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Kunle Awesu resurrects





I hope my Christian friends do not find my choice of the word above offensive or blasphemous.

I had a mysterious reconnection with a friend that I last saw some 40 years ago.

About a week ago, I opened my Facebook page and somehow discovered a section full of some old, unopened mails sent to me dating back over one year. I still cannot explain how that happened, but I can understand how my ‘analogue’ brain can be malfunctioning in this ‘digital’ age and environment.

The important thing, however, is that there was this particular mail with the portrait of a young woman with a name that drew my immediate attention - Ola Awesu.

There was an attachment to the mail, but no message. Because of the name I quickly opened the attachment.

It turned out to be a beautiful New Year gift, the portrait of a friend and football colleague who had ‘disappeared’ from the face of the earth for decades since he left the shores of Nigeria in 1977, without saying goodbye to anyone of us, for the United States of America to pursue his greatest passion - academics.

Every one in those days knew that Kunle Awesu would end up a scholar of some sort. His relationship with football was a mere temporary platform for his greater intellectual ambitions. He never hid his disdain for the poor image of footballers as drop-outs from school and never-do-wells. How he hated that toga and never quite settled for a permanent relationship with football throughout our days in Housing Corporation FC and later in IICC Shooting Stars FC between 1973 and 1977.

He had completed his A levels with excellent results. He wanted to study abroad and was only playing football to fill up his time while waiting for the opportunity and circumstances to go in search of the golden fleece abroad.

The opportunity came when he was at the peak of his football career for both club and country. In 1976 he was one of the main architects of the Shooting Stars' victory in that year’s Africa Cup Winners Cup, the first by a Nigerian club side.

Shortly before that, in the same year, he had led a famous attacking trio to the Africa Cup of Nations in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, for Nigeria’s first taste of bronze at the most prestigious African football competition. The other two players were Baba Otu Mohamed and Thompson Usiyen.

After the competition Kunle Awesu and Baba Otu were listed among the championship’s best 11 players. Kunle was actually named the best left-winger in Africa.

That year, the Nigerian team was on fire, taking some parts of Europe by storm in a 5-3-10 (those were the number of goals the Eagles scored against the small clubs they met) whirlwind romp across some European countries en-route to the 1976 Olympic games in Montreal, Canada. Kunle was an integral part of that goal-creating and goal-scoring machine.

The Green Eagles were so hot then that in 1977 they got to the final hurdle of the African qualifiers where a victory over Tunisia would have seen them representing Africa as the sole representative for the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.

Then two disasters struck.

Kunle Awesu sustained a knee injury. Within weeks both Kunle and Thompson Usiyen abandoned the priciest ‘trophy’ of their football careers (the chance of going to the World Cup) and headed to the United States of America instead to pursue academic careers.

I knew Kunle would not have hesitated even once in taking that decision. Going abroad to study was always his dream.

The shock was that in departing Nigeria he did not tell anyone of his many friends and colleagues in football. He just left and severed his relationship with Nigerian football forever. Despite our very close relationship in Ibadan, he did not even give a hint of his departure, nor did he share his plans with any one of his colleagues in the team. He simply vamoosed, leaving everything behind, even his new car, to no one in particular.

I never heard from him, or even about him again until some time in the mid or late 1990s when rumours filtered in that Kunle had passed on in the USA under mysterious circumstances that no one could explain. No one could confirm anything. I never saw his obituary anywhere, and never heard anyone mention that they met him at any time after he left Nigeria and settled in the USA.

So, for 40 years I did not see or hear anything from or about Kunle Awesu, until last week when I opened my Facebook page and saw the name that attracted my attention. That’s why I rushed to open the photo attachment that had no message.

It was a photograph in black and white. It was of my long lost friend and colleague of some 40 years ago. It was the most beautiful picture of Adekunle Awesu I have ever seen - clean looking, well groomed, handsome, surrounded by books in the background and the name of the firm he either worked for, or was a partner in, in the USA - the law firm of Arthur J. Morris. So, Kunle became an attorney.

I immediately sent a message to the Ola Awesu that had pasted and sent the picture to me, asking if she was his daughter or wife? I am still awaiting a response even now.

However, I have since taken the liberty of new technology to search the web for more information. I now know the following: there is an Ola Awesu, probably his wife; there is an Ola Awesu, definitely his son, who now has a beautiful young daughter he adores; that he died in 1994 on the eve of Nigeria’s first trip to the World Cup; and that he is still greatly missed by his family that many of us in football did not know existed.

I do not know what to make of all this even though something is clear to me – that Kunle Awesu gets a good mention in my write-up this week.

He was an exceptionally gifted player committed to becoming a ‘learned friend’. I am glad to know he fulfilled his dreams.

This is my little contribution to keep alive his place and contributions in the annals of Nigerian football.

Continue to rest in perfect peace, Adekunle Awesu.

By the way, thanks for coming back in your usual mysterious manner.


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