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Tunde Fagbenle: Segun Odegbami’s close shave with death

The precarious state of the country’s security was yet again underscored when, last Sunday, February 9, one of our country’s sports icons, ex-international football star, my friend ‘the Mathematical’ Segun Odegbami, was shot at by suspected armed robbers on the Abeokuta-Lagos dual carriageway. That he escaped the barrage of shots from close range is a ‘miracle’.

Aside from writing sundry plays for the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), Femi’s other published works were a novel titled Leaders! And, non-fiction, Ten Ahead! – History of Table Tennis in Nigeria.The latter, an interesting encapsulation of memorable aspects of that most popular of Nigerian games – table tennis – of which Femi is very fond and one in which he found in me more than his equal in those our playing days at our Ikoyi Club! And veteran journalist Gori Ogunyemi, who was also at the book launch, another table tennis “wife” of mine then would bear witness. Haha!

Femi Olugbile’s literary talent showed itself when, way back, in 1971 as a secondary school student, his short story won the then Radio Nigeria Christmas Competition. His proud father kept the £20 prize money (envelope and all) in a glass cupboard in the house parlour for all to see for a long time! So narrated Femi.

Thereupon the bandits opened fire as they chased after him. Bullets flew everywhere hitting his car many times and shattering the window glasses, side and back. Odegbami kept on knowing he was perhaps on his last minutes on earth and mindless of the wobbling of his car from the damaged wheel but praying for a gap in the stretch. One soon appeared, and in a split-second he swung his car in a U-turn, “mathematically” gauging, but barely being missed by, oncoming vehicles from the opposite direction. It caught the bandits too unexpectedly as they sped past.

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That would have been it; a country that kills his young and brightest would have killed Chief Segun Odegbami. The crying state of insecurity in the land would have claimed “the Mathematical.” We are grateful he his alive to tell the story and carry on with his good works in what is left of his borrowed time. What a country!

If the book were a collection of “six short stories”, could the author be speaking to us in tongues, each story for a decade of his life?

It was a modest event, held at the Protea Hotel in Ikeja GRA, modestly answering to the genteel and demure character of the author, who is, in the words of governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (BRF) of Lagos State, a “first class medical doctor with (excellent) communication skills.”

Fashola was ‘Chief Host’ of the occasion, and that he attended at all spoke eloquently to the high regard he has for Femi, who turns 60 in a week (24th) and retiring as the Permanent Secretary of the state’s Ministry of Health, simply because, as BRF stated, he had long decided that, lest he fell into the problem of wronging some staff by his absence, he was better off not attending private (birthday) functions of his officers at all. Olugbile must then be in a different class: a dedicated professional, a loyal steward, and above all, a gentleman who, according to BRF, affirms the dictum that “what people know is much more worthier than what they own.”

But of the stories in Heroes and Others Kunle writes, they “are, essentially, an inquiry into the dark side of human nature, what pushes humankind inexorably to the dark corner, and how everyday heroism can redeem human beings and propel them to greater heights. Olugbile paints marvellously the aches in the heads and hearts of his characters. He is not just a near-perfect describer of things around these characters he is an excellent painter of their interiorities. In a profound imaginative leap, he gets inside the skin of his characters in order to understand their thoughts processes. He then returns with confidence to share his findings with us without privileging his own notions of truth.”

It was a shivering wreck Odegbami who thence carried on until he found a side-road he could pull in to; he knew his bullet-riddled car had obliged so far and no more. He staggered back to the highway to wave down anyone for a rescue lift to the nearest police station. Soon enough, God sent someone, a “Good Samaritan”.

Welcome, dear readers, to Femi Olugbile’s world of Heroes and Others!

What thoughts have occupied Chief Segun Odegbami’s mind since the near-death encounter is anyone’s guess. He could be dead now and that would have been it: his life; his school; his sundry philanthropic gestures to needy people; his unflinching faith in and contribution to Nigeria; his friends of whom I number one; his family, including his aged mother; etcetera, etcetera.

Talking of the hero of an armed-robbery attack, Segun Odegbami, how coincidental it is, the title of Dr. Femi Olugbile’s latest book, Heroes and Others – six short stories, presented to the public last Thursday.

by Tunde Fagbenle

segun-odegbami

Of ‘Heroes and Others’

Though I was privileged to have received an advance copy of the book from Femi, a friend of some 30 years, but seeing (hearing) its masterful dissection by journalist and writer Kunle Ajibade, who was the book reviewer, cast a whole new light of appreciation to the depth and intricacies of the rather handful volume.

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

Then, suddenly, a car with four or five occupants came beside his jeep and slowly overtook him. The next thing Odegbami knew, one of the men in the car now ahead stuck his head out of the rear window threateningly brandishing a gun. At that moment, reality dawned on Segun that he was facing death. On the spur of the moment he accelerated his SUV to manoeuvre between the concrete median and their vehicle and race past them. In the process, one of his front wheels hit the concrete so hard it burst loudly, his SUV hitting the bandits’ car as it careened past.

“These are bullet holes from an AK-47,” said the police when they saw Segun’s SUV. “Go get yourself drunk, or bury yourself in a church,” they told him. “It’s a miracle you are alive.” An anti-robbery squad officer said that corridor of the road – around the Obasanjo Farm, Akinale, Osuposi villages – was becoming notorious for car snatching by cross-border highway robbers.

But Olugbile first came into his own as a writer and author in 1986 with his collection of ten short stories, Lonely Men, winning the prose prize of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), recalls Kunle Ajibade in his review titled: The Truth of Femi Olugbile’s Fiction.“I remember vividly,” says Kunle, “on the award night at the (then) University of Ife, Olugbile was very reluctant to go to the podium, apparently the author of Lonely Men just wanted to be left alone”!The demure Femi for you.

It was a deadly experience in all its horrifying bloodcurdling detail. ‘Big Seg’, as he is fondly called, was heading out from Abeokuta to his International (Sports) Academy in Wasimi village en-route for Lagos. Time was about 3pm on the Sunday afternoon, with traffic yet relatively light. He was alone, driving at leisurely speed in his big SUV, with thoughts of the start of a new week – the challenges and plans – on his mind. He was some 8 kilometres to Wasimi, 70 to Lagos.

“These are bullet holes from an AK-47,” said the police when they saw Segun’s SUV. “Go get yourself drunk, or bury yourself in a church,” they told him. “It’s a miracle you are alive.” An anti-robbery squad officer said that corridor of the road – around Obasanjo Farm, Akinale, Osuposi villages – was becoming notorious for car snatching by cross-boarder highway robbers.

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