By Patrick Omorodion
It is with heavy heart that I summed up courage to put this down. I didn’t know how to start writing about a man, Dr. Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia, who did so much for Midwest region, which later became a state, as a military governor and then Bendel state, before it was split into Edo and Delta, as civilian governor, in past tense.
I was still in bed early Friday morning, precisely 4a.m. when my cousin, another die hard fan of Dr. Ogbemudia, Joe Ehizode sent me an sms from his base in Canada, asking me to confirm the news of the former governor’s death.
I replied, with sleepy eyes, that I don’t know but I’ll get back to him after confirming it. I quickly sent an sms to a Vanguard colleague in Benin, Simon Ebegbulem and his positive reply gave me goose pimples. I had to send the message to Joe that it was true.
Just six months ago, I had put a call to Dr Ogbemudia, asking for an interview with him. Nigeria had a few months earlier returned from the Rio 2016 Olympics empty handed except for the bronze medal won by Samson Siasia-led U-23 male football team.
He didn’t hesitate to accept and invited me to his Benin City home. He had told me two years earlier that he took personal likeness for me because of my postulations in Sunday Vanguard on my column, SportsGuard.
After I was appointed Special Assistant, Media to immediate past Sports Minister, Dr Tammy Danagogo, he sent a letter to me one afternoon. I was shocked when the man who brought it told me it was from Dr Ogbemudia. I told the man to wait for me to see its content first.
I was overwhelmed when in the congratulatory letter to me that he personally signed he wrote that “Omorodion’s appointment as Special Assistant on Media has come at a very important time.” Immediately tears welled up in my eyes. Not tears of joy but of the realisation that highly placed Nigerians, especially of Dr Ogbemudia’s calibre are looking up to me to make an impact on a system I had before then talked so much about.
He really followed my arguments every Sunday on why Nigeria sports was nose-diving, why it shouldn’t and how it could be saved by these lines in the congratulatory letter. “It is a time when there is the need to formulate a National Sports Policy that will clearly draw the line on whether our sports should be for recreation only or for national mobilisation, economic growth and international diplomacy.”
He then threw a challenge at me in another line of the letter that I should use my position as SA to “advocate (my) lofty ideas to (my) principals who will ensure the formulation and implementation of people-oriented policies which will change the fortunes of sports in Nigeria”.
That challenge prompted me to proffer advice when necessary to my boss. I had also planned that my boss should create time to see him, knowing that he would find his (Ogbemudia’s) advice useful in the discharge of his duty. I also listed names like Alhaji Ibrahim Galadima and retired General Ishola Williams as people he should see but will politicians running sports ever have time when they are always busy with party politics? That proposal never saw the light of day.
My experience at the National Sports Commission opened my eyes to why things will never get to work especially with politicians in charge. Dr Ogbemudia also knew it that is why he kept saying that sports should be removed from the control of politicians and put under the care of technocrats who should work with a Board. He told me this much even during the last interview I had with him.
As the 2015 elections approached and knowing that the Jonathan regime, especially the 2011-2015 tenure, was winding up and nothing, especially the thoughts of Ogbemudia, was achieved, I put a call to him, asking to see him in his Gwarimpa, Abuja home, and he obliged.
After explaining my experiences to him and before I could even tell him why things may not work in sports with the way politicians see sports, he quipped in with this, “My son don’t worry yourself, I knew you will find it very difficult. Our politicians these days are not serious about development, most of them are just after what they can get”. I was dumbstruck and just sank into the settee in his living room.
Incidentally that day was the same day the APC convention where Muhammadu Buhari was picked as the party’s flagbearer was going on. Dr Ogbemudia was a PDP member but he was watching the APC convention with keen interest.
I remember him telling some of his guests that day the delay or refusal of Jonathan to begin campaign early may count against him with APC naming Muhammadu Buhari as its candidate.
As I made to leave at that stage he told me that his door was open to me always whether in Lagos, Abuja or Benin City. That was why I had to book for that last interview to ask him why he thinks Nigeria failed at the Olympics and what he thinks was the way out of the woods.
The first impression I had about Dr Ogbemudia was as a primary school boy when my father talked glowingly about him. My father and all Midwesterners living in Port Harcourt in the 70s were very proud of the Midwest and later Bendel Lines he introduced. Apart from infrastructural development, he made Midwest and Bendel number one in sports. I can’t forget his legacies like the great Afuze camp where Bendel athletes trained far from the lure of city life. It made them concentrate and hence always came out tops. At that last interview, he was still lamenting the total collapse of that camp which he said, “has been turned into a cassava farm.” Ogbemudia touched lives in several areas, education, sports, transportation, agriculture, you can go on and on. Nigeria will miss him greatly. Adieu the peoples’ General.