First City Monument Bank, FCMB

By Emeka Obasi

America was his dream, land of opportunity. Otenkwa Dele Ndubuisi Udo bagged a degree, got himself a teenage wife and rushed back home to represent his country only to be murdered by a policeman for daring to mention the United States.

Fela did a track with Ojuelegba. Whizkid did too, much later. Ojuelegba, right in the centre of Lagos, neither sleeps nor slumbers. On July 15, 1981, a potential world beater in the 400 metres was violently put to eternal sleep by someone who swore to protect citizens.

Udoh was home to prepare for a continental championships. The Green Eagles were also in camp  at the National Institute of Sports (NIS) Surulere, Lagos battling for World and African Nations Cup qualification. All was fine until that night.

Udoh and some of the athletes were late for dinner and there was nothing left for them. They decided to dash to Ojuelegba some metres away from camp to grab a meal. Someone drove them down only to be flagged down by a gun wielding officer.

Felix Owolabi and Moses Kpakor were with other members of the Green Eagles’ when news filtered in that Udoh had been killed at Ojuelegba by a policeman. They could not make anything out of it because there was no riot in town.

Owolabi said: “ Dele was a jolly good friend. I still remember that fateful day. He had just arrived with other athletes from Jos where they went for trials. They came back late that night and there was nothing left for dinner, so they had to leave for Ojuelegba to have something in the stomach. The rest is history. He was on duty serving his country”.

According to Kpakor, “ A group of sports loving ‘alaye boys’ ( street urchins) who recognised Dele ran to NIS to break the news. Some courageous athletes came out and went to the scene. The boys explained that he was only telling the policeman that in the US where he came from, cops were polite and did not threaten people with gun.

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“After stating their mission, the policeman realising that Dele came in from the US became jealous. The alaye boys told us that the cop vowed that the athlete would not return to that his good country alive. That was how he shot and killed one of the world’s upcoming greatest sprinters. We were all shocked and filled with fear throughout the night and even afterwards.”

Team mate and University of Missouri, Columbia buddy, Godwin Obasogie, broke the news to Missouri Tiger’s Track coach, Bob Teel. It was unbelievable. Chidi Imo and Yusuf Ali were also Missouri athletes. Nigeria had also given the institution Eddie Ofili, Chuks Olisa and Ben Ogiri.

Teel said: “ Dele Udoh was one of more popular athletes we ever had here. He was a tremendously gregarious kind of guy with tremendous amount of common sense.” Yes, the coach was right, everyone who came in contact with the quarter miler liked him.

Udoh was in Montreal for the 1976 Olympics but Nigeria withdrew at the last minute. He made it to Moscow ’80 and ran in the 4x 400 team with the trio of Sunday Uti, Hope Ezeigbo and Felix Imadiyi. The quartet did not go beyond the first round.

The Nigerian was a hero at Missouri. In1978, the Relay team of Udoh, Dan Lautt, Scott Clark and Ed Ofili set a world record in the Sprint Medley at the Baylor International, Waco Texas. In 1976, his team mates in the 440 yards  and Distance Medley at the Kansas Relays were Obasogie, Ofili, Dave Wolfkeil, Larry Doering, Mark Kimball and Tim McMullen.

It took compatriot, Taiwo Abiodun, to discover the other side of Udoh in 2018, thirty seven years after his demise. From St.Luis, Missouri, the Nigerian journalist unearthed Dele’s daughter, Angelle Burrus. She did not know her father and Nigerian family.

Angela Udoh was months pregnant when her husband died. She was flown to Nigeria by the Shehu Shagari government for the funeral. Tradition demanded that she slept with her hubby’s corpse in the same room in far away Ozu Abam, near Arochukwu.

And she did it for love not because she feared the consequences. There was no Long Juju anywhere around Ozu Abam. Her mother, Diana Bailey, also loved her son- in- law and had to give out two other daughters to Nigerians, one Igbo,the other Yoruba.

Udoh could have won laurels for Nigeria. His Moscow ’80 Relay team mate, Uti advanced to win a bronze medal at the next Olympics, Los Angeles ’84. Owolabi lifted the First CAF Cup with Shooting Stars in 1992. Kpakor won the African Winners Cup in 1991 with BCC Lions.

Owolabi was in the Eagles team at Moscow ’80 with stars like Sylvanus Okpala, Best Ogedegbe, Okey Isima, Tunde Bamidele, Kadiri Ikhana, Aloy Atuegbu and Adokiye Amiesimaka. Others were Shefiu Mohammed,  Muda Lawal, Emma Osigwe, Moses Effiong, Henry Nwosu and the Ghanaian duo of Loatis Boateng and John Orlando.

Nigeria returned from Moscow, empty handed. The best performer was Kayode Elegbede who finished 11th in the Long Jump. Peter Okodogbe got to the semi-finals of the 100 metres. Oguzoeme Nsenu and Rufina Uba did not go beyond the quarter finals, just like Samson Oyeledun.

Heavyweight boxer, Solomon Ataga was knocked out in the First round by Cuban machine, Teofilo Stevenson and in the first round of their fight. Christopher Ossai, Peter Ayodele, Nureni Gbadamosi and William Azano also fell. Long Jump did not favour Ali and Jubobosaye Kio.

Dele Udoh had a bright future. He could have done other things like Moscow team mates, Joan Elumelu and Hameed Adio. The former became a beauty queen, the latter a sports journalist. In Owerri, there is Dele Udoh Street. And the killer cop went home.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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