Thursday, October 25, 2012

AFCON 2013: Super Eagles Draw Zambia, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso in Group C


Stephen Keshi, Pix credits: Getty Images
18 years and a few months after Stephen Keshi captained the Super Eagles to winning the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) trophy in Tunis; the same man would be leading the Eagles as coach to the 2013 edition, with continental glory firmly in his sights. Not only that, he would have to overcome the same hurdle – the Chipolopolo of Zambia – that he and his team mates faced on that glorious April 10, 1994 night. 

However, while it is yet day before the big test, Keshi had already been talking tough about their now known opponents in South Africa 2013. “I have said to a lot of people and will say it again that I am not afraid of any team in the championship draws. You don’t win a championship by being afraid of your opponents and that is the spirit with which I am going to the draws with”, he was quoted as saying by Eagles Media Officer, Ben Alaiya, just two days before the draws were conducted on Wednesday, October 24, at the Durban International Convention Centre, South Africa.

Besides Zambia, the Eagles were drawn in Group C alongside Burkina Faso and Ethiopia. On January 21, The Eagles would kick off their Nations Cup with a match against the Burkina Faso in Nelspruit. While they face Zambia and Ethiopia on January 25 and 29 respectively.

Bwalya Pix credits: cafonline
For Kalusha Bwalya, the man who captained the Chipolopolo to silver in 1994, and now president of the Football Association of Zambia, it would have been a disaster if the defending AFCON champions had not qualified. The Chipolopolo had to do it the hard way though, by relying on a tense penalty shootout win over Uganda in their final qualifier matches. “I told the players that they needed to put everything into that final match against Uganda. Ultimately, we kept our nerves and we showed why we are champions by winning in the penalty shootout,” Bwalya told CAFonline in Durban.

The first match of the competition would be see hosts South Africa play Cape Verde, who stunned four-time champions Cameroon to book a place in their debut AFCON finals. 

Super Eagles. Pix credits: AFP
However for Nigerian fans, the question would be: can Bwalya’s Zambia get a revenge against Keshi’s Eagles and then go on to retain the trophy or can Keshi’s Eagles claim another Zambian scalp by getting a win in their group match and then go on to make history for the third time? South Africa 2013 will tell.
Slated to hold between January 19 and February 10, 2013, he tournament will be held in five South African cities - Durban, Johannesburg, Nelspruit, Port Elizabeth and Rustenburg.

Group A: South Africa, Cape Verde, Morocco, Angola
Group B: Ghana, DR Congo, Niger, Mali
Group C: Zambia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Burkina Faso
Group D: Ivory Coast, Togo, Tunisia, Algeria


Saturday, September 29, 2012

SUNDAY OLISEH AND TARIBO WEST: A REUNION OF SUPER EAGLES’ LEGENDS

Sunday Oliseh and Taribo West Pix: By Arukaino Umukoro

On Friday, September 28, at the Soccerex Seminar Lagos, at Oriental Hotel, Lagos, I met former Super Eagles defender and rock of Gibraltar, Taribo West, now turned pastor. I shook hands with him and joked "Pastor, I would like a prayer of blessings, sir,” He laughed “You’re blessed,” he said with a hand gesture as if he were the Pope. Of course

In case you don’t remember, West, also then famous for his crazy hairdos - including one half of a dreadlock painted in Nigeria’s colours green white green, was part of the golden generation of Super Eagles that won the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations that rose up to become the best entertaining side at the USA 1994 World Cup. At that time the Eagles were adjudged by FIFA as the fifth best side in the world. West was also part of the all-conquering Dream Team that swept aside South American giants, Brazil and Argentina to win the Atlanta 1996 Olympic football gold, the first time for an African country.

Okay. Let’s cut the chase.

A few minutes later, Sunday Oliseh walked out of the Soccerex meeting hall where he was drilled with questions by Osasu Obayuiwana, one of Africa’s leading football journalists, and Associate Editor of NewAfrican magazine. And in case you didn’t know, Oliseh, like West, was also part of the golden generation of the 1994 Nations’ Cup and 1996 Olympic gold winning team. Oliseh aslo scored that beauty of a rocket in the 78 minutes to clinch a memorable 3-2 victory against Spain, now European and World Champions, at the France 1998 World Cup.

Oliseh and West in conversation. Pix: By Arukaino Umukoro
Just as Oliseh came out, he met West at the door. On sighting West who had his back to Oliseh and was caught up in conversation with notable names that had gathered around him. Oliseh gave him a playful nudge from behind. And when West turned round to see who it was, it became two golden summers again, 1994 and 1996. Time seemed to pause as people around watched in delight as they gave each other repeated bear hugs that lingered in the memory and banter like best friends. They chatted for a while. Like during their Eagles’ heydays, it was beautiful to watch them play like long lost friends.

