Odes and the Ides of March
Do not mind the title of today’s column.
I am just playing with words, even though they reflect my mind and the season.
The month of March has become very significant for various reasons.
March 4, marked the 7th year of my elder brother’s death. Dele Odegbami, was a ‘wicked’ defender in his days in the Western Nigeria Academicals, Captain of Ebenezer Grammar School, Abeokuta, when the team won the 1964 Thermogene Cup for secondary schools in the region, fringe player for Stationary Stores FC, and the man that made me play for Abeokuta Town team as a holidaying 16-year old student from St. Murumba College, Jos. I miss my brother like crazy! Continue to rest peacefully!
On March 5, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, former Head of State and former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, officially turned 83. I recall that he was the one that used sports in 1976, when he was head of State, to create the most powerful and effective political movement in Africa. Nigeria, under him, led 24 other African countries to walk-out of the Olympic Village on the eve of the Games in protest against Apartheid in South Africa.
That event goes down in Olympic history as one of those unforgettable moments (for good or for bad). On that day, in the summer of 1976, he directed that Nigeria’s brand new DC 10 aircraft, still with the manufacturers in Atlanta, be released and flown to Montreal, Canada, to pick up the Nigerian athletes and bring them back home triumphantly.
It was the ultimate show of pride, economic and political power and style ever demonstrated at such a global stage in history by any political leader! This is to wish him a very happy birthday.
On March 5, Chief Adegboye Onigbinde, turned 82!
It is unbelievable that he is just one year younger than Baba, but looks 10 years younger, even though Baba himself is still going strong and looking as fit as a fiddle.
Chief Onigbinde was the first indigenous Coach to take Nigeria’s national team, the Super Eagles, to the World Cup in Korea/Japan in 2002. Before that, he had been chief Coach of Oyo State, and coach of the Shooting Stars International FC that got to the finals of the African Club Championship against Zamalek in 1984. That was the last match of my football career.
He was also appointed to handle Nigeria’s senior national team in 1984 and that team created a record by beating the Black Stars of Ghana on home soil. Thereafter, his profile rose to the point that he was appointed into the technical committees of both CAF and FIFA where he served as an instructor for several years. This is to wish him a very Happy birthday!
On March 5, Kadiri Ikhana, a core member of the victorious 1980 Green Eagles, returned to Alliance Hospital in Abuja for a review of his first two successful surgeries in both right and left hips, and a preview of a third surgery of the spine, the last in the series of procedures that will fix him completely.
It is worthy of note that these complicated and very expensive surgeries were performed by Nigerian doctors, in a Nigerian hospital and at no cost to this hero of Nigerian football!
This is to thank Dr. Otaboh and his team, plus all the Nigerians that have been quietly supporting Ikhana, including the Ministry of Sports that has just pledged an additional N0.5m in support of his upkeep. This is to thank Mr. Sunday Dare! Nigerians can still support him. Every little help goes a long way.
March 6, is another very special day in Nigeria’s history. On that date, the great sage and political Statesman, the incomparable Chief Obafemi Awolowo, would have been 111 years old had he not died at 78 in 1987.
He established the first modern stadium in West Africa (Liberty Stadium, Ibadan) and was the architect of the first World Middle-Weight Boxing title fight that took place between Nigeria’s Dick Tiger and America’s Gene Fulmer in 1963, a fight that was covered by Africa’s First Television Station, WNTV/WNBS and beamed to the whole world in 1963!
Nigeria was way ahead of many western countries in its pace and level of development, and technology! Post-humously, this is to wish Chief Awolowo a Happy Birthday where he rests peacefully.
On March 19, Samson Siasia has a date with fate. He will be in Zurich, Switzerland, on a difficult mission – attempting to upturn the decision of the disciplinary committee of FIFA that had banned him for life from all football-related activities for an alleged match-fixing charge that has little or no substance and cannot withstand any rigorous and impartial scrutiny.
The allegation is so without foundation that there is no way Samson’s ban will not be lifted if there is no underlying motivation for the severity of the action of FIFA in the first instance. Samson has released a new press statement that clearly tells his side of the story.
Unfortunately, Samson is still suffering from paucity of funds to cover the huge cost of his appeal in CAS. The Nigeria Governors’ Forum, NGF, has taken up a little of the slack and is rendering invaluable support now, but even that is still not enough.
The bottom line is that Samson must defend his name and integrity, otherwise he is doomed. In his press release he laments the silence and lack of support from the Nigeria Football Federation and others in the football fraternity. I pray that Nigerians will rise up even at this last moment to help him a little bit more. This is to wish him the best of luck as he goes to Zurich.
The 1980 Green Eagles
March 22 is the date marked in football annals as the turning point in the story of Nigeria in international football. Although Nigeria had won the 2nd All Africa Games in 1973 in Lagos, that victory was not considered as significant as the African Cup of Nations that the country later won in 1980.
On March 22, that success will be 40 years since it was achieved.
Incidentally, that is also the date of the commencement of the 20th Edition of the National Sports Festival, EDO 2020, the biggest sports event not only in Nigeria, but in the whole of Africa.
On that day, the National Sports Commission is planning a bumper two-in-one event – to celebrate the opening of EDO 2020 and to honour the 22 heroes and officials of the 1980 campaign. The President of the Federal Republic, President Muhammadu Buhari, shall be there to declare the Festival open and to shake the hands of the heroes of 40 years ago!
I spoke with my former Captain, ‘Chairman’ Christian Chukwu, the player of the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations, the man that led one of the greatest Nigerian teams of the last Century, the man who led the movement of the Igbo people from the theatre of the Nigerian Civil war to the green lush African fields of fame and fortune, probably the greatest club and national team Captain (in terms of leadership on the football field) in Nigeria’s history!
Onyim (‘my friend’ in Igbo language, for that’s what we still call each other after 45 years of friendship) was very happy to hear my voice. We had not spoken to each other since he returned from his medical trip to the UK. His voice was crisp and clear.
How is he doing now? I wanted to know, so I could share with Nigerians.Since his return, his health has been improving very slowly but steadily. He still walks with the aid of his walking stick, but the excruciating pains have reduced significantly.
He still can’t do much physically, but is feeling much better than before he cried out to Nigerians to know about his plight and come to his aid. He wanted me to, particularly, thank Mr. Femi Otedola, for his demonstration of unrequited love, his philanthropy and generosity.
On behalf of all of Nigeria, I deliver that message. Thank you, sir.
Get the latest news delivered straight to your inbox every day of the week. Stay informed with the Guardian’s leading coverage of Nigerian and world news, business, technology and sports.