RECENTLY, my review of Frank Kokori: The Struggle For June 12 was published by ThisDay and The NEWS. In the course of perusal of the book, I came upon a subject I hate to remember: The good old days in Nigeria! My spirits sank as I read those lines on page 201. This is a phase in the Nigerian life that I wish to forget. The mention in the book of such companies as Lever Brothers, UAC, UTC, Leventis and Kingsway (of UAC) filled me with melancholy. How did we allow these companies to die? How did we allow these companies to become shadows of their former selves? How did we kill the buoyant Nigerian economy? For about three months, an ex-Super Eagles striker, Mr Segun Odegbami, was engrossed in the exploration of the best Nigerian players in the last 60 years. The best Nigerian Goalkeeper, Right Fullback, Left Fullback, Central Defender, Right Winger, Left Winger, Striker… since Independence. Odegbami, week in, week out, would give an overview of the different positions in soccer and jog the memories of readers with some of the players that featured in those positions since 1960. The final decision for each of the 11 roles was not his judgement. He would call up experienced stakeholders in the game who would supply further names and then give their individual verdicts based on their personal evaluation of the players.
It was a pastime to allow soccer-loving Nigerians unwind, especially at the period of COVID-19 lockdown. But for me, it turned out to be a poignant reminder of the missed opportunities for Nigeria. How did we allow the death of IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan, Enugu Rangers International FC, Mighty Jets of Jos, Kano Pillars FC, Bendel Insurance, Stationery Stores of Lagos, Leventis United, Abiola Babes, Iwuanyawu Nationale, etc., etc.? How did we dissipate the good times of this country? In their heyday, matches among those teams would fill the stadia to capacity. There would be mass hysteria across the country. Football is a spectators’ game. No more in Nigeria. I weep for this country! I reproduce here excerpts of the Premium Times (PT) interview with Odegbami in December, 2019.
PT: Many people know about your national team exploits, but one question some people ask is that did Segun Odegbami really have the chance to play abroad?
Odegbami: I had at least three chances, in fact, four chances. But then, it was not fashionable to play abroad… I was a very comfortable person in Nigeria. I had five cars in my house at that time, I was building my first house in Ibadan, I was a distributor of cement, beer, Coca-Cola and I was setting up my restaurant and so on in Ibadan. So, I was doing very well and the Pound was equal to the Naira, the currencies were equal. At that time even if you travelled, you’ll come back with change, and put it in your pocket.
PT: But now, many years after, an average Nigerian wants to play anywhere outside Nigeria, what is responsible in your own opinion?
Odegbami: Yes, because the Nigerian situation is pathetic. All over the world, everything rises and falls with the economy. But political stability is a sine qua non for a strong economy. Seek ye first the kingdom of political stability, every other thing shall fall in place. We must strive to bring back the good old days.
“The ‘Dream Eagles’ Squad – from 1960 to date” must have been an arduous exercise for the famous ex-Green Eagles right winger. A titillating and exhilarating experience nonetheless for Odegbami and Nigerian football aficionados! I did publish an intervention along the line – On the best Nigerian goalkeeper – where I submitted that “One would be a stone not to be moved by the industry, tenacity and prodigious output with the pen of the ex-Green Eagles international, Segun Odegbami.” What I did not mention in the article, which was published by the Nigerian Tribune, Vanguard and ThisDay, was the ecumenical spirit of Odegbami. As a discriminate and scrupulous reader, I didn’t just read the letter of the articles of the former Eagles forward but the spirit as well. Despite his better education and station in life, Odegbami is passionate about his former colleagues at the club and national levels – in the North, East and West.
Three weeks ago, the ex-striker paid tribute to his former team-mate in the national team, Emmanuel Okala, on the occasion of his 69 birthday: “He takes everything in life very seriously. I recall our years in the national camp. He would quarrel, chastise and shout at any player that attempted to breach camp rules. He hated the very thought of losing any match. So, no sacrifice was too much to make to win a match. It was that same spirit that drove Enugu Rangers International FC following its formation after the Civil War. I am not sure now who infected the other with the never-say-die spirit between Emmanuel Okala and the Club. To play against Rangers in those days was like going to war. The team played as if the world would end if they lost. You could see that spirit in Okala’s eyes, in his words, in his mannerisms on and off the field, a single-mindedness about winning that also defined his life in the Green Eagles.”
One must, in parenthesis, acknowledge the kind gesture of Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State towards the ex-players of Rangers. According to the state Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr C.Don Adinuba, “Governor Obiano has also decided to include all members of the Rangers International Football Club of Enugu who played in the 1970s and the early 1980s among those to benefit from the health insurance at the state government’s expense. This is in recognition of their preeminent role in lifting up the spirit of our people at the end of the Civil War.” Although I was not among the 12 ‘Wise men’ that eventually gave their individual selections on the mock exercise: “The ‘Dream Eagles’ Squad – from 1960 to date!”, my earlier article did give a clue of my take if I were to give a verdict: “Nigeria football would seem to have been in recession since the 1994 World Cup. Never mind the occasional flash in the pan. Sometimes you have your mouth agape.
Where is the Segun Odegbami in this team (on the right flank)? Where is the Felix Owolabi in this team (on the left flank)? Where is the Big Boss, Stephen Keshi, in this team (in the central defence)? Where is the Peter Rufai of the 80s in goal? After the exit of Jay Jay Okocha, when last was a free kick converted directly to a goal by the Super Eagles?”
For the five positions listed in my earlier publication, I later found an alter ego in one of the “Wise men” – Dr Rafiu Ladipo, the President-General, Nigeria Football Supporters Club. His selection of the Dream Eleven since 1960 included my five!
Thanks to Segun Odegbami for the excursion into the past, albeit a painful reminder of the good old days. Let’s strive to reclaim the glory of Nigeria.
- Soyombo, media practitioner and public affairs analyst, writes in via email@example.com
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