When the Nigerian international football player, Taiwo Awoniyi, visited the Emir of Ilorin on Friday this week, I heard the Emir recall how the young man had presented him with his jersey, during a visit to England. It struck me that there’s a consistent pattern to the behaviour of the young man.
I have tangentially followed Taiwo Awoniyi’s socially-responsible activities in the Ilorin community in recent times. He was born in Ilorin, and he’s the latest in a long line of sports stars who found their metier within the broad historical sweep of the sporting tradition of the city.
For those who are familiar with my writings, I have chronicled the history of various sports in Ilorin and broadly, in Kwara State, over the past half a century. From football, to table tennis, through to track and field, boxing, cycling, squash racket, hockey and even baseball, our community has been a very fertile ground for sports and many sports stars have grown in Ilorin and Kwara State, who went to become genuine stars of their different sports.
Taiwo Awoniyi belongs to that broad tradition. He was born and cultured in Ilorin, and a report I read stated that he honed his skills playing on the streets of our hometown. That fact in itself, just deepens his bonafides as an authentic Ilorin boy.
It is therefore impressive, that he hasn’t forgotten his roots, the ambience, and the people. When he decided to build a locker room for his old school in Ilorin, the Sheikh Abdulkadir College, Sports News Africa, reminded that it was from the school that he was discovered, by the Olofinjana football academy, and what followed was his subsequent rise to stardom.
When a river forgets it’s source, it dries up, as the African proverb notes. But not for Taiwo Awoniyi. He’s on holiday, after a hectic season in the English Premier League. But he returned to his old haunt in Ilorin, and has continued to identify with his community.
When he left the Emir’s palace, where he was received as a successful son and ambassador of the community, with prayers for continued success, Taiwo visited the Ilorin General Hospital.
According to The Independent newspaper, the football star offset the bills of many patients, and gave money to several people on admission there.
Radio Kwara’s Bunmi Adedoyin similarly reported that Awoniyi visited the Kwara State Sports Commission, and expressed gratitude for the mentoring that he received from some of the sports administrators. Earlier in the week, I also saw a picture of the Nigerian International keenly encouraging young people playing football on the streets of Ilorin. That was a true throwback to how his own career started!
There’s no gainsaying the fact that Taiwo Awoniyi appears to be a very levelheaded young man, who hasn’t allowed the success he’s made of his career to forget where he cane from. These sports careers are often time-bound; maybe, fifteen years at best.
So, it’s always important to plan for the future away from the glamour of the game, as well as the relatively comfortable earnings. Similarly, it makes a lot of sense, to be firmly rooted on the grounds of reality, and to also carve a socially-responsible niche of community action, just as Taiwo Awoniyi has been doing in his hometown, of Ilorin.
Taiwo Awoniyi was part of the successful Nigerian Under-17 World Championship winning team in 2013. He then joined Liverpool at 18. He never played for the team, but went on loan in the Bundesliga, where his exploits became the stuff of legend. Today, he’s a full Nigerian International and a striker for the English Premiership side, Nottingham Forest.
If Taiwo Awoniyi stays disciplined and focused, and continues to work hard, then his future as a successful football star would be assured. But far more importantly, the people of the Ilorin community would continue to be delighted that a son of the city has made a success of his talent as a football star, but he has never forgotten his roots and continues to give back to his people and community. We applaud Taiwo Awoniyi’s socially-responsible outreaches.
Abuja, Saturday, June 10th, 2023.
Is’haq Modibbo Kawu, PHD, FNGE, is a broadcaster, Journalist and Political Scientist.