Paying tributes to departed sports personalities is as painful as it is pleasurable. In one breadth one is acknowledging the contributions of such people and in another one is providing historical material to immortalise the departed. And if like, me, you are fortunate enough to be acquainted with the sports personalities during their life time, you are on to good thing.
In the last three to four weeks, seven sports stars passed on, beginning with the immortal Muhammad Ali and there is no point adding more to the tribute published on June 19 because sugar is already sweet and no sweetener can make sugar sweeter.
Ali was a boxing legend in the ring so also was Chief Francis Ayegbeni of the Ring Road Ibadan, the promoter who spent loads of money to revive professional boxing in Ibadan. Last month I attended a friend’s 70th birthday in Ibadan and driving through Ring Road to the Church and coming to the reception venue near the Obafemi Awolowo Stadium, I had the urge to say a quick hello to Ayegbeni at his famous D’Rovans Hotel which he strove to turn into a famous boxing destination, with modest results.
I must have lost touch with the boxing impresario because by the time I visited Ibadan, D’Rovans Hotel had been renamed just as Ayegbeni’s boxing interest faded. That same week his death was announced and a number of media houses forgot to pay tributes to a philanthropist who spent millions of naira to promote Bash Alli and his ill fated misadventure. Dele Jonathan was for many years protégé of Francis Ayegbeni and some others are still alive to acknowledge his generosity.
I will still remain in Ibadan, where a few weeks ago, the death of Mrs Ronke Obanubi was announced. With due respects to her matrimonial status, few people in Ibadan and indeed Oyo State, or the whole of the South west will not readily recognise Obanubi but mention Ronke Akindele, now you are talking. Though athletics has never been a popular sport in the west of those days, some individuals stood out in track and field events. One of such was Ronke Akindele and her close rival was Jumoke Bodunrin who won a gold medal in the 100 metres at the first All Africa Games Congo Brazzaville, 1965. Mrs Ronke Obanubi devoted her life to sports and when she ceased to be an athlete, she switched to management and rose to the enviable post of Director of Sports in Oyo State. She died at age 72. As a sprinter, Ronke Akindele was tall, graceful and elegant. Usain Bolt of Jamaica reminds people of what she raced like. May her graceful soul rest in peace.
Another sport personality that ended his race recently is Smart Akraka also known as Akra Baby, Akra Water. When Nigerian athletics was in the “Golden” era – when Nigeria rubbed shoulders with the best in Africa and in the Commonwealth, Akraka was right there with them. He specialised in the sprints – 100 meters, 200 metres and 4 x 100 metres relay and was in the Nigerian quartet that won the silver medal at the 1958 Commonwealth Games in Cardiff. His team-mates were policeman, Thomas Obi, Jimmy Omagbemi and Victor Odofin. Four years earlier at the Vancouver Games, Emmanuel Ifeajuna a graduate of U.I, had won Nigeria’s first gold in the men’s high jump.
When Bayelsa State was created in 1996, Smart Akraka was the happiest man in the world. He came over to my office at the Nigeria Olympic Committee to celebrate the fact that he was born in Lagos in 1934 as a westerner, became a mid-westerner, later a Bendelite, then Edo-Delta River, then Delta and finally Bayelsa. Smart Akraka served athletics throughout his life and rose to become the President of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria, (AFN) built a house in Lagos after which he was struck by the Parkinson Disease which eventually subdued him. Smart Akraka hailed from Angiama Sagbama Local Government of Bayelsa State, but proudly passed on as a Lagosian.
If you mention his name, Taiye Onibuje, you are not likely to strike a chord, but say “Uncle T” millions, of football fans across the length and breadth of Lagos State and beyond, will readily recognise the tall, dark, friendly six footer who had been leading the most vociferous football supportership club in the country, called the Stationery Stores, otherwise known as the Super Stores, the Flaming Flamengoes or Adebajo Babes. UP SUPER. Before the Super Stores took a stumble, they were the biggest, richest and best organised supporters club in the country. They had units, cells, branches in every corner of Lagos and to raise funds for the club activities was child’s play. Onibuje and his colleagues in the management committee of the club saw to the need of the club. And when it came to providing for strategic needs of the club, like subduing the opposition at home or away, Uncle T’s men were ever ready. There was a day Super Stores played the Shooting Stars of Ibadan at then Liberty Stadium, Ibadan. Stores supporters from Lagos outnumbered Shooting Stars which made the Late Chief Lekan Salami to say “Won ko wa leru ri” (we have never been enslaved……. Extra police reinforcement had to be provided on that day …….. and thanks goodness nothing untoward occurred that day. Uncle T was a peaceful man deeply religious and a servant/leader who did not worship money. Football has lost a super adherent. He was 75.
Nothing presaged the demise of Stephen Keshi and Shuaibu Amodu, yet, like a thief in the night the two were snatched away from our grip. The dead are gone those of us still alive will be softened by the reality of life. Do your best and leave the rest.
To be concluded.