BY IKEDDY ISIGUZO
AN angry man pulled me out of dreamland with his furious banging of the door. I guessed he cared nothing for his fist. “Where is he?,” the man kept shouting.
The door was just ajar when he forced his way into the room. “Where is he?” The man was obviously pained that I failed to recognise his importance.
He was looking for Francis. I assured him there was no such fellow in the room. “Don’t you want this wedding to hold?”.
It struck me that he was the local catechist with papers that needed to be signed for Brown Ebewele’s wedding later that morning.
That was the day I learnt that Brown was also Francis, 34 years ago, though I had known Brown longer than I can remember.
About six of us had piled into the cosy suite of Chief Tony Anenih’s Nova Hotel in Uromi after downing bottles at Brown’s bachelor’s eve.
Chris Ogwu, Sports Editor of The Guardian, now traditional Prime Minister of Idumuje Ugboko, in Delta State, and I had driven from Lagos to be sure that Brown wasn’t joking. Brown introduced us to his delectable bride Fidelia. It was another page in our relationship. I knew Brown, the family man.
Brown always stood out in bearing, wearing, and had imposing views to match his imitable presence. There was only one Jujuman, one Big Brown.
He was deep in ideas, generosity, and bravery in the pursuit of matters that earned his attention. On top of that list was welfare of athletes. He fought that battle to a point where the authorities would concede to him.
Decathlon – a 10-sport event that was concluded over two days – was Brown’s territory. It gave him a broad view of these popular events: 100m, 110m hurdles, 400m, 1,500m, pole vault, high jump, long jump, javelin, shot put, and discus which were the decathlon events.
He started off with hammer throwing. He got scholarships for his athletic feats through secondary school to university in America.
There was always more to Brown. His unending fights over welfare of athletes, his own career that came to a startling halt with a crash while practising his pole vault jumps at the 1985 African Championships in Cairo. He used a borrowed pole.
An airline failed to deliver his pole. The injuries from the broken pole almost blinded Brown. His career ended.
One of his remarkable laurels was the silver medal he won at the 1978 All Africa Games in Algiers, Algeria. Brown was outstanding in encouraging athletes. His presence at games motivated athletes who wanted to impress the Jujuman. He was never sparing with praises when they did well.
He could be credited with “professionalising athletics” by asking state sports councils to employ athletes who competed for them.
In 1986, during my vacation in Kano at his place 6y6, his next call after NYSC in Jos, we spent days discussing athletics. Long and triple jumper, Kola Ajiegbe, long gone, was part of those conversations. He never stopped searching for ways to improve athletics Nigeriana.
His controversies could fill books. He was one of his convictions without much qualms.
Brown lived his life to the full, got things done, including his strategic interventions (with Rotimi Obajimi and Professor Andrew Ajidua, who passed on days after the Games) that aided Nigeria in finishing first at the 2003 All Africa Games in Abuja, the only time Nigeria has topped the table in the Games’ 56 years.
Yet what Brown considered more important was the empowerment of hundreds of youth as sports professionals when he was Commissioner for Sports in Edo State.
We have lost a friend who realised what counted long before many started counting. He lived for many.
Adieu, ma broda and friend. You ran an excellent race.
May the Almighty rest you.
Brown would be rested in his native Uromi, Friday, 28 January 2022. The rites started with the Service of Songs in Benin City on Thursday.