Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The return of Nigerian Railway services

There are four major means of transport. They are road, sea, air and rail. In Nigeria, the four are present in various degrees. In the good old days, many Nigerians travelling abroad who could not afford the cost of flying did so via ships. These days, that is no longer fashionable as most Nigerians now travel abroad by air. However, canoes and boats are still being used to ferry people across most of the riverine areas. That is however not to say the ships are out of service. They are majorly consigned to cargo services. They bring in goods from overseas and are also used to transport products outside the country. Air plane is, however, the fastest and safest means of transport (yes, despite the occasional crashes). Road transport is the commonest. However, when it comes to mass transit, the train is unbeatable. A train can carry a thousand passengers per trip.
Transport is a social service and the Nigerian government used to have some control of these four means of transport. The government established the Nigerian National Shipping Line and Nigerian Inland Waterways to cater for sea transport. The Nigerian Airways for many decades provided air services for many commuters in and outside the country. Federal, State and Local Governments established one transport agency or another (e.g. Edo Line and Oyo State’s Trans City Transport Corporation)  to provide subsidised road transport to their citizens. Nigerian Railway Corporation was set up to provide rail transport for Nigerians.
I have commuted by train only on two occasions. The first time was around 1979 when my elder sister and I travelled from Ibadan to visit our late uncle who was then based in Jos, Plateau State. We left Ibadan around 9pm and got to Jos at the dawn of the third day. The second time was during a visit to Geneva, Switzerland in 2005 when a senior colleague and I took train to visit a professor friend of his who stayed on the outskirts of Geneva.  On both occasions, I relish the experience. During the Ibadan to Jos episode, I remember the crowded coaches, the ticket inspectors going round to check people’s tickets to ensure no one gate-crashed into the train without paying. I also remember writing down the names of all the towns where the train stopped to drop or pick passengers in a notebook. The Geneva experience was no less memorable. The professor we went to visit said he commutes to work daily via train as it is fast, efficient, safe and economical. The train we boarded was very neat, not crowded and took off on time.
While I could travel by rail in the late 70s, it was no longer so by late 80s as mismanagement, corruption, lack of maintenance culture and politics made the operations of Nigerian railways to become comatose. It was not only the railway though; agencies set up to provide other means of transport were no less affected. Gone were Nigerian National Shipping Line and Nigerian Inland Waterways Agency; Nigerian Airways and the numerous Federal, State and Local Government transport corporations. The misfortune of Nigerian Railway was however most impactful. Nigerian Railway unlike other transport sectors is on the exclusive legislative list, thus only the federal government has control of the corporation. While government decided to privatise the road and the aviation sectors, it decided to unexplainably hold on to the railways sector.
Nigerian Railway, once the largest single employer of labour in the country, became a butt of jokes. A friend once joked about some men who went to the zoo and took a bet on whoever could make a monkey to laugh, cry and run. Most of them could not except for one old man. When asked how he performed the feat. He said calmly that he first told the monkey where he works and it begins to laugh uproariously. When asked where, he said Nigerian Railway. Okay, how did you make the monkey to cry then? He told the crowd he informed the monkey how much he receives as salary which was a pittance thus the monkey started crying for him. How then did you make the monkey to run away? He told the gathering he informed the monkey that there is a vacancy in his corporation – Nigerian Railway and that the monkey should come and apply. Thus, the monkey took to its heel. That joke describes the low level that the once vibrant Nigerian Railway Corporation has sunk.
All of that is changing now under the current administration as the new leadership of the Nigerian Railway Corporation under the board of Alhaji Kawu Baraje and Managing Director Adeseyi Sijuwade are trying to bring smiles back to the faces of millions of commuters who once were using or will like to use this cheapest means of transport. This new revolution started few years ago as the Nigerian Railway Corporation commenced limited intra and inter-state services.  I know very well that the intra state service has been on in Lagos for a while and that the Osun State Government under the leadership of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola has been providing free train ride for those who may wish to travel from Lagos to Osun State to celebrate any of the major festivals such as Easter, Christmas, Eid-el-Fitr and Eid-el-Kabir.
Just few days ago, the Corporation announced the commencement of cargo services from Lagos to Kano. This is commendable. There are several advantages in reviving railway services both for human and cargo transport. Aside from being the cheapest means of transport, the train is safe and will remove huge traffic from our roads thus making the roads to last longer. The deplorable state of Nigerian roads is largely caused by the haulage companies that mushroom at the collapse of railway service. Those goods carried by articulated vehicles – lorries and trailers are best transported by rail. The fewer of those vehicles we have on our roads, the better for lives and property as accidents caused by those big lorries and trailers have resulted in many deaths, injuries and destruction of property.
I commend the present attempt by the National Assembly to remove railway from the exclusive legislative list and put it rightly where it belongs, the concurrent list. This will enable the state government to also provide rail services. I equally applaud the Federal Capital Territory administration of Senator Bala Mohammed at the ongoing construction of railway to enable dwellers in the FCT opportunity of train service in due course.
Two issues I want to raise are that government should think about privatising (or at least allow private sector participation) in the rail sector just as it did with the aviation sector. This will ensure professional and efficient management and prevent the resurgent train service from another collapse. The other issue is that prime attention must be paid to security of lives and property of train commuters. The way passengers hang on trains in Lagos is untoward and should be vehemently discouraged. There should be proper signs and gates at railway crossings which are the intersections where rail lines pass through the roads. Passengers and their luggage also need to be properly frisked and scanned so that they do not constitute security risks. The rail lines need to be properly policed to prevent undesirable elements from planting bombs on the rail tracks or derail the train for sinister purpose.  There should also be a well resourced emergency and rescue department in the new Nigerian Railway to deal with any accidents or unpleasant incidents. See you on board Nigerian train soon!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Nigerians’ craze for European football

