The President of 12-12 Polo and Turf Club, Nuhu Sani, has no doubt cut a niche for himself in sports promotion in Nigeria having nurtured one of the most sophisticated and arguably the best equestrian sports facility from the scratch to its gangling and enviable status and in the process provided job opportunities and entertainment to many Nigerians. The facility which encompasses horse racing and polo events has witnessed remarkable milestones in its 7- years of existence. ANDREW ESSIEN reports.
Can we have an insight into the activities of 12-12 polo and turf club?
12-12 Polo and Turf Club is a world class facility for Polo, Horseracing and other equestrian sports. The club derived its name from the day and month Abuja was officially inaugurated as the Federal Capital Territory; December 12, 1991. This gesture is a tribute to Abuja the Nigeria’s political and administrative center, and a symbol of Nigeria’s unity in cultural diversity. Incidentally, the club was commissioned on a unique date that depicts the club’s power, class and grandeur; the December 12, 2012 (12-12-12), and it was commissioned by General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.
Despite his tight schedule, General Babangida graced your invitation to commission this Project, is there any special relationship?
I grew up with my grandmother Hajiya Yaya Hassana Umaru. My grandmother was among the first few Northern women who were lucky to acquire western education and that opened her to many opportunities. While working at Northern Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) Kaduna, She met Ibrahim Babangida who was then a captain in the Nigerian Army. They met through two of her younger brothers; late Kere Ahmed and retired DIG Nuhu Aliyu, and by extension, he also became like a younger brother to her as well. Being the loving and caring person that she is, she became a sister to a host of them and their friends, professional associates and/or schoolmates in the likes of Mohammadu Magoro, late Gado Nasko, late Brigadier Umar Mohammed, late Brigadier Ibrahim Bako, Harris Igaga, Martin Adamu, late Major Bello Ndayako, Col. Sani Bello, late Sen. Idris Ibrahim Kuta, late Abdullahi Adamu and Usman Farouk, just to mention but a few.
The sisterly relationship she had with all of them formed the bedrock of the relationship I had (still do) with them, so I would say, I have known General Babangida virtually all my life and our relationship has always been cordial. In fact, it may interest you to know that when I started this project, I went to seek his wise counsel and he gave the club this name Twelve-Twelve Polo and Turf Club. You will agree with me that it is a name that stands the club out from many other household names.
Your Grandmother must be an influential personality…
I totally agree. When she attended St. Bartholomew in Wusasa, Zaria, she was in school then with a host of families like the Gowons and the Kishnas, and people like late Prof. Ishaya Audu, George Bako, Azumi Beki, Prof. Adamu Beki, late James Audu, Hauwa Dikko and many others too numerous to mention. She worked her way up from being a telephone operator at NBC to a presenter who worked both with local and international radio stations. She has also authored a number of books; some of which were reviewed by Late Mallam Aminu Kano. So I would say her influence was even more as a foundational beacon of hope for the girl child education in Northern Nigeria. Her influence transcended even to the home front particularly as the wife of Alh. Samaila Gwarzo who was a Police officer, one time Minister of Police Affairs under President Ibrahim Babangida and the National Security Adviser during Late Gen. Sani Abacha’s regime.
In your assessment, how do you think 12-12 Polo and Turf Club stand out from other club’s in Nigeria?
Twelve-Twelve Polo and Turf Club is a Nigerian project that promotes the country to the rest of the world, through Polo, Horseracing and other equestrian activities. What we do here, is primarily to project Nigeria’s image to the rest of the world and what better way to do so than to merge our love for our country, with the passion we have for equestrian sports?
The club is uniquely situated at the heart of the Federal Capital Territory and at the foot of the Gwarinpa Hills, thereby earning it the reputation of having the most exquisite landmark of the city of Abuja.
12-12’s strategic location gives it a 180 degrees panoramic view of the entire city of Abuja and that breathtaking sight has attracted tourists and the likes to our facility. Although we are just at the first out of four phases, we pride ourselves with a world class facility for equestrian sports.
How do you mean by first out of four phases?
