Nigeria has had a long and storied history, full of triumphs and struggles. But one thing that has always endured is the spirit, greatness, and talents of its people. As a testament to those talents, we thought it would be an inspiring undertaking to remind everyone of just a few of the Nigerian entertainers and performers, past and present, who have contributed to our rich culture and influence over the years. (The following is in no particular order.)
Teslim “Thunder” Balogun (footballer)
Teslim Balogun is likely the most famous Nigerian football player of all time; fans have been sharing fireside tales and anecdotes about him since the late 1940s. Balogun was the first Nigerian player to score a hat-trick in Nigeria’s Challenge Cup, and he won five out of the seven finals he reached in the competition. In 1949, he also was a member of Nigeria’s UK Tourists, which was the predecessor of Nigeria’s national team, the Red Devils (later to be renamed the Green Eagles).
Fela Kuti (musician, composer, and civil rights activist)
Fela Anikulapo Kuti (who lived from October 15, 1938 until August 2, 1997), was also professionally known as “Fela Kuti,” or simply “Fela.” As the innovator of the Afrobeat music genre, Fela was a Nigerian musician (he could play several instruments) and composer. He was also a human rights activist and political dissident.
Fela Kuti has been acclaimed as a “legend,” “musician,” “mystic,” “singer,” and “superstar,” and during the height of his celebrity, he was declared to be one of the continent’s “most challenging and charismatic music performers.”
Hogan “Kid” Bassey (boxer)
Okon Asuquo Bassey became the first person of Nigerian heritage to earn a world boxing championship title when he defeated French-Algerian Cherif Hamia in Paris in 1957. He won the Nigerian flyweight and bantamweight titles, and then the West African flyweight and bantamweight titles. He then went on to win the Empire featherweight title (which is now the equivalent of the Commonwealth title) before eventually capturing the world title.
In 1959, following his world title win, Britain granted him a Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (also known as an “MBE”), which is a British order of chivalry that rewards charity work, contributions to the arts and sciences, and public service. He went on to become a boxing coach in Nigeria, which named Bassey as an Officer of the Order of Niger (or “OON”) during his later years.
Emmanuel Arokodare (professional poker player)
Emmanuel Arokodare stands out as Nigeria’s most notable poker player. He sits in first place on Nigeria’s “All-Time Money List,” ahead of rival countrymen Dany Chidiac and Aminu PJ-Akpan. At the PKR Live VII tournament held at the Aspers Casino in London, England, he made $19,245 in live cash earnings as a member of the final table. This year, Emmanuel Arokodare represented Nigeria in Group D of the inaugural PokerStars Blog Poker Cup.
Jude Abaga (rapper, label executive)
Better known by stage name “M.I” or “M.I Abaga,” Jude Abaga is a Nigerian hip-hop recording artist and the current CEO of Chocolate City Music. He rose to prominence in 2006 when his song, “Crowd Mentality”, gained popularity in his hometown of Jos. M.I has won several awards, including “Best New Act” at the 2009 MTV Africa Music Awards. He was also nominated in the “Best International Act” category at the 2010 BET Awards.
Clearly, this list is not exhaustive. In fact, we could spend years highlighting the countless Nigerian performers who have painted our proud history. But the most important thing is to never forget—and give proper homage where it’s due.