In this interview, ex-D’Tigress and Dolphins power forward, Caroline Ezinne-Briggs, tells ‘TANA AIYEJINA how Wale Aboderin changed her life and that of other ladies using basketball
Can you recall your first moment with the late Mr. Wale Aboderin? What was your first impression about him?
That was in 1999. I didn’t even know him; I had not heard about him before. I’m from the eastern part of the country and I just completed secondary school then. In December 1998, we had the National Sports Festival in Imo State and I participated. I didn’t see him there; I didn’t know him. In January 1999, somebody knocked on my door and introduced himself as Aderemi Adewumi from Lagos State. He said Wale Aboderin asked him to get me. And I was like, ‘I don’t even know him. How, when and where did he know me?’ He said Aboderin saw an undeveloped talent in me and wanted to develop me and turn me to a star. My parents weren’t satisfied with that and sent the man back to Lagos, but Adewunmi came back with Punch newspaper letterhead, Dolphins letterhead and a lot of promises. My mum said, ‘Okay, let’s give it a trial’ and I came to Lagos to meet him for the first time in January 1999. I got to Lagos January 23, 1999, and Aboderin enrolled me in the University of Lagos to study Diploma in Physical and Health Education the next month. He paid the fees. He employed us, was feeding us and taking care of our fees, accommodation and even clothing. I remember our (Dolphins) first outing in Makurdi. He was weak (not feeling fine); everybody advised him not to go but he insisted he must go with us. He embarked on the journey by road with us from Lagos to Makurdi. I remember we stopped more than 10 times on the way trying to resuscitate him because he was gasping for air. He was too hot, he couldn’t condone the environment. When we parked, we would pour hot and cold water on him. And we were telling him, ‘Chairman, please stay alive for us.’ We got to Makurdi and he flew down to Lagos the next day because of his illness. When we asked him why he travelled with us, he said, ‘What would people say if anything happened to you (people) on the road? I had to go with you and experience everything’. I think he was God-sent, a nice man. Even when I played against him after I left Dolphins for First Bank in 2000, he would still tell me where I went wrong against his team, he was a great man.
In what particular way did he impact on women basketball, which was then dominated by state-owned clubs?
I remember those days he will tell us, ‘If I had money, I will take basketball and Dolphins to greater heights’. And we all prayed for him, that one day, he would get the means to take the game forward. He was running the club with his salary; then, he wasn’t the Chairman of Punch. Sometimes, we would want to travel but there won’t be funds. He would source for funds from the Agege Local Government chairman then, and run around to ensure we travelled. Sometimes, we didn’t even know we would travel until the morning of the journey. Before then, the prominent women’s basketball teams we had were First Bank, Customs and Immigration. Then, Dolphins came on board. Whenever we went on outing, he would always tell us, ‘Believe in yourself, believe you can beat those teams that have been there for ages’. Unfortunately, we weren’t around when the Dolphins boom started. Before you knew it, Dolphins started coming out among the top four and top three clubs before they won the championship in 2015. I was in Port Harcourt then but I had to call him and all the Dolphins players to congratulate them. He never lost focus in the game; he believed so much in the game. He doesn’t believe in cheating. Even when it’s not his team playing, Chairman will be the first person to come and defend the other team that is down. He made Nigerian women’s basketball more interesting, more competitive. He didn’t go for ready-made players; he went for the raw talents, the smaller ones.
Do you think his death will affect Nigerian women’s basketball?
It’s is the biggest blow ever thrown at Nigerian women basketball. I don’t want to believe it. I don’t think Nigerian women’s basketball will ever recover from this. I don’t know how it’s going to happen but I don’t believe it.
What do you think basketball stakeholders in Nigeria can learn from Aboderin?
They should just emulate Wale Aboderin. I wish somebody can fit into his shoes again; I wish somebody can pick up from where he stopped. I just wish somebody can just do something for women’s basketball again. He was so passionate about basketball and sports. He was a die-hard fan of basketball; basketball and charitable works ran in his blood. I can tell you more than 50 people he has seen through school via basketball that I know. When I heard the news of his death, I called an ex-Dolphins player to tell her. She didn’t believe it because Chairman gave her N300,000 last month. He also gave her foodstuff that would last her for months.
All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.
Contact: [email protected]