The 12-12 Polo and Turf project is a long term project that has been divided into four (4) phases. We have so far achieved about 90% of the first phase. I like to reiterate that it has always been more of a thing of passion, for Nigeria and equestrian sports than about money. Our plan is to build a world standard equestrian center and a lasting legacy that will outlive all of us that started it. In fact, as I speak, there are some who began this journey with us that are no more but the spirit and determination they have put to seeing this dream come to fruition still lives with us.
The first phase comprises of 100 horse-capacity Stables; Superbly maintained Paddocks for grazing and walking the horses; Standard 10 furlong Sultan Sir Abubakar III Horseracing Track; The state of the art Sir Usman Nagoggo Polo Field; the 12-12 History Hall and Yaya Hassana VIP Stand; Late Sen. Idris Ibrahim Kuta Stand and the RJ Jose Stand. Our Riding Schools (one medium and one standard riding schools) are designed to cater for horse enthusiasts ranging from a minimum age of 5. More than horse riding, our curriculum includes teaching the students discipline, principles of leadership and patriotism.
The Club House is a testimony to a brilliant architecture with two terraces providing unobstructed view of the Polo field and the entire city of Abuja and they serve as a restaurant and bar respectively. The parking lot has the capacity to accommodate over 250 cars. The wide parking space is provided to encourage people to park their cars and take long walks round our facility and bask in the beauty of nature.
The second phase of our project shall include a hotel, resort apartments, staff quarters, equestrian center, a second Polo field for practice, and extension of the stables, swimming pool for Horse training, and a track round the hill for endurance training for the horses.
Summarily, down to the fourth phase, this facility shall be an International Polo and Horseracing resort that shall rival the best of such facilities in the world.
Is this standard peculiar to 12-12 Polo and Turf Club or it is a general thing in Nigeria?
It is not only a Nigerian thing but global. It has taken UK and Argentina almost a century to establish themselves as the homes of Polo in the world, Dubai for some years now have been working hard at dominating the world of Horseracing. So I feel even by global standards, the fact that 12-12 Polo and Turf Club is combining Polo, Horseracing, and other equestrian sports, is no small feat that would require so much investment in time, energy and resources. Coming to Nigeria, take Fifth Chukker in Kaduna for instance, it has been running for about 16 to 17 years yet if you go there, you will find several projects springing up to match the fast changing trend of architecture and equestrian sports. I think when it comes to perfection in equestrian sports, it is safe to describe it as a never ending journey. Wherever we stop and whatever we are able to achieve, will be continued by another generation that succeeds us. We believe the key words are determination and continuity; this project serves to encourage younger Nigerians to place passion over immediate gains.
How did the 12-12 Polo and Turf Club idea begin?
My grandmother has always had a very good relationship with the sultanate from the late Sultan Abubakar III, to Late Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki and even to this moment. My earliest encounters with horses began when Sultan Abubakar III would take me and some of his grandchildren on a tour round his stables and we would come across a wide variety of horse breeds.
The second significant encounter was in 1980. I came back from school one afternoon and met my grandmother and her brother, late Kere Ahmed (Daddy) who brought a message from the then governor, late Shehu Kangiwa, for my grandmother. The governor wanted to know when he could come to visit her but out of respect, she opted to go and visit him at the government house instead. I gladly accompanied her and her brother Kere Ahmed, when she offered. On reaching the government house, Aunty Hannatu (Gov. Shehu Kangiwa’s wife) directed us to the back where we met Shehu Kangiwa attending to horses in his stables. As they exchanged pleasantries with my grandmother, he noticed how transfixed I was to the horses at the stables and he asked if I would like to own a horse. I excitedly nodded and that was how I got a gift of my first horse.
At first, my grandmother objected to this gift considering the pressure it would put on her to take care of the horse for me but Shehu Kangiwa insisted and she succumbed when he offered for the horse to remain in his stables where it would be taken care of and I was free to visit at any time I wanted to ride it.
My passion for horses was further established when late Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki gave me my second horse in 1983. Interestingly, this is a wonderful gesture that has even transcended to his son Mallam Ahmed Dasuki who recently donated two thoroughbred horses to our riding school. So I would say my love for horses began quite early in life but the idea for 12-12 Polo and Turf Club was conceived due to the need for ranch/resort for horse riding but the dream kept getting bigger until it took us to this point and even now, the dream keeps getting bigger as we cross some of the hurdles.
