TRADITIONAL WRESTLING: HOW DICKSON IDOWU OMORO IGNITED AJEGUNLE WITH OLOTU IN THE 80s’

Oct 17, 2022 | Sports, Tradition & Culture | 0 comments

Written By Fakunle Sheriff Ekundayo

By Fakunle Sheriff Ekundayo

THE BEGINNING

It may not necessarily go down well with some people that Coach Dickson Idowu Omoro, popularly known as the ‘Youngster from Ajegunle’ was among the leading lights that ignited Ajegunle with traditional wrestling, known as Olotu or Anda in the middle 80s’ until late 90s’.

Hailed from Sagbama Local Government Area of Delta State, the coach who is now 58 years recounted how he stepped into his father’s shoes to keep his legacy as a great traditional wrestler and champion alive, in Ajegunle.

Coach Idowu recalled how traditional wrestling started in Ajegunle before he was born. To him, he remembered with nostalgic feeling at the age of 5, when his father, Mr. Godswill Omoro, was a traditional wrestling champion in Ajegunle.

And like an excited son who was passionate about what his father does, little Dickson was gifted with a wrestling costume by his father, an attire that would later become the signature tune of the Ajegunle youngster in the near future. This he said he would wear, and follow his father to the wrestling arena.

Young Dickson would soon be introduced into traditional wrestling or better known as Olotu by his father. The elderly Omoro would initiate wrestling matches for Dickson with his peers {Equal}, and he found out that he was good at it, especially after he began to grow the technique of slamming his opponents. And because of this, Dickson became excited to continue the routine every Saturday. In his words: “I usually pray that next Saturday should come so that I can go and fall more people.”

Coach Dickson Idowu Omoro recalled with fond admiration, the last traditional wrestling his father, Mr. Omoro participated in, at the modern-day Federal Government Press. “It was in 1975, and I was still in Pry School when my father fought at that venue for the last time as Olotu champion,” he recalled with emotional grit.

According to him, his father’s retirement from the sport coincided with a glaring break for traditional wrestling in Ajegunle, and until the early 1980s’ when Olotu was resuscitated in Ajegunle. He said prior to the break, wrestlers from Bayelsa and Port-Harcourt from Rivers State were usually invited to come and wrestle their counterparts in Ajegunle, who were selected by Mr. Godswill Omoro.

The popular venue for Olotu in Ajegunle comprises of Local Authority Pry School in Onibaba, Federal Government Press, L.A Pry School in Ugbewankwo Street and designated space at the Boundary road axis.

When Dickson Idowu Omoro traveled back to Lagos in 1984, after his secondary school education, he discovered that new people were now at the helm of affairs for traditional wrestling. He found it rather fascinating more when Olotu activities {traditional Wrestling} were usually held in the backyard of his grandmother in Agugu Street.

Memories of his younger years as an adolescent came flashing back at him, and he told his grandmother that he was going to participate at the next Olotu in Agugu Street. According to him, the grandmum laughed off his new interest, arguing that he was not the same boy who slams his peers to the ground in the arena some ten years ago.

Feeling undeterred, Dickson summoned the courage to participate at the next Olotu at Agugu Street in 1984. And to his greatest surprise, Dickson found himself in the air and was slammed to the ground at those moments. “The three wrestlers I fought on that day slammed me to the ground and I couldn’t believe my eyes,” he said.

His siblings, on getting back home after the fights turned him into a subject of mockery, especially his grandmother who reminded him that he had lost touch with traditional wrestling earlier on. Dickson while alone, pondered on why he was unable to reactivate the agility and strength that made him slam his peers in the 70s’. In his soliloquy, “I used to be a strong boy at the arena, what happened to me?”

Next Saturday, Dickson was afraid to wrestle because he dreaded being mocked at, and especially to be raised in the air like a featherweight and slammed ridiculously on the ground.

The news of Dickson’s defeat got to his father in Warri, Delta State. He was the captain of a Ship. Sir Omoro was heartbroken after the news broke out, and like a true champion who wanted his legacy to be sustained, Sir Omoro traveled down to Lagos to inspire his son. His father upon arrival had many words for Dickson. His words were soothing and the turning point to a new career as one of the best Olotu wrestlers in Ajegunle. “You are the only child among my children that have chosen to follow my path, and for this, the family heritage as wrestlers must be sustained,” he said to Dickson.

Sir Omoro went to his box and brought out his costumes and other wrestling souvenirs, he handed them to Dickson. “Put on your shots and let me show you some wrestling techniques in the backyard,” his father said as they wrestled together.

