By Godwin Dudu-Orumen
The death of Chief Osayuki Jackson Obaseki came to me as a rude shock. It is not the kind of news you want to hear on a Sunday morning.
Several days later, I am yet to come to terms with it. Yet I must for it is the destiny of all mortals to return to the dust from which we all came.
Still, the passing of Chief Obaseki diminishes me personally and I believe Nigerian football too for he was no bird of passage, which fleets to and pro without leaving definite impressions on the sands of time.
On the contrary, he was a colossus whose impact on Nigerian football resonates with us as it will with generations to come.
As we all know, football was more than a passion for Chief Obaseki. It was his life. The love he bestowed on his family, friends and humanity at large was also showered on football. He saw the game as a being to be nurtured, cherished and protected. He devoted his life to this cause neither being slowed down by age or the queer circumstances defining football administration in Nigeria. Till he breathed his last, lived for football.
Such was his love and passion for football that he was willing to go to any length to defend its interests. This determination to advance the cause of football often pitted him against Nigerian football’s powers that be. On numerous occasions he had run ins with them over matters of policy and administration.
A man of courage, he was not one to suffer fools gladly or succumb to threats thrown at him in the course of the discharge of his duties as a football administrator. A few years ago, Nigerians will recall the famous “I am a moving train” comment made by Chief Obaseki. That comment earned him the soubriquet, “Moving Train”, a tag that stuck with him till he breathed his last on Sunday August 18, 2019.
In that incident, which earned him that soubriquet, Chief Obaseki had threatened to use every power within his means to defeat those individuals who at the time were plotting to subvert the progress the Nigerian Premier League had made under his tenure as chairman. At the time Chief Obaseki took over as boss of the Nigerian league, the league was in tatters with corruption, maladministration and players unrest being the defining rubric. His coming brought a new lease of life to the league and the little success and foreign exposure the Nigerian league enjoys today, owes a lot to the astute leadership, commitment, dedication and vision, Chief Obaseki brought to bear on his job as chairman of the league board.
Chief Obaseki’s sterling performance as head of the Nigerian Premier League was not accidental. Before taking up the role he had built a reputation as an astute football administrator going back several years when he served in, and chaired the board of Bendel Insurance FC.
As an individual, I am proud to declare that Chief Obaseki with whom I shared over four decades of a rich and rewarding relationship was a mentor and a father figure. From the time our paths crossed nearly fifty years ago when I as a teenager, was a regular visitor to the Ogbe Stadium (now Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium), to this passing on Sunday, he never ceased to inquire after my well-being even as he continued to offer qualitative advice on how best I can turn Edo State into a global hub of sports.
It is an incontrovertible truth that those meetings with Chief Obaseki and many other accomplished sportsmen and women stoked my interest in sports and helped shape me into the man that I am today. As a young man at the time, I was drawn to Chief Obaseki because of his humility and discipline. Despite the difference in age, he did not exhibit the usual patronizing attitude a lot of men his age had for people much younger than them. Rather, he was frank and open in his relations with me and always had words of encouragement for me.
Today, he has left us for the other side of existence. As I bid him farewell, I do so borrowing the words Oluhun-iyo, the Bard in Wole Soyinka serenaded the departing Eleshin Oba (the King’s Horseman) with in the book, Death and the King’s horseman, as he prepared for the journey from which there would be no return:
“But will they know you over there? Have they eyes to gauge your worth, have they the heart to love you, will they know what thoroughbred prances towards them in caparisons of honour? If they do not, my dear Chief, if any there cuts your yam with a small knife or pours you wine in a small calabash, turn back and return to welcoming hands. If the world were not greater than my wishes, I would not let you go”.
Barrister Godwin Dudu-Orumen, is the chairman of the Edo State Sports Commission