“Sport is art, amplified! It is dance, music, theatre, and drama combined. The stage (the sports field) is the biggest theatre in the world. And the actors, some of the highest paid. The major difference between conventional theatre and this, is that sport is unscripted drama.”
 –Ex Green Eagles Captain, Segun Odegbami, in Saturday PUNCH, July 10, 2004
How true! Mathematical Odegbami was spot on with this remark made some nine years ago. There are over 60 sports in the world. Some of them are boxing, high jump, triple jump, long jump, weightlifting, discus, table tennis, lawn tennis, javelin, swimming, gymnastics, hockey, cricket, handball, volleyball, basketball, baseball and football. There are sports which are very popular in some countries and unpopular in some others. For instance, while lawn tennis, baseball, basketball and boxing are very popular in United States of America, football is not so popular. Cricket is the domineering sport in India and Pakistan while football, arguably the king of sports is very popular in many countries of the world particularly in South America (Brazil, Argentina, Mexico,  etc), Europe (in countries with strong soccer leagues like United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, Germany and perhaps Holland and Portugal). Many countries in Africa also dote on football.
While the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Athletics Championship took place in Moscow from August 10 – 18, 2013, the entire world attention was focused on the sporting fiesta.  A big shout out and hearty congratulations to Nigeria’s golden girl, Blessing Okagbare who  ended Nigeria’s 14 years medal drought at the World Athletics Championship by winning silver medal in long jump and followed up with a Bronze medal in 200m women’s final.  As the IAAF fiesta ended over the weekend,   European football leagues commenced actions for the 2013/2014 league season. While German Bundesliga started on Friday, August 9, and French Ligue 1 took off on August 10; the English Barclays Premiership and Spanish La Liga commenced football hostilities on August 17, 2013. Italian Serie A is scheduled to start on Saturday, August 24, 2013.
As the European football season commences in earnest, so starts the craze of the fanatical European football supporters in Nigeria. The English Barclays Premier League, in my estimation has the largest fan base in Nigeria. The top club sides with highest supporters are Manchester United Football Club otherwise called the Red Devil; Chelsea FC also known as The Blues; Arsenal FC better known as The Gunners and to a limited extent Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC. In Spanish La Liga, Barcelona FC and Real Madrid FC are the two club sides with large following in Nigeria. I am not very sure if there is huge followership of French, Italian, German, Dutch, and Portuguese leagues in Nigeria. It is not uncommon to see members of the same family supporting different football clubs.   It is a regular phenomenon to see friends who support different club sides in Europe engaging in heated argument about who will win a particular game or the league or tournament for the season. Many passionate lovers of European football in Nigeria follow the happenings in their clubs so much so that they are aware of new players signed on, the cost of their transfers and their antecedents. They know the names of most of the players and even the coaching crew.
The time has come when newspaper vendors will sell more of sports newspapers and magazines while audience of sports radio and television programmes will significantly increase while the European football season lasts. Many viewing centres will also make monies as those who could not afford satellite T.V subscription that will enable them watch live matches will not mind paying token sum to watch at private viewing centres. Some restaurants and liquor bars will also cash in on the fanaticism of Nigerian European football supporters to boost sales by offering free viewing of matches to their customers while they relax with drinks and snacks  at their relaxation spots. Those who will also do brisk business are those selling souvenirs of popular European football clubs. Many supporters of these teams do buy mementoes such as branded jerseys, bed-sheet and pillow cases, key holders, car seats, mufflers, T-shirts and fez caps, jugs, posters and many more to show their loyalty to their darling clubs.  They have also established fans club where they pay subscription and organize elaborate parties when their team wins trophies.
What I found incredible is the act of pool betting or gambling which even predates the recent era of telecast of live matches. Many smart entrepreneurs had, many decades ago, established pool betting where ignorant and greedy men and women are made to predict the football teams that will play draw. If they predict rightly, they are paid much more than the amount they stake. Of course, many of these pool betters are only doing guesswork. Some make their draw prediction based on previous season’s outcome between the two football teams they are making prediction on. Many people have lost fortunes staking their hard-earned money on making foolish draw prediction in a game of football which is totally unpredictable.  Unfortunately, those pool betting organisations are still in business as many still patronise them out of greed.
While so much passion, craze and doting is showered on European football club sides and footballers, reverse   is the case for Nigerian club sides and football players. With the exception of when the national teams such as Super Eagles are playing crucial matches, stadium is hardly quarter-full when Nigerian club sides are playing. Even though there are clubs with good pedigree such as Shooting Stars Sports Club formerly IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan which gave Nigeria her first continental trophy, African Cup Winners’ Cup in 1976; Enugu Rangers who also won the Winners Cup for Nigeria in 1977 as well as Enyimba International FC of Aba which won the elusive CAF Champions League back to back in 2003 and 2004 seasons, these club-sides do not command the fanatical support Nigerians show to Chelsea, Man U. or Arsenal.
The reasons are not far-fetched. Nigerian football league leaves much to be desired. Players and coaches are not well remunerated. Players are owed sign-on fees while coaches and players’ salaries are not paid as and when due.  The club owners sometimes behave like Emperors or tin gods. The regulator, Nigerian Football Federation, has been in perpetual crises with litany of litigations from aggrieved members and those seeking to control it. The State and Federal Government under whose auspices the Nigerian stadia are, leave them to rot. Though almost each of the states has at least one stadium, many of them are in deplorable conditions due to utmost neglect. With bad football pitches and unprofessional management of football nay sports in Nigeria, little wonder football fans take solace in watching and supporting European football. Yet, this beautiful game holds the key to Nigeria’s unity. It is the only game which when being played, suspends all primordial sentiments – tribe, creed, gender, status are relegated to the background with all official and non-official supporters praying fervently for their team to win. I do hope  governments at all levels will do the needful to transform Nigeria through football and by extension all sports.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Why should Nigerians pay more for darkness?


