Permit me to deviate from more technical issues this morning and pay special tribute to a very special person.
He is hardly ever seen or heard of by the general public. He is very well known within the sports circle. He is a professor of psychology, freshly retired from the University of Lagos where he spent 45 untarnished years as a scholar and teacher specializing in sports psychology. He was the founder and pioneer President of the Sports Psychology Association of Nigeria and became, probably, the foremost sports psychologist in Nigeria’s sports history.
Professor Olatunde Makanju, a quiet and distinguished gentleman, was first an athlete, a great sprinter, halted in his career only by his pursuit of further academics abroad at a time when he would have received the baton of national sprinting from the generation that included Kola Abdullahi, David Ejoke, Benedict Majekodunmi, Olatunbosun Popoola, Eddie Akika, and so on, all superb national sprinters whom he met in the national team in the early 1970s.
Then before he became an astute scholar and teacher of sports psychology at the university of Lagos. After 45 years as a teacher he may actually hold the record of the longest serving lecturer in the university’s history. Then he became a sports psychologist for several national teams, including the Green Eagles, a technical official in the Athletics Federation of Nigeria, an administrator in some national sports federations (Athletics, Football and Volleyball) and the Lagos State Athletics Association.
For almost 5 decades of his life he has rendered service to sports quietly, conscientiously and meritoriously. Yet, not many people know him because he loves to work mostly away from the kleighlight. We became friends at the dawn of my football career. He is, today, one of the closest persons in my life. The good news is that he is alive and well. This public tribute is only my humble way of joining his family and friends, as well as hundreds of athletes and students whose lives his words and work would have touched and lifted to greater heights, to acknowledge his contributions to sports and to my life, and to celebrate him as he turned 70 yesterday, and finally joined the club of septuagenarians.
My dear Mackay,
I am struggling to peer through the clouds of personal sentiments and biases. I don’t intend to exaggerate my feelings as I pay a small tribute to you on your 70th birthday. After well over 40 years of an unblemished relationship, I can only, like you, be true to every word I say here.
I once took part in ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’, the popular, global television program that tests the knowledge of participants. Part of the requirements for those selected to participate is to put down the names of a few persons that could be called up on telephone during the show should I need to use the option of ‘call a friend’ to unravel a knotty question. I don’t have a whole planet of friends that can fit into that role, but I did not even need to think twice before putting down ‘Olatunde Makanju’ first. I have always proudly regarded you as a panthomath (in a positive way), my professor friend that ‘knows’ everything, and a man I could always depend on to watch my back. My trust was not unfounded.
Through the decades of our relationship, I have observed and marveled at the depths of your mind, the vastness of your experiences, your intellect, your integrity, your morals, your principled attitude to life, your unwavering frankness (almost to a fault), your fortitude, your scholarship, your athletic prowess and attainments, your life as a parent, your determination to achieve everything you set your mind to, your simple ways, your embarrassing generosity, and your ‘ridiculous’ attention to detail. To pry a little deeper is to discover a treasure trove of a man with exquisite taste, of class and style, not ostentatious, not flamboyant and, definitely, not extravagant, but dignified and respectable. Your life can be described as ‘seriously simple’.
You are a Prince of Gbongan, yet you choose not to flaunt the royal title, or to wear it like a garment of advertisement. I thought of you sometimes and wondered: If I were in his shoes, a whole professor of distinction for that matter, and OX-NAS Capoone, would I be humble? Here you are, at 70, still unassuming, slowed down a little by niggling physical challenges, but still unbowed and defiant in your pursuit of your own kind of life and living.
Back to the TV show.
It got to a point I could not answer a geography question, my best subject in secondary school. I needed help. Frank Edohor, the presenter of the show, called you up. I asked you the question. Between my asking and your responding, we had only 30 seconds. There was no hesitation in your response. Live on national television, the great Professor made me to shine like a million stars. You provided the answer. To you, it might have been an easy challenge, but to me it wasn’t. That night, in my heart, you became the brightest Star in my constellation! The universe confirmed everything I had always thought about you – a very knowledgeable, reliable, unpretentious, sensitive, and versatile intellectual to the core, hard as steel on the outside, but soft as jelly on the inside.
Understandably, our relationship was cemented even stronger because you were also a first-class athlete, and one of the longest serving sports administrators in Nigerian sports history. Mackay Ele, for that’s what I have always called you, and not because of any philandering adventures but because of how you and your friends that became my friends (Yinka Craig, Kayode Oguntuase, Duro Oni, Tunde Fagbenle, Tokunboh Sofoluwe, Adebayo Williams, Goroye Tytler and others) shattered my ‘innocence’ with the ‘baddest’ parties you held in your flat on Community Road, as well as in Duro Oni’s Pilot Close flat, when as a young bachelor I was climbing the rungs of my football stardom, career and life. Kai, you guys were ‘wicked’!
The circumstances of our first meeting may have become fuzzy, but, I believe that so many things conspired to connect us in the mid 1970s. You embraced me completely into your space. All your friends became my friends, your home my home, and your family, mine! You held nothing back from me in our relationship. You have been my brother and my true friend. If I do not want to hear the naked truth, I don’t come near you. You never over-indulge in anything. Always measured. Always certain about the things you want and quietly go for them, no matter how long it takes and without compromising morals and principles. Your greatest ‘accomplishments’ in my estimation are your wife, Iyabo, and children, Tolu, Tokunboh, Adedunni, Damilola, Ayobami and Boluwatife. I look at you and envy your total commitment, devotion and love for your family, as you molded each one of them to be the best they could be. As you enter into the evening of your life, my prayer to the Creator of our Universe for you is that the future from this day becomes the start of the best times of your life on earth.