Sporting SunSports

Basketball: I lost four brothers to Boko Haram in one day – Usman

By Joe Apu

The sound of sporadic shooting to many in the North East is one that they have come to terms with since the emergence of Boko Haram.

However, for the University of Maiduguri, UNIMAID basketball coach Yakubu Usman, the constant sound of gun shots is a sad reminder that leaves him in tears having lost four of his younger brothers when Boko Haram stormed his community in 2009.

Incidentally, it was the same year he made a final return to Nigeria after 18 years of playing professional basketball in Europe and in the Middle East. He tells Sunday SunSports in this interview at the basketball final day event of the 2022 NUGA Games held in the University of Lagos that the singular incident changed his plans of returning home.

Coach Usman also spoke on a wide range of issues bothering on basketball.

Enjoy the interview:

Coach Yakubu Usman

I was born 27/11/1979 in Maiduguri, I played for Kano Pillars from 1993 to 95 where I was discovered and I later played for the Nigeria junior national team at the Junior African Nations Cup in Cameroon and the Junior World Cup in Greece. I turned professional in 1995 and my first team then was Mont La Salle 1995 – 1998, Jamhour Blue Stars 1998- 1999, Champvilles 1999 – 2000 all in Beirut, Lebanon.

From Lebanon, my next move was to Cyprus where I played with AIK Larnaca 2000. I returned briefly to Nigeria and played with Gboko Heats 2000 before I moved to Lithuania in 2001 and played with SILUTE Kripsinis in 2003. In 2004, I moved to Latvia were I played for LIVU Metalogs 20 before heading to Al Ahli Jordan were I played till 2006. Then I moved to Abu Nsir still in Jordan till 2007. Bahrain happened to be my last stop were I played for Al Bahrain club till I retired professionally in 2009.

Return to Nigeria

I came back to Nigeria in 2009 after playing Professional basketball for 18 years abroad and unfortunately that was the same year Boko Haram struck, many lives were lost including my four younger brothers.

It was the pain of losing my kid brothers that prompted me to form the basketball academy with the belief that, if I can engage the youth positively through basketball and encourage them to keep schooling, I could save some youths and it worked. I now have 3 graduates from the project after 11 years and seven of my NUGA team players are from the academy.

During the heat of the insurgency 2012 to 2015 we will be on the court training and we could hear heavy gun shots and if it’s far we will continue training but if it’s near we will all run to safety only to come back the next day. We did that for years. I started the academy sponsored with my salary for some years before the Ahmadu Musa Kida took up the financial burden from 2010 till date. Every camp or competition we attended  anywhere in Nigeria was sponsored by the AMK Foundation, then in 2019 Abba Kaka, Chairman of the Borno State Basketball Association joined in helping us out. The academy’s substance is largely to these gentlemen.

2022 NUGA Games

The 26th NUGA Games in Lagos 2022 by my estimation was the best so far for Unimaid. We had challenges right from the onset; the institution could not meet the stipulated budget for the NUGA games so teams were sliced from the preliminary levels, despite that many teams and individual sports qualified for the finals.

Basketball for instance qualified for the first time ever, Handball and Hockey teams qualified too in the male and female categories. The basketball male team reached the quarter-finals for the first time ever but we lost to the eventual champions Nile University.

The Handball male team lost in the quarter-finals while the hockey male team crashed out in the semis.

It was not all negative for us as we had bronze in Judo, Teakwando had silver and bronze, and in athletics we got a bronze in 5000m. Overall Team Unimaid did well despite the financial constraints.

Challenges

The unrest in the North East has affected the game badly. Take for instance the fact that we train under serious risk of getting shot on the court for years, and then to travel outside Maiduguri has been a big problem because of Boko Haram. For so long things practically came to a standstill until recently.

My biggest challenge running the academy was financial at the onset and then getting to convince parents to trust me with their kids because of the situation in which we found ourselves.

Basketball in Nigeria

The last four years was full of promises and vision, Nigeria did well internationally and at the grassroots. 74 teams played in Division 2 across Nigeria, it was amazing, but the Kwese League saga crippled the premier league unfortunately.  The Zenith Women’s League was at its best for.

State of basketball in Borno State

Incidentally, the President of the Nigeria Basketball Federation, NBBF is from our Borno State and years before he becames the president he had been spending millions on the development of basketball in the state.

He has taken it upon to renovate the state owned basketball courts several times; donated track suits, jerseys, balls and uprights to state institutions and Unimaid have benefitted immensely with a pair glass upright. Since he became president, the game has developed. In 26 years, Kaneem Warriors made a comeback to Division 2 finals in Lagos. Between 2019-202, two teams came out of Borno – the Rising Stars Basketball Academy and Kaneem Warriors. The academy came 4th in the National Division 2.

A Premier League team

Very soon with the programs we are running, we will make it to the Premier League; we are taking it one step at a time – Division 2, Division1 and then the Premier League.

D’Tigers qualifying for the World Cup

The D’Tigers is the best in Africa presently and I strongly believe that we will still be the team to beat. I don’t see any team dethroning us.

Domestic League

Yes, there is hope for a big return on our domestic league. The new board of the NBBF has a vision that will revolutionalize our domestic league to world standard. As President, Musa Kida deserves to be given that chance to make that dream a reality. The achievements the NBBF have recorded with the national teams tell me that it can be replicated on the domestic scene.

However, the Sports Ministry should allow the game to move on with FIBA giving its verdict on the election held in Benin. If the blame game continues, they game will suffer and the players will continue in penury. That’s not what we want for our basketball.

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