On Saturday, August 10 Special Assistant on Media and Communication to the Honourable Minister of Power, Ms. Kande Daniel issued a press statement on behalf of her boss to the effect that the total amount of electricity generated in Nigeria as at 6am on that day was 2,628.6 megawatts. This indicates a sharp drop from the peak of 4,517.6MW generated power as at December 23, 2012. The drop in generated electricity, according to the Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, is as a result of severe leaks in the supply of gas to some strategic power plants across the country. These leakages were ascribed to activities of pipeline vandals. The minister went further to state that low head water elevation was also limiting generation at Kainji and Jebba hydro stations to one unit each.

I want to thank the honourable minister for coming out clean to Nigerians on the parlous state of our electricity generation. If there is an albatross that the current administration of President Jonathan inherited, it is the power sector. The sector in spite of many years of reform and millions of dollars in investment has not been where it should. Nigeria is in her 53 years of independence from colonial rule and few months shy of centennial celebration of her 1914 amalgamation of Northern and Southern protectorates. Not even the much touted opening of new power generating plants across the country is heart-warming to Nigerians as these new thermal plants may face the extant problems of lack of gas and/or system collapse which have largely reversed the recent gains in power generation.

I am not ignorant of the various reform measures going on in the power sector but the annoying thing for me is lack of sustainable progress in power generation, transmission and distribution. These three are still fraught with a lot of challenges. Not only has the power generation dipped due to the aforementioned problems; the transmission lines themselves are weak and cannot transmit the generated power. By far the most problematic aspect of the entire power reform exercise is the distribution companies (DISCOS) who market powers transmitted.