Oliseh, the classy and hugely-talented midfielder. Taribo West, the defender extraordinaire. Both were integral part of a Super Eagles generation that was bleeding with class everywhere. Indeed, they were a golden generation. It was great meeting them both. They were golden moments with a touch of impressive history.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

New Music (Nigeria): 'Omote' by Ese Peters


If you’re expecting the normal party song with lots of swashbuckling beats for commercial appeal, then it may not be this. However, ‘Omote’, by Ese Peters; a Nigerian artiste who performs rock ballads, is a beautiful composition definitely worth listening to, whether you're a fan or not. This guy sings so beautifully. What “Omote” lacked in party beats, it pulled off with some depth and soul, and probably would become a choice request for wedding ceremonies, receptions, romantic getaways, or just to woo that beautiful and special girl somewhere.

“AbOriginal Music is proud to present “Omote” – the brand new single from Alternative Nigerian Singer/Songwriter and producer Ese Peters. Debuting as the first single from his forthcoming self-titled EP, the Sizzle-produced “Omote” is a soaring ballad that is very much vintage Ese Peters. Backed by lush acoustic guitars, resounding string arrangements and subtle drum patterns, over which Ese Peters effortlessly but compellingly displays his soulful vocal tones, undeniable singing abilities and heart-tugging song writing dexterity, “Omote” is a brilliantly crafted Rock ballad that not only cuts straight to the heart of its listener but also sets Ese Peters well apart from anything that is in Nigerian’s musical landscape in 2012,” read the statement from AbOriginal Music, the label Peters signed on with after last year’s release of his AcousticEP.

A hit song? With the right marketing and distribution strategy- online and offline, lots of air plays on radio stations; and probably a little more, it could be. And it would definitely be worth the spot at the top of the charts.

Listen and enjoy: "Omote", which was officially released today, Thursday, September 27.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ese Peters: Nigeria's Next Rock Music Star?


Remember this name: Ese Peters. This Nigerian singer, guitarist and songwriter, from Warri, Delta State, is blessed with a vocal talent that could propel him to become the country’s next contemporary/rock music star. Well, he also describes himself as a dreamer. But one thing that he doesn’t need to dream about is how really good he can sing and perform love songs.

After last year’s release of his Acoustic EP, which includes the hit single, Gone (Wetin I Go Do), Peters has followed it up with another single; a beautiful composition titled “Omote”, a rock ballad that would leave any girl with a taste for good music swooning for love. Although written and performed in English, Omote is an Urhobo/Isoko word for ‘girl’.

And Omote does have a music soul, untainted by the rush of blood for commercial or mass appeal, as common with many new generation Nigerian artistes. Well, the thing is, this guy doesn’t come across like an uncommon artiste. While there are a lot of foreign influences on his songs, Peters’ evolving music constantly probes the depth of originality, in voice and delivery.

Omote, don’t you know that I’d trade the world for you, just to see you smile and have all that you wish for in life. I would walk, run, pull down every door in your way. And if you fall, I will pick you up. And if you cry, I will dry every tear in your eye. Cos you’re the sweetest thing I know… And you dance. And you fly. And you tear down the walls with your heart. And you run. And you soar... ” With a lush voice that cuts to the heart like John Mayer’s or Dave Matthews’, Peters gushes about his undying love to his ‘Omote’. Laced with romantic clich├ęs, the song may just be a runaway hit with the way he makes the listener believe again in love. “Omote is an honest declaration of love. Honesty is a rare commodity in today’s world. It is one lover telling the other; ‘I’ll be there for you’. I think we all need that every once in a while. It is raw and passionately painful. It is truth. It is real life, that’s what makes it special,” he told me.

Once an independent artiste, Ese Peters signed a record deal with AbOriginal Music, after last year’s release of his Acoustic EP. Watch out for Omote, which is due for release on Thursday, September 27, online, including on this blog, on Spinlets and iTunes, as well as on radio stations nationwide.

Omote... Two words: simply beautiful.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

ANDY MURRAY US OPEN CHAMPION: THE GRAND SLAM THAT FINALLY WAS




It had long been written in the stars. “If you write a script, that is the way to have won it,” gushed an emotional John Lloyd, former British number one, when 25-year-old Andy Murray won the US Open, his first ever grand slam, on Monday, September 10.

It was a fitting description as Murray had to fight hard till the last shot of a thrilling five-setter to beat Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, 7-6, 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 in a pulsating four hours and 54 minutes of breathless tennis on Arthur Ashe Stadium. With his hard-fought but thoroughly deserved victory, Murray also became the first British man to win a tennis grand slam title since Fred Perry 76 years ago.