Things seem to be falling into pleasant places but was there a point that you felt like quitting?
I think ‘felt like quitting’ is kind of a strong term because I was raised by my grandmother who instilled in me that fear of failure in whatever I do, therefore, I always see challenges as opportunities to triumph rather than just obstacles.
Believe me, the challenges we faced were enormous and we still face a number of them but through them all, if we felt quitting was an option, there would not have been a place called 12-12 Polo and Turf Club today.
Could you enumerate the challenges you faced?
We had a number of sites that were proposed for this project but due to bureaucracy and some other challenges we could not secure those areas. But ultimately and by divine intervention, we secured our present location, which incidentally became more strategic for what we want to achieve than most of the places we lost.
We have faced challenges of bureaucracy with some FCT Ministers who felt that the land should be allocated to residential estates instead because they could not see beyond this dream. You see, there are certain edifices that compliment every great city in the world. A great city has to have hospitals, schools, markets, road networks, a stadium, an orchestra, a museum, parks and recreational areas, and a polo/horseracing resort is pivotal to the composition of such a great city. That is why we have town planners that design how an entire city should be and where everything should be positioned. Unfortunately some of these ministers were too myopic to follow through with such plans and designs.
The President is the chief custodian of the wellbeing of the Federal Capital Territory, and since he delegates that responsibility to the FCT Minister, it becomes incumbent on him to ensure that only people of pedigree, insight and foresight are appointed as FCT ministers and not those with the ‘buy and sell land’ mentality; some of which we have had in the past. There is however a silver lining in the fact that at some points, some of the FCT Ministers made efforts to right some of these wrongs and give Abuja the proper treatment it deserves as the most important city in Africa.
We are thankful that ministers like Mal. Nasir El-Rufai came, saw the importance of a world class facility for polo, horseracing and other equestrian sports in Abuja, and ensured that the land was allocated to us for that purpose.
I held a meeting with the current FCT Minister Mohammed Bello at his office on July 17, 2017. We had several discussions regarding the current state and future of 12-12 Polo and Turf Club. He expressed serious resolution to solving some of our challenges which I have mentioned above. The Minister was pleasantly surprised that we withdrew from one of our lands, Plot1166, measuring about 40 hectres. The plot was encroached by the ministry of works and Housing which compelled us to back out despite having the legal right of the land.
In spite of the challenges we face, it becomes reassuring to have the minister taking vested interest in protecting 12-12 Polo and Turf Club and other areas of similar value within Abuja. I recalled that on August 27, 2016, while addressing a gathering of journalists, the minister said he looks forward to a day in Abuja when the FCT minister would call a director or any public servant, and demand for a certain plot of land for the wrong reason, and the person would have the courage to turn the minister down. A person that would encourage his subordinates to do the right thing even if it means defying him is the kind of person I would love Abuja to be entrusted to.
Are there still challenges now?
Most prominent among the challenges we face today are those of land encroachment, illegal allocation of lands by some government authorities, bush burning, and unauthorized excavation of the Hill.
It is very unfortunate that the Ministry of Works and the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) have made themselves the agents of many of the confusion and illegalities that have befallen the Gwarinpa District and several other parts of Abuja. Gen. Sani Abacha had a very formidable and vibrant plan for Gwarinpa which happens to be the largest estate in West Africa but he, and other drivers of that dream would be sorely disappointed in what Ministry of Works and FHA have turned it into. I dare say that Gwarinpa is a disaster waiting to happen because they have made illegal allocations to people who have built on drainages, water and electric pipelines and they have even gone ahead to approve illegal structures that endanger the lives of people on daily basis not to talk of the aesthetic beauty of the area, that they have deprived us of.
For some of us, we are privileged to have the original master plan of Abuja engrained in our heads because some of our parents were part and parcel of the team that designed the original master plan. This makes it easy for us to identify all the places where this beautiful city has been mistreated.
