Yinka Craig, Tunde Makanju, Phil Ebosie, Tunde Fagbenle, Ayantee Udo Udoma, Dayo Sobowale, and Chuka Momah all contributed to my initiation into the ‘beautiful and bountiful’ side of Lagos life, if you know what I mean. As the youngest and most naïve amongst them, I was ‘hungry’ to devour everything they taught me like a man waiting for the temptress’s forbidden apple. Now I know better.
But it is only recently that it occurred to me how much of my life Chuka Momah influenced.
A few weeks ago I was invited to the media presentation of his latest work, a book that has been long in coming but that I can easily testify is worth all the years of waiting for its invaluable content – a rare collection of his writings through decades of literary entertainment and education. The event had a most uncommon assembly of some of the most respected personalities in the Nigerian sports media, the young, the ageing and the very old! It was the wonderful sight of Uncles Bisi Lawrence, Fabio Lanipekun, and Dele Adetiba, all veterans and gurus of sports journalism, that jangled my memory and made me to realize how long I had known Chuka, to recall the depth of my relationship with him and to acknowledge how much I ‘owed’ him for impacting so massively on my life-after-football.
As a player in the national team up to the early 1980s whilst we socialized Chuka wrote lavishly in his weekly column about my football exploits. So I feasted not only on his stories about football, but also about other sports, particularly boxing, cricket and tennis. His writing style was masterful and his insight and knowledge were encyclopaedic! He wrote in the Guardian which must have influenced my writing for the same paper when I left the stable of Sunday Tribune. Michel Obi was our sports editor and mutual friend.
At about the time I retired from the game of football in the mid 1980s Chuka had included television into his media retinue. His television programme, directed and co-produced by Uncle Fabio Lanipekun, became the best and the first independent sports programme on national television. The television programme, like his newspaper column, was called Sports Spectacular.
One day in 1989, during the Under-17 World Championship in Scotland, I asked Uncle Fabio why Chuka was the only independent presenter of sports on NTA. He challenged me to join the wagon and I took the bait and within months, during which time Chuka had exited the television scene, I was presenting a 4-minutes sports segment of Livi Ajuonuma’s The Sunday Show on NTA Channel 10. Within a few years not only did I become a presenter of other major sports programmes on television, I also established the first independent sports production company, a very successful outfit that became the training ground for many independent television presenters and producers in Nigeria, with a film library of archival sports footages (through Uncle Fabio’s guidance again) that must rank as the best and richest in the country till this day.
Chuka Momah soon went into sports administration, heading the Nigeria Tennis Federation and getting to the apex in Africa.
I followed in his footsteps and ventured also into the murky waters of administrative politics. Where he succeeded I failed woefully! In four attempts I could not muster the political savvy and sagacity to win any of the elections to become head of Nigerian football.
A few weeks ago, after several years of procrastinating and prevaricating, and trying to make his book the perfect masterpiece, he presented the completed work to this rich audience of the crème of Nigerian sports journalism.
The occasion was another demonstration of Chuka’s creativity. He brought together Uncle Bisi Lawrence, whose weekly articles in the Vanguard would make excellent tutorials for students of the art of sports writing; Uncle Fabio Lanipekun, the encyclopaedia of Nigerian sports: Michel Obi, the multi-lingual and multi-talented sports master (columnist, radio and television presenter); Nduka Irabor, the courageous investigative journalist and former member of the House of Representatives; Dele Adetiba; the man with the golden voice who ruled the airwaves in those days along side the great Earnest Okonkwo, Yinka Craig, and Sebastian Effurum; Modele Sarafa-Yusuf, the first female and doyen of female sports casting in Nigeria; and so on! He then added to this group an army of who’s who in the current world of sports journalism in Nigerian.
It became a great day of eulogies in celebration of the berthing of a great work – a 1224-page compendium of sports information, stories and analysis. I can testify that the book, Sports Spectacular, is a beautiful, invaluable, authentic reference and a truly unadulterated reading pleasure.
I can clearly see now, how Chuka has impacted on my life in his footsteps that I have followed without realising it and acknowledging him. That’s why I am paying him this special tribute.