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Friday, December 9, 2022

Nigerian sporting family bleeds again

Nigerian sporting family bleeds again

By Steve Alabi
The Nigerian sporting family bleeds again, indeed, very badly. In only one month, the family has lost three giants. It is as if the heavens are falling. The saddest part of it all is that it is our own corner of the country that got visited by the Grim Reaper, sending three heavyweight citizens to the great beyond, a former Minister of Information and National Sports Commission boss, Sir Alex Akinyele, a great football coach and sports administrator, Mr. Lawrence Ajetumobi, and an  educationist and astute sports administrator of unequalled patriotism, Chief Guy Gargiulo.

Unlike the worn out cliché usually used in public tributes, the vacuum left by these distinguished sons of Nigeria will truly be difficult to fill. This is so on account of the imperishable contributions these icons made in the various roles they played in the public life of our dear country. Each of them did his duty to the country with high commitment and selflessness, especially in the field of sports. It will be a great injustice not to celebrate their unfortunate passage.

Sir Alex was a man of exceptional infectiousness who transmitted his abundant energy to any endeavour he laid his hands on. In the course of serving his fatherland under General Ibrahim Babangida, he was appointed to the very challenging position of Chairman of the National Sports Commission. A man of lesser humility would have felt his deployment to that position from the exalted post of Minister of Information was a demotion but not Sir Alex. He not only took up the position but also had the unusual grace of publicly acknowledging his little knowledge of sports, even asking sportswriters to teach him how to run sports! He learned quickly and went ahead to prepare Nigeria for her best international performances ever: a first qualification for the World Cup (USA ’94) and first Olympic Games gold medals (Atlanta ’96).

In all these, Sir Alex did not forget his roots. When those of us who birthed Sunshine Stars of Akure were finding it difficult to get the government to key into the project called him to intervene, Sir Alex gladly lent his powerful voice to our effort, coming all the way from Lagos to speak with the Military Administrator, Col. Ahmed Usman. He headed a Sports Fund Launch for the state and facilitated the upgrading of the Ondo Township Stadium in his hometown.

Another proud Ondo indigene, Mr. Lawrence Ajetumobi, better known as Coach Ajepuma, impacted powerfully on sports development, particularly football, in the old Ondo State. A doyen of football coaching not only in the state but also in Nigeria, Coach Ajepuma created a niche for himself as a top coach with very successful stints in the top clubs of the time, Housing Corporation of Akure and Water Corporation of Ondo.

All the state’s great players of the seventies, eighties and nineties owe their greatness to Coach Ajepuma and his illustrious colleagues like the late Adewale Adedeji. In his other role as the Director of Coaching in the Ondo State Sports Council, he was a rich source of experience and support for the coaches working under him. In retirement, he came back to the Council as Chairman and helped to reposition the state as a high flyer in national sports.

Chief Guy Gargiulo, originally from Italy but a naturalized Briton, came to Oke-Agbe in the hinterland of Akoko from Igbobi College in 1963 to take charge of Ajuwa Grammar School and lived the rest of his life in that quiet countryside for about 60 years. Not only did he raise the school to unbelievable heights, he also turned Ondo State to the indisputable champions of swimming in Nigeria. It is doubtful if any naturally born Nigerian was more patriotic than Gargiulo in his lifetime. He dedicated his entire life to serving Ondo State and Nigeria with every talent God gave him. He was truly a son of the soil.

Just last week, a football activist, Raji Mohammed suddenly passed on in the prime of life. A sportswriter and former NFF staff from Sokoto State, Raji confronted the football establishment with uncommon courage, exposing their inadequacies and illicit activities in the public space unceasingly with deep inside knowledge. You either loved him or hated him. Such was his uncompromising nature. The country has lost a conscientious voice and dedicated soul.

The lives of these men make it easy for one to agree with the eternal words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that, “Lives of great men all remind us, that we can make our own sublime, and, departing, leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time.” They are gone but they certainly left huge prints on the sands of time. Nigeria is grateful to them. May they find solace in the bosom of the Lord.

The Hope Owena Press
The Hope Owena Presshttp://www.thehopenewspaper.com
Owena Press Limited (Publisher of The Hope Newspaper), Akure


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