• Monday, March 04, 2024
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BusinessDay

The story of Ugo!

The story of Ugo!

It is early days yet in the new year, but already there is a queue of weighty subjects waiting to be exercised in the space of this column. There is the matter of Claudine Gay, the first African American woman to be appointed President of Harvard University. While many people rejoiced at the ground-breaking achievement, some powerful ‘Conservatives’ were quite upset, seeing it as yet another sign of a creeping existential danger to their species. A few weeks ago, they struck back with characteristic ferocity, not just muscling her out of the Presidency of Harvard University but doing everything possible to destroy her career and credibility as an academic by accusing her of plagiarism.

There are other burning issues, such as the meteoric ascendancy of a certain Dr Betta Edu who left medical school in 2009, and in the ensuing six years, not only spent a year in required Horsemanship, but completed a Diploma in Public Health, a Masters’ Degree in Public Health, and a Doctorate in Public Health, among other achievements. By the end of those six years, she was Special Adviser to a State Governor on Community Health and Primary Healthcare. Four years later, she was Commissioner for Health. Another four years, she was a Minister of the Federal Republic, and on her way to a famous scandal.

There is also the spectacle of a world watching with sick fascination as Donald Trump steps past obstacles put in his path by the framers of America’s democratic constitution, heading again towards a White House he had so thoroughly desecrated. He cuts the figure of an ancient behemoth, walking through barriers of flimsy tape.

Finally, at barely 18, he hit the jackpot by becoming a first round pick for the National Basketball Association in the USA.

But burning issues can wait, you decide. It is time to breathe, and to feel the warm glow of a human angle story. It is time to visit, once again, the story of Ugo.

On the 23rd of September 2022, this column ran a piece titled ‘Charles and Veronica Adetokunbo – a Nigerian Odyssey.’ It told the fascinating story of a 28-year-old Lagos man named Charles Adetokunbo, who had once had dreams of becoming a professional footballer. His wife, Veronica, was nursing baby Francis, their first child. Charles was Yoruba, and Veronica, Ibo. They decided to seek new horizons for themselves and their future generations by emigrating to Europe. The destination they chose was Greece. They would be travelling without the appropriate visas. Effectively, they would be ‘illegal immigrants.’

The two families must have worried about the risky plan of action their children were embarking on. Charles’ mother agreed to take care of baby Francis until they were settled in their new abode.

After surviving an initial rough patch in Greece, fortune began to smile on the Adetokunbos. A year into their Greek life, they had a child who they named Thanasis. Two years later, despite the privations of a near-destitute life in which the family eked out a living by hawking goods on the streets, Veronica gave birth to her third boy. He was given the Greek name Giannis. Within their own household, Charles named his son Sina (‘opener of new doors’). Veronica named him Ugo.

Ugo would indeed go on to become the ‘opener of new doors’ for the Adetokunbo family, who, as they became regular Greeks, ‘grecified’ their name to Antetokounmpo. As he grew into a tall gangling athletic youth and started to play with others on the streets, his genius at the game of basketball was quickly recognised. The teenager was snapped up first by a local club, then by a Spanish Club.

Finally, at barely 18, he hit the jackpot by becoming a first round pick for the National Basketball Association in the USA.

He has gone on to break records and become fabulously wealthy. Youngest player to start in an All-Star game. First Greek to become an All-Star player. Most Valuable Player in the entire league for two years back-to-back. All Star MVP, leading his team to win their first league championship in fifty years. Signing a $228 million contract, the largest in NBA history.

Ugo Adesina Adetokunbo, aka Giannis Antetokounmpo finally came to Nigeria a few weeks ago. The ‘homecoming’ journey is the subject of a short WhatsApp movie titled ‘UGO: A Homecoming Story’.

Ugo is touching in his gushing simplicity, as is his film.

But he hits a poignant note early on in his tightly choreographed journey back to his homeland.

‘Now I know who I am’.

Ugo’s journey was not about coming to know Nigeria. Ugo’s journey was a journey to know Ugo.

His father Charles died of a heart attack in 2017, at the age of 57. He must have been very fulfilled, the patriarch of an already vast family fortune, and father of international stars, since by then Ugo’s siblings were also themselves making waves on the basketball court.

Veronica is now the pampered matriarch of the family, doted on by famous children, some of whom have got married and started their own families. She has been feeding her children ogbono soup as a tasty delight through the years of their growing up. She also taught Ugo to count in Ibo and speak a smattering of her native language.

In Lagos, they visit Fela’s Shrine. Charles brought up his children on a musical fare of Afrobeat. Tarkwa Bay. The basketball court at Rowe Park, where he plays with eager young children.

‘They look like me’, he gushes.

He reminisces about how he himself admired an earlier Nigerian basketball star, Hakeem Olajuwon.

They meet family.

Ugo stops the car at Balogun market to buy a replica shirt with his name on it.

‘I will come again’ he says. ‘I will show my children…’

He may have been shielded from the seamier sides of his countrymen’s daily experience – the pick pockets, the ‘area boys’, the kidnappers.

But he has seen enough to rekindle his connection. He knows Ugo better now than he ever did before.