At some point, especially in the first two sets, it was almost as if the wind gods and his tennis shoes conspired to ensure Djokovic didn’t deny Murray his first grand slam hurrah. “Murray picked a heck of a way to win his long-elusive first major. Monday night's win over Djokovic was epic in the truest sense, a wild, five-set odyssey that featured swings of momentum, obstacles, acts of God, redemption and, finally, triumph,” wrote Jon Wertheim, of Sports illustrated, summing it up nicely. Like his coach, 52-year-old Ivan Lendleight-time grand slam winner - whom he hired on December 31, Murray had to wait until his fifth grand slam final to emerge victorious.

"I'm getting closer,” Murray had said, in between tears, in that gut-wrenching Wimbledon final defeat to Roger Federer, the world number one. In that match on July 8, Federer ran away with a 4-6 7-5 6-3 6-4 to secure a record-equalling seventh Wimbledon title and 17th grand slam title. A month later, on August 5, on the same court, Murray defeated the same Federer 6-2 6-1 6-4 to win the London 2012 Olympic gold. He also clinched silver in mixed doubles with fellow Brit Laura Robson after they lost in the final to Max Mirnyi and Victoria Azarenka.

Finally, on September 10, at Flushing Meadows, Murray achieved his dream, by winning his first grand slam title. In the end it was worth the wait as he now joins the elite league of grand slam winners and also moved up to number three in the world tennis rankings. He is also the first man to win both the Olympic singles title and the US Open in the same year. 

“I am just so relieved to finally have got there and I can put this one behind me and hopefully win more,” said a delighted Murray after the match. Only a few would doubt the potential of a man who’s finally conquered history to become a grand slam champion.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

RASHIDI YEKINI: THE EXIT OF A NIGERIAN FOOTBALL LEGEND


“They wasted him!” exclaimed one of the neighbours when the magazine visited the sprawling residence at Oni and Sons Way, near Ring Road, Ibadan, Oyo State. It was desolate. Only the intermittent, loud, high-pitched cries from peacocks, which Rashidi Yekini kept as his last few companions after he reportedly told his human tenants and gateman to vacate his premises, could be heard inside.

It wasn’t the kind of sound heard during their mating season. It was almost like a mourning cry, an eerie reminder of how one man, once a famous footballer who was celebrated by millions, was tossed about by personal troubles of varying degrees and managed to live in such isolation for many years, lonely, hurt and deeply depressed. “They have refused to come out, especially when press people come around and seem to know that their benefactor is no more,” noted another neighbour, speaking of the strange behaviour of the peacocks.

Yekini scored Nigeria's first goal at USA '94
In 2010, Yekini’s iconic goal at the USA 1994 FIFA World Cup was ranked number eight in the Top 50 Most Memorable World Cup celebrations of all time, as polled by Goal.com in association with Coca-Cola. As Super Eagles leading goal scorer, it was Yekini’s luck to make history as the first Nigerian to score at the FIFA World Cup. The way he celebrated the goal was aptly described as “sheer unrestrained joy” and “raw emotion at its absolute best.” At least 80 million Nigerians across the world joined him in celebration.

Indeed, it was Yekini’s avalanche of goals that ensured that Nigeria won its second Africa Cup of Nations trophy in Tunisia 1994 and also qualified for its debut World Cup that same year. Although he was at the 1998 edition in France, that goal was the last that he ever scored in the World Cup. But he remained on the fringes of popularity, while trading his skills with Africa Sports of Ivory Coast, national club sides like the defunct Julius Berger of Lagos and Gateway of Abeokuta, until he finally hung his professional boots for good.

In a cruel twist of fate, Yekini faded away from the limelight like a hermit. Since he left active football, the only thing he knew how to do after being a mechanic apprentice in Kaduna, isolation and depression seemed to have been his closest companions. While rumours about his struggle with deep depression, baffling reclusive lifestyle and mental state of health, especially in the last few years of his life, were spoken about and written in whispers. This was the state of affairs until Friday, May 4, when without the cheer of many thousands and the attendant blaze of glory his death was announced to a shocked nation, which in the past had been severally united by Yekini’s goals. At 48, it was an untimely death for a legendary striker who made goal scoring a habit.
But some persons saw it coming. “The state I met him was sad and wasn’t what I wanted to see of someone who made many Nigerians happy with his goals. Even policemen at the stadium would rush to the pitch and hug Yekini. That day, he was like an absent-minded person. Although he spoke rationally and was able to answer my questions coherently, you could see that this man had lost the capacity to love and be loved, the capacity to forgive and be forgiven, and you could see some level of dejection. Don’t forget that he had marital issues, marriage didn’t work for him and, that constituted loss of love, and maybe he was in that state where he felt that there was nothing like love,” said Godwin Spiff-Sagbamah, chief executive officer, Hallysports International, who interviewed the late football legend early in 2010. The interview took place just before the FIFA World Cup in South Africa and shortly after Yekini had refused the World Cup ambassadorial role proposed to him by the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF.