It may interest you to know that in Abuja’s master plan, the entire stretch of the land where 12-12 Polo and Turf Club seats today was supposed to be a green area. You can attest to the beauty and grandeur of our facility because the land was appropriately used. Then, imagine how exquisite it would have been if the land use for the entire area had been strictly adhered to. If you come to 12-12 today, you would find several buildings littered around the area which is in total deviation from the master plan and we owe all that to mismanagement of authority and greed from some of these government officials. For the sake of posterity, I dare anyone who challenges what has been said here, to bring forth the original Gwarinpa Master Plan and compare it to what is on ground; to see how far away we are from the ideal.
Have you enjoyed any support from government, organisations or individuals?
We have received immense support from several personalities and for that we are grateful. From inception till date, we consider ourselves honoured to have hosted three former Presidents and Heads of State, a former Vice President and recently, on July 22, 2017 to be precise, we had the singular privilege of hosting the Acting President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo who was impressed with what we have achieved so far and pledged his support to make 12-12 attain its full potential.
Like I have earlier mentioned, we recently had a meeting with the current FCT Minister, and the outcome of the meeting was quite positive because the minister and his team have stepped up to wade in on some of the challenges that we face. Mohammed Bello recently accompanied the Acting President to our Facility on the aforementioned familiarization visit and he commended the progress he saw at the club. The Minister of Transport, Rt. Hon Rotimi Amaechi visited our facility and applauded what we have achieved here so far, and Minister of State Petroleum, Dr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu had nothing but praise for our resolve on environmental sustainability as well as praises for our well maintained greenery. We have also been privileged to have the continuous support of the Minister of State for solid minerals, Abubakar Bawa Bwari.
Through the course of our events and engagements, we have hosted and interrelated with Ambassadors and High Commissioners of many countries and so far, they have also shown interest in having a membership/working relationship with us. This hopefully can be translated into an FDI opportunity for Nigeria at large.
As far as corporate organisations go, we have enjoyed the support from the likes of ExxonMobil and Glo Unlimited who have shown their resolve to promote the growth of equestrian sports in Nigeria.
What are your expectations from the government, corporate organisations and individuals?
The government can make enabling policies that can support sports tourism. We all know that football is the most popular sport in the country yet it is not having the maximum support it desires let alone sports like polo and horseracing that are more capital intensive to set up.
Our expectations from private organisations is their support through sponsorship of our tournaments and events so that we have that mutual benefit where we give them proper publicity for their brands, and they help advance equestrian sports in Nigeria.
In the first quarter of 2018, we plan to officially open the club to individual, corporate and diplomatic membership. This creates an opportunity for individuals to be part of this Nigerian Project and make their meaningful contributions.
Earlier you asked how 12-12 Polo and Turf Club stands out from other equestrian clubs, I feel this is one more way that we are unique. No doubt that equestrian sports are cost sensitive, but what we are doing here, is setting up an equestrian center that breaks people away from that elitist perception and have something for every class without infringing on any category’s liberty, privacy and enjoyment.
What has the club achieved so far?
Like I earlier said, this club is what we like to call a Nigerian Project and that is why we are promoting and creating awareness for one cause or the other. For instance, we have organised two International Polo Tournaments in November 2015 and November 2016. While the 2015 tournament created awareness for the conditions of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Nigeria and also commemorated the fallen Officers and Soldiers of the Nigerian Armed Forces, the 2016 tournament created awareness for the need to prioritise education in Nigeria, especially in the Northeast where school facilities, students and teachers have suffered attacks due to the insurgency. From the few I have mentioned, you would notice that we do not count our milestones only based on the equestrian events that we have successfully held, but what we have contributed to making Nigeria a greater nation.
On a final note, I noticed some dates engraved in stone around the facility. Do they have any historical connotation to this place?
Of course! The dates depict some defining moments through the club’s history; some were pleasant and others were bad experiences we encountered. Since we are having new experiences daily, there will definitely be more of those dates but ultimately, the public will get an insight of what we have gone through in this journey when we publish a tell-all book about 12-12 Polo and Turf Club which God willing, will be done in our 10th anniversary.