usa Dogonyaro was tall, lanky and a rare thoroughbred runner from Northern Nigeria. He had this dry and distinctive chuckle that one can recognize from a distance. He loved to joke around, play pranks and laugh a lot. He was honest to a fault and no one could either bribe him or convince him to take a bribe. He was a man of integrity. He was simple minded, unassuming, kind and gentle. He carried himself with dignity all the time. When it was time for the business of running the 400 meters, Musa was a formidable opponent who you would prefer not to run against but to have on your relay team. I used to accuse him of holding his breath from the blast of the gun until he crosses the finish line. Yes, I know that’s impossible but the guy had this fast, smooth and quiet style of running. He would encroach on you silently from behind and blow past you before you even knew he was near by. Thereafter, one would have to chase him all the way to the finish line. He was so fast that I nicknamed him seriki ‘n’ gudu (king of speed). We had fun competing against each other.
The last time I saw him was in the Abuja stadium during the All Africa Games in 2004. Prior to that, we had not seen each other since 1974 when we represented Nigeria at the Commonwealth Games in Christ Church, New Zealand. When I spotted him in the stadium, I walked over and sat between him and Dan Ngerem who was then the President of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria. Musa did not recognize me. I had fun letting him guess who I am but when I kept seeing this blank look on his face, I had to save him from the impending embarrassment. I asked him one question only. Who did you hand over the baton to in the 4x400 meters relay at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich? Suddenly, he jumped up and shouted Bruce, Bruce, oh my God!! Na you be dis? Walahi, you have put on so much weight and your face is different that’s why I could not recognize you quickly. I responded jokingly, “Musa you lie, na old age dey worry you”. As if he had not done enough damage, he went on calling me all the wicked nicknames he gave me during our competitive days. We continued on and on in a world of our own with others looking on in amazement. After the drama and pleasantries, we settled into more serious conversation as if no time had passed since we were last together in 1974. Such was the nature of our friendship. It was pure and genuine.
Musa was a very versatile athlete in his days. He represented Nigeria at the Mexico Olympic Games in 1968 where he ran the 400 meters quarter final round in a fast time of 46.1 seconds. In 1969 he enrolled at the Biola University in California where he ran 400 meters, 800 meters and also played soccer. He played soccer for Biola in 1969, 1970 and 1973. In those three years, he scored a total of 55 goals, which remains the record for most goals scored in the history of the University. Also, he currently holds the single game record of 6 goals scored in a 9-3 whooping of Pomona College in 1969. He ran the 400 meters and 4x400 meters relay for Nigeria at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich West Germany. He was a member of Nigeria’s silver medal winning 4x400 meters relay during the 1973 All Africa Games in Lagos. He represented Nigeria at the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1974.
When it comes to academics, Musa “dey kamkpe”. He completed all requirements and was conferred with a Ph.D. in Physical Education by the Claremont Graduate School in 1979. That earned him the distinction of being the first Nigerian International athlete in any sport to earn a Ph.D degree from an accredited University. That was after a BS degree from Biola University and an MS degree from Azusa Pacific University. He was our forerunner in the art of successfully combining high level academics with a world class competitive sporting career. Despite coming form the north which was considered educationally backward, Musa blazed the trail and proved to the nay sayers that athletes are not stupid, irresponsible drop outs, but people of intellect, capable of the highest level of academic achievement in their chosen field. I doff my hat to Musa, seriki ‘n’ gudu for being a great pioneer.
After completing his education, he returned in 1981 to the beloved country he toiled so hard to represent around the world. The country was unkind to him at first, because he was jobless for about three years and living in Kagoro village with his wife who came back with him after 20 years in the USA. Finally, through some intricate connections, he was interviewed and selected as the Director of Sports for Kaduna state. At the end of his four year tenure at the Kaduna State Sports Council, he languished again for some years and even contemplated moving back to the USA with his wife and children before he got another appointment with the National Sports Commission as Zonal Director. Four years ago, he was posted to the Ministry of Sports in Abuja where he acted briefly as the Director of Sports Development before he retired.
He served Nigeria from his youth until retirement. He paid his dues and gave the best he had. He deserved to be honored as a national hero because that is what he was.
Dr. Musa Dogonyaro died in August 2008, without the simplest acknowledgement by the Nigerian Government or their representatives. It is bad enough that most of Nigeria’s former stars are poor, destitute and languishing in various corners of Nigeria today, after dedicating their entire youth to the service of this country. However, for one of us to die and the Ministry of Sports /NSC does not take out an obituary advertisement in a national newspaper or send emissaries with cash to console the family during burial is callous and inexcusable.
My disappointment and anger was echoed by Segun Odegbami in his (www.mathematical7.com) blog about Musa when he wrote
“Not even an official obituary was published by the NSC to announce the passage of one Nigeria’s great athletics heroes, and perhaps the greatest athlete to come from the North of Nigeria! I am truly lost for words! This is another reflection of the tragedy that has befallen Nigerian sports. It is totally unacceptable that sports heroes are unacknowledged even at death as they usually are when they retire from sports and are alive!”
When our heroes are treated like trash and with ignominy, what message are we sending to the youths? This is one of the biggest problems we have in Nigerian sports today. To this day, I doubt if there are any programs in place to help former international sportsmen/women find jobs and transition back into the workforce. All Nigerians, especially corporate Nigeria, should treat our heroes’ right and give them a chance to participate in Nigeria’s economic and political evolution. Only when they are living successful lives after active sports can they be looked upon by the younger generation as good examples and a source of inspiration. My friend and comrade is no more with us physically but his memory shall live with us forever. Musa, seriki ‘n’ fili (king of the field), rest well in the bosom of the Lord until we meet again in paradise.
Musa is survived by his loving wife, Lami Alheri Dogonyaro, and four beautiful children Albert Musa Dogonyaro Jnr, Michael Audu Dogonyaro, Andrew Abubakar Dogonyaro, and Melissa Koda Dogonyaro.