By Segun Odegbami
He died this morning.
I had to cancel all my appointments today following the very sad and shocking news of the passage of my friend of over 46 years – Taiwo Ogunjobi, this morning.
I have been unable to function properly as I recall the early days and years of a fascinating relationship that only became temporarily chilled later in adult life when the political struggle in Nigerian football stretched our friendship without ever been able to destroy it.
Nothing could have damaged the foundation of a friendship that we built at the point of evolving into adulthood together, getting an education, playing football, having our families, and ageing gracefully in recent years.
I sought out Taiwo in 1972/73 when he was in Higher School at Ibadan Grammar School. He and several other great players, Christopher Stober, Vincent Eburajolo, Victor Giwa, Chris Okolo and so on, students/footballers under the tutelage of former Governor, Lam Adesina, who was then the school’s game master, were stars of academicals football in that year.
I went and met them, and convinced 5 of thèm from the school to join me in WNTV/WNBS football club where I was serving out my one-year compulsory Industrial Attachment after OND, and was the young officer (and football player) in charge of the station’s club, to play in that year’s Western State Challenge Cup competition.
We had a fantastic team of very young players that put up a very exciting performance, but lost in the only match we played at the Olubadan Stadium, against NEPA or Police FC (I believe).
As a result of that experience, we became friends and started a relationship as well as football careers.
We were age mates, separated only by months. Yet when the others, including Taiye, played for the Academicals (State and National) I was a senior player for both State and Country.
He joined Shooting Stars ahead of Kunle Awesu, Muda Lawal and I, even though in the same year in 1974! We formed a formidable partnership in the team.
My relationship with Taiye, as I always called him, was one designed for a good story book. Only he and I, probably, know some of the details of that special relationship.
Taiye gave Kunle Awesu, Muda Lawal, Sunday Akande and I (all of us playing for Housing Corporation FC) the confidence we needed to move and to join him in Shooting Stars.
I became the key facilitator of his move, on a full athletes scholarship to study in the Clemson University in the US. I was very integral to the wife he eventually married, my ‘sister’ Bukola, an angel from heaven in his life; I facilitated his invitation to the national team; and I smoothened his ascendancy to the captaincy of Shooting Stars FC even after he left to study for 4/5 years and returned to rejoin the team and to assume immediate leadership as captain when Samuel Ojebode was retired due to ‘old age’.
There is a depth to our relationship that is reserved for family only. Indeed, we became a family as we joined our parents and siblings in the relationship.
Easily, Taiye was closest to me through the years of my football career until I retired, and even after.
Our early years in retirement were about unforgettable escapades and adventures meant for the movies. We would recall them occasionally later after he went into club football administration, and I went into the sports business.
Nigerian football politics and our quest for positions in it, during another phase of our lives, particularly after his stint as Secretary General of the NFA, created a gulf that we never completely could bridge again since then. Yet, we remained friends, but without the same old, and very strong social bonds.
In the past two years the elements brought us together more often and we both tried hard to rebuild the bridge.
Unfortunately, a lot of water had passed under the bridge and things never were the same again, even though we never departed from being friendly to each other.
Anyone on the outside would think we were still inseparable, and that the original links between us were broken. Between us though, we knew there was a small bridge we spoke about once but never resolved.
A couple of weeks ago we met at Governor Rauf Aregbesola’s office in Oshogbo and were the envy of all onlookers as we rekindled our old laughter and jokes.
For the first time in a long while inhibitions were completely shattered and we recalled our happiest moments again.
He was indeed one of the first people to encourage me and to wish me well on learning of my gubernatorial ambitions in Ogun State.
We exchanged several SMS messages, and he actually made me speak with Buky his wife on phone from Oshogbo.
To crown a return to our original family relationahip, whilst Wole, my younger brother, was in town a few weeks ago, he spent a whole weekend at Rotimi’ s (Taiwo’s younger brother, Wole’s friend also from secondary school and still green and fresh till now), in Lagos.
A few days after that, Rotimi and his wife visited me in my home in Lagos ànd made a hefty donation to my political campaign fund, to my pleasant surprise and gratitude.
Taiye’s death is a very big and painful blow.
I can imagine how it will devastate a while army of his friends in the sports fraternity, many of whom he courted and often also empowered through the years.
His passage is a reminder of our mortality as well as the vanity of the pursuit of materialism and of scoring cheap political points at the expense of genuine friendship and unconditional love.
We are all ageing and getting slowly and steadily to the gates of our earthly terminus, waiting for our turn to return to our Creator when the bell tolls.
Taiwo was a great administrator and master of the political game. He served football, Oyo and Ogun States, and the country very well.
He will live forever in our hearts.
His place in the annals of Nigerian football is also well assured.
May the Lord console his wife, his surviving siblings, his children and grandchildren.
Goodnight my brother and friend, Taiye.