No longer afraid to be 70… I thank you all
It is the day after the day, after the day, after… I am still in a trance. I have been in a daze, unable to fully rationalise and comprehend the events of the past seven days in my life.
It has been like a dream. I am waking up this morning finally to the reality that time has flown by… that my little attempt to quietly celebrate the anniversary of my birth date, has been a joke.
Even when the calls started to rain from last Thursday night, I couldn’t, or wouldn’t get it fully into my head that I am actually becoming ‘old’, like my late father when I visited him in Gombe at 17.
He was a warehouse manager at the British Cotton Growing Association, BCGA, at the time.
During one of our conversations, he told me his age – 57. Fifty what?
I looked at him in amazement. How could anybody be that old, least of all, my father? It would take an eternity to get to such an ‘old’ age, I reasoned.
That ‘eternity’ has come and gone in a flash. One morning a few years ago, I walked into my office in Yaba, Lagos and my workers were organising a small ceremony to mark my 50th birthday.
Impossible! 50? When did it happen?
I was already 50, old like my family?
How did it happen? Where did the years vaporise into in my life?
I have not fully resolved that in my mind for years, and suddenly here comes ‘70’ sneaking in on me like a thief in the dark. You mean another 20 years have sped past since that day in my office in 2002?
I cannot feel the weight of such an old age on this body, nor the pressure on this mind. But the reality dawns.
My consolation is a realisation that ‘Age,’ for me, has been but a harmless number and a beautiful reminder of the eternal ‘tick tock’ doing its thing, whilst I am doing mine. Neither of us disturbing the other.
So, the past seven days have been unforgettably beautiful.
On Thursday night, two days before the actual anniversary date, my friends on The Sports Parliament ‘beat the gun’ with a public celebration on national television. It kicked off a national frenzy.
Since then, I have been left dumbfounded by developments, pondering on the shower of tributes that have poured in like rain, and humbled by the total experience.
Almost 40 years since I hung my football boots and embarked on a new life, that of a nomad in sports education, business, promotion and development sectors, my little contributions here and there have not gone unnoticed and are being appreciated now in the kindest words and messages on the occasion of my landmark birth-date anniversary that I told nobody about and wanted to spend quietly in ‘hibernation’ with my small family in Lagos.
Instead, it has been an avalanche of goodwill messages. It has been an overwhelming experience, to be shown this level and quantum of unsolicited and unbridled love and appreciation by a global audience made possible by the power of social media and the information superhighway.
I am humbled and very grateful to everyone that has sent shared my special day with me in messages, gifts and prayers this past week.
Kindly permit me in my column this week to mention a few whilst acknowledging all.
This my humble’ Thank You’ comes from the bottom of my heart and goes out to: The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR; former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR, (he actually called on telephone and sang the Birthday song into my ears); Governor of Ogun State, Prince Dapo Abiodun, MFR; former Governors of Ogun State, Senator Ibikunle Amosu, CON, and Otunba Gbenga Daniel; former Governors of Ondo and Abia States, Olusegun Mimiko and Orji Uzor Kalu, respectively; former Chief of Naval Staff, Vice-Admiral Jubril Ayinla; the Obas of the four sections òf Egbaland, the Alake of Egbaland, the Osile of Oke Ona Egba, the new King-in-Waiting, Olowu of Owu kingdom, and the Agura of Gbagura; several other Kaabiyesis from across Yorubaland; Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey; radio and television stations across the country that devoted hours of programming to wish me well; several newspaper and magazine publications that paid me lavish tributes in features; the Clergy, many of whom I have never met in my life that offered me prayers, (including one that called at dawn from a mountain top); many childhood friends and classmates, many of whom I had lost contact with through the years, and more recent friends and acquaintances.
I have received a countless number of messages, calls and social media postings from sports fans that I must have encountered, in one way or the other, in the course of my chequered life in sports, and from persons, I met in my social interactions in the world of art, engineering, journàlism, the media, education, health and wellbeing, music, film, youth and culture.
So, I go back to my cultural roots, to my upbringing, to say ‘Thank You to everyone that has blessed me in this season of celebration of life. I prostrate before the throne of Grace in absolute surrender and with the deepest gratitude, as I pray that all my co-travellers and pilgrims on this uncertain journey on earth shall enjoy the Grace, Munificence and Magnificence of the Creator of the Universe in over-abundance.
I appreciate Nigeria, the beleaguered country that provided me with the platform to become another small instrument in her difficult and challenging journey in national evolution and development. Despite all the challenges the country has faced, she still spares a moment to celebrate an ordinary Nigerian whose claim to fame is as a football player that served his country diligently and faithfully. I have faith that the country will achieve its deserved greatness one day.
For my immediate and distant family, words are not enough to express my gratitude to you all for standing by me, foibles and all, through all the decades. With the weight of the love you have all shown me this past week, I am no longer afraid of the number 70.
Finally, I walk into the rest of my life on earth with confidence and conviction to do right and continue to add my little bit to make my country and the world a better place for the next generation, the youths and the children.
• Segun Odegbami