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Segun Odegbami to Ojeagbase in the Grave: You Changed My Life For Good

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Segun Odegbami to Ojeagbase in the grave:


Mike Awoyinfa
Mike Awoyinfa

I listened to the “Mathematical” soccer legend Chief Segun Odegbami, MON as he paid tribute to his departed friend, the sport journalism legend Pastor (Dr.) Emmanuel Sunny Ojeagbase at the service of songs on March 31, 2022 in Lagos.  Then I read his equally moving tribute published in a special magazine on Ojeagbase’s “LIFE OF ACCOMPLISHMENT.”  The reality of Ojeagbase’s death at 71 hits you like a bullet as you watch his beautiful coffin solemnly carried away from church to the burial ground at Eternal Hills in Atlanta, Georgia on April 1.  “The finality in death is numbing, frustrating and humbling,” laments Odegbami.  “Is this really it?  That S.O. and I shall no longer share those lovely banters and jokes at our board meetings anymore?”  His tribute: 

You all know me and my life.  That my life is about sports—football to be specific.  The best part that you know is that part of me playing when I played football.  And a lot of people think that it is because of that that I am who I am now.

If you look at the history of Nigerian football—Nigerian sports as a whole—it is littered with the story of people who did well in sports.  But when they finish, they end up poor, in penury, neglected.  It is because whilst we are doing sports, we never prepare for the life after.  Even I didn’t prepare for the life after.  So my tribute today is actually to express my gratitude to God for making me meet S.O., my friend, slightly older brother, family friend, business partner and my chairman at the time that it did.  Because when Sunny and I finally met, he came to my office in Ibadan, he was the one who in asking me for a small favour, actually laid the foundation for the lifetime I had lived almost forty years after.

In 1986, he walked into my office close to Liberty Stadium, Ibadan, on an eventful day when there was commotion amongst the fans of Shooting Stars FC.  They were angry because I had resigned my appointment with the government following my removal as general manager of the corporation’s club, Shooting Stars FC and replacement with Chief Festus Adegboyega Onigbinde, who was then considered an ‘enemy’ of Shooting Stars FC because he had been the coach of bitter city-rivals, Water Corporation of Ibadan, for many years, and was not really favoured by the fans.  To cut a long story short, in anger at my decision, my house was burgled, my night club vandalised with part of it set on fire, my official car was recovered by the government, my electricity and telephone line at home were cut off, and my life was being threatened by the angry fans.

I had to leave Ibadan immediately.  Although I had friends all over the place, including Lagos, I had nothing in place to do outside football and outside Ibadan.  That was when S.O. came in with a lifeline.  A few months before that, he had come to ask me to invest in his new publication.  I did not even have to think twice about it before writing a cheque for what was then an inconsequential amount in support of his novel project.

On his second visit, seeing the prevailing situation around me in Ibadan, he proposed that I moved to Lagos and joined him as an Executive Director in the company, and to do some journalistic work which I had interest and passion for.  It was a gift from heaven, the prospect of a new and interesting direction for my life.

It took me a few weeks to ‘tidy’ up.  I moved my family abroad and returned to Lagos to join him to establish Complete Communications Ltd as pioneer shareholder, board member and an editor of some sort, without any formal training.  That opportunity he gave me is what I have anchored my entire life, since then.  All my reckless ‘adventures’ in the media have S.O. to thank for his belief in me and the opportunities he freely gave for me to learn the ropes through my experiences with endless mistakes.  He never rebuked nor criticized my work or effort, always embracing me and my foibles.

He took me in as his family friend and his brother.  That was reciprocal.  For 36 years since then, he has been a pillar of support at the background, silently steering me in his own quiet ways, never condemning anything I did, always encouraging my efforts, and supporting through wise counsel.  Even when I decided, after almost 10 years working directly with him, to branch into other aspects of the sports media, particularly television, he would call from time to time to find out how things were going with me, how my various projects were doing, and about my family.  He would always wish me well before retiring back to his cocoon, a life of solitude, of success, of family, of creative enterprises, and of hard work, all behind the scenes.

Ojeagbase's coffin
Ojeagbase’s coffin

He was a guardian ‘angel’ to very many people around him.  He never forgot a favour granted him at any time during his life of struggle.  Oh, how S.O. struggled to defeat unbelievable challenges and seeming ‘failures’.  His doggedness, fortitude and innovative pursuits were an inspiration.  His management skills acquired the hard way through the roller coaster of successes and failures became his compass into teaching others about the keys to a successful business.

My success in life, in the area of media particularly, which is what I do now—I am in the newspapers, I am in television, I am in radio—that foundation was created because S.O. came and offered me an opportunity to leave my life in Ibadan and to come to Lagos without anything.  He simply said: “Just follow me to Lagos!” when he saw I was in trouble.  And I followed him to Lagos.  And he opened a whole new opportunity, a whole new world for me that I still sustain up till today.  I came on that trip to him and that’s how I met the Adejumo family, that’s how I met Lydia, his sister, Franklin Ilaboya, and so many others that have become pillars in my life. If you believe I am successful—I know I am successful by the special grace of God—that foundation was laid firmly by Ojeagbase.  And the people I have just mentioned.  So, I want to use this opportunity to thank his family—all of them—because they are my family too, to thank all our business associates, because if you check my CV, topmost on it is my relationship with Complete Communication, the most successful publishing house on sports materials in the whole of Africa.  That is my first CV.  And that is the handiwork of Sunny Obazu Ojeagbase guiding us as our light.  So, I thank Sunny wherever you are.  I know you are on your way to heaven, please thank you, thank you.  May you find peace and the Creator waiting to welcome you home in deserved triumph.


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