The reason I came to Nigeria was to see how I could help develop the game here. After Tuesday’s washout we had a hectic two days meeting various stakeholders in Nigerian Rugby and did what we could to promote the game nationally.
We had an early start on Wednesday leaving at 7am during a thunderstorm to get through the morning traffic to reach Lagos TV by 9am for an interview on SportSplash. After a bit of make-up it was into the studio to talk about what were are doing in Nigeria and about rugby in general (a link to the interview is at the end of this article). Then through more traffic to the National Stadium to meet with the Secretary General of the Nigeria Rugby Football Federation (NRFF) who is a civil servant appointed by the Ministry, a bit like the Government appointing someone not necessarily involved with rugby to sit on the RFU Board. Then a meeting with the Chairman of the Lagos Office of the National Sports Commission followed by a seminar for the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN).
Rugby is an unknown sport for many Sports Writers so SWAN were keen to understand some of the technical details of the game so that they could write their own reports of games rather than wait for a match reports from one of the teams taking part. There were a number of questions but I was a little flummoxed when asked why can’t the ball be passed forward like in American Football.
This was immediately followed by another seminar, this time for players and administrators, about professionalism. This was really to manage expectations about making vast amounts of money from rugby as in reality there are not that many full-time professionals in the game worldwide. This session was particularly good from a personal point of view as I got to meet a number of the players that I had coached eight years ago when I was last in Lagos and I was very pleased that so many were still involved.
I recorded two interviews at the stadium for TV and radio then it was back into the car to join the evening rush hour and drive to the Channels TV studio just over the Lagos state border. Channels is the most watched station in Nigeria and like an increasing number of fellow broadcasters they had moved out of state to avoid the high taxes placed on them by the Governor. We arrived much earlier than expected for the 9pm programme so with a couple of hours to kill we found a lounge bar to relax and have something to eat.
Nigerian food is an acquired taste as I had found out on my last trip and I tended to stick to fast food outlets such as Mr Biggs and Chicken Republic that sell chicken and rice, albeit highly spiced. However I am always willing to try new things and on Monday night I had goat curry. This isn’t as bad as it sounds as sheep aren’t bred here and lamb is something almost unknown in the country; goat is the equivalent. However it was mainly bone and skin, with the little bit of meat in between being very tasty.
So in the lounge bar Brian and I were persuaded to try Cow Leg, a local delicacy, which we imagined would be something like shin of beef. How wrong we were! Like the goat, it was a mound of bones and hide in a thick, very spicy sauce, but unlike the goat I couldn’t find any meat. After chewing on the leathery hide for a while, the heat of the sauce proved too much and we gave up allowing our hosts to finish it off. A far better option would have been Suye, strips of lean beef barbecued typically on the roadside on makeshift grills and served with onions and tomatoes, which we had tried the night before.
The time came to go to Channels TV where security was very tight as they have been the subject of terrorist threats. This time Brian and me were at the desk with the presenter and we gave our opinion about the opportunity for the game to grow in Nigeria and the potential for the country to excel in sevens in the way Kenya has in recent years. This was followed by another radio interview so we didn’t leave until 10:30 so getting back to our apartment after midnight.
Thursday morning was the only time we had to get some souvenirs so we went to Lekki market to see what was available. There was a huge choice of locally made bracelets and necklaces, bags and wallets made from python and crocodile skin, beautifully coloured and patterned shirts, ebony carvings of all shapes and sizes, and a huge choice of paintings by local artists which I could have looked at all day. However time was pressing and after spending far too much and with another thunderstorm about to strike we departed for Pat’s Bar on Victoria Island in central Lagos where ex-pats generally meet and where I met a couple of NRFF officials to talk about the development of the game.
It was then back to the National Stadium to give out some the shirts that clubs had so generously donated before I left the UK. Good quality rugby shirts are difficult to get hold of in Nigeria so these were very welcome as it meant that players can train without the risk of ripping their kit after the first tackle or scrum. Boswells School in Chelmsford had been particularly generous and it was fitting that their shirts went to a local school.
The final meeting was with the Lagos Referees Society. Brian and I both referee but only to a modest standard, however we were able to impart a lot of what we know to a willing audience as they have so few opportunities to even referee games let alone take part in some self-development. Fortunately for them Nick White, a referee from Sudbury who many around Eastern Counties will know, is working as head teacher in Kaduna High School in the North of Nigeria and he has agreed to work with local referees.
A tiring but rewarding two days were over and we had to prepare to leave for the airport in the morning. I should say that all through our stay we were looked after by our driver Sola who I had met on my previous visit. He has been a godsend and quite literally a lifesaver. He made sure that we didn’t go to any no-go areas from where we may not return, he stopped us getting ripped off by people who see white men as people to be fleeced of their money, he haggled with the market traders to make sure we paid a fair price, and he negotiated the chaos that is Lagos traffic with at times frightening skill. We cannot thank him enough.
We enjoyed our time there and would have loved to stay longer to help spread the word of rugby. Perhaps we will return in future years.