A painful death, a sweet victory and the FESTAC of sports
Last week, a great Nigerian patriot, lawyer, former football player, proprietor of a professional club in Canada, sports administrator, international businessman and supreme sports marketer, a quiet gentleman that brought Nike to Africa, and to Nigeria in 1993, a man who played a major role in the successes recorded by Nigeria in the birth and growth of the Super Eagles into a global football brand between 1993 and 1998, the man who organised and funded the Nike International Under-16 Tournament in Lagos in 2001 that brought Mikel Obi from the obscurity of a secondary school in Jos to the attention of the world, Chief Noel Okorougo, the Ugomba, died in Geneva, Switzerland, after his struggle to beat cancer failed. He would have turned 70 next December.
The very kind and quiet philanthropist was my very good friend. We shared some truly terrific times in several locations around the world.
On one occasion he hosted two of the athletes under my management, Chioma Ajunwa and Charity Opara, for a high-altitude training programme in Kenya, shortly after the 1996 Olympic Games. It was an experiment to find out the impact of elevated heights in training sprinters.
Noel was the perfect host, his organisation taking care of most of the cost of our stay in the East African country, whilst IGI, the giant Insurance company in Nigeria owned by late Remi Olowude, another great sponsor of sports in Nigeria at the time, took care of the rest.
Noel had just opened the Nairobi office of his Prosports/Nike organisation. One day, I was to leave the two athletes behind in Kenya to continue with their training whilst I returned to Nigeria. Noel took me to the Nairobi International airport that fateful afternoon, and as both of us were waiting in the departure lounge for the arrival of the Ethiopian Airline plane that was to take me to Lagos, news filtered in that the plane had just crashed into the Indian Ocean, near Mombasa, Kenya, and most of the passengers, including many Nigerians returning home from their trading business in China, died in the crash.
Noel took me back to his home in Nairobi for the next two days to calm down and to thank my Creator for the narrow ‘escape’.
On behalf of the entire ‘class’ of the 1993/1998 Super Eagles, and the Nigerian football community as a whole, I commiserate with his wife, Nafisa, their children, family members and friends and the world of football on his passage. May his journey back to our Creator be peaceful. Amen.
The rain of Goals
Noel Okorougo would, surely, have been one of those that would have celebrated Nigeria’s historic goal-haul earlier this week when the Super Eagles quietly went to Morocco, played in a stadium that was full of empty seats, against a country of the size and population of one of the smallest amongst the 774 local governments in Nigeria, and set a new goal scoring record in the country’s football history.
The match was not major news until after the encounter. The Super Eagles had not been inspiring in the recent past, with only one win in five matches.
At the same time, no one took Sao Tome and Principe as any serious opposition in African football. They were considered one of the ‘whipping boys’ in African football. And this was the first time both countries would meet in the game of football.
To defeat the small, two-Island country, situated right on the equator in the Gulf of Guinea, was taken for granted. Yet, no one foresaw the likelihood of what eventually happened last Monday night.
It was a great performance put up by the Super Eagles in the easiest football match ever played by the national team in the country’s history.
In 1959, the Red Devils, as the national team of Nigeria was nick-named at the time, defeated Dahomey (now the Republic of Benin) by a record 10 goals to 1.
In 1976, I was a part of the Green Eagles, the nick-name of the team from Independence in 1960 to the eve of the 1994 World Cup, that toured Europe in final preparation for the Montreal Olympics in Canada. We had played against a Second Division German club (no European national team would play against African teams for friendly matches in those days because they considered African football standard to be inferior), and defeated them by 10 un-replied goals. Thompson Usiyan scored five goals in that match that was not counted as an international match. After that European training tour, the Green Eagles were described as the 4-3-10 Eagles, the scores they recorded against their three opponents on the trip.
No one saw it coming last Monday night in Morocco, that an ‘old’ team that had been floundering for a long time under a European coach that could not find a rhythm to the team in five years, would come from the blues, with most of the same players, and create history by scoring the highest number of goals against a national team since 1959.
The only major change in the team was the new technical crew that now has a new foreign coach from Portugal, and new Nigerian assistants.
The result of the match has become a huge relief to Nigerians who had been frustrated with the low-level performances of their national team of many Nigerian players that were born abroad and bred in European-style football.
The avalanche of goals has now rekindled the spirit of hope in the Super Eagles. There is a new tune in the air. With one match, the Eagles may have finally turned the corner and started a team transformation that can herald the beginning of a new era in the story of Nigeria’s Super Eagles.
The ‘FESTAC of Sports’ is here
African/American athletics Legend, Olympic Gold and Bronze medallist, one of the great athletes, representing the USA, that created history at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico, Ron Freeman, will be leading a team of speakers and discussants at the second in the series of ‘The Conversations’ being organised by the Sports and Diplomacy unit of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, NIIA, in a new strategic initiative to add ‘Sports’ to the original tools of ‘Arts and Culture’ deployed for the World, Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, FESTAC, held in Nigeria in 1977, to unite the Black race, and promote the revival of Black Consciousness and Black Culture in the ‘War of Civilisations’.
Two distinguished Nigerian scholars who were an integral part of the event of 1977, Professor Duro Oni and Professor Dayo Simpson, would also provide the illumination needed to revive the story, examine what happened during 1977, and attempt to understand why the greatest assembly of Black persons on earth that could change the fate and place of the Black race on earth, for good, never happened again.
Ron Freedom will connect the dots between the past, the present and the future using the power of Sports as a new weapon.
It is happening on Thursday, June 23, 2022, in the main auditorium of the NIIA in Lagos, Nigeria. The event that is being powered by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, MTN, NTA and the National Council for Arts and Culture, NCAC, will be closely monitored by the world, and particularly by the people and governments of the 54 African countries, and the 22 other countries that are now home to people of African-descent around the world outside Africa.
It may mark the start of a new chapter in human history.