Yekini also rejected the sumptuous financial offer to participate in the Africa Football Legend exhibition match played in Lagos in July 2009. According to Spiff-Sagbamah, any attempt he made to talk about Nigerian football with Yekini met a brick wall.  The seeming lack of proper recognition from the society where he lived may have also contributed to him reclining further from the rest of the world to himself, where he thought in that way nobody could hurt him again, Spiff-Sagbamah added.

Although neighbours noted that he drove himself daily and continued his regular football training for years, Yekini battled his personal torments alone, sank further into the abyss of dejection and self-imposed isolation that even concerned friends and family members spoke of their frustration at trying to help him integrate back to normal life. Mutiu Adepoju, Yekini’s Eagles teammate and close friend, said that much. “He never reached out to people; he was living an isolated life. Quite a number of times, people have called me to inquire about him and I always gave them his number and they reached out to him as well. But he never came out to tell anybody what he wanted or needed. So I won’t be able to say that nothing was done for him or that they didn’t do enough for him. It’s one thing for somebody to say oh, I need help or reach out to people, and another thing for people to help him. He never reached out and when people wanted to reach out to him, he never gave them the opportunity to,” Adepoju told the magazine in a voice laden with sadness. “After football, you don’t have anything pensionable, an enlightenment and sensitisation should be done. The transition is very difficult. So footballers have to learn as much as possible to think about their future after football and the authorities should also help to channel them to do meaningful things afterwards,” Adepoju advised.

The need to help ex-footballers like Yekini, with little education, properly manage their lives after the game was the more reason Seun Omotayo, a professor in the Department of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Sports, University of Education, Winneba, Ghana, proposed a rehabilitation programme for the late striker. This was after Spiff-Sagbamah had also got in touch with him. “I am deeply concerned about this news and situation (of Yekini) as a trained sports psychologist. There are records of retired athletes that go into depression for so many reasons which include but not limited to poor management of life while in active sports and sudden loss of recognition. In any of such case(s) the first approach is to apply the Significant Other Therapy,” wrote Omotayo in his letter of appeal for assistance on professional management for Yekini in late 2010. It was addressed to Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos, who had expressed his willingness to assist the late football legend.

The therapy was a psychological management programme which would have included a five-day planned visit of Yekini to the National Sports College, Winneba, Ghana, where he would have been administered the adrenal burnout (fatigue) intervention programme to help him reintegrate into normal life. If Omotayo’s programme had seen the light of the day, Yekini would also have had the opportunity to address the kids in the soccer academy, play an exhibition match with students in the school’s Department of Physical Health Education, Recreation and Sports. Sadly though, Yekini reportedly refused. “He turned it down and at that time, his family was hiding him,” recalled Spiff-Sagbamah, who had travelled to Ibadan to see Yekini.

For many, it is believed that Yekini’s reclusive lifestyle may have been caused by several factors, including the assertion that he was not able to deal with the aftermath of repeated failed marriages, his fade away from the limelight and lack of recognition from the public after retiring from international and club football, as well as personal, business and family issues. Also, Yekini’s downturn into deeper isolation was said to have been compounded with the loss of a huge sum of money when his bosom friend and business partner, Ibraheem, was robbed and killed. Ibraheem, who ran a bureau de change in the Sabo Area of Ibadan, was said to have been the custodian of a large chunk of Yekini’s money with which he traded.
That incident, some said, buried Yekini further into the abyss of depression and isolation from which he never recovered. For years, he also stayed away from his family who were based in Kwara State. “None of the individuals showed any concern towards helping my late husband, and that was why the family came to his rescue, even though their efforts still failed to save his life,” lamented Adeola, one of the former wives of the late footballer.

Although exact details of the last days of his Eagles’ career are still unclear, it was rumoured that Yekini felt betrayed by some of his teammates who were said to have ganged up against him for being the one who scored most of the goals and received all the recognition. He was the first Nigerian to win the coveted African Footballer of the Year in 1993. That he was gradually starved out of regular position in the national team, as balls were not being fed to him as the main striker.
But this is an allegation that Adepoju, who played with Yekini, swiftly disputed. “There was nothing like that. The players didn’t gang up against Yekini. He was our best (goal) scorer then and there was cooperation in the team. I was very close to him, as far as I’m concerned, there was nothing like that,” Adepoju said.

