Ben-Lutnaan Duamlong, a former Nigerian international and Super Eagles coach, decided to return to school at an age that most people would think is too old or belonging earnestly for retirement. He enrolled in school to study arts with people who are more than younger than half his age and beat them to emerge as the best-graduating student of his class, at the age of 69.
Never say never is a proverb that conjures up a steadfast determination in someone who is willing to go the extra mile to reach a goal. Ben-Lutnaan Duamlong, a former Nigerian international and Super Eagles coach, had always harbored aspirations.
Duamlong, like every normal person with drive and a life purpose, never let his dream to die in spite of detours and setbacks along the way.
Ben-Lutnaan Duamlong spent his childhood and adolescence as a football player and coach, earning many accolades, honors, and fame.
He then reversed his path and entered a classroom, this time as a student rather than a teacher. And he excelled in the end. Most importantly, he accomplished his life goal of becoming a fine artist. With a CGPA of 4.32, Duamlong graduated from the University of Jos at the age of 69 and was the best in his class.
“I have always loved the arts. Like I wrote in the handbook of my first and only exhibition, ‘football and arts, to me, are one and the same. While football is performing arts, what I am doing now… painting is abstract arts. They all form the creative. Art to me is everything. Art is life. ”
He was interested in philosophy. After some reflection, he said to himself, “I love the arts, and back in the 1970s, when I was a member of the Green Eagles, I signed up for a course to study the arts at a British College in England. I was receiving tutorials and homework on drawing and the arts. I then remarked, “Why don’t I give this a shot?” I’ve always drawn, even as a child, but I’ve never painted,” he admitted.
“It wasn’t easy at the beginning as my first painting was nothing to write home about. Gradually, I came into it. Now, thanks be to God, I can do it. In fact, I have held my first exhibition titled SWITCH”
He was given the opportunity to enroll in UNIJOS’s Arts program through direct entry after leaving his position as coach of Kaduna United Football Club in 2016.
“My admission was made easy with the qualification I had from the National Institute for Sports and in Germany.”
Duamlong had only attended the Correspondent College in England and had no formal training in the arts. He discovered himself in school among boys and girls who were close to his children’s age. Naturally, some elderly people would have felt uneasy about this. Not Duamlong, though.
“They were not as old as my grandchildren but younger than my children. I didn’t look at that because all that was on my mind was how to become an artist. So, I enmeshed myself in that process and did everything I could to succeed. Like I told you, in the beginning I was on ground zero. Apart from those tutorials, books and assignments I never had a formal arts teacher until I got to the university. From time to time I used to do pencil work, drawing.”
Duamlong’s typical day at the university was, in his words, hectic.
“Although I sent myself to school, I must wake up early to beat the traffic. I would get to school before 8 am, because some classes start as early as 8. Thereafter, I would go to the first floor because our studios are on the 8th floor. In most cases when I go up, because I had a challenge with my leg – I needed to operate my knee and hip.
“As soon as I dropped my last exam paper, I went for the operation for knee and hip replacement. Because of the stress, when I go up in the morning I don’t come down until it’s time to go in the evenings. The toilets are on the ground floor. But I had to endure till around 5 pm in the evening before I came down.
“It was hectic because I painted everyday, even on weekends I painted. I did that in order to cover lost grounds.”
“I told you before, art is everything. Art is life. Art is also abstract. It is an abstraction of a whole. When you condense a story like an abstract picture – you may look at an abstract picture.
“When you go to some places and see an abstract picture that wouldn’t make sense and when the artist who painted it comes and explains all the strokes you will say wow…I did not look at it that way. In the arts there are so many perspectives for you to view life.”
Reading in old age is not as simple as it seems. The distractions are numerous.
Reconnecting with the past requires significant adjustment for a man who had long since left the classroom. There are many reasons why people choose not to commit, including social pressures, domestic and family issues, and more.
The tenacious Ben Duamlong had difficulties but overcame them, surprising himself by passing his exams and earning the best grade point average (CGPA) in his class—4.3—beating out more youthful-appearing peers. He ended up being his class’s top graduate, which was well deserved.
“Hard work. Hard work. Hard work. There are some people that had graduated from the arts school before me that I went to beg to teach me at weekends. I go to church in the evenings, except there is an occasion that requires me to go in the morning. When I come out in the morning, I would paint till 2-3 pm. I really pushed myself very hard.”
The outcome of Duamlong was not a surprise to those who had guided his growth into one of the top painters at the university.
John Oyedemi, Ph.D., Head of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts, University of Jos, stated the following in the preface to the catalog of Duamlong’s solo exhibition.
“The oldest and most talented student in the Fine and Applied Arts Department was Ben-Lutnaan Duamlong. He was a constant presence in the studio, inspiring the younger artists. I once questioned how he managed to work with such vigor and focus. He had the largest collection of paintings upon graduation, which was not surprising given his diligence.“
He hopes his exploits at UNIJOS at 69 will serve as a source of inspiration to not only the older people who think old age is a barrier to furthering one’s knowledge but to the youth.
“Anyone who is ready to push, remain committed and go the extra mile is bound to succeed.”
Before he became an artist, Ben Duamlong was a football player and later coach. According to him, he began playing from the streets before going to primary school.
Duamlong was born in Pankshin, Plateau State, but life actually began in Maiduguri, (North Eastern State) now Borno State.
“The turning point was in my primary 3 in 1963 when I started showing my abilities as a goalkeeper. I went to Maiduguri on holidays with my father’s friend. At the end of the holidays in my Form 2 in1968, I thought we were returning but didn’t know he had made up his mind to keep me there. I was training with some town boys and one day something happened and our goalkeeper did not show up.
“I was asked to stand in his place. By the time I went back to train with the boys, they didn’t leave me with any choice in regard to where I wanted to play. They said they had got a goalkeeper.”
His father was a civil servant who was always on the move. That made little Duamlong live with different people at different times. But that did not, in any way, disrupt his steady rise in academics.
“Of course, but for football, my line would have been academics because many of my mates went on to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. At least, I did my HSC but I decided to go to Sapele to take over from Peter Fregene who was the goalkeeper of Amukpe Lions that metamorphosed to New Nigerian Bank of Benin.
“I came in when NNB had just taken over. I came to Sapele in 1973 after the first National Sports Festival in Lagos. I represented the North Eastern State. I started keeping for the North Eastern state from my Form 2.”He would not agree that football was a distraction.
“Football did not disturb me. If I wanted, I would have gone to school of Basic studies and then straight to the university. But I wanted to play football. I didn’t go through Jos to Sapele. If I did, they would have stopped me.”
“when we were going into camp was when the three great goalkeepers were being asked to go because time had caught up with them. They were all great goalkeepers that I loved to imitate. They were my idols and role models.”