Owei of Odoni, Otuobodobo, Aba-indi, Osuo, Agbaragururu, Coachito
Born in 1936 to Late Joseph Okwudor Omemu of Odoni and Okolobaiere of Agbere, he was a remarkable individual during his era. He possessed a jovial and charismatic personality, making him a joy to be around. He prioritized his family and enjoyed a prominent reputation in the realms of sports and entertainment during his prime. As his children, we are delighted to provide a glimpse into his life’s story.
Elaye, as he was affectionately known, was born in 1936 in Odoni. It is recounted that he grew up as a mischievous boy, often teasing and taking advantage of his only sister, Lydia, during meal times when they would eat together. His father eventually reached a point where he could no longer tolerate Elaye’s troublesome behavior and decided to entrust him to his nephew, F.M. Bribena, for guidance.
As a teacher at Agbere Standard Primary School, Bribena played a significant role in shaping and disciplining Elaye, molding him into the man he would become later in life. Elaye would go on to achieve success as a determined sports administrator and promoter of entertainment. In fact, he would often recount a story about Bribena and his mother.
On one occasion, Bribena, in his efforts to curb Elaye’s excesses, accidentally caused a head injury. For dramatic effect, Elaye ran to his mother in Odoni, declaring that he would no longer attend school because his “big uncle” wanted to harm him. However, his mother promptly chased him back to school, insisting that he had no choice but to continue his education. Elaye would often conclude this story by saying, “You people should thank my late mother. If it weren’t for her insistence, I would not have gone to school. I probably would have remained in the village with all of you, tapping palm wine.” The underlying message of the story was clear to us: never underestimate the importance of education in life.
Elaye’s primary school education took place in Agbere, which was his mother’s community in what was then Western Nigeria. At that time, the school was known as Standard School. Following the completion of his primary education in Agbere, Elaye proceeded to Ibusa, located in present-day Delta State, for his secondary education. The exact date of his enrollment is not specified.
After successfully completing his post-secondary examinations, Elaye secured employment with the Niger-Delta Basin Development Authority (NDBDA) in Bendel State. However, a significant turning point in his life came when he participated in a wrestling event, which caught the attention of the then Military Administrator of old Bendel State, the late Colonel Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia. Impressed by Elaye’s skills and performance, he was offered a position at the Sports Council, marking a significant milestone in his life.
Subsequently, Elaye had the opportunity to travel to the United States of America to pursue a university course in the State of Arizona. His exceptional performance and conduct during his time in the USA earned him the prestigious distinction of being awarded honorary citizenship of the State of Arizona.
Prince Elaye began his professional journey at the Niger-Delta Basin Development Authority, where he worked alongside his senior cousin, Mala Anthony Ndiomu. They utilized their influence to secure employment opportunities for their fellow kinsmen within the authority. Due to the Nigerian Civil War, both Elaye and Anthony Ndiomu relocated to Bomadi to continue their work.
Fate intervened when Elaye’s talents were noticed during a wrestling match observed by the Military Governor of Bendel State at the time, Colonel Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia. Impressed by the performances of Simeon Sawari and Elaye, Ogbemudia, with the assistance of Colonel Charles B. Ndiomu, facilitated Elaye’s appointment as a Swimming Coach within the Sports Council. Elaye’s achievements in his role led to him being affectionately nicknamed ‘Coachito’.
Elaye’s remarkable contributions propelled him to the upper ranks of the Sports Council. His immense dedication and skill played a crucial role in Bendel State achieving first place in the National Sports Festival called Oluwoye ’79, with his swimming department earning a continuous stream of gold medals. He made his mark as an exceptional Sports Coach, Administrator, and talent scout, discovering and nurturing young male and female swimmers from the creeks of the Niger-Delta, leading Bendel State to shine brightly with gold.
Unbeknownst to Elaye, the Rivers State Sports Council had its eye on his remarkable skills and eagerly awaited the opportunity to offer him a Director position when the boundary adjustment placed Odoni within Rivers State. Consequently, in 1978, Elaye transferred his services to the Rivers State Sports Council, where he continued his exceptional work until his untimely passing in 1987. Elaye’s move to Rivers State dealt a significant blow to Bendel State, as reflected in the shock and sense of loss evident in newspaper headlines at the time. His immediate boss, Mr. Omagbemi, expressed deep sadness and was willing to do whatever it took to retain Elaye in Bendel, but his decision to relocate to his new home in Rivers State had already been made.
It is important to note that throughout the early and mid-1980s, Elaye played a pivotal role in facilitating the employment of many Ijaw individuals within the Rivers State sports councils. He was determined to ensure that his people had a voice in the sporting industry, and he achieved considerable success in his efforts.
The late Coachito held deep affection for both his maternal and paternal sides of the family. During his childhood, due to frequent disagreements with his father, he spent most of his daytime in Agbere, his mother’s hometown. He took great pride in being a member of the Adokuware family and actively engaged with his relatives. His love for the people of Agbere is evident in historical accounts, such as sponsoring the renowned King Robert Ebizimo to perform a posthumous song in honor of the late Pere Hobobo from Agbere, who belonged to the Tarakiri Clan. Elaye maintained close friendships with individuals from Agbere, including Doupere, Kemi Prefa, the late Pere Kalama, Doukpola, Wenipere Nanade, and many others. Likewise, he was beloved by his maternal family.
When Elaye passed away on June 7th, 1987, Pere Kalama also sponsored Robert Ebizimo to record a song in honor of Elaye. Even after 36 years, this song remains popular and cherished in people’s memories.
Elaye, like many of his contemporaries, practiced polygamy and had children with different mothers. However, due to his profound love for his family, he was able to foster a sense of unity and love among his children, despite their diverse maternal backgrounds.
Elaye had a distinctive approach to disciplining his children, primarily relying on reasoning and guidance rather than resorting to physical punishment. His philosophical approach to life greatly influenced his children, fostering their growth, development, and success in various aspects of their lives.
Elaye had a total of 17 children, with 15 of them still alive to this day. Each of his children has gone on to excel in their respective fields, showcasing their exceptional talents and abilities in various endeavors. Their accomplishments serve as a testament to the strong legacy and great minds that Elaye has left behind.
How he died?
Prince Harrowel Elaye Omemu met his untimely demise in a tragic car accident on the east-west road in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on June 7th, 1987.
Elaye in the Eyes of Friends & Family
The news of Elaye’s passing sent shockwaves through the Izon-Ebe community, particularly among those who knew him well. His hometown of Odoni was devastated, and his Adokuware family mourned deeply. Since Elaye’s death, things have never been the same, and the loss continues to be felt to this day. Elaye was profoundly loved and highly regarded by all who had the privilege of knowing him.
Colleagues have described him as “creative and purposeful,” a social force to be reckoned with, an exceptional mobilizer and a relentless advocate for progress. He was renowned as an all-around sports specialist, earning the moniker “King of Gold Medals” in swimming. Elaye’s thirst for knowledge and personal growth was unwavering, as he fearlessly pursued learning and self-discovery. Additionally, he made his mark in the entertainment industry as an Awigiri exponent, showcasing his versatility and talent.
Elaye’s multifaceted contributions, both in sports and entertainment, left a lasting impact on those who crossed paths with him. His memory lives on as a testament to his exceptional qualities and remarkable achievements.