One hot afternoon in August 2021, while I was away on holiday with my family, I got a call from Moyo telling me he had a letter for me from the Vice- Chancellor of University of Lagos, Professor Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, FAS.
Earlier in the year, I had met Prof. Ogundipe for the first time when Moyo reached out to me with a request for the VC to visit me at my office. It was an unusual request and I honestly didn’t know what to expect but obliged because of the popular quote, “No risk, no reward!”
We fixed a date and indeed the VC came to visit small me at our Ogidi Studios in Lekki. I was more than thrilled to give him a tour of our facilities. During his visit, he asked me to serve on the University’s Enterprise Board and I was so surprised and honoured by the invitation that I immediately accepted.
I digress. When this call came over the summer, I thought, perhaps, my services were no longer needed on that board and this letter was to terminate my appointment. Thankfully, I was wrong and I still serve on that board. Moyo refused to tell me what the letter was about but luckily for me, his call came two days to the end of our holiday so I didn’t have to wonder for too long. Day
1 back at the office, the letter was delivered. With me in the office that afternoon was Prince Ajibade. He was there when I opened the letter, slightly bemused and trying to comprehend what I was reading. It was a letter appointing me as the Project Lead of the 26th NUGA Games, UNILAG 2022. Prince was more excited than me and this was my first challenge. His expectations of what I was to deliver was scary even to an audacious soul like me.
I quickly assembled my management team and our first resolution was to accept the appointment. This was followed promptly by major anxiety on what to expect on this NUGA journey. My domestic management team led by my wife, Abisoye, were my co-project leads. They caught the bug immediately. The support I got from home meant failure was NOT an option.
Before the news was released, members of my family and close friends had also put some more anxiety in me with their compliments which began to chime like threats to my ears. Oga said it was good for NUGA as it will reignite her glory. My Chairman was sure I was prepared and would deliver astoundingly. JJ said, “Egbon, this is a big deal and is good for the culture.” I knew it was good for the culture. I knew about the power of youth & sports and its inextricable connection to national development. I have written extensively on the matter and it will soon be published. The real question for me was, what did the VC and UNILAG want exactly? Did they want the same things that my nearest and dearest & I wanted?
The first person I met on the NUGA planning team calmed me down significantly. Dr. Joseph Awoyinfa, is the Executive Secretary of the UNILAG NUGA Games and following a meeting at his office, I met a man who was hungry for success. He explained the VC’s vision to me and handed me a document that showed everything the university needed to successfully host the games. He also gave me a tour of their facilities under rehabilitation.
At our first LOC meeting where I was introduced, there were so many Professors in the room, I half expected them to demand I defend my thesis and the anxieties of my undergraduate years briefly resurfaced. I was however consoled that I could walk away if all they were going to do was hand me a document with marching orders. That’s not how we work. It is not how I was taught. It is not the Temple way.
It was a pleasant surprise that these Professors and scholars were as eager to listen as they were to share their thoughts. Ideas were exchanged and debated. The VC who was the Chairman of the LOC and Professor Ayodele Victoria Atsenuwa, our alternate Chair, led as followers. I was a bit apprehensive that most of the committees were chaired by professors. I thought they were a little too “old” to deliver a “Youth Games” but my apprehension was needless.
They were older than me and old enough to be parents of athletes but they were sharp, amenable and energetic. There must be something special about the water they drink on campus because these women and men never got tired! I still think the next hosts, UNIJOS, would do well to populate their LOC with some young faces.
I sought and got three approvals at that meeting. The first was a ratification of my discussion with Michael Collins Ajereh aka Don Jazzy. I had asked Jazzy to produce a theme song for us and he had accepted at no cost! The song was co-produced by Andre Vibes and has Temple’s, Bisola Aiyeola, an alumnus and my classmate Tosin Martins, Wavy the Creator and Mavin’s Magixx, also an alumnus on it. They were my first set of donors.
The second approval was to host a flag off event on campus to kick off our campaign with a release of the theme song, unveil the official mascot, Caddie, and light the NUGA torch of Unity. I made a commitment to the LOC that it would not cost the University a kobo and I am proud to report here that it did not. To make it happen, I turned to my friends, associates and friendly brands who donated handsomely to our noble cause. Amaze, ETAP, Flow Fabrics, Grind Grills, Culinary Wok, Viathan, BishopGate Farms, Grills About Town, Dominos Pizza, Red Bull, Adeola & Busola Tejumola, Balmoral Group, Blue Breeze Cocktails, The Green Room Nigeria, Moving Media, Alladave, Thunder Drum Studios, Mavin Records and Gabriel Ikeji all made it happen with their donations, sponsorhips and support.
The flag-off event was a monumental success. We also saw amazing talents perform like, The orchestra, Makinde, Bash ‘D’ Cash, Funny Urch, DJ Lawy,
Tosan Wiltshere and the duo of Mimi Onalaja and Lamu (who also hosted our opening and closing ceremonies) perform for free. The torch was lit by Mr. Sunday Dare, the Honorable Minister for Youth and Sports Development who had taken immediate ownership of the Project from my first conversation with him.
The third approval was for the NUGA Torch of Unity Tour. The tour started from the State House Marina with the Governor of Lagos, our Host Governor and a distinguished alumnus of UNILAG as its recipient. We also went to Oyo State where we presented the torch to the Governor, Engr. Seyi Makinde.
