By Patrick Omorodion
IF there is one thing that gives me joy since I started sports journalism, it is meeting and interacting with three of the most successful members of the Green Eagles squad of the late 70s and early 80s who have gone ahead to carve a niche for themselves in Nigeria.
These men are Barrister Adokie Amiesimaka, Chief Patrick Ekeji and Chief Segun Odegbami who made their name as members of the Green Eagles of that era. I admire them mostly because after their career in the Eagles, they went ahead to succeed where most of their predecessors and contemporaries failed. The reason being because they backed their football skills with education, which is the key to development as an individual or as a nation.
Take Amiesimaka, for example he was not only a successful player, winning the Nations Cup in 1980, he became a football administrator with Sharks Football Club of Port Harcourt. Outside football, he was one time Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in his native Rivers State.
As a football administrator, he had problems with those running the game at the national level because of his knack for saying the truth and unearthing every anomaly he notices. His stand on the use of over aged players for age grade competitions has earned him abuses from the impostors running our game all the time. As a private man he runs a successful business.
Chief Ekeji, who also played alongside Amiesimaka and Odegbami did however, not make the final team that won the 1980 Nations Cup, not because he was not good enough to make the team but for another reason outside of the pitch. A victim of trying to help students of the NIS with his knowledge of the game in the classroom, I learnt.
After his playing career, Chief Ekeji didn’t stop reading and today he holds a Masters degree and a Ph.D, all in sports management related courses. This, no doubt, helped him a great deal as an administrator of repute who was clearly misunderstood by those who chose to hate him.Till date, he holds the record of being the only sports man or woman to have risen to the zenith of sports administration, becoming the Director General of the National Sports Commission, a position he retired from last month.
To appreciate his effort to revive Nigeria’s sports he met at almost comatose level, he was last week given a grand retirement reception in Ilorin by the Ministry of Sports under the leadership of debonair minister, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, who praised him and appealed to Ekeji to put his experiences in a book form for posterity.
The minister, who is also the Chairman of the National Sports Commission, NSC is now shopping for a good replacement for Chief Ekeji so that the plan the NSC has put in place to move sports to the next level does not go down the drain.
Next is my name sake and one whose magical feet and mastery of football earned him the sobriquet ‘Mathematical’ from ace commentator, late Ernest Okonkwo. Chief Patrick Olusegun Odegbami is a name that rings a bell except in the ears of his detractors who have laboured over the years to undermine his achievement and prevent him from contributing to the progress and development of the game of football.
He contributed immensely to Nigeria winning her first Nations Cup in 1980. An engineer by profession, Chief Odegbami who is also a writer and poet, has also contributed to football managerially through Shooting Stars of Ibadan and was a one time member of the NFA Board. Again, he too was misunderstood by those whose interest is purely for the gains they can make rather than the growth of football.
When his ideas were not being accepted and he was also blocked from becoming Chairman of the NFA in order to add value to Nigeria’s football, he withdrew into his cocoon, to do what he can to help football and footballers. Today, he runs a football school and together with NNPC and Shell, organises grass-root football through the NNPC/Shell Cup for Secondary Schools from where talents are churned out yearly.
Only last Thursday in Lagos, Chief Odegbami added another feather to his cap, launching a book, Me, Football and More. He has put down his experiences that could help propel Nigeria’s football to the desired level. No wonder, respected industrialist, Chief Gamaliel Onosode spoke eloquently about Odegbami’s attributes as a good footballer and one who can add more value to football in Nigeria at the ceremony. When people who are stakeholders of the game said so, the impostors called them names. Now an outsider in Onosode has said it again but will they listen?
These three Nigerians I have discussed here are the pride of the game of football and sports in general. They are very much available for Nigeria to benefit from. Enough of recycling mediocres to satisfy the greed of a few Nigerians. They are still strong to be given one or two things to do, either for sports or other sectors of the Nigerian economy. I may be misunderstood again but I have said my mind and I hope Nigeria listens.