At the zenith of fame and glory of IICC Shooting Stars, the name, Sam Ojebode, resonated with a talismanic ring. In the households and indeed every nook and cranny of the South-West, Oje, as he was fondly called by friends and admirers, was a name that not only loomed large, but was reverred and venerated with the highest affection and admiration.
Those were the days in which the Oyo-born soccer hero of glorious memory was not only the captain of the great Shooting Stars of golden memory, but also its “Chief Defence Minister”, the bastion and rock of Gibraltar and indeed, the last man to beat in those hey day of the exploits of this exemplary gathering of ace football stars.
In those days, the veteran defender had joined this zealous and talented squad to fight great soccer battles, which had seen the IICC emerging with a bang to national and continental fame and thus in the process, registering Nigeria’s name in the African continental soccer map.
As a national hero, Ojebode not only captained the Green Eagles, but was also among the history making squad that won the Africa Cup of Nations for Nigeria in 1980. Even before this time, not only was he among the historic squad which won a bronze medal for Nigeria at the 1976 edition of the Africa Cup of Nation’s competition in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, he, indeed, featured as the captain of that squad, whose inspirational helmsmanship contributed in no little measure to the laudable performance of that team. And as if not yet done, his stint in active soccer was to be followed by another phase as coach of the team, followed by yet another phase as team manager.
It was in this sense that one could describe this fallen soccer hero, as embodying the soul essence of the IICC which it served just in similar manner of his unrelenting devotion to fatherland to the last drop of his blood and with every ounce of his energy, gifts and talent, giving his all, unremittingly and holding nothing back. What greater patriotism could there be?
It was for this reason that when the sorry news of his malignant cancer of the lungs filtered into the public space, it inspired a pang of shock, pity and lamentation in the heart of his teeming admirers, well-wishers and soccer buffs in general, who were living witnesses of the hey days of his exploits at that definitive prime phase of vibrant youth that saw him bursting at the seams with robust health, life and vitality.
A great celebrity in those days, when his mere appearance at the famous Liberty Stadium, Ibadan, inspired roaring excitements and rapturous acclamation not to talk of his ubiquitous fame and acclaim, Ojebode, who only a while ago, was a man of the people, conveyed a lamentable shadow of his former self as he languished on his sick bed under the debilitating grip of the deadly ailment of cancer.
He vivified the imagery of a lonely soul abandoned by friends, admirers and well wishers, the nation, state, the football constituency and the immediate sporting fraternity, which he served over the years with all his power and might and every ounce of patriotic devotion he could muster in those salutary era of his active span of existence on earth.
“I have been down with this illness for 11 months. I had been shuttling between my house and the hospital at Jericho Specialist Hospital before being transfered to UCH. I had done HIV and diabetes tests five times and they were all negative,” Ojebode said in agonising pains. “But this time around, it started with a cough and a certain odour was following the cough. I went through hell as we had spent over N1.2 million. I have spent all my savings, including the car loan obtained by my wife. Each day, we spend money and this has really gulped everything from my family. I am appealing to Nigerians to come to my aid so that I will not die of this ailment,” the ex-Eagles skipper cried out in a save-my-soul plea.
On a salutary note, this plea by Ojebode was to attract a handful of response from influential quarters as the Oyo State government, led by Adebayo Alao-Akala, decided to foot his medical bill while the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi, Olayiwola Adeyemi, the publishers of Complete Sports and Abuja Inquirer, were all at hand for the rescue.
This laudable assistance seemed to have yielded some fruitful dividends as his severely sunken health gradually began to pick up for good. Indeed, an infinitely appreciative Ojebode, buoyed by the positive new turn in his situation, said that he would remain grateful for the sympathetic response of the Good Samaritans, who came to his aid at the daunting period of his travails.
But just at this otherwise auspicious moment of pleasant joy, the anti-climax dramatically set in as his ailment again receeded into an acutely malignant dimension which was to eventually terminate his life.
Recounting Ojebode’s chequered encounter with the sanguinary agent of death, Morenike, his wife, said, “it is painful that my husband died but the pain he had been suffering was too much for him. Even when the Oyo State Commissioner for Youths and Sports, Dapo Lam-Adesina, led some officials to UCH, he was gasping for breath. The sickness started again in February 2011 and he was admitted at UCH on October 31. Although he was discharged on December 14 and we were going for check-up, he had to be readmitted on December 27.
