A former D’Tigers player, Mohammed Abba ‘Jugu’, a graduate of the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, Zaria has said playing for the university’s basketball team, was like playing for Nigeria.
The Superintendent of Nigeria Customs Service spoke to Trust Sports on his illustrious basketball career and the state of the game in the country.
How did you get into the game of basketball?
I started playing basketball right from my days in primary to secondary school. I spent most of my time playing basketball. I paid the price when I got just a credit and two passes in my GCE. I was not surprised by my result because basketball really took my time.
With such a result, how were you able to gain admission into the prestigious Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, Zaria?
I always count myself a lucky man. Sometime in 1999, we were training in Bauchi when the American coach, Oliver Johnson popularly called OJ saw us. He approached us and said he would give us admission in ABU. I didn’t tell him that I had just a credit and two passes. Eventually, he asked about my result. I then told him. He said no problem I should come over to Zaria. However, he said I should make sure I get the remaining papers before I graduate. So six of us, four boys and two ladies went to meet him at ABU. Before you know it we were given admission and that was how it began to combine basketball with my education. Before I graduated from ABU, I got my remaining O’level papers.
From ABU, you joined the Nigerian Customs Service, NCS. How did it happen?
It was another divine favour. The present Gbong Gwong Jos, Jacob Gyang Buba was the Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs. He was in Bauchi for the Paramilitary games. He too saw us playing for Bauchi Nets. In fact, all of us that OJ took to ABU were in the team. He said we should come and take employment in the Nigeria Customs Service. I turned down the offer because my plan was to go to America. It is always the dream of every basketball player to be in the NBA. He later sent some of his junior staff to come to my house. They were able to convince me that even if I found an opportunity to travel to the USA, I would be allowed to go. Based on that, I agreed to come to Abuja along with five other players. When we arrived, we were taken to the Comptroller General’s office where we submitted our credentials and you won’t believe it that in two days, we were handed our appointment letters. When we were leaving, the Comptroller General gave us some money. He didn’t even count it. It was when we left him that we counted the money. I think it was about N7,200. In 2007, that was a lot of money. We were all excited because we got free admission into ABU and free employment in the Nigeria Customs Service. By the special grace of God, I am now a Superintendent of Customs. I owe everything I have to God and the game of basketball.
How were you able to combine playing basketball with your studies in ABU?
It was not easy. I spent most of my time playing basketball. To be honest, I was a bit careless. I had carry-overs here and there. As a matter of fact, after graduation, I went back to write some of the papers. I can say mother luck saw me through because I didn’t pay much attention to my studies. Everything was about the game of basketball.
Would you say your example is worthy of emulation?
No, I won’t advise upcoming players to do the same thing. If they do, they may not be as lucky as I was. They have to concentrate on their studies so as to come out with good grades. There is life after sports. I was lucky that though I gave less attention to my studies, I graduated and today I am training others. Life is about luck and not just intelligence or how smart you are.
How was it like playing for the famous ABU basketball team?
Playing for ABU was great. It was like playing for the national team. If you were in the team, you were considered and treated as a national team player. We enjoyed so much attention. Students kept pointing towards us, ‘hey that’s him’, ‘that’s the guy’. We trained in front of Queen Amina hall. Even at night, we trained. Our training sessions were like real matches. We never had less than 200 spectators watching and cheering us. Many of us went on to play for the national team.
You got employed by Nigeria Customs but played for other clubs. Could you explain this?
I left Bauchi Nets to play three seasons with Kada Stars. From Kada Stars, I played briefly for Dodan Warriors before switching to Nigeria Customs Service basketball team. What happened was that Customs were not yet a professional side. They were not in the Premier League. I will say I personally set up the Nigerian Customs basketball team. We were asked to raise a formidable team. I was the one who brought Coach Scot Nnaji to the team. I invited him to join our bench because we didn’t have a trained coach. I then convinced other star players in Lagos to join us. They were attracted by the name Customs so they teamed up with us. We went to Ilorin for the playoffs and qualified for the premier league. That was how Nigeria Customs basketball team joined the Premier League.
You also had a brief stint in the D’Tigers. Could you share your experience?
I played for both the junior and national team. It was an interesting experience. Although I didn’t have the opportunity to play competitive matches, I played in a couple of international friendly matches for the junior and national team. I felt fulfilled because it is always the dream of any talented player to represent his or her national team.
What was your most memorable moment as a player?
I will say the year I was voted the Most Valuable Player, MVP, the time I coached the national male U-16 team, my admission into ABU and employment by Nigeria Customs Service are all memorable moments.
And what would be your saddest moment?
That will be when I was dropped from the junior national team that travelled to play in Canada. I had made the final list but on the way to the airport, I was dropped because from nowhere two players were brought into the team. The most painful aspect of it is that I was that year’s Most Valuable Player. It is only in Nigeria that MVP would be dropped in such a manner. If it were in the USA, I would have been the first draft.
What is your assessment of Nigerian basketball?
A few years back, we made appreciable progress but I don’t know what is happening presently. The Nigerian basketball league is in the doldrums. Over 90 per cent of the players are not paid. Some have been forced to abandon the game. The people in charge are paying more attention to national teams to the detriment of the league and its players.