Tribute By Dr. Mumini Alao
I am writing this tribute reluctantly. In my Yoruba culture and, I guess, in most other cultures, the hope and prayer is that the young will mourn and bury the old, not the other way round. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes, the old have to bury and mourn the young. That is my sad lot with Kayode Tijani who passed away on Wednesday, 7 February 2024. He was 55, four years younger than me.
I was at his Janaza (Islamic funeral) at the Atan Cemetary in Yaba, Lagos the day after he died. After we did all the funeral rites and Kayode was committed to mother heart, the officiating Imams asked only me, amongst the whole crowd present, to say a word of prayer before the funeral was closed. I did.
I knew who nominated me for that role. It was Kayode’s siblings. They knew about the close relationship that I had with their brother and decided to give me that honour even when hordes of family members and elderly people more qualified than me were present. That decided it for me; I would have to write a tribute to Kayode. I felt at that moment that I owed it to him.
Aliu Oluwakayode Tijani was born 6 July 1968, into the Tijani family from Epe in Lagos State. He attended Ansar-ud-Deen Primary School and Ansar-ud-Deen College, both in Isolo, Lagos where the family lived. The Tijani’s are a renown Muslim family within the neighbourhood and devotees worshipped in the mosque built in their family compound. Kayode graduated from college in 1986 and proceeded to the Nigeria Institute of Journalism, NIJ, Lagos. He wanted to be a sports journalist.
My first encounter with Kayode was in 1990 when he came to work with us at Complete Communications Limited. I was the editor of Complete Football magazine, and he was fresh from the NIJ. He was crazy about football, and he had a passion for keeping records and statistics, exactly the kind of chap that we needed at the time as a reporter/researcher. That was how he cut his sports journalism teeth working with Dr. Emmanuel Sunny Ojeagbase, Dr. Segun Odegbami, Frank Ilaboya, Ehi Braimah, Sunday Orelesi and myself.
Apart from his sports archive which was already very impressive but growing at the time (he inherited loads of Shoot! and MATCH! football magazines from me, too!), Kayode quickly demonstrated a knack for sniffing out exclusive stories which was our forte at Complete Football back in the day. One of his biggest scoops was published on pages 14 and 15 of the February 1991 edition of the magazine. It read “Exclusive Shocker of the Year: Henry Nwosu Hangs His Boots. Says ‘I won’t play in Europe, I won’t play at the World Cup.'” Nwosu did neither before he retired.
But Kayode was restless. He was full of energy. He didn’t stay long with us at Complete Football. After a year and a half, he moved on to become the pioneer sports editor of FAME magazine, a society publication launched by celebrated entertainment journalists Femi Akintunde-Johnson, Kunle Bakare and Mayour Akinpelu. Every week, Kayode’s face appeared in the famous magazine where he wrote about famous sports people. Inevitably, he also became very famous.
Meanwhile, his reputation as a sports statistician and sports video collector continued to grow. If anyone in the media and advertising industries needed an old footage of the Nigerian football team from their days as the Red Devils through to when they became Green Eagles and later, Super Eagles, Kayode was the man to see. If you wanted footage of Nigerian former Olympians from the 1950’s and 60’s up to the 1980’s and ’90’s; or videos of former boxing world champions Dick Tiger or Hogan Kid Bassey, Kayode had them on VHS cassettes. If you wanted exclusive interviews with Haruna Ilerika or Stephen Keshi or action shots of Segun Odegbami, Christian Chukwu, Rashidi Yekini, Nwankwo Kanu, Mary Onyali, Chioma Ajunwa or Yusuf Ali for your sports documentary or television commercial, Kayode had them. When the VHS cassettes became outdated, he spent a fortune converting them into digital copies.
When Kayode left FAME magazine and relocated to the United Kingdom for a while, his stock grew even further. During one of my trips to England, I appeared on his sports show on BEN TV and noticed how he had built up a sizable following amongst Nigerians in the diaspora. On his return from the UK, he decided to become a full-time visual content consultant and set up a media outfit, ‘Sport Xclusive’ to mine the lifetime investment he had made in archival records. He always said to me that he didn’t want a permanent job with any media organization again because of their penchant to owe staff salaries for months on end.
At various times in his career, Kayode was also a personal assistant to former Nigerian minister of sports, Chief Alex Akinyele; he was a correspondent for African Soccer magazine and co-founder of Sportlight, a daily sports newspaper which ran briefly in 1995; we worked together with others in the Organizing Committee of the 8th All-Africa Games, Abuja 2003, which brought him in contact with all shades of people in the Nigerian sports fraternity; he produced and presented several sports programmes on radio and television that cemented his place in the hearts of millions of Nigerian sports fans. In his own unique way, Kayode contributed immensely to the development of Nigerian sports, and he deserves to be celebrated.
When I broke the sad news of Kayode’s death on several WhatsApp platforms of distinguished sports personalities in Nigeria, shocks and commiserations flooded the platforms. From athletes, footballers, basketballers, table tennis players and boxers to sports administrators, referees, coaches and, of course, journalists, everybody knew Kayode Tijani and Kayode Tijani knew everybody! The sadness of his passing at such a young age was shared by all.
The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) described Kayode in a press statement as “an international journalist of repute” while former AIPS President, Mitchel Obi noted that “he served sports and serviced journalism with a rare passion that welcomes him to all.” Veteran journalist and PR practitioner Gboyega Okegbenro who attended the funeral with me described Kayode as “the journalist’s journalist. Many of us relied on him for materials to do our jobs.” Spot on.
Unfortunately, Kayode did not enjoy the best of health in his last years on earth and that resulted in his death on 7 February, 2024 the night when the Super Eagles beat Bafana Bafana of South Africa to
qualify for the final of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations. Had he been well, Kayode would certainly have been in Côte d’Ivoire to cover the Eagles journey as he had done at several competitions in the past. He would have been posting exclusive stories on his social media handles on Facebook and “X” (formerly Twitter) where he was very prolific. But that was not to be. While Nigerians were celebrating the Eagles’ dramatic penalty shootout victory, Kayode was answering the final call of his creator.
I’m making a request to the Super Eagles. Please win this 2023 AFCON for Kayode Tijani and the several other Nigerian fans who reportedly died while watching the highly tensed semifinal win against South Africa. That is the least honour that the Eagles can give to the departed souls.
My last word in this tribute goes to Kayode Tijani’s family, particularly his wife, Folashade Ebunoluwa; their three university undergraduate boys, Toyeeb Damilola, AbdulBasit Pelumi, Abdulmalik Olalekan; and Kayode’s brothers and sisters. Nearly three decades ago when they got married, I was given the task to go and bring Shade from her family home to Kayode on the wedding night. Since then, I have watched how they sacrificed for each other affectionately and surmounted many hurdles together as a couple.
I have also been a witness to the great stress that Kayode’s poor health in his last years brought upon every member of his family. It tested to the very extreme their love and commitment to their son, husband, father and brother, but they all stood firm and supported him till the very end.
This is not to be taken for granted. It’s not all the time that people stand by their own in times of great challenges and difficulties. But in that respect, Kayode was greatly blessed with a truly loving and supportive wife, very courageous children and extremely committed brothers and sisters. To the entire family of Aliu Kayode Tijani, I salute you for your steadfastness. May Almighty Allah reward you and admit Kayode into Aljanat Firdaos (The best of Paradise).