Initially, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission told all who cared to listen that pre-paid meters will be given out ‘free’ to electricity consumers while the cost of that will be deducted from the customers every month. Later, due to scarcity (artificial and natural), NERC later came up with Credited Advance Payment for Metering Implementation - CAPMI Scheme under which NERC on May 14, 2013 registered 61 vendors and installers. According to NERC website, “CAPMI was a response by the regulator to address the lingering issue of non-issuance of meters by the electricity companies. CAPMI allows for any interested and willing customer to advance money to their electricity distribution company and in return will be given electricity credit until the cost of the meter has been recovered by the customer.”

My inquiry from a couple of these registered vendors shows that the cost of single phase is N25,000 and three phase N50,000. However, Power Holding Company of Nigeria staff has been asking me for between N37,000 and N40,000 for a single phase pre-paid meter. One vendor I spoke with said his company does not sell directly to individuals but to utility company which is PHCN who now sells to individual members of the public. Now, one is at the mercy of corrupt PHCN officials who deliberately makes these meters scarce and tried to force the old analogue meters on electricity consumers.

The greatest challenge is that with the scarcity of pre-paid meters which would have ensured that electricity consumers pay for only what they consume, PHCN marketers, due to revenue target given to them, indulge in issuing estimative bills better known as ‘crazy bills’ on hapless consumers still using the analogue meters. Even in areas where electricity cables have turned to clothing lines and electricity transformers are mere relics due to unavailability of light, exorbitant bills are still given to consumers. What can be more exploitative?

NERC, according to information on its website said “It can be recalled that in 2011, a N2.9billion metering intervention fund was made available to the companies with a view to closing the unacceptable metering gap. One year after, no appreciable progress was made by the companies, and this compelled NERC to demand for performance reports from the DISCOs. Eight of the twelve DISCOs submitted reports that fell far short of the requirements of NERC. The rest did not submit any report of how they spent the money.”

In a letter dated July 19, 2013 NERC issued a 14-day ultimatum to electricity distribution companies that are in violation of its order to submit a list of all customers who paid for meters since January 2011, and commence metering them with immediate effect. The Commission expressed its utter dismay that all DISCOs have been in complete violation of the order as it relates to customers who have made payments within the given time frame, and have not been identified for immediate metering “

According to NERC Chairman/CEO, Dr. Sam Amadi, “Any DISCO that does not comply with this new directive will be barred from collecting the new electricity tariff.” In addition, NERC threatened that failure to comply with the 14-day ultimatum could make it  institute enforcement procedures that may result in the removal of a Chief Executive Officer of defaulting electricity distribution company. This ultimatum has elapsed, it remains to be seen if NERC will wield the big stick on the erring DISCOS who currently operate with impunity; reaping where they did not sow and frittering away the nation’s resources; a whopping N2.9b metering intervention fund.

Unfortunately, while the issue of metering remain largely unresolved, the Multi-Year Tariff Order for this year came into effect on June 1 thereby activating another increase in electricity tariff. The regulatory agency said “In 2012, NERC published the MYTO – a tariff plan that sets both wholesale and retail tariffs for the industry over a five year period. This means that tariffs have already been set for every year starting from 2012 through to 2016. Effective June 1 of every year, a new tariff is to take effect.” In essence, whether there is electricity supplied or not, from 2012 to 2016 you and I will continue to pay more for electricity or darkness depending on the situation. This is the height of mistreatment!  NERC may have set the MYTO to ensure that there is private sector attraction to invest in the power sector (cost recovery) but this should have been tied to improved productivity and accessibility of power to electricity consumers.

The consequence of deplorable public electricity is here with us. Nigeria has been tagged the country with highest consumption of power generators in Africa, nay the world. The import of this is that much needed foreign exchange is spent importing these contraptions since they are not locally manufactured. The need for private power generators has also caused considerable increase in the cost of doing business in Nigeria. There is an associated health hazards with these due to noise and wider environmental pollution that these power generators caused. Carbon-dioxide fumes emitted from these generators has also caused many deaths to persons and families that do not know how to use these devices. The pollution from the generator emissions has also been contributing to ozone layer depletion and concomitantly, climate change. Should we continue this way, our attainment of 2015 Millennium Development Goals and Vision 20:2020 will be a mirage.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What do Nigerian politicians spend their election fund on?