According to Coach Dickson, his father showed him two techniques of a good traditional wrestler, and it was his responsibility to master those techniques and become better. He started to train in the fitness center with greater emphasis on how to change his slim physical feature. Coincidentally, there was a break in wrestling then, and this aided Dickson to practice more and catch up with his contemporaries as an Olotu wrestler. He engaged in road work and fitness exercises for the greater part of the break.

When traditional wrestling resumes, Dickson says of his father’s strong words to him: “My son, I was a strong man during my time, I want you to take over from me, go, I give you my blessing.”

Dickson fought seven wrestlers; he lifted and slammed six of them to the ground, and the last one a draw. The victory ignited his confidence as he asserts that he was equal to the task.

The costume and wrestling style of Dickson Idowu Omoro endeared him to the people of Ajegunle. He had gained a massive following as fans would converge in Agugu every Saturday to watch him wrestle. At this stage, there were over 50 wrestlers in Ajegunle, notably David Elli, a Calabar wrestler. But three traditional wrestlers stood out; they were: Nelson Okpoyan nicknamed ‘Soso’ and Leta Obabofe {late}. To Dickson, he admitted that Nelson Okpoyan nicknamed ‘Soso’ was the overall best traditional wrestler in Ajegunle, the late Leta Obabofe was the second, and himself was the third best wrestler in Ajegunle.

Each community of wrestlers had its shrines. They would go to their shrines with their fans and pray before a match. And these are:

  • Odoni community shrine is situated at Tesi Street
  • Amassoma community shrine is situated at Olowojeunjeje Street
  • Kolokuma community shrine is situated at Opaleye Street
  •  

DICKSON AND THE OPU-EZE (TALKING DRUM)

What makes Dickson Idowu Omoro get better was the Opu-Eze {Talking drum}. While in the arena, he is gifted with his agility and sharp eyes to grab the right legs of his opponents. His movement was sublime; they came with skillful maneuvers and balancing positions. Being famous for his rapid yank of his opponent into the air before slamming them on the ground, Albert, the great performer on the Opu-Ezie, would communicate often with Dickson, as the opponent tries to close down on him for an attack.  He would pay attention to the drum as he steadies his gaze on the opponent, and when Albert descends on the Opu-Ezie, and renders the panegyrics of the Odoni lineage, Dickson Idowu Omoro, will become emboldened and the agility of a ferocious cat with nine lives with invincible prowess comes alive. The sound from the Opu-Ezie becomes deafening, and very soon, Dickson Idowu Omoro’s opponents are slammed onto the ground ferociously for a sweet victory to the ‘Youngsters from Ajegunle’. 

HOW DICKSON IDOWU OMORO POPULARITY WITH OLOTU ROSE IN AJEGUNLE

It was said that Nelson Okpoyan and the late Leta Obabofe, who was killed during the Ijaw and OPC communal clash in Ajegunle, did not get greater publicity than Dickson Idowu Omoro. To him, his popularity had reached the crescendo for a showdown between him and Leta. And just like the former boxing champion; Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquaio, both Leta and Idowu were promoted for a fight.

THE FIRST BLOOD, 1985

The much-awaited wrestling match between Leta Obabofe and Dickson Idowu Omoro happened.  They had gone into the arena with lots of expectations from the fans who wanted to clear the air on who is the best and most popular among the three traditional wrestlers. Leta had the upper hand, his huge and strong body was rather overwhelming for Dickson to compete with, and hence he was defeated in the match. The fight was the first where gate fee was introduced, and most of Dickson’s fans were left heartbroken because he lost woefully. “He was very big and I was slim, he used that as an advantage a lot in the fight, and because he is older with lots of experience, that came in good a lot for him,” Dickson would affirm later.

THE GREAT COMEBACK, 1990

Dickson must have learned a lot afterward by polishing the powerful techniques his father handed him. He trained and perfects the skills over the years. And felt convinced that it was time to go back and face the second-best wrestler in Ajegunle, Leta.

THE SHOWDOWN

Dickson met his promoter and the countdown for a rematch began. On the day of the fight, Dickson admitted that the late Leta Obabofe was still strong and technically gifted like he was five years ago. The crowd had gathered waiting for the unexpected to happen, Dickson in his trademark red costume of arm beads and red muffler that are often woven into different patterns at every match day, he came prepared with an eye on the goal, to slam Leta to the ground. He knew how heavily built Leta was, he tried to lift his legs but his opponent proved stronger. In the end, the fight was declared a draw, and no winner claimed the prize.

