By Chief Segun Odegbami
This week, I humbly cede my column to one whose shoelaces I am unworthy to untie, Dr. Tai Solarin.
Occasionally, I ask myself what I would have done differently had I become the governor of Ogun State when I sought the position some years ago. I never go far with an answer, setting aside the past and leaving it there, jeje.
But this week, in a roundabout manner, the question popped up again, this time in a forwarded article sent to me by a friend, Tonye Danagogo, a medical doctor. It was an old newspaper article written by Dr. Tai Solarin, the famous teacher, proprietor of the Mayflower College in Ikenne, and a one-màn human rights, social and political activist, published in his weekly column in the Sunday Tribune of September 24, 1973.
It was addressed to Colonel Samuel Ogbemudia, the then young governor of Mid West State, who made a name for himself as the most progressive governor of that era through the model that he set using sports as the instrument to create all-round development of the Mid West State.
To earn the lavish praise of Papa Solarin, a man reputed for his spartan ways and words, is something that struck a cord at the time.
I read the article that morning. No sooner had I finished than a message popped onto my phone screen. Its ‘coincidence’ shook me. It was weird. It was a message from Coleen Solarin, daughter of the late sage, current president of the family’s still- ongoing comprehensive school in Ikenne, from whom I have not heard, or read, a word in ages. It was too much to assume it was a coincidence that at the moment I was reading her father’s article of 1973, she sent me a salutation message, at about 4:00 am, before dawn.
Existence is either an accident or an order of structured elements. It cannot be both, except, of course, the indiscernible ‘accidents’ are actually the ‘order’ of things, a sequence, as in a computer program, of reactions to the choices we all individually make with our universal gift of ‘freewill’ offered us by thè Creator of the Universe since the ‘beginning’ of time (if there ever was one), world without end.
Why all this pontification and philosophising on a Saturday morning?
Coleen’s reaction to my response to her that morning ‘confirmed’ my belief that Tonye’s forwarded article to me, was a message from the ‘beyond’. I will never know, of course, so I choose to interpret it my way and hold it as my truth.
By the way, almost 3 decades after that article was published, Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia became my mentor and adopted ‘father’. He loved me like his biological son.
Writing simply and for easy reading, the article was vintage Tai Solarin. I re-read it, savouring its lingering taste in my mouth, seeing clearly in his words what I would have done had I become the Governor of my State.
It was weird.
Here is the article reproduced. Enjoy it.
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AN OPEN LETTER TO COLONEL OSAIGBOVO OGBEMUDIA
BY TAI SOLARIN: NIGERIAN TRIBUNE SEPTEMBER 24 1973
“Reading today’s (September 17th) issue of the Daily Times on the secret of your State’s success in the national sports competition (festival) is like reading one of the most lively pages of a novel by any reader’s favourite authors.
Let me start by congratulating you for the exquisite performances of your six hundred whilst the programme lasted.
Even though I am congratulating you, I am not being double-faced. Had I been one of your school headmasters during the past few years, you would have summarily sacked me for my negative attitude towards games and sports.
I was, in my days, a goalkeeper at football.
In an RAF camp just outside Reading, during the 1939-45 war, I came first in a cross country race and won a 4-lb packet of chocolates!
By the time I landed on the site of my present school, however, a new mesh of dissent had been woven into my education philosophy for Nigeria.
I begged the foundation boys of this school to conserve the physical energies they expended on football and athletics into more production of physical facilities for education and for food production.
I did not win.
What I found was that even though physical work would sometimes last until 5:00 pm, when the boys will have been completely spent, physically, but toss a football on the little patch that went for its pitch, and they were out like new young men shooting straight arrows of football.
For table-tennis, all the equipment they had were all the dining tables that were under the palm leaf shed we ate under.
Had I your enthusiasm and realism that any leader should have, triumphantly taken the whole country.
Your Excellency, sir, this is where you come in.