 

Election time is an interesting time in Nigeria. It is a season of spending spree by politicians and their political parties.   Some years ago, about 2004, I was privileged to participate in a two day seminar organized by the Independent Policy Group, a think tank established to assist the former President Olusegun Obasanjo to research on topical national issues. The forum discussed extensively what the Nigeria political class spends their election fund on. The submissions from that event were very insightful. The IPG seminar came up with a comprehensive list of what politicians spend their election fund on.

Among the legitimate spending are the funds used to hire campaign offices and equip them with furniture, automobiles, and staff. Money spent on campaigns is also a legitimate spending.  This is inclusive of monies spent on hiring campaign venues, public address systems, decorations, printing of manifestoes or program of action, provision of security, transportation, and communication. Even monies spent on advertisement in print and electronic media is legitimate. It would be recalled that for the media houses, election time is their season of financial harvests. They seize the opportunity to hike their advert rates knowing full well that aspirants, candidates and their political parties will throng to them to market themselves.  As part of security measures, aspirants also hire private security companies to complement police escorts attached to them. They also import bulletproof cars and install close circuit television cameras in and around their residences and offices.

To facilitate their keeping with tight campaign schedules, some affluent aspirants or candidates also charter helicopters and airplanes for their transportation. This is often the case with presidential candidates and to a limited extent governorship candidates who have to campaign across vast constituencies.  Some wealthy aspirants even engage in welfare programs well ahead of the electioneering period. Some provide electricity transformers to communities that do not have electricity, some give out scholarships to indigent students in their communities; others in addition sponsor people on holy pilgrimage to Mecca and Jerusalem, some others pay medical bills of sick people who do not have resources to take care of themselves. Some others even organize lottery programs where people win various gifts items like grinding machines, dryers, clippers, electricity generators, clothing materials, sewing machines, etc. Some other politicians provide borehole water to communities without potable water.  

It is also important to know that a lot of resources are spent on unlawful things by politicians. Such is money spent on recruiting political thugs and arming them. On Saturday, May 11, 2013, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar was quoted on BBC Hausa Service (published in Sunday Punch of May 12) as saying that “When we formed the Peoples Democratic Party and candidates emerged, the governors earmarked huge amounts of money to buy arms for youth groups so as to use them in winning the election.” This declaration has established the nexus between election and electoral violence in Nigeria. No wonder election time is tension-soaked with many often killed or maimed and a lot of properties destroyed.

Also, on November 12, 2012, the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega said some political parties do earmark monies to bribe the election officials and security agents. Speaking at a Roundtable Conference on Party Politics in Nigeria and Lobbying the Lobbyist and the Legislature, organized by the National Institute for Legislative Studies, NILS in Abuja, the INEC chair was quoted as saying:  “Political parties budget to bribe security and INEC officials. This is a very serious challenge to our democracy.”  (Vanguard, November 13, 2012). It is not only the election officials and security agents that politicians attempt to bribe, even they reach out to the judges at the election tribunals and a couple of judges have been disciplined by the National Judicial Council for compromising themselves. On February 20, 2013, the NJC actually suspended a judge that served at the Osun State election petition tribunal while also recommending him for compulsory retirement.  From the earlier mentioned IPG seminar, I also learnt politicians have special vote for engaging spiritualists be it pastors, alfas or herbalists. 

Technically speaking, in accordance with Section 91 (8) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, much of the resources spent on election are not classified as election expenses. There are three grounds of exemption. The first is any deposit made by the candidate on his nomination in compliance with the law; also, any expenditure incurred before the notification of the date fixed for the election with respect to services rendered or materials supplied before such notification; or political party expenses in respect of the candidate standing for a particular election.  Even though the aforementioned expenses are not calculated as part of the election expenses of the politicians contesting elections, it nonetheless needs to be factored in informally as the amount involved is quite significant.

