*They call them Almajiri boys but they want to be kings
By Olajide Fashikun
If you are a regular visitor to the National Stadium in Abuja and for any reason you have reached the tennis court, there is no way you would not know these Fulani boys, three kids, nicknamed the “almajiri boys.”
The authority and dexterity they command on the racket and how much dedication they had invested in learning the curves and tricks of the game is outstanding. On one of the occasions when Nduka ‘The Duke’ Odizor came with plenty of playing equipment, he could not have passed them by without notice. He particularly picked out one of them and said, “you can be one of the greatest players to come out of this country if you keep working hard.
Playing their first tournament surprised observers with victories in their opening one set round robin matches at the SNEPCo Junior Tennis championship which took place at the Lagos Lawn Tennis Club. Suleiman Ibrahim, playing in the 12 and under category beat Ojoye Qurwiyu 6-1 while Aliyu Sanni beat Usman Kushimo from Ogun State 6-2.
Two brothers, Saminu Abubakar and Aliyu Abubakar, won their opening matches in the 14s and 12s respectively. Saminu beat Emeka Chukwu of Lagos 6-3 while the younger Aliyu convincingly dispatched Opaogun Solomon of Ogun State 6-0.
The tournament which had 162 entries and has attracted many new players, featured singles competitions in five categories – boys and girls 10, 12, 14, 16 and 18.
As they say in the sports parlance, I am waiting for the seed to mature and in a matter of time see the almajiri boys shepherding tennis balls and making the nation proud, watching back and relishing the days they come train and because of their Fulani background make some sense to observers.
These boys whose parents live in the neighbourhood of the stadium trek from their settlements to come train at the national stadium in Abuja made a mark for themselves among their peers. Once, Saminu said, “we were seen as if we will not be able to cope because there is general impression that Fulanis are not strong.
Initially, I was particularly affected with such impression until one of our coaches, coach Abe once told me of the story of some Senegalese tall, slim but proficient tennis players in their days and how he uses that fragile looking frame to deceive you, beat you mercilessly and he strolls on while you gnash your teeth. Next time, you respect him. I want to prove a point about where I come from. God will help us.” This was two years ago when they were smaller.