By Segun Adenuga-
He stands tall and shoulder high above his contemporaries in social circles as a celebrity and in Sports, he has carved a niche as a colossus, becoming the first, and unarguably the only Nigerian to have served as Chairman of a Sporting Association longer than any Nigerian, dead or alive.
His passion for Volleyball could not be quantified in terms of devotion and financial contribution yet he remains firmly supportive to the sport of his life, sometimes relegating other social engagements to the background.
Born in Calabar, the old capital of Nigeria, now capital of present Cross Rivers State on June 15, 1936 to Mr. Marcellino Owolabi Martins (snr.) and Mrs. Anna Aduke Damaral, both of Brazillian extraction, the young Martins named after his father, had an Efik name of Okon added to his full name -Marcellino Afolami Okon Owolabi Martins.
He began his Primary School life at Cyprian Catholic School in Port Harcourt, Rivers State and when his father was transferred back to Lagos, Martins had to return with him to further his education at the famous St. Mathias Catholic School in Okesuna area of Lafiaji. He later gained admission into one of the most famous colleges in Lagos, St, Fregory college Obalende, where his interest in Sports started manifesting as he became a reference point in Swimming Footballing, Cricketing and Debating Society in the school.
By the time he left St. Gregory’s College, Marcellino as fondly called by his mates, had become well – known within his area of Igbosere, Oil–mill Street, Bamgbose Street, Tokunboh, Joseph Street and in all the penumberous corners of Ajele in the thickly –populated Brazillian quarters, where Catholicism was the order of the day.
He was known as a motivator in his formative years as a teenager as he would comb every nooks an crannies of Glover Street, Oshodi Street, Omididun, Joseph, Ricca, Upper Campos, Campbell, Igbosere Street, Prison’s street and Amuto in serach of recreational centres.
Born into a polygamous home by affluent parents, Owolabi was never carried away by his parents riches, as he took a dive to seek greener pastures in London in the 50’s enrolling in a famous London school to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics. He had a stint as an officer with a British Government establishment, where he had distinguished himself creditability well before coming back home.
He returned to Nigeria and took up an appointment with the Federal Government before retiring at the age of 52.
He veered into politics and got elected under the Zero Party as a Councilor, representing WARD D3 in Lagos Island.
Martins was appointed Chairman, Marketing Committee of the Council and his political sagacity became instantly noticeable when he began construction works on markets like Pelewura, Oja-Oba Anjorin, Sand Grouse Obalende and Ajah respectively.
Almost instantaneously, Martins political savy received a boost as he was commended for his prompt attention to service delivery to the community.
Soon after Owolabi Martins completed his assignment with gusto, the administration of Local Government in Lagos State was truncated, but undauntedly, the indefatigable “Owoblow” staged a stunning come back to the sadle of power, winning another election to occupy the post of Vice-Chairman under the late Prince Jimoh Adisa Adeniji – Adele’s “Prince of Hope” reign as Chairman of Lagos Island Local Government at “City Hall.
Imbued with an unflagging ingenuity for innovation, Martins made appreciable impacts in Ademola Adeniyi-Adele’s government as he spear-headed the development of the moribund Bombata Market at Oko-Awo Oke Aleji, in Isale-Eko and also turned the fallow spaces under the bridges around Isale-Eko to Mini – Markets.
ODYSSEY TO SPORT ENGAGEMENT
As a Gregorian, with reputable sports credentials, Mercellino Owolabi Martins who turns an octogenarian today should regard himself a lucky man after eight turbulent decades on Planet eart as he still radiates incredible vigour, wits and wisdom to forge on with the daily challenges of life, viz: business, community service, philanthropy and essentially, the larger Martins family.
Eighty chronological years in the life of a human being is a veritable milestone as very few people attain this age and still looking strong with their entire visage as buoyant and glowing like a baby.
Martins odyssey into sports was not by accident, it was as a result of painstaking commitment, nurtured to bolster the morale of the youths to overcome the vicissitudes of life.
He made his debut in sports promotion particularly in volleyball in 1985 when he doled out money to the Lagos State athletes to KWARA GAMES in Ilorin when in actual fact he was not a member of the Council.
Like a father- figure, Martins bankrolled the expenses of the Male and Female Vollyball players to the 1985 National festival in Kwara buying soft drinks, paying medical bills, providing feeding and out of station allowances. He was credited with laudable plans to keep the Lagos State Volleyball players from being enticed by Coaches of other States by making sure he satisfied them materially and financially.
He had a call to national duty when as Vice – Chairman of the Lagos Island Local Government in 1991 he was approached for financial assistance by the Lagos State Volleyball Association to enable them send their U-18 Boys and Girls Team to honour a national assignment in Yola, Adamawa State. Martins promptly acceded to that request and provided a brand new Coaster bus, fuelled the vehicle, provided a driver and also gave transport allowance to accompanying officials’.
As a token for his consistency and generous dispositions to sports Martins was co-opted into the Lagos State Volleyball Association as a member in 1993, and barely a year later, he assumed the mantle as Chairman of the Association and since then, has become an icon, serving as the longest Chairman ever in the history of Sports in the country to preside over an Association for more than two decades.
As a philanthropist of note in the last 30 years, Mr. Owolabi Martins has been a source of succor to many people of diverse age and status.
A cheerful giver and donor, the light-skinned sociable and popular Martins, who is also the spokesperson for the entire Martins family nationwide could hardly allow a day pass without expending thousands running to millions on daily basis on family and friends problems.
A consummate business mogul, Owolabi Martins deserves a celebration of honour as he graciously creeps into the club of the octogenarians.
Happy Birthday Marcellino Owolabi Martins
ADENUGA, a sport analyst wrote from Lagos and could be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org