By Gboyega Okegbenro
This day, August 27th, exactly 70 years ago in 1952, a star was born into the family of late Pa Jacob Adebola and Madam Bintu Abeke Odegbami, the former, a retired Nigerian Railway worker; and the latter, a successful and very popular trader. They both hailed from Wasinmi Community in Ogun State and long settled in Jos, Plateau State, where they lived into their advanced years.
That little star is Nigeria’s sports icon, serial entrepreneur, master storyteller, great writer, broadcaster, educationist, author, actor, publisher, sports administrator per excellence, Chief Patrick Olusegun Odegbami, (MON).
Turning 70 in Nigeria of today is clearly big deal. The reasons are obvious. But ask any close watcher of the celebrant’s daily work ethic, cerebral endeavours and athleticism.
One of the most popular Nigerians of his generation, Big Seg came into everything desirable quite early in life…….fame, money, travels, cars, houses and the good life. By stroke of divine luck, he had successfully managed the highs and lows and is in good health; in company of his loving wife, children and can happily look back and thank God. Big Seg is a quintessential gentleman; extremely charity-driven, easy going though fun-loving; ever courteous, highly detribalized, humorous; friendly, God-fearing and a master on the dance floor.
Nigeria owes this man a deserved acknowledgement and celebration on a day like this given his contributions to national development via his three areas of passion, namely sports, education and youth development/entrepreneurship. Though he came into prominence in the late 60s through football, starring as a member of the all-conquering Western State Academicals, then onto NTC FC, WNTV/WNBS FC, Housing of Ibadan FC; it was when he joined the popular Shooting Stars of Ibadan from 1970 to 1984 that he shot into true stardom and attracted national attention; earning instant call up to the senior national team as a 22-year-old in 1974. He however did not play for the national team until 1976, making his debut against Sierra Leone and going on to establish himself as the poster boy of the team until October 30, 1981 when he made his last appearance in a 2-1 home loss to Algeria. To be sure, he was still at his football best but had to consider early retirement owing to a recurring knee injury that defied huge investments in treatment at home and abroad; halting his glittering career and leaving him to pursue even more expository, technical and creative endeavours within and outside sports, which had kept his name and image not only relevant, but soaring till date.
Big Seg’s ability to switch, interplay and multi-task in different extreme roles, requiring completely unrelated skillsets, to my mind, have been his defining strength over the years. At different times since leaving active football, he has been a newspaper columnist, writer, publisher, television producer, sports school proprietor, actor, track and field athlete manager, football administrator, national team manager and much more… making a success of all. It is on record that this great man conceptualized and created Nigeria’s first wholly private sports show on television, SATURDAY SPORTS SPECIAL, in the early nineties. A man of many novelties, Big Seg did not only give Nigerian sports fans quality entertainment on this show, but also delivered an unforgettable legacy by his ingenuity in featuring two little but very sharp boys , Wole Opatola and Shina Okeleji, then in their early teens, as co-presenters. To his eternal credit, the two youngsters are now very accomplished sports journalists holding their own in the industry. Wole runs a successful sports publishing and radio /tv production business in Benin while Shina is a leading producer at BBC World Service.
Though he has extended his creative abilities into other areas outside sports, especially education and entrepreneurship in the last 30 years, Big Seg however kept digging further and deeper into more creative endeavours in sport. In 2003, he founded Nigeria’s first multi-sports secondary school, Segun Odegbami International College & Sports Academy in Wasinmi, Ogun State. Indeed, Odegbami could be rightly described as “creatively restless”. He possesses an uncommon capacity for thinking up one brilliant idea after the other. Those close to him will confirm how boundlessly creative he is.
Big Seg has had his good and bad experiences especially in Sports Administration but he is unfazed about it. At different times in the last 25 years, he aspired to be President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF). He also toyed with the idea of a joint World Cup hosting involving four West African countries, Togo, Republic of Benin and Ghana, led by Nigeria. Just as he also at a time took a shot at the FIFA Presidency.
Often, he never seeks your concurrence or endorsement no matter how close. He just to puts you in the know and have you understand his motivations, objectives and convictions. This year alone, he has launched into many innovative and audacious projects, including the highly successful CONVERSATIONS initiative; which is leveraging on his interesting relationship with the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA); an idea that seeks to position Sport in its right place as a tool of international relations and diplomacy. His latest baby, Eagle 7 Sports Radio is also on full throttle, blasting quality programs through the airwaves from its Panseke, Abeokuta base to the entire South West and neighbouring cities.
At 70, it’s clearly not slow-down time for my friend and confidant…the one and only Mathematical!
*Okegbenro, a sports and communications consultant writes in from Lagos