DAPO OJORA (1962 – 2020)

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GUEST COLUMNIST:  Atedo Peterside 

By ATEDO PETERSIDE (GUEST COLUMNIST)

I was not fortunate enough to meet Dapo Ojora from childhood days; we met later in life. Ours was therefore purely an adult friendship. The beauty of adult friendships is that very often you both know exactly what you are getting. There is often mutual acceptance of the fact that, invariably, personalities have already been formed and are unlikely to change significantly.

Even in polo circles, our friendship was a mystery to many. Dapo started riding horses and playing Polo from a young age. I had turned 30 before I ever climbed a horse. Dapo was already the highest handicapped polo player from Southern Nigeria before I ever climbed a horse. He watched me learn how to ride a horse at the Lagos Polo Club and he watched me carry a polo stick for the first time.

He therefore watched my progress through playing for the Cafenol Cup (which my IBTC team won in the early 1990s) and then he saw us play for the Low Cup which we lost in the final to a Kaduna team. Dapo was the commentator for some of the IBTC team matches in these low goal tournaments.

After the Low Cup final, Dapo congratulated me for making remarkable progress from beginner to Cafenol Cup to Low Cup. I shocked him by telling him that I was not playing low goal polo again and that next year my IBTC team would start playing high goal polo. Dapo could have laughed at me or snubbed me or asked me if I was crazy. Instead, he asked me how I was going to do that. I replied by giving him the first option to join my IBTC team entry for the Lagos Open Cup in next year’s Lagos Polo Tournament.

To cut a long story short, Dapo promptly agreed to play for the IBTC Polo team if I was serious about the offer. I told him I was serious. Polo players who thought I was kidding about high goal polo realised it could not be a joke when Dapo told them he had agreed to play in my IBTC Polo team. We played for the Lagos Open Cup and won it on the first try. That was the beginning of many tournaments in the 1990s with Dapo and I as the two permanent fixtures in the IBTC High Goal Polo team, whilst other players came and went.

At the Lagos Polo Club on Sunday, December 13, 2020, we gathered to honour Dapo and I recounted how two or three different polo players warned me, at the beginning, that I would spoil my friendship with Dapo by trying to play competitive polo in the same team with him. They advised that it would be a short experiment that would end badly on account of a possible clash of egos because I was the Patron of the IBTC Polo team and the Captain and that Dapo would not fit in easily.

It would suffice to say that this supposedly “bad experiment” turned out to be so pleasurable that Dapo ended up playing for the IBTC High Goal polo team in the 1990s in ALL the major competitions that we ever participated in across Nigeria. These included the Dickenson and Georgian Cups in Kaduna, the Open and Majekodunmi Cups in Lagos and the Patron’s trophy in Abraka. No other polo player except Dapo and I played for IBTC in these five different high goal tournaments. Dapo and I even played together with Albert Esiri at Ham Polo Club in Richmond Park on the outskirts of London.

Dapo was by far the better Polo player but my joke with him was that I could manage pressure better than him on the Polo field. Dapo eventually “confessed” to me that he loved playing for IBTC because there was very little pressure on him when he played for IBTC except the one he brought unto himself. In effect, Dapo felt he played some of his best polo wearing an IBTC polo jersey because I took pressure off him, rather than heap extra pressure on him as some other playing arrangements did. A firm bond was established between Dapo and I through travelling and playing together in very competitive high goal tournaments.

Patricia (Dapo’s wife) became my friend also and Dudun (my wife) was also Dapo’s friend and they were constant companions in the commentary box during tournaments at the Lagos Polo Club. Dapo and Yinka Akinkugbe often took turns in the commentary box, whilst Dudun was a time-keeper.

I am about six years older than Dapo and so I was also older than Gbegi (his elder brother). The age gap never deterred Dapo. If anything, the age gap strengthened our friendship because he deferred to me naturally in some areas and I also did the same in several areas. Dapo knew more about my polo ponies than I did. Indeed, I once admired a pony from a distance at the Abraka Turf Club, only for Dapo to tell me that the pony belonged to me; he had the eye of an eagle. There were numerous other jokes like that.

Dapo paid me the ultimate compliment when he approached me one day and told me that he could not think of any other close friend that he would rather have as a Godfather to his first son (Tayo) than I. He wondered aloud whether I would accept that. I told him that, if that was the joint wish of him and Patricia, then who was I to refuse? He phoned Patricia and told her that I had agreed to be Tayo’s Godfather. The rest is history.

Dapo was a close friend. I understood him and he understood me. That was what mattered to both of us. I gave him space when I thought he wanted space, but then he also knew that I was only a phone call away. When he had the ghastly motor bike accident, I was at his bedside in the hospital in Lagos from the night of the accident and also showed up at his bedside in the London Clinic a week after he was transferred to London for complicated surgery. I feared that it would be a life-changing accident because very active sportsmen often find it difficult to come to terms psychologically with accidents that threaten their physical mobility.

I spoke about the accident only when Dapo wanted to speak about it and dropped the subject whenever he dropped the subject. I told Dapo I could feel his pain. He told me it was impossible for a third party to feel all of the pain because imagination could only go so far. In my heart of hearts, I knew he was right and I told him so.

It is easy for people who have never experienced the pain that a horrific accident can bring to sit down and theorise or trivialise the experience.

I thank God for giving me a worthy friend. I thank him also for giving so many others the opportunity to associate with a remarkable human being like Dapo.

For family and friends alike, let us remember Dapo for the very good times he gave to each and every one of us.

Remain blessed my friend and rest in perfect peace.

Peterside, CON, is the founder of Anap Foundation, a non-profit organisation that is committed to promoting good governance

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I thank God for giving me a worthy friend. I thank him also for giving so many others the opportunity to associate with a remarkable human being like Dapo. For family and friends alike, let us remember Dapo for the very good times he gave to each and every one of us.