In 1991, Alhaji Mustapha was an energetic 10-year old boy when his favourite club in the entire world, El-Kanemi Warriors of Maiduguri won the Challenge Cup beating Kano Pillars in a keenly-contested final.
“In the earlier stages, I would go and watch with my own money but when it got to the knockout rounds, the state government flew us to Lagos and took care of all the expenses. I love El-Kanemi so much and I have not missed a match in fifteen years.”
In 1992 when the team defended the title, he was also there even though the team has not won any trophy since then and the support of subsequent governments in Borno state have fluctuated over the years.
Now 35, his unquestionable love for football and the team in particular is so strong that if he had not been struck by polio when he was five, he might have turned out a star player for the team, he admits. But not even his wheelchair can extinguish his passion.
A lawyer-in-training at the Islamic College of Legal Studies, the diehard fan attends games of the senior team and the junior team, El-Kanemi Babes which plays in the National Division League Two.
Early in August, there was a competitive game between the El-Kanemi Babes and Beretta, another team from Gombe State. Mustapha was within the stadium long before kickoff and took his usual position beside the supporters’ club, of which he is the vice-chairman. And as the game progressed, he hummed and clapped and shook his head from side to side in tandem with their rhythms.
Despite attacks by Boko Haram in an insurgency that has ravaged his state since 2009, he managed to still attend games, even days after losing close friends and a few neighbours.
“This is my favourite team in the world and I will support it till I die. They are the flagbearers of my state. I don’t watch Arsenal or Manchester United, only El-Kanemi.”