Tribute by Afolabi Akinbola in memory of Ayo Ogedengbe, a renowned sports journalist and broadcaster who died recently. Mr. Ogedengbe was the Head of News and Current Affairs of the Ondo State Radio/TV Corporation. He was the Pioneer Treasurer of the Ondo State Chapter of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN), and pioneer board member of Sunshine Stars Football Club. He was working in OSRC before he was seconded to the Ondo state Ministry of Information where he retired.
We first met at the old Liberty stadium, Ibadan (now Obafemi Awolowo stadium) in 1990 during a do or die encounter between the Stationery Stores of Lagos and the I.I.C.C. Shooting Stars of Ibadan in a National League match. He was on his annual leave with the Ondo State Radio vision but he as a sportscaster could not miss the showdown piece.
He was arguing with the officials who could not believe his story that he did not come with his press pass; so he was ‘condemned’ to watch the match from the stands and he was sitting right beside me. I told him of the animosity between the sides hence any match involving them would have the stadium filled to the rafters.
In fact, any match the two clubs are participating in was bound to draw their loyal supporters. One should be adequately prepared for such explosive encounters.
He could not but see the Stationery Stores headband on me and he told me that he too was a supporter of the Lagos club minus the hooliganism of their fans. We became fast friends especially when we are from the same state. The match ended in a draw but its aftermath between the fans was bloody.
He told me to call on him whenever I came to Akure from my station in Idanre. I invited him to attend the annual Orosun festival in Idanre next year. He promised to schedule his annual leave in the next year to coincide with the famous festival. Which he did.
I developed interest in the Ondo state Radio vision programme on Saturdays and I found his presentations whenever he was on air informing and balanced even though I was hooked to foreign stations for my sports news. He was meticulous and painstaking in his presentations.
Now the Orosun festival is the national festival of the people of Idanre-when the sons and daughters at home are in their best apparel and those in the Diaspora usually come home for the celebrations. It was a veritable occasion for the flaunting of wealth and so many ‘long time no see’.
But the real import of this festival-the reunion of the community with Olofin- the premier deity of the community is lost in these frivolous get together. The Idanre-Ifedore local government was thick in the festival preparations and Ayodele Ogedengbe, a senior friend and brother was around for the annual celebrations.
As a middle level officer and a traditionalist to the core, I took ‘egbon’ Ayo in tow and we motored through the virtually ruined route from Owena, the local government headquarters to the ancient and scenic town of Idanre, a day before the actual festival.
A visit to the paramount ruler of the town who was my former boss as Treasurer at the Treasury cash office Ado-Ekiti during a stint for a vacation job in the mid-70s before his installation as the Olofin of Idanre was instructive. Oba Frederic Aroloye never lobbied for his incumbency but was nevertheless selected by the Ifa oracle for the position; we were in the office at Ado-Ekiti when the kingmakers and iwarefas came for him. That was that.
He warmly welcomes my visitor who he said he had been watching on both the state television and radio. The monarch who was every inch a monarch in the mold of the first Olagbegi of Owo wanted to lodge us in one of the rooms in the spacious palace; we settled for the ‘Emmanuel Lodge’ about half a kilometer from the palace.
The Kabiyesi told me to take my guest round the town and take him to the showpiece of the town which was the Idanre Hills with one of the palace assistants as guide. I promised to take him up the Hill before the commencement of the festival proper the following day.
For a man who grew up in the hilly plains of Akokoland, the rugged beauty of Idanre was a novelty. It was a surprise to him that he had never visited the town before despite his journalistic pedigree. He could not wait to climb the Hill. We lodged at the Emmanuel Lodge and made for the Hills as early as possible with one of the king’s assistants as guide.
Meanwhile I had been giving him an historical synopsis of the town overnight and during our climb up the Hill. The people had been living in the Hill till 1936 when the colonialists convinced them to come down from the top of the sacred Hill and settle in their present abode. Uniquely among the people of Africa they had historical memory of the Great Flood and are famous for their spiritual prowess throughout the length and breadth of Yorubaland.
It was the general consensus that the people of Isanlu were the aborigines of the land and they were last to heed the colonialist’s call to leave the Hills; but a remnant of them remained on top to practice their ancient rites spurning all attempts to convert them to Christianity and Islam.
I regaled my visitor with these anecdotes which were interspersed by our guide with the original versions of the history of the town. I showed him nearly all the landmarks on the Hill before our visit to ‘Babakekere’ who was domiciled ‘up there’ receiving visitors from far and wide. He was chief celebrant apart from the Owa of the Orosun festival. ‘Babakekere’ was my mentor who assigned a room to me in his quarter whenever I was free at Owena to read and meditate on the Hills.
The visit to the Hills nearly overshadowed the festival in the eyes of my visitor. As far as he was concerned, ‘Babakekere’ hurried us to go down so as not miss the beginnings of the festival. He told us that we would meet him there. Which we did. The ancient science and art of levitation is dying out gradually.
I was fated to work in Akure later and Uncle Ayo was instrumental in securing accommodation for me near his house at Oba-Ile. The Wife -Mama Ogandu was a big sister and sounded notes of warnings to the husband and me about our nocturnal activities. One thing she was unable to do was to convert the two of us to Christianity.
She was a deeply religious woman and never ceased to pray for the salvation of our ‘damned’ souls. Sports was Ogedengbe’s love after his wife, children, and grandchildren. He gave moral support to the Ondo state ‘Sunshine Stars’ football club and his programs on air were a must for sports aficionados in the state.
Even in retirement after a short stint at the School of Journalism in his native Oke-Agbe his was the voice of moderation and reason in all things. He was jealous of his health and prodigal in his health talks and was near religious in his love for palm wine and his native town of Oke Agbe.
We were never on the same page as far as the English Premier League was concerned – he was for Arsenal while I pitched my tent with Liverpool; but he congratulated Liverpool for a stunning 2019/2020 season. He never harbored any ill-feelings in his sporting relations, and he remained a role model until his dying days. And this was a guy taken away to eternity in his prime! His soul is resting in peace.
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