How five different sports shaped African scrabble’s great, Olobatoke Aka

By Maxwell Kumoye

The familiar and famous phase that ‘great things start from a small and humble beginnings’ aptly captures the story of a man affectionately called ‘the Jagaban of African Scrabble’ Chief Engineer Olobatoke Oni-Olorunda Aka, a former President of the Pan African Scrabble Association (PANASA) and the current President of Nigeria Scrabble Federation .

Aka’s love and undisputed passion for sport started his formative years in the primary and secondary schools where the charm of the beautiful game of football captured his attention. He later became his school’s safest hands between the woodworks.

The love story between young and energetic Olobatoke Aka and football was aborted due to poor eye sight. That set back did not in any way wane his passion for sport.

While enjoying the game of football from a distance, Aka embraced one of the most tactical board games – Chess and once Aka, born on the 15th of June, three years after Nigeria’s independence likes a sport, love, passion, commitment and excellent keys in.

“My movement to Kings College for secondary education opened another vista in my sporting journey. Not just the school but my love for the colours green and white as well as my bed window location introduced me to the gentleman’s game – Cricket. My window was facing the cricket pitch and curiosity added its own bit, the Kogi High Chief stated.

Senator Dagash watered the seed of the strange sport already geminating in the mind and heart of the former football goalkeeper and a promising chess star with a detailed rudiments of the game and the prestige associated with the gentleman’s game.

His zeal, love and passion for cricket also affected his secondary education and it also landed him in hot waters with his parent. The first medicated eye glasses bought for Olobatoke Aka as a student of Kings College Lagos got broken during a cricket match as a cricket ball smashed it in the pocket of a senior student helping Aka to keep it.

He later captained Ahmadu Bello University cricket team and the Kaduna State team to the Nigeria University Games Association (NUGA) and the National Sports Festival. They graced the podium on a number of times.

“As a National Youth Cop member, I helped in resuscitating the game of cricket in Imo State in 1989 and Rivers State in 1991. All along I also played tennis and scrabble in the secondary school and university.

Aka started a national six-a-side cricket competition as the captain of the Shell Cricket Club in 1991. He ran cricket in Rivers State to win medals at the National Sports Festival and was South South zonal representative in the board of Nigeria Cricket Association (NCA) till 2000.

“My father played recreational tennis and I usually, I help him to carry his tennis bag and again, the all white tennis outfit also tickled my sport fashion taste. On the other hand, it was my uncle who introduced me to the game of scrabble on my 13th birthday in 1976.

“My uncle bought a scrabble board and tiles to play with his wife but the wife rejected his offer. He then invited me to play with him. I was hooked to the game of words instantly,” The man who led Pan African Scrabble Association (PANASA) from 2002 to 2012, said.

The water resources and environmental engineer has been in scrabble administration since 1998, where he started out as the Board Games Captain of Shell Club Port Harcourt.

His performance there propelled him to the enviable position of Chairman Scrabble Association of Nigeria (SCAN) in 2001.

“SCAN later metamorphosed into Nigeria Scrabble Federation (NSF). I went on to hold that position for twelve years, but as President from 2003 till 2012,” Aka narrated.

When the Ministry of Sports and Youth Development adjusted criteria for the office of the president of any sporting Federation and Association in 2021, Olobatoke Oni-Olorunda Aka was persuaded by top guns in the sport to contest for the presidency of NSF again.

It was a landslide victory for Aka who is also the Managing Director of Kadegg Nigeria Limited a renowned construction company. A man that guided Nigeria to win the first and only World Championship through Wellington Jighere in 2015 in Australia.

Olobatoke Oni-Olorunda Aka is also on the board of the World English Scrabble Players Association (WESPA) Executive Committee as a foundation member in 2003 till date and he was at a point in time the Chairman of the Technical Committee WESPA.

In 2002, he was elected President of the Pan African Scrabble Association during the Association’s Congress in Nairobi, Kenya. He stepped aside in 2012 in Cape Town after unprecedented success and growth of the game of words in Africa.

“I attribute these success stories to collective efforts of all stakeholders and I believe that scrabble will enjoy a huge leap in the next decade,” he emphasized.

His sport loving father Paul Kayode Aka, did not witnessed most of the landmark activities and development Olobatoke Oni-Olorunda, who is seen as an embodiment of scrabble administration both nationally and internationally achieved. He died in May 1997.

As a scrabble encyclopedia, an entrepreneur, a seasoned sport administrator and a consummate sportsman, Aka, the one fondly called The Jagaban, has spearheaded and midwife major national, sub regional, continental championships as well as the careers of a good number of players and coaches now in different parts of the country and the world.

The kind hearted and the ever ready and willing to help former national star has personally supported the academic and sporting careers of a host of young and talented scrabble players in Nigeria.

Engineer Aka is not just a player turn administrator but is also a successful business entrepreneur whose experience in both worlds has helped shape the current growth of scrabble in Nigeria.

As he marks his special day on planet earth on the 15th to 17th of June in Abuja with a 4-in-1 event, Diamond Jubilee Scrabble Retreat, Denominational service, a dinner and a Jubilee National Scrabble Championship, Chief Engineer Olobatoke Oni-Olorunda Aka says it’s time to make scrabble and sport in Nigeria count big time.