Yekini's apartment at Oni & Sons Way, Ibadan
Despite his isolated lifestyle and rumours about his mental state of health, neighbours told of how Yekini exercised and some of them joined him in his daily jogs from Mobil Filling Station down to the Liberty Stadium, Ibadan, where he regularly trained. “Some people didn’t understand the guy because he only went alone. If you greeted him, he answered if he wanted to; if he didn’t, he just went on his own way. Yekini was a gentle, go easy man, he [was] a giver. He didn’t have quarrel with anybody. He gave alms to beggars and didn’t like people publicising his benevolence,” said Nufiu Isiaka, a neighbour who said he was one-time special assistant to Governor Rasheed Ladoja on youth matters.
Kunle Michael, another of Yekini’s neighbour, whose wife has a provision store on the same street, also agreed that loneliness and neglect were factors that contributed to the football legend’s demise. “He was cheerful, gave people money and paid school fees of less privileged children. Loneliness can lead to anything, that was what really happened,” Michael said. Yomi Ojo, who lives in the same vicinity, said Yekini regularly paid his neighbourhood security levy many months in advance and also attended the landlord association meetings. “He was just a loner and had hot temper. Even the white men can do what Yekini did, they also used to be lonely and sometimes don’t interact with people or their family. Rashidi never pursued anybody one day or showed funny character, how can they say he was ‘mental’?” asked Ojo who noted that Yekini renovated his house a few years ago in preparation for his first daughter’s visit from the US, which never happened.

Michael added: “The federal government should investigate the cause of his death and arrest the alfas that came to take him away. His family betrayed him and we don’t want to see them here. For Ojo, he felt they could have changed his life without taking him away, “because he was very healthy. They can take the property, (it) is their own, but that man was our brother… we are hurt.” He also told the magazine a story of how the late footballer once bought a truck of pure water and asked the driver to take it to a motherless babies’ home.

A hairdresser around Yekini’s neighbourhood, who preferred to remain anonymous, also recounted how Yekini (whom she addressed as Alhaji) used to visit her salon some four years ago to have his hair cut and how he regularly gave her ileya (Muslim Sallah festival) meat. She also remembered giving him a Christian tract in January during one of her evangelism walks. “I told him that the world would soon come to an end, that he should read the tract. The next thing he did was hand me N1,000. He promised to read it and drove off,” she said.

Besides the outpouring of emotions from across the country and worldwide, the Confederation of African Football, CAF, and world football governing body, FIFA, also sent condolence letters to the NFF over the death of Yekini. Nigeria’s finest football striker ever, his record of 37 goals in 58 matches for the Super Eagles remains unsurpassed.

(First published in TELL magazine)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Nigeria’s Johny Akinyemi Wins ICF Athlete of the Month


Nigeria’s Jonathan "Johny" Akinyemi has been voted the February ICF Athlete of the Month. A gold medallist at the 2012 African Canoe Slalom Championships in South Africa, Akinyemi went head to head with Beijing bronze medallist Benjamin Boukpeti (TOG) and retained his K1 title, thereby securing Africa’s sole K1 spot at the London 2012 Olympic Games. “It’s just absolutely incredible and I’ve not stopped smiling since I won the race. I wake up at night and after about ten seconds remember that I’ve qualified for the Olympics and I just laugh out loud. I’m just so happy.


Akinyemi, who holds a degree in Theology and is currently studying Accounting in university, received 55% of the votes in a poll that saw an unprecedented number of visitors access the ICF website to vote. Poland’s Marcin Pochwala and Piotr Szczepanski came in a close 2nd place. “Good news....I won ICF athlete of the month! Thanks for the votes everyone. #TeamNigeria,” tweeted the 23-year-old after the results came through.

Akinyemi who has a British mother and a Nigerian father grew up in Warrington 12 years old started Canoeing at his local canoeing club. Inspired by the achievements of Paul Ratcliffe (GBR) who won silver in the K1 event at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, he gave up his place at the top of the British canoe rankings to compete for Nigeria, his father's home country, after a first visit to Nigeria in 2007.

Launched in 2009, the ICF Athlete of the Month initiative is designed to recognize the outstanding performances of paddlers from all over the world.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Nigeria’s Ugochi Anyaka Wins UNEP Young Environmental Journalist Award


28 year-old Ugochi Anyaka, a radio journalist from Nigeria has won the United Nations Environment Programme’s Young Environmental Journalist Award (YEJA), beating over 120 entries from reporters across Africa. Anyaka, who desscribes herself as an eco-journalist, environmentalist, singer, blogger and young photographer,  received her award at a special ceremony held during the 12th Special Session of the UNEP Governing Council / Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Nairobi, Kenya.  