Memorable Encounter with ‘Mathematical’ Segun Odegbami


As I sat waiting for my flight at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja on Wednesday, July 31,  I was furious. My source of irritation was Arik Air’s delay of my flight to Owerri. The flight scheduled for 1:00pm was rescheduled for 4pm for operational reason. I didn’t know my situation was much better until we eventually took off around 6pm and I discovered that some of the people we were on the same flight had been at the airport since 9am as the flight was originally scheduled for 11:55am. I and my colleague were in the midst of this agonizing wait when ‘Mathematical’ Segun Odegbami walked by in the midst of four or five other companions. I nudged my colleague with whom I was traveling to Umuahia in Abia State. The ex-international didn’t see us as we were just two of the sea of heads seated at the waiting lounge pending when our flight boarding announcement would be made. Then fate brought him my way. He had gone to the adjoining lounge to search for a seat without luck. He then came near where I was seated hoping to find an empty seat. I quickly beckoned to him to come and occupy my seat. He initially refused but I persisted. He later sat where I have vacated while I squatted with some other passengers opposite him.  He thanked me profusely and thereafter we started chatting. Mr. Remi Akano, (a former editor with Daily Times and publisher of his book) who also came in his company was equally lucky to find a seat close to where we were seated.

Holy Moses! Am I suffering from visual hallucination? Am I really talking with the ace footballer, I mean former Green Eagles (now Super Eagles) captain? I tried to pick his brain on a wide range of issues but before then I noticed he was clutching a book. I asked to see it and he obliged me. It happens to be a copy of his book titled “Me, Football and More” whose public presentation had taken place the previous day, July 30, 2013 in Abuja. He was actually returning to his Lagos base when we met at the airport.  I asked for the cost of the book. He told me. I paid for it and asked him to autograph it for me, which he gladly did. As at the time of writing this piece, I have read about 120 pages out of the 343 pages of the book. We eventually had about an hour chat on wide ranging national issues particularly sports and its administration in Nigeria.

For instance he told me none of his children is playing football but that some of them are into creative arts. I later read that one of his daughters, May7ven is a United Kingdom based musician. I asked about his involvement with Chioma Ajunwa whom he assisted during her preparation for 1996 Atlanta Olympics who later won Gold Medal in Long Jump for Nigeria; for the first time. I inquired if he is a football agent. He told me he is not into football agency but has an international (sports) academy where students school and learn how to play football. I asked about his most memorable event, he was not specific as he said there were several of them which incidentally were not the ones the public know like winning Africa Cup Winners Cup with IICC Shooting Stars in 1976 and African Nations Cup in 1980. Not even the fact that he was for five years highest goal scorer for Nigeria’s national team and his club side was mentioned.  I tried to pull his leg about the musical album Chief Ebenezer Obey did on his wedding; he said he was surprised as it was unsolicited. It turned out that Obey did not even play at his wedding.

I asked how he managed fame as he was in 1978 rated as the third best football player in Africa and later as the second best player in Africa in 1980; the first Nigerian to be so honoured.   He said he could not explain how he lived through that era of unprecedented fame. He thanked God for the grace. We talked on a number of other things like his involvement in Shell Cup football competition, his appointment as Nigerian Football Ambassador, how he combined studying engineering with active football career and few other things. Shortly before boarding announcement for my flight we took pictures and exchange phone numbers.

Now, this is the most humbling part of my encounter with the man nicknamed ‘Big Seg.’ I was going to call him on arrival in Umuahia, my final destination. However, he beats me to it as he called to ask if I had arrived my destination around 8pm while we were still transiting between Owerri and Umuahia. The following morning, he sent me a text message asking after my welfare. Imagine a Pele or Roger Miller doing that to an ordinary Brazilian or Cameroonian. I was deeply touched by this show of affection by one of the best and finest football player in Nigeria’s history.

I didn’t quite appreciate this man’s enormous talent until I began to read his book which was a compilation of some of his articles in the print media in the last 34 years! There this football wizard called Segun Odegbami scored another first. He was lured into commentary writing by Mr. Banji Ogundele then editor of Sunday Tribune in 1978 and made his debut on January 10, 1979. It is unprecedented. No Nigerian footballer had previously performed that feat, more so while still in active football and at the peak of his career. Today, he has written hundreds of articles for about eleven Nigerian newspapers and magazines. ‘Big Seg’ have written many great articles, not on football alone but on other many topical national issues as well. An apostle of sports for national development, his pieces I have read thus far in the book reveals him as a very descriptive and analytical essayist. Interestingly, commentary writing is our shared interest and passion. While he has been doing it for over three decades, my silver jubilee is due in 2015 having started media advocacy in 1990. There are so many of his articles that made positive impression on me. I am eternally grateful to God for my chance meeting with this prodigiously talented compatriot who is an accomplished footballer, engineer, broadcaster, producer, businessman, writer, philosopher, philanthropist and Nigeria’s soccer ambassador. Sixty-One hearty congratulations to you sir as you celebrate your birthday on August 27.