Highlights from the 2015 Keffi Maiden Polo tournament in Nassarawa state
On my way to the Keffi Maiden Polo Tournament in Nassarawa state, I was curious as to what a polo game would look like as I had never attended one. Prior to this I had read about Uneku Atawodi, who made a name for herself by playing polo internationally and emerging as one of Africa’s foremost female polo players. As the Guardian described her in 2013, “Atawodi is part of a wave of rekindled interest in a game once considered a national sport by a burgeoning middle class during Nigeria’s petro-boom years of the 1960s.”
The tournament was organised in support of education by a former House of Representatives member, Hon. Ahmed Aliyu Wadada, who brought in players from several states in Nigeria, Britain and Argentina to play the sport, the tournament was sponsored by Zenith Bank, Skye Bank and Flour Mills of Nigeria Plc.
Several dignitaries were present during the tournament, which took place between the 15th and 20th of December 2015. Some prominent names include the former governor of Nassarawa state, Emir of Lafia, Emir of Keffi, Alh. Nigeria’s current minister of state for Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, owner of MRS Petroleum, Alh. Idris Dantata, the president of the Nigerian Polo Federation, Francis Ogboro and several others.
Knowing more about the sport
I caught up with Ernest Ekpenyong, a Nigerian polo journalist with over 20 years worth of experience in writing about the sport and he gave me helpful tips on understanding the sport better. It turns out that although company executives play golf, owners of companies play polo putting the sport ahead of gold in terms of exclusivity.
The game of polo is a game of equality and there is no goalkeeper, no offside and no corner. In terms of performance, players are given ratings beginning from -2 all the way to +10 (the highest in the world). There are lots of rules guiding the sport, the first of which is the line of the ball, which suggests that no player can dribble from the front of a player in control of the ball, only from the side.
The tournaments featured teams like the Terra E & P, Rubicon, Gamtech, Keffi Ponies, Kano Titans, Bichi Farms and Hamden Trust. They were all competing for the President’s cup, the Queeen’s cup, Speakers cup, Governor’s cup etc.
Like a pow-wow of sorts between friends and family members, polo sport in Nigeria is not only a game of kings, it is a small gathering of professionals and admirers of the sport. I had the opportunity to chat with Hamisu Buba, a professional polo player, who loves his profession and has brought the country a lot of pride in the sport. He said that in any polo tournament, everyone knows everyone. “There is hardly a strange or unfamiliar face in tournaments like these”, Buba said. Here’s a bit more of what he had to say.
Ventures Africa (VA): Give us a little insight into your background and how long you have been playing the game of polo.
Hamisu Buba (HB): I was born and brought up in Jos, Plateau state and I have been an active polo player for about 23 years. As a little kid, there were racing horses in the house as my late dad, Hussein Buba, was a horse racer. Anyway, after picking up an interest in polo, I started practicing with a bicycle instead of a horse, I would play bicycle polo with a mallet, after which I honed my skills with regular horses.
VA: Given the fact that you have spent so many years as a professional polo player in the country, you will no doubt have certain defining moments in your career. Can you tell us about one?
HB: Well, I can tell you about two defining moments. The first was when I had the opportunity to win the most prestigious polo cup in Nigeria in 2004, I won the Georgian Cup. As you know, the Georgian cup was introduced into Nigeria in 1919 and has been the biggest cup in the game for over 90 years. Also, in 2012, I was handpicked by the Nigerian Polo Federation to represent the country in the 2012 World Cup, it was a great honor to be selected.
VA: What has been the greatest challenge you encountered as a professional polo player?
HB: Playing polo is a risky game. A few times, players are subjected to little accidents on the field where they sustain injuries, just like in any other sport.
VA: Will you encourage your kids to play the sport regardless of how risky it is?
HB: Given the fact that I have about ten more years in active polo, it will be a thing of pride to encourage my kids to follow in my footsteps. As you may have noticed, a few times, the love for polo is passed down from fathers to their children, so I would definitely encourage them to partake if the interest is there.
During the tournament, Nasir Lukat a professional polo player fell from his horse and sustained an injury to his leg, however he won a trophy for his team. Here’s what he had to say about his determination which has contributed to his emergence as a +1 rated player in a short period of time.
Ventures Africa (VA): Where are you from?
Nasir Lukat (NL): I’m from Kano state.
VA: How long have you been a polo player?
NL: I have been a polo player for about 5 years now. I take pride in rising so quickly, there is a colleague of mine who has been playing for 20 years and is the same rating as I am. I believe I am lucky to be able understand and adapt so quickly to the rules of engagement for the game.
VA: How does your Senate Cup trophy win for the Brics Point team during this tournament make you feel?
NL: Everybody wants to be a winner, so I feel very happy about this. It is an achievement for me. Even though I sustained injuries on the field while playing when my horse tripped and I fell.
VA: How do you get your horses to be in sync with you on and off the field of play?
NL: Horses are actually intelligent animals, you need to communicate with them and train them for what you expect from them out there on the field, to convince them that speed does not come first with polo but about understanding commands. Like the player has to understand the rules of the game and when s/he does that, they are able to get their horses to understand the game as well.
VA: Can you explain the duties of each team player in polo?
NL. First off, there are four players in a polo team. The number one player is the striker of the team, the number two player supports him, the number three player carries the all from the starting line to pass the ball to his mates, he is the heart of the game. While the number four player is the defender of the team. The most important thing in polo is the strength of team work.
VA: Is this your first polo related injury?
NL: No, it is not. When I was young, I broke my teeth after falling down from a horse. Last two years, I was hit on the face by a mallet. Accidents happen in polo but one must be cautious to pay attention to the man before the ball, by avoiding situations where you create an accident.
VA: Would I be right to refer to you as a strictly polo fan?
NL: When it comes to polo, I would say that the game has become more than just a sport for me, it is more of a lifestyle. Whether I am playing or not, I get to see my horses five times every week. However, I still watch soccer, I happen to be an Arsenal fan club member, in fact, I just took off my jersey a few minutes ago. While soccer is a part of my interests, polo is my life.
At the end of the tournament, Hon. Ahmed Aliyu Wadada’s team, the Keffi Ponies won the President’s Cup and I caught up with him to find out what comes next after the tournament.
Ventures Africa (VA): Congratulations on your amazing win at this tournament. As the convener of the event, can you give us a statement now that it has come to an end?
Ahmed Aliyu Wadada (AAW): The tournament played a part in bringing awareness to Nigerian polo. Aside from the polo sport, I am interested in contributing to society in whatever capacity I can. As a partisan member of society, I have always believed that partisans should be seen as influencers. I would not be able to convene a polo tournament of this nature if I wasn’t educated. Therefore, people like me ought to invest in education and engage in development projects centred around education so society can thrive.
VA: In what ways are you contributing to change in your environment?
AAW: We are influencing the development of education through the Wadada Education Foundation (WEDF) which was established over 8 years ago. We have set up classroom blocks in various senatorial districts and we have also awarded scholarships to students in both the secondary and tertiary education levels. We also advocate for inclusion in our society, like I have urged the Emir of Keffi to be fair to all and to place justice at the helm of all dealings which will make it easier to carry everyone along when major decisions are made.
VA: Now that the Keffi Polo Tournament is over, what is next for the polo ranch?
AAW: Well, the polo ranch has been officially declared open, not only is there a polo amusement park, there are also conference and hotel facilities, all open for public use.
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