BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
Two iconic Nigerians from two sectors that have magnetic pulls on the citizens clock 80 today 2 March 2022. The Grandmaster of sports journalism, Fabio Lanipekun is 80 and shares the great occasion with the charismatic Pastor Adejare Adeboye, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God.
It is also the Ash Wednesday, already the ash colour of the afro hair of Fabio Lanipekun, illustrates the day. Some years back, the coincidence of the birthday with Pastor Adeboye was put to Lanipekun; the grandmaster said he was oblivious of the coincidence.
He remarked that he was eternally grateful to God for letting him have something in common with the man of God who years ago was ranked by the influential Time Magazine as the third most influential individual on the Planet Earth.
Foreign names have become a common phenomenon in Nigeria. But the trend is more towards Biblical and English names.
Fabio is an Italian name. How did the grandmaster get an Italian name? He explained that he was born as Adesola Lanipekun and that Fabio, the name that he is popularly known, was actually a nickname!
It stuck while he was in his third year at Methodist Boys High School, the institution that has the honour of being the inaugural winners of the Principals’ Cup when it was called the ‘Schools Cup’ in 1948 before changing to Zard Cup in 1959 and Principals Cup since 1965.
According to Lanipekun, he read an 1886 romance book titled “Vendetta”. It was a story of a forgotten fellow, Fabio Romani, an Italian count who was thought to be dead. The novel was written by Mary Corelli.
Lanipekun said he was fascinated by the central figure of the novel, Fabio Romani. “I enjoyed the book that I started calling myself ‘Fabio”, remarked Lanipekun.
That was the origin of the nickname that has over seven decades become his name. He remarked that his parents initially objected to it each time school friend came to ask after ‘Fabio’. But somehow, it has stuck.
He has been a media practitioner since 1962 when he was a reporter with the now defunct Daily Express which was based in the Apogbon area on Lagos Island. He is one of the earliest Nigerian media practitioners to train specifically in sports journalism.
That was when he enrolled at the Regent Street Polytechnic in London in 1964. This is symbolic as even up till now, in spite of the pervasiveness of sports writing across all platforms, there is hardly any school of journalism or mass communication that sports writing is offered as a course.
Lanipekun therefore ranks as possibly the only active journalist trained in sports writing. That probably explains his often critical mind of most writings in newspapers.
In the late 1980s as a Group Sports Editor at Concord Press, I had a teacher in Fabio Lanipekun. Each time I drove into the National Stadium, Lagos where the sports desk of the NTA was domiciled, ‘Baba Fabio’, as we used to call him, would flag me down to either commend or criticise any write up in my publication.
His views were usually well informed and deeply rooted. He cherished in-depth and analytical write ups. Gradually, he started shaping my mind.
My most cherished meeting with him was outside the Nigerian shores at the 1987 U-16 World Youth Tournament in Canada. As a rookie reporter, I needed him for guidance. He was also around when I covered my first Africa Cup of Nations in Algeria in 1990 as well as my first attendance of the World Cup at Italia ‘90 and my first Olympic Games at Barcelona ‘92.
But my first knowledge of him was almost 10 years before I ventured into journalism. At first it was his trendy look – afro hairstyle and the alluring smiles that adorned his face – that drew him to me each time I watched him present sports programme on the only television station one could get in Ibadan, the WNTV, first in Africa!
At the time, ‘Sports Galore’ on WNTV on Saturdays made interesting viewing. I can’t forget his signature signing off: “Am backing sports all the way, what about you?”
He joined the WNTV/WNBS (Western Nigeria Television/Western Nigeria Broadcasting Service) after a brief spell at the NBC Lagos (Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation), the fore runner to the present day Nigeria Television Authority (NTA).
He started as a newspaper reporter before switching to television. He had a mentor in David Coleman, an English sports commentator in BBC. David Coleman who died nine years ago.
At Sydney 2000, Coleman who for 46 years worked for BBC was awarded the Olympic Order, the highest honour of the Olympic Movement. Lanipekun worked briefly with him as news assistant at the BBC World Service.
When he returned to Nigeria, he had another mentor in Ishola Folorunsho before switching to WNTV/WNBS on February 17, 1969. On May 18, 1969 he had his first coverage of a football match for the WNTV when he ran commentaries of the Ghana versus Nigeria World Cup qualifying match in Accra.
He rose to the position of Manager, Sports at the NTA before retirement. It is a paradox that in spite of Lanipekun’s knack for documentation, it will amount to searching for a pin on the seashore for one to get audio visuals of old football matches at the NTA.
Ten years ago, the issue was put to Lanipekun. “We had a well organised audio-visual library at the WNTV Ibadan. In those days, within five minutes, you can trace any material at the library.
“But when the NTA took over in 1976, they did not keep up to the evolving technology. We started with bulky video tapes. Now those are no longer in use. The globe has digitalised.”