To the one called Lakayana @ 49

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GEORGE Ogbeide impressed me early in his athletic career. Much younger as he was, we were friends, had our little bets about his results. He was doing the long jump with all the youthful exuberances that combined

Charlton Ehizuelen’s styles that once filled the stands of the National Stadium, and anything that he picked from Kola Ajeigbe, Joshua Kio, Yusuf Alli, Joseph Taiwo, Ajayi Agbebakun, Kayode Elegbede, Jonathan Laniyan – the list is longer.

About February 1987, he started bragging to me that he would break the record. I wasn’t exactly sure which record it was, but that got me interested. But the Nigerian record was also the African record; I was excited about his ambition. My enthusiasm flagged as the circumstances dictated.

Venue for the competition was Ouagadougou, which was Upper Volta, until four years earlier, when a rumbustious young military officer shot his way to power and changed the country’s name to Burkina Faso. A regional meet was holding there, and Lakayana, chose Ouagadougou, the Burkinabe capital for his proposed shot at fame.

Thomas Sankara, the new Burkinabe leader, was making waves across Africa. The prospects of meeting him at a close range added to the excitement. Lakayana kept reminding me that it would be pitiful if I had to learn of his Burkinabe feat from others.

Months after we left Ouagadougou, a certain Blaise Campaoré killed Sankara in a coup. Blaise represented Sankara in most of the athletic events. He appeared likeable too. Nothing could explain why anyone would kill the amiable Sankara, nor Blaise’s 27-year grip on power until they threw him out.

My brother, friend and colleague Tam Fiofori, journalist, sometimes a film maker, mostly photographer, majorly an arts and culture promoter, was on the trip. His interest criss-crossed athletics and the fertile Burkinabe film industry, signified in the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou

(Festival panafricain du cinéma et de la télévision de Ouagadougou) or FESPACO, which began in 1969. FESPACO is the biggest, most popular and longest running African film festival in world and has earned Ouagadougou the sobriquet, Africa’s film capital.

Tam made a couple of visits to Ouagadougou for FESPACO after the athletics event.

A little bit of explanation of how things worked then could help. We had a generation of sports administrators who worked as family. There was no money in sports. If you were in the association (the name that reflected the purpose) you inherited the challenges and faced them.

Officials, athletes, the media worked together, or at least better than today. That was my experience. Instead of complaining that the Amateur Athletic Association of Nigeria – triple AN – had no working telex machine, I used to receive AAAN messages through our office telex and send to it.

There was no translator, so if they came in French, everyone mobilised resources to translate them. The team’s success was more important than who made it happen. The miracles of that era are lost in the pretences to professionalism.

Our general concern, actually major, was how to get to Burkina Faso. It wasn’t a national problem; it was athletics’. There was no suggestion that the team would not make the trip. It didn’t matter if we went on camel backs. The athletes were rearing for action with the likes of Lakayana enticing me of the possibilities Ouagadougou held.

The major bearer of the burden was Group Captain Dangaji, an avuncular officer, elderly, at a time ranks still mattered, and what we heard was that he was denied promotions so often – he was considered stubborn – that his “boys” were his bosses. He was the Chairman of the AAAN, an appointment that was a call to service. Few remember him these days. I heard he is living out his retirement in Kaduna.

A stoic man, Dangaji passed assurances round that we would be in Burkina Faso. We should not bother with “how”. On departure day, he got a C-130 from the Nigeria Air Force. I had been familiar with C-130 sports missions since 1984. I thank him for his silent role in what George became.

George born 4 August in Lagos is 49 today. See some of what he did after Ouagadougou –

· Gold, long jump, American Collegiate (NCAA) 8.13m

· Gold, long jump, All Africa Games, Cairo, Egypt, 8.08m

· Silver, long jump, World Universities Games, Sheffield, England, 8.02m

· 4th 4 x 100m, World Championships, Kobe, Japan, (teammates Olapade Adeniken, Victor Omagbemi – Mary

Onyali’s husband, and Davidson Ezinwa), 38.43s

· Personal 8.24m, in July 1991 in Cottbus, Germany

· He is the fourth Nigerian long jumper, in the all-time list, behind Yusuf Alli (8.27 m), Charlton Ehizuelen (8.26 m indoor) and Paul Emordi (8.25m)

Our Facebook chat about the July flooding of Surulere was George’s opportunity to wonder how Surulere, where he grew up could have degenerated to that point. I told him that if he had not fled to America, things could have changed. George in turn “accused” me of being among those who told him to look for a future in America.

I plead “guilty”, as I wish this precocious, young man, who has managed to keep in touch with generations of Nigerians jumpers, who has not lost a bit of the effervescence he brought to long jump, good health and more successes.

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