By Steve Alabi
I am convinced that sports, more than any other endeavour, have given communal joy and national pride to Nigeria in its 60 years of nationhood. As we continue the celebration of our independence, let us recall the exceptional lives of two patriots who gave their all to sports. One was a broadcaster and journalist, the other, a sprinter. Yinka Craig was the type who comes once in a lifetime: a genius in everything he touched.
Oluyemi Kayode represented the traits found in the noblest of souls: a patriot to a fault. Both loved sports with every fibre of their being. One died at the youth of old age, the other at a tender age. Both left us the examples of their exemplary lives. I had the privilege of knowing both at sufficiently close range.
Egbon Yinka was easily the standard for the rest of us in NTA Sports: suave, urbane, well-groomed, mild-mannered with a rich voice, good grasp of the English language and superb delivery in measured tones. He knew his subjects very well, but he was not arrogant about it. He was always ready to share his rich knowledge and wide experience. And if he made any mistake, which was rare, he was usually the first to acknowledge it.
He was a diminutive man with a large presence in any gathering. Such physical limitation would be a disadvantage in another but not in Yinka Craig. The purity of his soul, the depth of his intelligence, the wide scope of his knowledge and the sweetness of his voice easily marked him out in a crowd. He sang so beautifully and knew virtually every genre of music. He was at home talking about any subject under the sun as brilliantly as he talked sports and could switch from sports to science with the ease of a gazelle.
His ingenuity radiated so powerfully that whatever he touched turned to pure gem. Whatever it was – straight sports, hard news, oddities, or entertainment – he stamped it with the unmistakable seal of his remarkable personality. As a sports reporter and commentator, he covered all the big ones, the World Cup, Olympic Games, All Africa Games and Junior World Cups. When he was somehow forced out of NTA Sports, his creative soul came into the fore, revolutionising television broadcasting in Nigeria forever. He first birthed Newsline, which became an instant AA must watch for all Nigerians. In similar circumstances later, he created AM Express and infused it with his unique presentation style that the crew maintains till today.
How could one man be such a diverse talent? While others needed the cushion of university education to find their bearing in life, Yinka Craig simply fitted into any role with remarkable ability. He set the pace, he cut the path and his became the acceptable way to do it no matter what the books prescribed. And soon enough, whatever he did became the subject of academic inquiry, and the standard to attain to reach excellence. He was sheer class in every respect.
Aside from routine Network Sports assignments, I was to work with him as Assistant Producer at the 5th National Sports Festival (Kwara ’85) but he didn’t make it. That was the turning point of my own career. I and the other Assistant Producer, the highly resourceful Rotimi Bisiriyu, got catapulted to the driver’s seat. We must have acquitted ourselves well for I got listed to cover the next World Cup, Mexico ’86 the following year and actually covered the next Junior World Cup, Chile ’87.
Yinka Craig was a delight to work with. He challenged you to strive harder by his own sheer industry, competence, and knowledge. He enjoyed work and pleasure in equal measure and shared the object of his pleasure with great selflessness, be it food, drink, or smoke. In fact, until he stopped smoking, if he sent you to buy him cigarette, you were sure to come away with your own pack! And he had an amazing ability to hold down a conversation with the appropriate jokes and anecdotes. There was no dull moment with him.
The heart of this genius stopped beating 12 years ago on September 23, 2008, seven days to Nigeria’s 48th Independence anniversary, at an unripe 61 but the beat of his creative contributions to sports, sports reporting, broadcasting, and entertainment goes on. Yinka Craig also played significant roles in administration, including remarkable stints as NFA Board Member and Special Assistant to a Minister of Youth and Sports, Major General Y. Y. Kure. In the latter capacity, he assisted me to deliver on my duty as the National Chairman of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria, SWAN. In fact, he gave us ten free slots to the 1991 All Africa Games, Cairo ’91, which I got the whole media to ballot for without taking any for myself.
Oluyemi Kayode possessed the undying spirit of people who fight and win decisive wars by sheer will and determination. He broke into national limelight at the 1987 All Nigeria Technical Colleges Games (Owena Tech ’87) and used the springboard of his talent to separate himself from obscurity. He was a 200 metres specialist who won silver at the 1993 African Championships and was the first leg of the quartet that won silver in the 4 X 100 metres relay at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
An exceptional patriot in the mould of Samuel Okwaraji, the likeable Olukay died in an auto accident at only 26 on October 1, 1994 on his way to attend Nigeria’s Independence celebrations in New York from his Atlanta base. Despite his successes on the international tracks, he remained very humble and maintained strong connections with his roots. We found listening ears in Alhaji Afolabi Ogunlayi, the then Ondo State Commissioner of Information, Youth and Sports and Col. Ahmed Usman, the then Military Administrator of the old Ondo State with our argument that the Ado-Ekiti Stadium be named after him for his exploits and patriotism.
Of Egbon “Eyinafe” Craig and Olukay, we can say with certainty that they not only loved the nation but also gave it the highest respects with their complete dedication to sports. Theirs are voices from beyond reminding us that if we do our own duties diligently, this country will be great.
Barr Steve Alabi is a Trustee of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria and a former General Manager of Sunshine Stars Football Club, Akure.
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