BY BISI LAWRENCE
I call him, “the fabu-lous one”, and he was indeed fittingly named for it. FABIO Lanipekun chose to be himself though he might have been something else – something more acceptable in the evaluation of the public, or in the estimate of some of his friends and acquaintances.
Here was a man who qualified as a professional journalist in the prestigious Fleet Street School of Journalism, which was the only institution of its kind in the Commonwealth at that time. He therefore had the entire expanse of the media terrain open for him to carve a celebrated niche for himself among the glamorous pundits of the day. He could have chosen to be a hard-core news reporter, or a features writer, a Deputy editor, or could have aspired to become the editor of a newspaper along that trail. In stead, he chose to report sports. I make bold to say it was unheard of, at that time, that a virtual graduate in journalism would opt to even just start off in sports, fresh from a school that produced giants like Alade Odunewu, a.k.a. Allah De, Timothy Adebanjo, a.k.a.Mickey Mouse, Bisi Onabanjo, alias Aiyekoto, and other pundits of the same stripe. The Fleet School of Journalism had since then been recognized as a full-fledged U niversity. But Fabio took to sports reporting like a duck to water.
It was on a Saturday afternoon in 1965 that I first had a glimpse of the man whom I am fond of describing as Nigeria’s “first sportscaster”. That description did not sit very well with some people, especially among the sports writing tribe. Fabio started off with the old WNTV, the Western Nigerian Television Service. It was the only television station in the country at that time. Other sports pundits either worked for radio or newspapers as reporters or commentators.
The commentator gave a blow-by-blow description of the action; the reporter gave a written description of it; but the sportscaster delivered an account of the event ad libitum, or “off the cuff’, as you might say. Without trying to bore you with the details of the difference, it is relevant to point out that the sportscaster had a lot of information, spicy historical data and an analytical approach to display in the discharge of his burden. It is now common practice, of course, with the development of the profession, but Fabio blazed the trail. That is a feather that we have to ascribe to his cap.
On that Saturday when I first saw him, I was almost late for duty at the Stadium where I was on assignment as a commentator myself. I stood in front of the television set practically stunned. He was crossing the “t’s” and dotting the “‘i’s” in an incredibly professional manner. To a fellow-practitioner, it was like a song. He has since brought his art almost to perfection. He became a walking encyclopedia on sports activities, traveling far and wide in pursuit of world-class performances at the All-Africa, Commonwealth, and Olympic Games, to say nothing about local competitions. He was world-class himself in the days when he could really indulge in accompanying the Nigerian contingents all over the globe.
Fabio’s involvement with. sports was to eventually elevate the status of sports in the .hierarchy of television broadcastmg. The highest position went no higher than “Head of Sports” in the News Department, but came the time when the post of the Controller of News was vacant and he was considered the most suitable for it, and he turned it down. I wonder if that had ever occurred in the annals of advancement opportunities in the Civil Service.
But the reason was simple. The promotion would have meant a heavier pay packet, but it would also have entailed a removal from the sports desk. Fabio would not accept anything that would do that to him. So the promotion went by. The vacancy for Controllership of News happened once or twice again, but Fabio wasn’t looking in that direction.
At last, since he would not budge, his boss, a progressive Director-General, took matters into his own hands and appointed him to the unheard of position of Controller of Sports. He eventually retired in an even higher position and then headed straight for an appointment as a sports columnist in the print media. Fabio and sports – who can separate them from each other?
Today, on this very day, it is with great delight that I stand to salute this extraordinary professional, The Fabulous One, on his seventieth birthday.