The winning report, entitled Saving the Trees for Paper Briquettes, was broadcast on ASO Radio in Nigeria, where Anyaka works as a journalist and presenter. The radio feature profiled a project in a low-income suburb of Abuja that manufactures briquettes from waste paper, in order to provide an alternative fuel to traditional firewood. The project aims to reduce the health risks associated with indoor use of wood fuel, reduce deforestation and provide a source of income for the briquette makers.

Anyaka’s report also discusses the role of the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). “This story was done to show the opportunities in a changing climate - and not just the woes,” said Anyaka.

“It also seeks to show the conflicting view points about the Clean Development Mechanism. But ultimately, it tells the story of what some Nigerians are doing to protect their vulnerable environment and save their very existence. Winning the UNEP Young Environmental Journalist Award is the greatest moment of joy in my career. It is such an honour to be recognised in this manner,” she added.

The YEJA jury described Anyaka’s winning entry as a “well-researched report that clearly explained the essence of reducing green house gas emissions and the need for creating environmental development in Africa”.

The winner was presented with her specially-commissioned trophy by Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, Joseph Murphy, US Permanent Representative to UNEP and UN-HABITAT and Patricia Okoed-Bukumunhe, the winner of last year’s Young Environmental Journalist Award

Ms. Anyaka hosts an environmental radio show "Green Angle" on ASO Radio and also works as a producer, reporter and continuity announcer with the station. She writes an environmental blog, Eco Nigeria, at www.greennigeria.wordpress.com.

As part of her prize, Ms. Anyaka will take part in a professional exchange visit to the United States, following a specially-designed “green itinerary”. Last year’s YEJA winner, Patricia Okoed-Bukumunhe of Uganda, took part in a week-long placement with Voice of America in Washington DC, spent time with National Geographic magazine, the US Environmental Protection Agency and attended an environmental journalism conference in Florida.

“With less than four months to go until world governments meet at the UN Sustainable Development Conference (Rio+20) in Brazil, raising public awareness of today’s environmental challenges is perhaps more critical than ever,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

“The large number of entries received from journalists from Cairo to Cape Town and Dar es Salaam to Dakar for this year’s award, showed that young journalists are becoming an increasingly vital voice for telling the story of Africa’s changing environment - and showing the many solutions that are available on the continent. On behalf of UNEP, I congratulate Ugochi Anyaka on her achievement and wish her continued success in her work.”

Launched in 2010, the UNEP Young Environmental Journalist Award aims to showcase excellence in the field of environmental reporting and nurture new talent that will help to shape opinion on the environment in Africa, and beyond, in years to come. The award is made possible though funding support from the US Department of State.

This year, a total of 127 entries were received (in English and French) from television, radio, online and print journalists in 28 countries. The diverse topics covered included the economic and environmental impacts of invasive species in Lake Victoria, efforts to reduce plastic bag use in Togo and the breeding of climate change-resilient chickens in Namibia.

Friday, February 17, 2012

ABDULMUTALLAB GETS MULTIPLE LIFE SENTENCES IN US


25-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, aka the underwear bomber, who was accused of trying to bomb a US-bound flight on Christmas Day in 2009, has been sentenced to multiple life sentences in prison without parole. “The defendant has never expressed doubt or regret or remorse about his mission,” “To the contrary, he sees that mission as divinely inspired and a continuing mission,” U.S District Judge Nancy Edmunds said as she imposed four life prison sentences on Abdulmutallab.

Abdulmutallab, had already pleaded guilty on the second day of trial testimony last October to eight counts, including conspiring to commit an act of terrorism, use of a weapon of mass destruction and carrying a firearm or destructive device during a crime of violence. It was a failed suicide mission for al-Qaeda when he attempted to detonate a bomb in his underpants as the plane, en route from Amsterdam, approached Detroit. Nearly 300 persons were on board that flight. “This was an act of terrorism that cannot be quibbled with," Judge Edmunds said, as she imposed the maximum sentence after several passengers on Northwest Flight 253 talked about how the failed bombing attempt had forever changed their lives, causing them to fear flying, seek mental health counseling and have continuing nightmares.

Abdulmutallab, the well-educated son of a wealthy banker, sat with his hands folded under his chin, leaning back in his chair as the sentence was announced. During his trial he told the court that the bomb in his underwear was a 'blessed weapon' to save the lives of innocent Muslims’. “The US should be warned that if they continue to kill and support those who kill innocent Muslims, then the US should await a great calamity... or God will strike them directly," he added.


