By Segun Odegbami
On Thursday, November 9, 2017, it will be 10 years since the Segun Odegbami International College and Sports Academy started operating as Nigeria’s first multi-sports, fully-fledged, co-educational secondary school.
On that day parents, family, friends, corporate Nigeria, the media, stakeholders in sports and in education, as well as the general public shall assemble in the campus of the institution in Wasimi Orile, Ogun state,to join in the celebrations that will mark the 10th anniversary of the sports school. There is a story that must be told of the school that has become an excellent demonstration of the power of a dream.
It will serve young people well to listen and learn from experiences that have become fuel that can drive their dreams and lead them into a new world of discovery and creativity, appreciating the wonder and beauty inherent in the observance of how a little seed was nourished and has now grown into a forest of trees!
I remember how it all started with the disappointment of finding myself at the end of losing an election for the Chairmanship of the Nigeria Football Association, NFA, in Kano in 2004, losing most of the little money I had worked hard for, and wasting valuable time chasing an election I stood no chance of winning.
On the eve of the highly controversial election that had no backing of the sports ministry, I checked my financial balance and realized how expensive naivety could be. I had been massively naïve, assuming that my fame as a football player decades before and my advertised experiences in sports administration and in the business of sport stood me in good stead to garner the votes that would make the elections a walk-over in my favour. After all, in addition to my relatively successful career in football, I had a rich trove of experiences in the media, in athlete management, in pioneering the sports business in Nigeria, and in sports management after retiring from the game as a player.
Under normal conditions, those would be unmatched credentials, enough to secure votes and stroll unto the pinnacle of football administration in the country.
Little did I realize that the world of sports politics is a different universe, with rules of engagement different from the rules in sports, the former always suffering the shifting tides of personal interests and changing dynamics. In this new planet things worked differently. Everything here was under the full control of the most powerful man in Nigerian sport at the time, the remote puppeteer, directing the shape and form of sports administration from his exalted seat in the sports ministry, a man who held Nigerian sports by the jugular for decades, a person without whom nothing and no one could succeed in Nigerian sport – Amos Adamu.
On the eve of the Kano elections, along with a few other members of the electorate that had been called up by their various State sports commissioners, or governors and instructed to boycott the elections and to return to Abuja where another election was being organized under the supervision of the Ministry of Sports, I could sense the onset of a season of crisis. For me, who had no support from any powerful force in government, and completely unable to penetrate even a single voter, I realized too late that I was merely chasing shadows. I needed to count my losses, lick my wounds, and move on with my life to other things.
That’s how Kunle Raji and I drove away from Kano and headed back to Lagos via Abuja, without actually waiting to participate anymore in the elections that had been designed to stop Ibrahim Galadima by all means by executing a strategy scripted by the sports ministry under Amos Adamu. What was uppermost on my mind was how to get away from that tense environment and return to the sports school project, that I had had to set aside for the elections.
I had wasted the resources I should have invested in the project, for a political race that I could never have won. With Adamu in power and in control, knowing how he felt about me (expressed often to mutual friends in sports) I should have known better than to waste my time and resources trying to cross the Atlantic blindfolded! But that would also be defeatist, that is, to give up against the grain of what I had learnt in sport that no mountain is too high to climb. So, I had to convert that loss to some kind of success.
The good thing is that I had mastered the art of managing ‘loss’. Losing is an inevitable part of sport. You can never win if you are not prepared to lose, and go beyond it. Indeed in sport we lose more often than we win anything. What we do is master how to convert loss to fuel a future success.
So, I wasted no time in the limbo of lamentation. I started to look for the blessings in the election disappointment. I needed to quickly identify the stones to step on in the debris of my ‘failure’ in order to move on to the next chapter, for that’s what my life has always been – a series of adventures!
My greatest concern was getting fresh funding. But I was determined, driven by the spirit and attitude developed in sport never to give up but to focus on the goal, not to be distracted by the voices of doubt and of fear, but to bravely take a dive off the cliff and know if I could fly. Oh, I flew and it was beautiful.
My greatest motivation was to remember my Olympic credo, that the greater honour in sport lies more in the participation than in the winning! So, I rushed back to my little village of Wasimi Orile, to revive my compartmentalized dream.
With the small change left in my pocket, I embarked on a remarkable journey aided by the elements. Brick by brick structures started to sprout in that foliage of green virgin trees and vegetation, slowly becoming the dream laboratory of learning and a centre for training in sport where specially identified and selected children with passion for sport, willing to combine this passion with a sound education, would find the perfect platform.
The vision was clear, the road was going to be rough and tough, but that’s exactly what I had been used to,through several decades of going through the drills of sports, a tough life of endless seasons of monotonous physical and mental exertions under strict conditions and rules for every conduct, a regimented existence where success is measured in millimetres and microseconds, in tiny portions laced all the way with hiccups and challenges that must be converted into the winning shot, the winning goal, the winning jump, the winning spirit where placing first matters little but finishing the race means everything.
Every sportsperson must learn how to survive on the fuel of hope and faith, learn to live in a space where impossibility does not exist, constantly meandering through minefields of pain and frustrations.
Two years after returning from Kano, one evening, I stood at the highest point in Wasimi Orile and looked down proudly at the sea of green vegetation before me now punctuated here and there by new little structures.
I remember the day very clearly. It was the day we declared that we had enough in place and on ground to open the gates of the school to our first set of pupils. It opened a new chapter in my life and also in the lives of the 27 students that pioneered that great experiment.
Most of them are now the ambassadors of SOCA and national role models of the combination of sports and education.
I have invited people to come and see for themselves how well we are doing. They will join us in expressing gratitude to all those that have contributed in one way or the other in making the dream of SOCA a reality.
It has been 10 years since the school started. There is a story to tell the world.
Next Thursday, in the little village of Wasimi Orile, I shall tell that story. I invite all to come bear witness.
Segun Odegbami is a veteran sportsman and proprietor of the Segun Odegbami International College and Sports Academy