BY KUNLE SOLAJA
Nigeria’s sports journalism community has just lost a rare gem, Dr. Emmanuel Sunny Ojeagbase who was formerly known as Sunny Obazu-Ojeagbase. This is barely two months after his 71st birthday.
He was the founder of the longest running all-sports news publication outfit in Nigeria, the Complete Sports Communication which has rolled out more sports publications than any other organization in Nigeria.
His contribution to sports journalism is not limited to the establishment of Complete Sports Communication, he contributed hugely to human capital development. Many big names in journalism generally and sports journalism in particular at one time or the other pass through what is easily the ‘Sunny Ojeagbase School of Journalism’.
His stable has seen the development of notable sports journalists. Standing tall among these is Dr. Mumini Alao, the organisation’s Deputy Editor-in-Chief and Group Managing Director.
As a thorough-bred sports journalist, he is the longest serving editorial member of the organisation which he joined in 1988, making him the Nigerian Lionel Messi of sports journalism.
His long service in just one organisation is teaching other professionals the need for perseverance, dedication and loyalty. Alao in 1996 had the honour of being the first to win both the Nigerian Media Merit Award (NMMA) and Diamond Award for Media Excellence (DAME) sport sports writing in the same year.
Ojeagbase’s stable has also produced the likes Simon Kolawole, Tunde Sulaimon, Ehi Braimah, Ejiro Omonode, Taiye Ige and Frank Ilaboya among others.
The former soldier turned journalist, publisher and businessman as well as inspirational figure was born on 31 December 1950 in Oshogbo which is the capital of Osun State in South West Nigeria.
Being born on that day in Yoruba land and as he was very fluent in the Yoruba language even though he was ancestrally from Edo State, he could have been called Abiodun as his birth date coincided with festive period.
He became a trail blazer with his Sports Souvenir which hit the newsstands in November 1984 as Nigeria’s first all sports weekly publication that was unrelated to pools betting unlike the Sporting Record of the then Daily Times of Nigeria.
Yet, the advent of Sports Souvenir was not the beginning of Ojeagbase’s sporting journalism career. He was hitherto unheralded when he was a freelancer for Herald newspapers in Ilorin and the New Nigerian in Kaduna before doing the same for Daily Times in Lagos.
At the time, he was in the Nigerian Army which he joined in 1969, a year to the end of the Nigerian Civil War. In 1979, the soldier journalist voluntarily retired as a corporal to take a full time sports writing job under the celebrated Solomon Babatunde Oshuntolu (ESBEE) in the Daily Times.
That was the launch pad into great fame. The hitherto golden fish can find no hiding place in the waters again. In 1980, he joined the Concord Press of Nigeria and was editing the sports pages of Sunday Concord.
Here, his writings, largely in simple flowing English and in-depth analyses were delightful to read. One of such was the unearthing of the causes of frictions that existed between the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) and the then government-ran National Sports Commission (NSC). the Sunday Concord write-up captioned “Strange Doings at NOC” was published on August 8, 1982.
It was a hallmark of investigative journalism and in-depth reporting.
Ojeagbase traced these to 1966 in the days leading to Nigeria’s participation at the Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica when a newly appointed NSC military helmsman, Colonel Mike Okwechime broke into a meeting of the NOC under the presidency of Adetokunbo Ademola.
Another masterpiece of Ojeagbase in the Sunday Concord was his unearthing the remote and immediate causes of Nigeria’s elimination from the 1982 World Cup qualifying series.
He easily fitted in into the high-profile journalism package that The Guardian set out to achieve when the acclaimed flagship of Nigerian print journalism began in 1983.
At The Guardian, he headed a power-packed sports desk that included Michel Obi, Trigo Egbegi, Chris Okojie, Ikeddy Isiguzo, and Sam John among others. Interestingly, all later became sports editors of notable Nigerian publications.
He left The Guardian and set up Sports Souvenir in November 1984 to begin his illustrious career as a publisher and entrepreneur. A year later, he founded the Complete Football magazine as the first colour sports magazine in Nigeria.
As its title implies, it was devoted entirely to football and profited greatly from Nigeria’s exploits at the inaugural FIFA under 16 World Tournament in China. Six years later, other titles came in quick succession – the International Soccer Review, Complete Football International and Complete Football Extra which was devoted to the domestic Nigerian football.
On 18 December 1995, Ojeagbase’s Complete Communications Limited rolled out the Complete Sports newspaper which has remained not just the market leader, but the longest running daily sports newspaper in Nigeria.