A veteran squash player and retired Justice of the Court of Appeal, Justice George Oladeinde Shoremi has said at the age of 84, former President Olusegun Obasanjo is still active and invincible in the game of squash. In this interview with Trust Sports, the 79-year old legal luminary, who boasts of over 50 years in the sport, said he has played over 100 matches against Baba Obasanjo. He also explained why he and the former President are unbeatable in squash, his experiences in the game as well as challenges facing squash development in Nigeria.
When did you start playing squash?
I remember I was living at Ijeja, Abeokuta and my house was very close to the Ijeja Stadium. One day I learnt Baba Obasanjo (former President Olusegun Obasanjo) sent a squash coach from somewhere. His name is Samuel Oladunjoye. He is now dead. So, we came in contact with each other and he became my friend. He was a younger person. I was Senior State Counsel then in the Ministry of Justice. That’s how I started playing squash. So, I have been playing squash for over 50 years.
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And what has been your experience playing squash?
Oh! I have enjoyed myself all through. Fortunately, in 1984, I was seconded to Dodan Barracks to work with Buhari and Idiagbon as one of the counsels. I know army officers play squash and I came in contact with so many of them including Idiagbon and the present Alake of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Gbadebo. After that when I knew how to play squash very well, I came in contact with my boss, Obasanjo, again at Ota. He was Head of State then. We used to play at Ota. I used to play with him every day. After he retired, we still played squash together. And we play till today.
As a serving Judge, how did you manage to create time to play squash?
Yes, I still played squash while in active service. When I was in Abeokuta, it was easy for me to come and play. When I was in Ota, it was easy for me to play with Obasanjo. When I was in Benin in the Court of Appeal as presiding justice, there was a squash court close by and any week I returned home, I still played squash.
How has been your experience slugging it out with Obasanjo in the Squash court?
As a teacher who taught me in 1957, it is always fun. He was my teacher in 1957. He left the school where he was teaching to go and join the army. So, it’s fun. We still play. Later on, I started playing with him every day of his birthday. I can’t recall the number of games I have played with Obasanjo. It will be over 100 games. Playing with somebody almost every day in 1993 up till now, it is more than 100. And I have played more than 40 birthday games with him. And let me tell you the secret, nobody beats Obasanjo. I can’t beat him because he is my teacher. I am the next man to him. Nobody beats me because I will stay in one place, they play the ball to me and I will return the ball. If I want, I can count your own points as mine. That’s the way of veterans.
You said no one beats Obasanjo in squash, how do you mean sir?
Firstly, Baba (Obasanjo) is very strong. He goes for every ball. Secondly, I respect him as my teacher. I can’t beat him. The juniors won’t beat me again. I don’t have their strength anyway, but they don’t beat me.
What are the skills required of a squash player?
Every player needs agility and intelligence. Then, you must be in good health to play squash.
What are the challenges impeding development of the game of squash in Nigeria?
Not only in squash. Government is not doing anything about sports in Nigeria, most especially the state governments. I was in football for many years. I was Chairman of the Football Association in Ogun State for 16 years. I knew what was happening then and I know what is happening now. It’s a different ball game. In Ogun State at that time, we had over 500 clubs playing football and they had a good Sports Council. We had long buses, we had money. Even at the national level, when I went to lead a team out of Nigeria, we were very comfortable. Now, the association even contributes. I still contribute for people to go and play ordinary competitions in Lagos.
How are you developing young talents in squash and other games in the state?
We are doing wonderfully well. Come and see me at the club. I pay their transport every Tuesday and Thursday for them to train. We have Squash Academy here at Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL) where we have employed a coach and General Manager for them.