Former Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan with the trophy after Team Delta won Eko 2012 National Sports Festival in Lagos. He says Edo and Delta continue to benefit from the sports foundation laid by Ogbemudia
“Whatever Edo and Delta states have achieved in sports today is the result of solid foundation that was laid by the late Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia in his days as governor of the defunct Midwest and Bendel states. He was a man with great vision for his people, and we will forever remember him.”
Those were the words of former Governor of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, while speaking with The Guardian yesterday on the sports achievement of Ogbemudia, who passed on in the early hours of Friday at the age of 84.
Ogbemudia, a man described in the sports circle as a builder, motivator and mobilizer, as well as excellent manager of men and material, used his vision to turn the region (known today as Edo and Delta states) into the nation’s number one in sports.
As military administrator of Midwest State, Ogbemudia invested heavily in sports infrastructure and capacity building for the athletes and officials. His decision to set up the College of Physical Education at Afuze for the training of education teachers formed the nucleus of the development of what later became the ‘Afuze Miracle’ in the nation’s sports circle.
Among other things, Ogbemudia introduced the Ogbe Hard Court competition in 1971, to which many renowned Nigerian tennis stars made their mark. He masterminded the outstanding success of Midwest State at the maiden National Sports Festival, Lagos ’73, and also led the state to retain its No.1 position two years later, Lagos ’75.
Even when his regime as military governor ended in 1975, following the emergence of General Murtala Mohammed in a coup that toppled General Yakubu Gowon, the sports foundation already laid by Ogbemudia propelled Bendel to win the Kaduna ’77 edition of the National Sports Festival, only to lose the title for the first time to its rival, Lagos State, at Oluyole ’79 in Ibadan.
During his brief return as civilian governor of Bendel State in October 1983, Ogbemudia was preparing the state contingent for what was described as ‘operation silent Lagos’ in the National Sports Festival scheduled 1lorin, Kwara State, when General Muhammadu Buhari struck in a coup d’état that overthrew the civilian government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari.
Ogbemudia’s era as governor led to the discovery of many legends, who later ruled the nation’s sports, Africa and the world at large. He was a populist, who dedicated most of his time to reconstruction of facilities damaged during the Nigeria Civil War.
Apart from sports facilities at Afuze, Ogbemudia also built the Ogbe Stadium, a complex that was later named the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium.But his decision to set up the New Era College for athletes to combine sports and education after the superlative performance of Midwestern State contingent at Lagos ’73 National Sports Festival remains a talking point for many till date.
New Era College soon became the ‘headquarter of trophies’ in the region. Ogbemudia laid the sports foundation for the likes of Bright Omokaro, Sunday Eboigbe, Humphrey Jebba, Lucky Imafidon, and the Eguavoen brothers (Sunday and Austin), (football). There were also David Imonitie, Veronica Oyibokia, Ejiro Omonode (tennis), Joe Orewa, Peter Konyegwachie, Jeremiah Okorodudu (boxing), Solomon Ogba (athletics), Charlton Ehizuelen (long jump) and Brown Ebewele (decathlon).
Many also recall how Ogbemudia brought Coach Alabi Aisien from P & T Vasco of Enugu to Bendel Insurance FC, a decision that paid off shortly after, when the club defeated Rangers 3-0 in the final of 1978 FA Cup in Lagos.
To the ex-Delta State Governor Uduaghan, the sports legacy of the late Ogbemudia will be a reference point for many Nigerian sports men and women, particularly those who benefited for his sports structure in the old Midwest and Bendel State.
Under the administration of Governor Uduaghan, Team Delta won the National Sports Festival on two occasions at KADA ‘2009 in Kaduna and Eko 2012, and placed second at Garden City 2011. Before then, former Governor Chief James Onanefe Ibori had led the state to win the fiesta three times (Bauchi 2000, Abuja 2004 and Gateway 2006), while Edo State, under the administration of Chief Lucky Igbinedion won the National Sports Festival in 2002.
“Delta and Edo States were able to dominate the National Sports Festival till date because of the solid sports foundation that was laid by Ogbemudia,” Uduaghan said. “One thing is for a governor to invest in sports facilities, but in the case of Ogbemudia, he did it with great passion.
“Apart from making sure that the facilities were on ground for the athletes and their coaches to train, Ogbemudia would always create time to attend sporting events. His presence alone was a source of inspiration for the athletes, and that was why the man was called the great motivator,” he said.
Recalling an encounter with the late Ogbemudia in 2009, when Kaduna hosted the National Sports Festival, Uduaghan said: “During my tenure as governor of Delta State, I also took a cue from some of the things Ogbemudia did in the then Midwest and Bendel states. The National Sports Festival was going on in Kaduna, and I decided to visit the camp of Team Delta. After addressing the athletes and officials, I took time to move from one sporting arena to another.
We got to the boxing arena and I was shocked to see Pa Ogbemudia watching the boxers. He was so focused clapping hands and cheering the boxers. I went to greet him because I was really moved by his action. That was how he did it when he was governor of Midwest and Bendel states. Despite his old age, it was a thing of joy for me to see Ogbemudia at a sports festival venue in Kaduna,” Uduaghan stated.
Apart from making sure that the facilities were on ground for the athletes and their coaches to train, Ogbemudia would always create time to attend sporting events. His presence alone was a source of inspiration for the athletes, and that was why the man was called the great motivator.