Tuesday, August 13, 2013

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.