So we took the picture and everyone got a copy. I still have mine. However, I did something stupid. Because I felt that the shoes we were all wearing were not good, I cut off the lower part of the picture that showed our feet and lowly shoes. I would later be terribly convicted for doing this. That is the reason why you cannot see the feet. Taiwo Bawonda then gave me Israel Akinyele’s number and I called him immediately. He lives in Ilorin with his family now and he was so happy to hear from me.

Those two gentlemen came into my life at a time of great need and I would never forget them. I had become a Christian and changed my company of friends. It was Taiwo and his brother, Kehinde, that taught me how to study for examinations and pass. They showed me the tricks behind using past questions, etc. It was Israel Akinyele that introduced me to Tunde Bakare. I would always remember the first tape of Bakare that I listened to in his room: “Prophetic Cave Dwellers.” After my NYSC program, and while living in Lagos, I spent one year going to Bakare’s church and Bakare became a life coach to me. It was Bakare who taught me how to meander through the Nigerian labor market and how to make use of my gift above and beyond whatever else I may be doing in life. It was Bakare that made me understand that a Christian also has an opinion in world affairs and thus the freedom I have to write on both religion and humanities on my blog. So how do I forget these men?

As a youth corps member serving between 2002 and 2003 in Yola, Adamawa State, I met an engineer in my office that had relocated to work in Nigeria. One day we got talking and he lamented his inability to break into the Nigerian labor market despite all his credentials. He believed that the reason he was having challenges was that he schooled overseas all his life. Now that he had returned to work in Nigeria, he had no connections. While listening to him, I understood immediately that much of what most of us will become in life will be based solely on people we knew and had associated with right from childhood. Many people berate Muhammadu Buhari for populating his cabinet with men in their geriatric years. They forget that when one reaches that kind of position, you want to surround yourself with people you trust, people who were with you when you were nothing.

Since that young man wrote his open letter to Kelechi Iheanacho, I do not know whether Iheanacho has reached him privately. I hope he has. This is why: for many years, I have failed to understand why Iheanacho’s career never picked up despite his promising start. At a time, Kelechi Iheanacho was being tipped as the world’s up-and-coming Lionel Messi. But for some reason, his career and all the opportunities that should come with it never flew. Now compare Iheanacho and the legendary Christiano Ronaldo. The story is told of how a teammate and friend of Ronaldo gave him (Ronaldo) the opportunity to join Sporting Lisbon. Alex Ferguson later discovered 17-year old Ronaldo in Sporting and invited him to Manchester United and the rest, as we say, is history. Ronaldo, the story goes, has since returned to this friend of his and spoilt the guy with money. This friend no longer plays football; he lives largely on Ronaldo’s largesse.

Success is a trust. You earn more of it as you manage the little that you have been given. If Iheanacho cannot manage the little success he has had, like many Nigerian celebrities before and after him, it is not likely he would have more. I am of the opinion that managing success includes how we treat those we knew before we hit stardom. I honestly cannot judge Iheanacho in this matter because I have not heard his own side of this story. Another reason is that I also have not hit the kind of success and money that Iheanacho has. But if I do, and I hope I do, I pray that I would not forget my friends – especially friends that I grew up with.

PS: Arometa is Yoruba for “three friends”. The article is dedicated to my friendship with Israel Akinyele, Taiwo Bawonda and all my friends – particularly those who were my friends when I had nothing.

Posted by Deji Yesufu

One Comment

  1. Bawonda kehinde May 28, 2020 at 1:45 pm

    Absolutely inspiring, that our paths crossed.
    Greetings to my people.


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