By Ebi Perekeme
One Laverne Cox once said that “who you are authentically is alright.” This phrase is typical of Tonye Solomon; this produce of a Fulani mother and an Ijaw father from Bayelsa State. His uniqueness engendered him to understand Fulani and Izon languages as he could. He is not only good in language, Bayelsa also brags of him as the only ball juggler of international repute.
Nonetheless, Tonye is neglected at home but recognised abroad no matter whatever his home state holds for him. However, his testimony still tells a great deal about just how far a little determination can take one humble boy working hard at a talent he believes is special to him. Ball juggling has taken Tonye to some parts of the world, even though it is not an everyday sport. In these parts of the world, he has competed with fellow ball jugglers in Egypt and South Africa, and was applauded.
De Boy, as Tonye is fondly called, has walked from Amassoma, host city of the Niger Delta University, right up to Government House, Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, a distance of sixty kilometres, with a ball steady on his head. It happened on Thursday, August 11, 2016, and the record keepers have since filed the report into the annals of history.
The following year, 2017, Tonye set himself a new target. He climbed to the top of an MTN mast with the ball on his head, and all the way down with the ball still in position, an appreciable height of one hundred and fifty metres either way.
Nine months ago, precisely on Saturday December 1, 2018, he swam across Ekoli River with the ball on his head, cheered on by spectators on both sides of the Goodluck Jonathan bridge crossing from Yenagoa to Famgbe.
What is left now is for De Boy to fly through the air on a magic carpet with the ball on his head. He says it is possible. If he cannot fly from Yenagoa airport to Abuja with the ball on his head, he will settle for a bicycle ride from Yenagoa to Port Harcourt, with the ball on his head. He is already training hard for that event.
If he does it, he will be beating the record of a ball juggler who actually did that over a sixty-kilometre stretch, a clear forty kilometres short of the distance between Yenagoa and Port Harcourt.
Even as things stand, De Boy may well have found his way into the pages of The Guinness Book of Records. It is a mark of his powers of concentration that Tonye is not distracted by side comments or incidental noises.
In like manner, he is not distracted by waves or thoughts of danger when he floats across the open waters of Epie River, rather like a duck gliding over water, the ball always steadies on his head.
“At first, people thought it was my hair, so I had to cut it short. Some people even said I was using charm. How? The fact is that I simply train. I study football. I believe that whatever is worth doing, is worth doing well.”
Tonye Solomon hails from Okordia-Biseni-Zarama local government area of Bayelsa State. Born in Jalingo, capital of Taraba State, on Thursday August 27, 1998, Tonye speaks of his family with a sense of nostalgia.
In his days as a young soldier, his father, Pipi Salome, fell in love with his mum, Ari, a Fulani lass. Before long, they were married. Between them, they had three boys and a girl. Tonye is the only surviving child of that union. Tonye prefers to go by the surname Solomon rather than Salome.
His elder brother passed on in 1999. His younger sister passed on in 2006, and the last born son passed on in 2010. Having left his mum at the age of three, Tonye is not quite fluent in Fulani, but he speaks Hausa like Mai Sunsaye.
With his parents separated, De Boy faced early challenges. For a start, he couldn’t finish school. There was no one to pay the fees after a while, not even his father. De Boy began to explore his talents. He turned to football, and began to nurture his passion.
He will gladly sit in a classroom again, if it comes to that. He first did so at Okordia Community Primary and Secondary School, finishing in 2009. “If my career moves me to a higher level, and I can afford the fees, then I’d like to attend the University of Port Harcourt or else a College of Education,” he says.
In fact, Tonye has a preference for the arts. He sees himself studying Theatre Arts. He sees a future in the entertainment industry. He believes he can do what Ali Baba, Basket Mouth and AY are doing. He possesses the confidence and the stage presence of a stand-up comedian.
“I can still get people to laugh, but football has taken over everything. I can do crazy things with football in the air, on the ground, and with every part of the body. I didn’t go to college, yes. But my career is now football juggling, freestyle, and I’m happy about it.”
De Boy has since identified Brazil and Germany as the dream countries he would like to visit. His mentors include Ronaldinho and Nigeria’s JayJay Okocha. In fact, Tonye himself was an active player. He can still hold his own in the midfield. He plays Number 10, just like Okocha. But, as far as he can tell, there was no push, no propulsion, to go all out and score goals.
“So I settled for juggling, and it’s taken me this far. I sponsored myself all the way to attend an international competition for jugglers. I sold my laptop and my half plot of land to get my visa and hotel bills set. I only got fifty thousand naira support from the Bayelsa United chairman, Tony Ogola, and his secretary, Brave Man. That was not even up to my feeding expenses, but it helped.”
In September 2018, Tonye Solomon landed in Cairo, Egypt, and stayed for one month till the end of the All-African freestyle juggling championship. There were twenty selections from over five hundred football jugglers across Africa. Tonye was among ten jugglers screened in Nigeria. He ranked eight in all of Africa. The first was from Cote de’ Voire, the second from Egypt, and the third from Botswana.
Tonye Solomon is all set to accomplish his 2019 challenge, namely the historic bicycle ride from Yenagoa to Port Harcourt, before the year runs out. He is grateful for the keen media interest he received in the past, and is hoping to raise support and awareness ahead of the event.
“I just need encouragement,” he says. “I receive a lot of clapping for my efforts, but the fact of the matter is that I have logistic challenges to take care of, and I could do with sponsorship.”