“We are grateful to God that the unfortunate incident that day did not result in any injury or death," the family said. “We pray for a more peaceful world and hope that all well-meaning persons, institutions and nations will work to establish to world peace,” read a statement from Abdulmutallab's familyreleased by Anthony Chambers, Abdulmutallab's standby defense lawyer. The family also asked the Department of Justice to intervene on their son’s behalf. 


Chambers, Abdulmutallab's standby defense lawyer, said that had Abdulmutallab allowed him to serve as a full-fledged lawyer rather than standby counsel, he could have gotten him more favorable treatment at sentencing. He added that Abdulmutallab “is a very misguided young man. … I think he's a very impressionable young man who got messed up with the wrong people." By no option of parole, Abdultallab’s sentencing is made mandatory. Parole, in the US criminal justice system, is the supervised release of a prisoner before the completion of their sentence in prison.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I AM HOPING FOR A LONDON 2012 OLYMPIC MEDAL – JOHNY AKINYEMI, NIGERIA'S FIRST OLYMPIC CANOEIST


Johny (Jonathan) Akinyemi, who is training to be an accountant and has a degree in Theology, made history recently when he qualified to represent the country at the London 2012 Olympic Games, also the first Nigerian to qualify to represent the country at any Olympics canoe slalom competition.

In this exclusive interview – the first of its kind with any Nigerian media outfit, with Arukaino Umukoro, Akinyemi who has a Nigerian father and British mother talks about his life, sport, historic feat in South Africa, goals for London 2012 and the future of canoe slalom as a sport in Nigeria. Excepts:

How was it like growing up in the UK and discovering your passion for canoeing?

I grew up in Warrington, which is like a small town near Manchester. There’s not a very big Nigerian community in Warrington. I started canoeing when I was 12 years old in a local canoeing club in Warrington. This was after I watched the guy called Paul Ratcliffe win silver in the canoe slalom at the 2000 Olympics. And I was very interested. At the time, I really wanted to have a motorbike and wanted to go do some racing and jumps at the track. But my mum and dad said it would be too dangerous, that I should get a canoe. At the time, I was disappointed because I thought it was not as good as the motorbike. But I though I’d give canoeing a go. That’s how I got into it and realized I was quite good at it. That was when I started to compete and win races.

How does it feel to finally qualifying for London 2012 as Nigeria’s first canoeist in any Olympic competition or African K1 champion?

It’s just absolutely incredible and I’ve not stopped smiling since I won the race. I can wake up in the night and after about ten seconds, I remember that I’ve qualified for the Olympics and I just laugh out loud. I’m just so happy. And I think honestly the glory should go all to God though, because I honestly agree that it was a miracle that happened out there. I felt God with me on the road and saw many people praying for me. So, honestly, all glory goes to God.

Obviously, you’re a very spiritual person?

Yes.

You became British Champion in 2006, but gave up your place at the top of the British canoe standings to compete for Nigeria, your father’s home country. What prompted your decision to switch?

At that time, I was really discovering my Nigerian roots, learning more about Nigeria and basically Africa in general. It was just something I thought I needed to do, just a switch to compete for Nigeria. And at that time, I felt quite isolated on the British team, like I felt different and didn’t fit in with the British team as well. This combined with me discovering more of my dad’s side of the family… I just decided to do the switch. I got in touch with the rowing/canoe federation and have been canoeing with Nigeria since then.

Before your first visit to Nigeria in 2007, what were your impressions about the country?

Basically, the main impressions I had of Nigeria before I went to visit was from my grand dad because he lived in Lagos his whole life and then moved on when he was an older man. So he was really fond of the country and told me lots of great stories about Nigeria and how he always missed the weather, the people, the jokes, the bars, joints and stuff. So I needed to go see for myself. I’m very proud of my Nigerian heritage. So I knew I had to go back. It was almost like going back to the homeland and seeing with my own eyes.
My first visit to Nigeria was like an emotional visit. It was great to see all these places you’ve been told stories about. My first impression was that the best things about Nigeria are Nigerians. Nigerians are just fantastic and so friendly, want to have a good time and a good party. When people talk about how great Nigerians are, it makes me really very proud to be a Nigerian.

Has anything changed about your perception of Nigeria?

Now I have been to Nigeria, you see a broader thing. It was like an emotional visit. It was great to see all these places you’ve been told stories about. My first impression about Nigeria is that the best thing about Nigeria are Nigerians. The Nigerian people are just fantastic and so friendly, want to have a good time and a good party. When people talk about how great Nigerians are, it makes me really very proud to be a Nigerian.

Where did you visit?