Whether that is your intention or not, you are, like an all-conquering hero, storming the whole country. You are shattering my contention that the army is now jaded and spent and now holding on, till January 14 1976 to return to the barracks with the speed of a frightened cat.
Among other things, Tunde Oshuntolu the sports Editor of the Daily Times wrote of your august self:
“For two whole months, the governor lived on the site of Afuze sleeping in one of the quarters given to Coaches and other officials, sharing the same dining tables with competitors” etc etc.
“He was among the first up at dawn, never missed the 5.00 a.m. roll-call when everyone had to line up in the open space outside his temporary “Governor’s office”
“During the camping, the headquarters of Midwest State was moved from Benin City to Afuze — and for the first time ever the State’s Executive Council met outside the capital in the little village”.
Your Excellency, you have, in this single act, taught this country what is possible of execution in any nation in a hurry.
By taking your battlefront (in sports) to Afuze, you uprooted all those civil servants with glamorous cars. They have never, in their well-measured out lives, heard of Afuze before.
The exertion would shed some of their unnecessary weight.
Just think, Your Excellency, the Afuze idea being duplicated a hundred times in this country!
Those young Midwestern State boys and girls who saw you at 5 in the morning at roll-call; on the pitches as you tried this or that activity out; at the meal tables, would never forget you in their lives.
When those days, I looked at Zik in Yaba stadium pairing it out with a budding boxer, it was his arms and his long legs that I watched. We had a long mirror at home and when I looked at my legs in it, they were inferior to Zik’s, I assured myself!
If I tried, I should be as good as he was!
That is a germ of inspiration injected into any young person as he watches his ideal, his lodestar, his leader perform. If we say the youths of this country are spoilt, all we are saying is that their leaders are spoilt.
If we say they are decadent, we are only refusing to use the epithet on their leaders to whom it more rightly belongs. To impose personal discipline on his State Ministers, Julius Nyerere put himself and them on a 134-mile walk.
He, as well as they, had huge blisters, but the exercise gave them what they needed – a sobering effect upon their vanities and wanton idiosyncrasies.
They were, henceforth able to sit down for the real battle of life.
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They were able to lead the rest of Tanzania, not as tin gods pontificating and giving directions but as true leaders who teach by example.
At Afuze Your Excellency, you have sounded a bugle that has made every youth in Nigeria turn round to have a look. You have more than endeared yourself to all the youths in our country.
Those who say Nigeria are pleasure-loving are not being fair; they have to tell our leaders to go to the Mid-West and learn wisdom.
And yet it was the same Mid-West of yesterday, with more pot-holes in Benin roads than there were in the roads of Enugu, Kaduna, and Ibadan of yesterday.
It was same Mid-West with more Mercedes Benz than were bicycles.
Today’s Mid-West is vivacious, sprightly, and rugged, yesterday it was the ant of Nigeria.
Today, it is the leader, the elephant.
The magic wand of Governor Ogbemudia has done it.
Your Excellency, you are great. And just one question and I am through.
Are you for the barracks or with us on January 15, 1976?”.
Now, I have my answer.
I would have been like Colonel Samuel Ogbemudia of the Mid-West State in 1973.
I would have embarked on making Ogun State a model of development using the instrumentalities of sports, education, and the arts. I would have remodeĺled 50 schools into ‘academies of excellence’, after the SOCA model that exists in Wasimi Orile today, where thousands of young talented boys and girls, passionate about sports and the arts, would have been molded to combine their passion for sports with the need for education to gain entry into the huge, burgeoning and booming global entertainment, leisure and hospitality economy.
I would have woken up at 5:00 am every morning like Samuel Ogbemudia did, and ‘walked’ the essential miles of development with the civil servants and citizens of Ogun State, to drive the fastest infrastructural development project in Nigeria’s history.
Papa Tai Solarin saw that possibility in the works and style of Samuel Ogbemudia. His public letter, an echo from the past, written 48 years ago, says it all.
Vanguard News Nigeria
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