TRIBUTE TO SENATOR JOE FUNSHO OBASAJU: A GENTLEMAN WITH A LARGE HEART –
By Mike Obamero, Ph.D., LL.B (Hons.), B.L.
In a few words of comments that I posted about the deceased on another platform I remarked, “Pélé will always be remembered by anyone who ever had something to do with him. He always left you with an impression.”
This has been so since we were children and I remember faintly how his late father, Mr Forsey Obasaju, (Forsey Wogbowogbo, as he was called by the local people), dressed in his ornate Forester’s green uniform sat little Joe in the saddle of his bike and wheeled him to school.
I do not have an accurate account of what happened for some years later but, I still recall that Joe went to a school somewhere in Akpanya (my late cousin Major Jerome Ade Gunwa also attended the same school) which was said to prepare young Catholic boys for the priesthood.
Whenever in later years I wanted to pull Joe’s legs for acting (sanctimoniously) like an ordained priest, I called him a “failed priest” who should have remained in the profession like late Father Lawrence Mofolorunsho or, Father John Onaiyekan. He clasped his hands reverently, chin tipped a little bit upwards in deep prayer and cooed the hymnal like a nightingale. He would look at me from the corner of his eyes with a malicious look and say, “Michel tu es méchant” as he often did whenever he ran out of words to respond to my several adjectives – “sagacious, vivacious, tremendous, momentous, stupendous, meritorious, beautiful, indefatigably indomitable, devastatingly dangerous, Pélé.”
His wife always pleaded not to be dragged into the crossfire of our battle of words as I addressed her as Mrs Pélé or, Joe and Joe!
Joe was quite a brilliant person, intelligent, witty calculating and cerebral. He was very fluent, lucid and proficient, with a good command of English. He won the John F Kennedy Essay Competition for Secondary School Students in 1965. He flowed smoothly and one would wonder what he was doing in the Sciences with such a commanding control of language and literature.
Joe was a formidable sportsman and athlete and a magical footballer. He was nicknamed Gbugbugbu, in his primary school days and later Pélé, for his aggressive and mercurial style of play like the Brazilian Edson Arantes do Nascimento. Joe played with another Kabba footballing wizard, another maestro of the round leather game, late John Bello, aka Bobby Magnus, to win the Nigerian Junior Academicals, Sir Manuwa Cup in 1965/66.
At university, Funsho Obasaju was great at his studies and fantastic in sports. He played in the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, football team and participated in the National Universities Games (NUGA) and the West African Universities Games. Joe was a good mixer, a crowd puller and a boundless socialite. He played the game of “ayo” with such mastery that made you wonder how he came about such skills. Once he took to the board with his adversary (but, best of friends) Dr Sanni, a vet – the Dean of Ayo – every other contestant had to wait for a very long time in order to have a chance to enter the field of play. This was becauce the first of the duo to win nine games would take up the next contestant and there were certainly going to be several deuces before the end of the match.
On our first outing at the University of Ibadan when he and I went for the PGDE programme in 1972, Joe bulldozed his way into the all-comers team and mysteriously took a corner kick that went straight to the back of the net.
He became an instant hero and was lifted shoulder-high in a dance round the entire field with me as the cheer leader shouting Pélé!!!, to further popularise him and advertise his uncommon artistry. This break in the game necessitated additional time of play and became a pre-victory dance in the match which was won by Joe’s all-comers’ team.
Life in UI was good as our class was full of old friends and mates – Don Folagbade, Moses Bolorunduro, Seth Olorunyomi, Paul Medupin, Miss E. Thychus-Lawson and others and we made new friends like Matt Ivbijaro, Jibs Akinkoye, Akinola, Akintola, Lam Adesina, Kio Don Pedro, Miss M. Amosun, Bisi Akintelure, Miss K. Olunloyo, Sam Adeleke, Agunbiade (Chairman Mao), Princewill, Austin Igbinovia etc. We also interacted with fantastic teachers like Dr Chris Bakare, Otonti Nduka and others whose classes were boardrooms of philosophical discuss, mental guidance, charging and reorientation, and composite human re-engineering.
Joe was diligent at work and greatly committed to his career and profession and left footprints wherever he served – in Ogugu Community Secondary School, Egbe Girls’ College, Saint Monica’s College, Kabba, where he recorded enviable achievements and left impressive legacies. His community was so impressed by his various performances that they appealed to him to represent them on the political turf.
When he told me of that invitation to serve, I gave the idea a nod and offered him my full support and worked for him. I travelled with him to several communities in Kabba and Bunu Districts and this gave me an opportunity for the first time of knowning many villages in Bunuland. He won the election to the Kwara State House of Assembly and represented the people admirably. The Kabba and Bunu communities were so impressed by his efforts that they voted for him along with other communities of the West Senatorial District to become a member of the Distinguished Senate of the Second Republic.
My outing with him at this time gave me the opportunity of interacting further with my erstwhile elder colleague in the teaching profession, Senator C. O. Adebayo who got the people’s votes to become the Governor of Kwara State.
To His Excellency I presented certain demands on behalf of Kabba/Bunu people and Okun in general, and got a promise that those demands would be attended to in a letter, personally signed by the Governor and addressed to me while I was studying for the Master of Education degree at the University of Ibadan in 1982-83. Unfortunately, however, the military coup d’etat of 1983 aborted the fulfillment of this promise because the government of Chief Cornelius Adebayo was short-lived and had not even settled down to work before it was overthrown by the coupmakers.
Senator Joe Funsho Obasaju was a grassroots politician. He had a large heart and a deep pocket; he was generous, cheerful and kind. He served the people well and sincerely and attended to their problems with keen attention.
He was very accessible and helped several young boys and girls to gain admission into higher institutions all over the country. He often loaded the booth and back seats of his car with bread and sundry fruits which he gave to anybody who cared to take them and you would wonder if he owned a bakery, a grocery shop or, an orchard for one and all to pluck from. He carried with him a notebook and files in which he wrote names of applicants and kept photocopies of their documents to bid for places for them in various institutions of higher learning.
Resplendently dressed in his flamboyant native attire, he would thrust himself into whatever office or assembly, even before you could stop him and insist on being accorded every respect due to a Second Republic Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
He was a jolly Goodfellow and attended your ceremony once he considered you as a close friend whether you gave him a personal invitation or not. Whatever were Senator Joe Funsho Obasaju’s faults, and we all have our individual and peculiar faults, he always left you with an impression.
I was fond of him and I pray for him. May Mighty Absolute give him illumination and enlightenment, uplift him above his Karmic weaknesses, make him into a beacon of light on the path of his suffering brothers and console his immediate end extended families and all of us love and miss him.
TRIBUTE TO SENATOR JOE FUNSHO OBASAJU: A GENTLEMAN WITH A LARGE HEART –