Although, Dickson would reveal that he had sweet memories of defeating Nelson Okpoyan nicknamed ‘Soso’, but was unable to defeat Leta Obabofe.

PROMOTING OLOTU IN AJEGUNLE

THE BEGINNING OF DICKSON IDOWU OMORO AS A COACH

After the era of these great athletes in traditional wrestling, Dickson felt it was important to keep alive Olotu in Ajegunle. He was sustaining the sport with his salary as a worker in UAC, a development that never went well with Dickson’s wife. Against all odds, Dickson Idowu Omoro, now a coach, began to groom new wrestlers in Ajegunle. Ansar-U-Deen Primary School at Arumoh Street was the venue where coach Dickson groomed new traditional wrestlers.

He was able to groom champions in the 30KG category, such as Steven Tamba, Emeka, Charlie, Dona, and Friday. Others like Tukulu and Otio among many other young wrestlers that passed through Coach Idowu.

THE VICTORY OF COACH DICKSON IDOWU OMORO AT THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT SPORTS FESTIVAL

Soon, traditional wrestling was one of the sports at the then Local Government Sports festival, and Coach Dickson, according to him said he was denied by then the Ojo Local Government which housed Ajeromi-Ifelodun. This prompted him to represent Bariga at the event. He came back to Ajegunle and picked four of his wrestlers to represent Bariga. He reckoned that he added up to the team Bariga by representing them in the Super Heavy category.

Coach Dickson while representing Bariga under Shomolu Local Government successfully transited his team through to the semi-final stages of traditional wrestling, during the sports festival at Rowe Park in Yaba, Lagos. He was able to reach the final at the Super Heavy Category where he fought Nelson, who had been representing Nigeria at the Greek-Roman Wrestling at an international competition.

During the match, the odds were in favour of Nelson who appeared bigger and more intimidating. For Coach Dickson, he knew he had no chance with his opponent if they were to go through the three rounds. He retorted, “Nelson was big with lots of stamina, if I had to do anything, it must be at the first round,” he retorted.

He was able to attack him in the first round by calculating his moves. He saw Nelson bring out his right leg and caught him in the process. Nelson went down and the first round was his. In the remaining two rounds, he said was able to block every move of his opponent, and this led to his victory.

The gold medal he won at the tournament attracted the attention of Paul Ogazi, a broadcast journalist with Nigerian Television Authority {NTA}, who began to cover traditional wrestling in Ajegunle for a wider audience.

Luck soon shine on him, when a friend named Ken Etete, began to support the sport financially. “He was so supportive by giving me up to N300,000 to keep Olotu alive in Ajegunle,” he said.

The sport continued until 2009 when he gave up and left for Bayelsa, after there was no one to sponsor traditional wrestling in Ajegunle. To him, he felt he was betrayed by some of his close associates who accused him of squandering the money Ken Etete, an oil magnate used to send for the development of the sport in Ajegunle.

MOVING FORWARD

Coach Dickson became a professional coach for traditional wrestling at the National Institute of Sports {NIS}, in Surulere, where he came out with appreciable grades. He had been the chairman of Traditional Referees for more than five years. He had embarked on a traditional wrestling referee course in Niger Republic and has traveled abroad for better exposure to the act of traditional wrestling.

HOW TO REVIVE TRADITIONAL WRESTLING IN AJEGUNLE

To coach Dickson Idowu Omoro, bringing back Olotu {Traditional wrestling} into Ajegunle requires money and dedication. “When I was doing it, I was paid N10.000 {Ten naira}, and it’s nothing compared to what is obtainable now,” he added.

To him, traditional wrestling can be resuscitated in Ajegunle by involving other tribes, such as the Hausa, Calabar, and Ilaje tribes. “We can have a wrestling match like Ajegunle vs. Hausa.” This way he believes Olotu can be revived in Ajegunle. To coach Dickson, he believes the passion is still in him to mobilize teenagers from Streets across Ajeromi-Ifelodun Local Government to become great wrestlers and represent Ajegunle on the global stage.

Written By Fakunle Sheriff Ekundayo

Fakunle Sheriff Ekundayo is the editor at Project 3:16 Metro, an online news platform for rural and urban areas. He is also the Principal Partner and Editor-in-Chief at Project 3:16 Metro Newspaper. His youth advocacy and academic drive have made him discover the need to bridge the gap between youths, communities, and government institutions through his journal; Project 3:16 Metro. This he has also modified with the company’s website page, www.metro316.com.ng.

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