This is not the script of a movie. It is true life. I received an innocent verbal invitation from Tony Awe to attend an event at Ikeja Club, an elite social club in Lagos. I know nothing about the club, but I know Tony. He is my friend of many years at the Lagos Country Club.
For some weeks, Tony was ‘harassing’ me to honour his invitation. He got the Secretary of the club to add his voice to the pressure.
Tony became so insistent that I had no choice but to give up another event slated for the same day in Abeokuta, in order to honour his invitation.
It is Friday night.
The event is slated for 6pm but Tony calls and advises me to arrive at 7.
I dress very casually in a simple dark-grey kaftan and head out at 7.
It eventually takes me about an hour to get to Ikeja and to locate the famous social club I had never visited.
On my way, my head is a total blank, but I am thinking.
I shall spend an hour at the event, enough time to take a small bottle of my favourite drink, listen to some music (if there is one) and go back home early enough to catch ‘Spice and Friends’ on Eagle7 Sports Radio, Abeokuta.
Access to the Club’s premises in Ikeja is horrendous, with the road repairs going on in that part of Ikeja. It takes me a little while, but I finally find Ikeja Club. I enter through the back entrance. The event had not started. The venue is dressed up for a big party, obviously. KSA does not play at small parties, and he is on the bandstand this evening. I go and pay homage to him.
‘The great Olympian’ (as KSA fondly calls me) and ‘The Chairman’ (as I fondly call him) have not met in ages. So, we hug and kiss and chat over nothing. King Sunny Ade likes me a great deal. I like him too.
One of the organisers sees me. He comes and guides me to a seat right at the back of a special part of the courtyard obviously carved out for the high-profile guests. The settees mark the difference. The other parts of the vast out-door space are filled with regular plastic tables and chairs set out in the usual dine-and-dance party style.
I take my comfortable empty seat, and wait, peering into the arriving crowd of people. I try to make out any recognisable faces. This place is full of ‘strangers’, a situation that is unusual for a popular jingo like me.
I quickly settle down to a chilled drink, calmly enjoying the unfolding scenes before me of guests arriving in a stream, two hours late!
Everyone is looking gorgeous in mostly traditional attire. There is a whole array of cultural ambassadors. I recognise the Oniru of Iruland, the Olota of Otta, the Erelu of Lagos, the Erelu of Otta. I do not of the others.
Then the big moment arrives. A very large entourage swarms into the arena and onto the elevated sitting area where I am sitting. There is a scramble for the empty seats all around. It is obviously the arrival of the much-awaited ‘Masquerade’. He comes in with other Special Guests including the representative of the Governor of Lagos State. He leads the throng on to the special area, his turbaned head and flowing robes screaming his identity.
His entrance changes the atmosphere of the place. The loud speakers come alive, blaring out praises and accolades to royalty and celebrity.
This is the Sarkin Kano himself, in flesh and blood, His Royal Majesty, the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Aminu Ado Bayero, CFR. He is accompanied by several friends, traditional leaders, captains and barons of industry and chiefs from the rich kaleidoscope of Lagos and Kano social culture.
Then it happens.
My name is blared out too in the on-going recognitions. The Emir is invited to the stage in the open courtyard to deliver his speech. He is accompanied by a large entourage.
He thanks the Club for inviting him and for making him return to the City he refers to as his second home, a twin city to Kano in several important ways. Kano and Lagos have a symbiotic relationship.
He goes on and expresses special happiness for the opportunity the visit offers him to encounter two people he has always wanted to meet, and who occupy a special place in his heart. The first, he says, is ‘Mathematical’ Segun Odegbami.
I almost fell off my seat in shock.
Hey, this is the Emir of Kano. I don’t know him. I have never met him. He has not even delivered the body of his speech and he is acknowledging me, a retired football player. Am I dreaming? He is not done yet.
He has been a great fan of ‘Mathematical’ through the decades and is delighted to finally meet him. All of this is out of any script for the night, coming completely from the blues and hitting me with the full force of a pleasant surprise.
My mind is racing with thoughts. Where the hell is Tony? The Emir of Kano is eulogising this former football player in unscripted remarks at such a big event. I am counting the years since I retired as a famous footballer – almost 40 years ago!
The Emir mentions the second person he is looking forward to meet. Of course, who would not want to meet the legendary musical genius, King Sunny Ade. He is on the band stand this night. Like me, he also takes a bow!
Soon, the Emir is done and moving back to his seat in the elevated platform where I am sitting quietly, admiring the approaching soft-spoken man, his clear wide eyes peeking and piercing through his partly veiled face.
I get up and go to meet and greet him. He stops in his stride, recognises me and greets me warmly, a broad smile dancing on his face, and his words, sweet melody to my flattered ears. He continues: he is following my activities; he watches me on my weekly TV program; he is inviting me to visit him in Kano.
Then he returns to his seat and I, to mine.
There is a flurry of a few more speeches by the Governor of Lagos, the President of the Club, and one or two others.
Then, my name is called again by the master of ceremony, my friend, Tony Awe. He invites me to the front of the small space in front of the stage in the courtyard.
Wait a minute, this is turning into something else. I am only supposed to be a guest at this event, not some centre of attraction.
Then I see a small cake on a table. I am directed to stand behind both. I look down at the inscription on the cake. My name is on it.
Then it dawns on me – this is a birthday coup!
Tony is reading a citation. It is all about me and my activities in sports and a few other things in my life.
I am dizzy.
The Emir comes down again, leading his entire entourage and the dignitaries in the special area to join me as I stand in front of my birthday cake.
The Erelu Kuti IV of Lagos, HRH Abiola Dosunmu, is to conduct the cake-cutting ceremony. I feel the gentle pressure of the Emir’s hand on mine as we hold the knife together to cut my cake.
Without letting me know anything about it, Ikeja Club included the celebration of my birthday in their 56th anniversary activities.
In a whisper, standing next to me, the Emir joins in singing to me the Happy Birthday song.
I am handed the microphone to speak.
Words fail me. I manage to thank the Emir for his kind words and support, and the Club for honouring me with this absolutely brilliant but shocking celebration.
The Emir whispers to me again that his invitation to me to visit him in Kano stands. I promise him I shall do so.
He does not go back to his seat. Done with the cutting of the cake, his entire ‘train’ departs the venue into the night of Lagos, now lit by glittering ‘happy’ stars.
It is a most humbling and gratifying experience, one of the most memorable nights of my life, a night when a footballer and an Emir joined hands to cut a cake!
From the bottom of my heart, I thank the President and members of Ikeja Club, Lagos.