A special tribute to Taiwo Ogunjobi
I have been unable to function properly as I recall the early days and years of a fascinating relationship that became temporarily chilled in adult life when the political struggle in Nigerian football stretched our friendship without ever been able to destroy it.
Nothing could have destroyed a friendship that was built from the point of our evolving into adulthood, getting an education, playing football, having our families, and ageing gracefully in recent years, together.
I sought out Taiye (for that’s how I called him) in 1972/73 when he was in the higher school at Ibadan Grammar School.
He and several other great players, Christopher Stober, Eburajolo, Victor Giwa, Chris Okolo and so on, students/footballers under the tutelage of former governor, Lam Adesina, who was then the school’s game master, were stars of academicals football in that year.
I went and met them in school, and convinced five of them to join me in WNTV/WNBS football club where I was serving out my one-year compulsory Industrial Attachment after OND.
I was the young officer (and football player) in charge of the broadcast station’s football club preparing to play in that year’s Western State Challenge Cup competition. We had a fantastic team of very young players.
We also put up a very exciting performance but lost in the only match we played at the Olubadan Stadium, against NEPA or Police FC (I believe). Following that experience, we became friends and started a relationship as well as our football careers.
We were age mates, separated only by months. Ironically, when the others, including Taiye, played for the Academicals (state and national teams) I was already a senior player for both state and country.
He joined IICC Shooting Stars FC ahead of Kunle Awesu, Muda Lawal and I, even though in the same year in 1974! We formed a formidable partnership in the team that took the team to the top of Nigerian football alongside the Indomitable Rangers FC of Enugu.
My relationship with Taiye was designed for a good storybook.
Only he and I, probably, know some of the details of that special relationship, starting with the confidence he gave Kunle Awesu, Muda Lawal, Sunday Akande and I (all of us playing for Housing Corporation FC) to move and to join him in Shooting Stars FC.
Before then, there were some stories about fetish practice in the club that kept us away, but his courage to go there without any visible adverse consequences changed all of that for us.
Thereafter, when he wanted to go further in his education, I became the key facilitator of his move, on a full athletes’ scholarship, to study at Clemson University in the US. When he was not even ready to settle down with a family, I was very instrumental and integral to his eventual marriage to my ‘sister’ Bukola, an angel from heaven in his life.
I facilitated his invitation to the national team, and smoothened his ascendancy to the captaincy of Shooting Stars FC even after he had left the club to study for four to five years, rejoined the team on his return, and assumed immediate leadership as captain when Samuel Ojebode retired from the game due to ‘old age’.
There was a depth to our relationship that was reserved for family only. We brought our parents and siblings into the relationship.
Easily, Taiye was closest to me throughout the years of my football career until I retired, and even after.
He joined me in retirement two years after I had left and our early years in retirement were tales of unforgettable escapades and adventures meant for the movies.
We would occasionally recall them later after he went into club football administration, and I went into the sports business.
Nigerian football politics and our quest for positions in it during another phase of our lives, particularly after his stint as Secretary General of the NFA, created a gulf that we never completely could bridge again since then.
Yet, we remained friends, but without the same old fire, and very strong social bonds.
In the past two years, the elements brought us together again more often and we both tried hard to rebuild the bridge. Unfortunately, a lot of water had passed under the bridge and things were never the same again even though we never departed from being friendly to each other.
Anyone on the outside would think we were still inseparable and that the original links between us were unbroken. But between us though, we knew better – there was a small bridge we spoke about a few times but never quite resolved because it had no substance and no depth, the creation of little misunderstandings in ambitions.
A couple of weeks ago we met at Governor Rauf Aregbesola’s office in Oshogbo and were the envy of all onlookers as we rekindled our old laughter and jokes. For the first time in a long while, inhibitions were completely shattered and we recalled our happiest moments again.
He was indeed one of the first people to encourage me and to wish me well on learning of my gubernatorial ambitions in Ogun State. We exchanged several SMS messages, and he actually made me speak with Bukky his wife on phone from Oshogbo.
To crown a return to our original family relationship, Wole, my younger brother, was in town a few weeks ago, and he spent a whole weekend at Rotimi’s (Taiwo’s younger brother and Wole’s friend also from secondary school) in Lagos.
A few days after that, Rotimi and his wife visited me in my home in Lagos and made a hefty donation to my political campaign fund, to my pleasant surprise and gratitude.
Taiye’s death is a very big and painful blow. I can see already through the reactions all over the social media, how it has devastated a whole army of friends in the sports fraternity, many of whom he courted and often also empowered through the years.
Taiye’s sudden passage is a humble and subtle reminder of our mortality, as well as the vanity of the pursuit of materialism and cheap political scores at the expense of genuine friendship and unconditional love.
As we are all ageing and getting slowly and steadily to the gates of our earthly terminus, waiting for our turn to return to our Creator when the bell tolls, we must keep Taiye’s memory in our hearts. He was a great administrator and master tactician of the political game.
He served football, Oyo and Osun states, and the country very meritoriously. He will live forever in our hearts and his place in the annals of Nigerian football is well assured.
May the Lord console his wife, his surviving siblings, his children and grand-children.
Goodnight my brother and friend, Taiye Ogunjobi.
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