Our visit to Oyo State also took us to the University of Ibadan where my mind was doubly blown. The first was when we met a DVC, Prof Aderonke Baiyeroju, a NUGAN who had won over 30 medals. The second was our stop at their football pitch where a pre-qualifier was going on. There I was shown a preview of what to expect at the games with the electrifying reception we got. We also visited the Governor of Akwa Ibom, Mr. Udom Emmanuel in Uyo.
The Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, a distinguished alumnus and an ex-lecturer also hosted the torch. Two of my proudest moments were presenting the torch to my Oga, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, Minister for Works and Housing and my Chairman, Mr. Tunde Folawiyo. Both felt like taking my report sheet with a distinction grade home to daddy.
The Torch was also received by Rt. Hon Gbajabiamila, Speaker, Federal House of Representatives, an alumnus at his office, the Minister of Education – Mallam Adamu Adamu and by the Vice Chancellor of the University of Abuja on their campus in Gwagalada- Prof. Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah. We ended this phase with a presentation to Mr. Segun Agbaje, Group CEO of GTCo, our Lead Sponsor.
Celebrities and influencers were not left out. The torch was also presented to Don Jazzy, Toke Makinwa, Do2un, Zlatan, Mayorkun, Laycon and Bisola Aiyeola.
Our torch tour ended with a relay motorcade at our opening ceremony with NUGANs like Olumide Oyedeji, Chioma Ajunwa, Enefiok Udo-Obong, Grace Jompe, Oluwarotimi John Joseph and Aremu Taiwo and ending with the great Hameed Adio bringing it home to the sports center.
As part of the special offer UNILAG got of “get Temple 01 and get all Templers for free”, Temple was also excited to be appointed as one of the marketing agencies. The Biggest players in the private sector tried to kill this excitement but Templers are dogged so we kept fighting.
We had expected that a games with over 10k student athletes from over 75 Universities in Nigeria would be every brand’s dream but it wasn’t. To us, it was commercially viable and beyond that it also made a good CSR initiative to support. Most of them didn’t think so. I still don’t fully understand why. If we are really concerned about Nigerian Excellence & National Unity, this was a perfect opportunity to bring young Nigerians together. The power of education and sports is another op-Ed on its own.
GTCO was one of the few that shared our vision. They said yes from merely seeing our pitch. They didn’t ask how many accounts they will get to open during the games. Some did. We had many meetings with these guys but still got rejected. In two instances, they had provisionally approved sponsorship only to rescind the offers. Universal Music Group sponsored as well.
So did VBank, SDM Communications Limited, The Lagos State Employment Trust Fund, Sky Capital Limted, LifeCenter Medicals and the Funmi Ayinke Humanity Foundation. Oga & Chairman also supported very generously. Paystack couldn’t but Sola Akinlade did. So did my three favorite Kings, HRM, Oba of Lagos, HRM, Oba Oniru of Iruland and HRM, Oba Elegushi of Ikate Elegushi. There were many other corporate sponsors who came from either the school or other marketing agencies but I can’t speak to those conversations. This was my own experience.
The Lagos State Government was the perfect co-host. We got their full support and it made a huge difference. The Governors Office, Ministries of Health, Youth & Social Development, Lagos State Sports Commission and LASTMA did the most and it was beautiful to experience such synergy. NCDC too was outstanding in their support. They did all this with support from undergraduates of the University of Lagos who volunteered their services. They were remarkable and demonstrated what service means.
It was also important that our visiting students got to experience Lagos Culture and we got Royal support. HRM, Oba Rilwanu Akiolu, HRM, Oba Saheed Elegushi and HRM, Oba Abdulwasiu Omogbolahan Lawal opened their palaces to us and to them.
On day 1 when the students started arriving, I saw a different UNILAG from the one I attended and the one I had visited several times in the past few months. It came alive in a way that blew my mind. My expectations were high but apparently not high enough. I saw pure happiness. There was NO segregation. No one felt better than the other except UNILAG who was hosting. They had to quickly humble themselves though when some photos of horrible looking mattresses surfaced on social media. That was perhaps the only negative news that was recorded throughout the 10 days the games lasted. Mind you, new mattresses had been procured but the Hall Manager didn’t release them before closing for the day because he wanted the arriving students to “tear rubber” by themselves.
The entertainment throughout the games, starting with the opening ceremony, sustained with the weeklong series at our specially created “Eko Entertainment Village” on campus and ending with the closing ceremony, will go down as one of the proudest moments of my life. My colleagues at The Temple Company showed that we understood the assignment and left attendees with memories they will never forget. We showed that you cannot have sports without entertainment. And we showed it with class. I have heard a few people call our execution a “masterclass.” Please expect much more from us!
I saw first hand the potential of a Nigeria that works. The VC appointed people from inside and outside the school to work together to deliver the best NUGA games yet and we did. The competing schools assembled students from different tribes with different religious beliefs to demonstrate sporting excellence and they did. Agents of government from Federal, State and Sporting federations were assigned to perform different functions professionally and fairly and they did.
In all, it was 10 days of good news and good vibes. It was the bringing to life of the vision of the founding fathers of Nigeria & NUGA.
My NUGA experience was amazing. I have never lost faith in Nigeria and it reminded me why. Thank you Professor Ogundipe for appointing me. Thank you, Management of UNILAG and the LOC Members for accepting and supporting me. Serving as Project Lead on the UNILAG NUGA games will remain one of the greatest honors of my life.
God Bless Nigerian Students. God bless UNILAG. God bless Lagos State. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!!!
*Idris Olorunnimbe is the Founder/GCE of The Temple Company, foremost talent management company and production powerhouse in Nigeria and an alumnus of University of Lagos and Project Lead of the recently concluded UNILAG NUGA GAMES.