When I came, I stayed in Lagos, I saw the Surulere national stadium. I saw the sights but the guy I was staying with, Ibrahim, he took me to all the places, took me to Afrika Shrine to see Femi Kuti (perform) (laughs), listen to the music. So it was the best times. I walked up on stage and shook Femi’s hands.

So, what do you think of Fela and his music?

Oh, I love afrobeat. I have Fela Kuti and Femi Kuti cds in my car and was always listening to it. And when I was in South Africa on the day of the race, I had Femi Kuti’s cd in the car when I was driving to the river. It put me in the mood. And I was so impressed when I went to the Afrika Shrine. It was better than any night club or any concert.


Would you say that your visit in 2007 put a seal to your conviction that you were making the right choice?

Yes, definitely. They were two things. I went to the All Africa games in Algeria to meet the canoeing federation and realized that they were great people and really passionate about the sport, passionate that they could develop canoeing. After that, I went to Nigeria to meet with them again and that was what sealed the deal that I was making the right choice switching to Nigeria.

Did you ever think you were different or had any issues about your colour, where your roots were or you were more committed to Britain before your visit to Nigeria?

No. Definitely in Britain, I think race is quite like a big thing. I never felt really British because I’m mixed race. For a Nigerian, I’m quite pale, for a white person, I’m very dark. With my colour, I had to find my identity. And I found that being mixed race, I associate more with my Nigerian side, they welcoming me much more.


Canoeing is virtually unknown to most people in Nigeria. Do you think there is a future for such unique sports in Nigeria?

I think there is a future for canoeing in Nigeria because I know this when I was in Lagos over the Lagoons and the waters, there were this villages using canoe as their main form of transport. So all we need to do is get those youngsters, get all those people into them into the right canoe and environment and it would be perfect. There’s definitely a future. And I just want to be a role model for young Nigerians to look up to so that they can follow in my steps and maybe in the Olympics after, young Nigerians will be competing and maybe beating me. That would make me happy because I would know that canoeing is succeeding in Nigeria.

The Nigerian Olympic Committee has ecstatic about your feat. How much role would you say they played in ensuring that you represented the country?

They Olympic committee has been amazing and has helped with so much. Since the election of new committee members a few years ago, they have been doing a fantastic job supporting me, giving me all the support I have needed, they’ve always just been a phone call away so that I can ask them for help. They’ve come to see me training at the Olympic course. The support they have given me is fantastic and I don’t think I would have been able to qualify without their help. They’ve really done a great job.

If you were in position to advise on how to develop canoeing and make future champions like you for the country, what would your advice be?

The technical director of canoeing in Nigeria came to town and we discussed this already. We need to do a couple of things. But the most important thing is we need to find the rivers. We need to find wide water rivers where we could set up canoe clubs and basically make it more popular. Anybody can come in and just have a go in the canoe. I think that is an important thing. The federation is already doing a fantastic job, we ‘ve had technical seminars where kids have got involved. We’ve taught some coaches the basics how to train people. Then I think what needs to be done at the regional level is like having regional training centres and coaches in each region to identify which youngsters have the potentials to make it.

Asides catching them young and getting the right rivers, what does one need to be a good canoeist?

You need to have good upper body strength, mental toughness, and you have to be determined because you can take a while to peak in this sport. So you have to continue with it and stick with it, resilience and determination.

What’s your London 2012 Olympic dream?

It’s to win a medal at the Olympics. To get to the Olympics, I had to beat the Beijing 2008 bronze medallist (Benjamin Boukpeti of Togo) in the African championships. All the other canoeist countries around the world, including European countries, they just assumed he was going to get the place. So I really worked hard and went there to prove them wrong and I did that. So if I l keep the mental toughness at the Olympics and have the same attitude, then I think anything is possible.

© Arukaino Umukoro

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

LOVE AND VALENTINE'S DAY


This original poem won the COOL FM 96.9 Valentine Poem contest some years ago. So, in the spirit of the Valentine season, I have decided to share it with you. But remember, love goes beyond celebrating February 14, Valentine's Day; show love everyday. Love the most powerful force in the Universe. And like they say, Love conquers all; it makes the world a better place.
Happy Valentine!



Love is a four-letter word

That touches the bottom of one’s heart
And expands it.

Love is a picture 

Framed in gold

Showing unending treasures

Painted in beautiful colours

Love is precious.
Love is sweet.
Love is musical.
Love is poetry.

Love is like fire,
Refining fire.
Love is a desire 

To be irresistibly desired.

Love is potent.
Love is like a magnet.
Love is an emotion.
Love is tenderness.

Love is passion.
Love is companionship.
Love is a gift.
Love is light.

Love is eternal.
Love is life.
Love is beautiful.
Love is you.
                                                            © Arukaino Umukoro