Nigeria legend Mudashiru Babatunde simply known as Muda Lawal was arguably the best midfielder Nigeria has ever produced. He was not a showman like Jay-Jay Okocha but he was more mightily efficient. “Haji ‘Shiru” was the household name in the late 70s and early 80s.
When he died after retiring from the game, Sikiru Ayinde Barrister waxed a tribute for him. “Mudashiru Lawali, Omo Agboluaje o, Lawali Omo Agboluaje o, Oko Yetunde baby dara ile …”.
He was the maestro. He was the engine room of the Green Eagles and IICC Shooting Stars. He made Odegbami and Adokiye lethal with his incisive passes and elegant link plays. When he left for Stationery Stores of Lagos (that’s the name of a football club), IICC’s fans were bitter and they booed him each time he was in Ibadan. He was practically goaded into returning to IICC from where he retired in 1991, the year of his death.
I never saw him play live but I’ve seen all his available videos on YouTube. All I knew about him during my growing up years stemmed from flowery radio commentaries of his prowess from the likes of Ernest Okonkwo and Tolu Fatoyinbo on Radio Nigeria.
He died and got due honours immediately aftermath. In his lifetime, he got two national honours. MON and OON. In death, he was buried like the national hero that he was. A stadium (Asero Stadium, Abeokuta) was named after him. His two surviving clubs (IICC and Stationery Stores) honoured him. His third club, Abiola Babes, had become defunct but the club owner, Chief MKO Abiola, paid personal tributes to him.
“E o ri b’iku ti se waasi… kaku lomode koyeni osan ju ki adagba lai ni adie irana…e o ri b’iku ti se waasi”, Barrister sang.
In Nigeria, heroes are soon forgotten. I don’t understand why the burial sites of our heroes and icons are left desolate, filthy and disrespected.
Yesterday, my friend and professional colleague, Mazi Goke, posted a story about Alaafin Orompoto, the first and only female Alaafin of Oyo. The tomb is an eyesore. In fact, from the quickness of our acts of forgetting our heroes, one can identify another cogent reason why we are so backward. How much and what energy will it cost to maintain the general surroundings of a gravesite? Periodic cleaning of the surroundings, fresh coats of paints or replacement of tiles and white stones.
For a long time, Muda’s tomb was more or less a dumpsite. It was renovated once by someone and became filthy again. Now it has taken a great green-white-green ambience of the nation he served courtesy of the efforts of former footballers in the Abeokuta area.
Yeah, like Rashidi Yekini whose mother’s welfare has been in the spotlight, one is inclined to ask about why his immediate family neglected his tomb. Readers with deceased parents, when was the last time you visited the gravesites of your parents, particularly those buried away from where you currently live? I’ll blame the family but I’ll blame the authorities more.
The sports ministry and the respective home states of these heroes need to provide special funds to take care of needy parents and spouses of these heroes and keep their memories alive. Wives may move on. If they are still young or marriageable when their husbands passed on, other men would soon be in their lives. We can’t also assume their children are doing alright. It’s the survival of luckiest in Nigeria.
Of course, it also doesn’t really matter if your dad was a footballer who earned tons of money. Celestine Babayaro and Emmanuel Eboue are currently stone broke. Many others actually earned money for agents and hangers-on. Few years after retirement, whoosh, the money is gone. Sometimes children may be buoyant but downright irresponsible. The authorities should not wait on families.
May God bless the souls of our heroes and force the hands of the authorities to prioritize honoring their memories.