“He was at UCH till January 7 this year, when he was again discharged and we continued taking him to hospital for treatment. He remained there till he died on July 3, at exactly 3 a.m. I think in the last few months, the pains for him, was just too much and I believe it is God’s will because he did not deserve to die. God knows the best.”
The death of the departed football maestro attracted a deluge of tributes and lamentations as the Oyo State governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, said in a statement through his Special Adviser, Dr. Festus Adedayo, that he received the news of Ojebode’s death as a rude shock.
He regretted with regret that Ojebode, who had been in and out of the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, for the heart-related problem, did not survive the ailment.
“I recall my visit to the former football star at his bedside at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, on Novermber 11, 2011, where he was on admission for a heart-related problem. “Notwithstanding his condition then, he was not only full of appreciation for our get-well visit, but also beaming with smiles, anxiously looking forward to getting back to his feet. But alas, our brother had been snatched by the cold hands of death,” he said in a moving tone.
Governor Ajimobi described the former captain of the IICC Shooting Stars as a star player, whose contributions to the development of soccer in Nigeria could not be quantified.
In his tribute, President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Alhaji Aminu Maigari, expressed deep grief at the death of the former national team captain.
“It is a big loss, but we are comforted by the fact that he lived a good life and served his country well,” Maigari stated.
Also, his immediate constituency, the Shooting Stars Sports Club of Ibadan, extolled his patriotism and dedication towards the upliftment of the club.
“We take solace in the fact that Sam Ojebode has gone to rest and we pray that God would grant him eternal rest,” said the management of the club in a release signed by the Media Officer, Jubril Arowolo.
Also, the Oyo State Sports Council described the departed soccer star as a great contributor to the growth of football in Nigeria, saying, “May the Lord grant the family and others concerned the fortitude to bear the loss.” The council said this a statement signed by the Director of Organisation, Mr. Gboyega Makinde.
For the former Sole Administrator, Shooting Stars Sports Club, Chief Taiwo Ogunjobi, acute shock was the word. “I don’t even know what to say. It is tragic, it is tragic that one has to mourn a former colleague,” he said, citing the recent death of Rashidi Yekinni and Joe Appiah, both of who were also former Shooting Stars players. “I pray for the repose of his soul and strength for his survivors,” he added.
Also speaking, former Super Falcon’s coach, Joseph Ladipo, remarked: “I am sad because he eventually succumbed to the illness that has kept him in the hospital for so long. I thought he would survive, we did everything, the state government, Sports Council, friends and football coaches tried a lot, but he could not survive. All I know is that God knows the best.”
Oyo State Commissioner for Youths and Sports, Dapo Lam-Adesina, lamented thus: “We lost another legend. Sadly, it’s coming at a time when we are still mourning the death of Rashidi Yekinni. Ojebode served the nation and Nigeria will not forget his role in ensuring that the nation won its first club trophy in 1976, when he was Shooting Stars captain.”
His second son, Yemi, described his father’s death as painful, saying that the children had been missing him since he fell ill and now that he had died, “we will surely miss his fatherly care. He was a loving and caring father, who was also our friend, despite having three wives, with most of us staying apart. He was there for us, I will always choose him as a father.”
Senator Olufemi Lanlehin, who represents Oyo South Senatorial District at the National Assembly, described Ojebode’s death as very sad and painful. He said he left behind a legacy which would remain indelible in the annals of football game in Nigeria.
“Sam Ojebode was a devoted and disciplined patriot, whose virtues and achievements will remain a shining example to younger generation of Nigerians, irrespective of their callings even in death,” said the senator.
Henry Nwosu described the ex-IICC skipper as one of the best players Nigeria ever had, stating that he was a perfect gentleman.
“While I was with the New Nigerian Bank (NNB), he was with the Shooting Stars Sport Club. Although he was ahead of me in the game, he never disregarded anyone. He was a perfect gentleman, both in and out of the pitch,” he added
Chairman of the League Management Board, Chief Victor Baribote Ramson, described the departed ace defender as a true patriot, whose outstanding contributions as a player brought glory to the nation.
“It is rather sad and very unfortunate that Nigeria has lost two football legends in quick succession. Only recently, we lost Rashidi Yekinni and now, it’s Sam Ojebode,” the NPL boss lamented.
“Ojebode was a true patriot, whose commitment on the field of play brought glory to Nigerians. I remember his contributions in the Green Eagles defence, when Nigeria hosted and won the Africa Cup of Nations in 1980.”