|Urhobo Historical Society|
REX AKPOFURE’S SPORTS PROWESS REMEMBERED
CONSCIENCE, NURTURED BY TRUTH
LAGOS, NIGERIA. Tuesday, July 15 2003
Rex Akpofure (1930-2003)
By John Esangbedo
HOWAZAT! the umpire would either stay motionless or shoot out his right arm over his head, with his index finger pointing skywards and simultaneously shouting back “OUT”. Chief (Dr.) Rex Akpofure must have heard that typically cricket appeal for the opposing batsman’s downfall dozens of times in his illustrious cricketing career. Over the last 12 years there were at least three occasions that I know of when the Grim Reaper (Death) assailing his wicked turned to the umpire belting out “HOWAZAT”. In all three occasions, Rex Akpofure survived in his battle against Hogkins Lymphoma. He fought the damn thing to the ground. But on June 10 2003, Rex Akpofure was bowled out by a slow and wicked off spin from this earthly world at the age of 73. There was no reprieve. It was final. Granted that Rex Akpofure hit a couple of centuries (100runs) during his cricket playing days, but a score of 73 was not too bad an innings. He had reached, the biblical 3 scores and 10+ 3. He had lived a fulfilled life.
A few days after Rex Akpofure’s death I was sitting in his living room with a number of his close friends and associates” to pay condolence visit. Among the guests, was Ambassador B.A. Clarke and his brother, the literary giant” J.P. Clarke. Ambassador Clarke was thinking aloud when he wondered why someone of Rex Akpofure’s muscularity in frame and robust sporting antecedence should die. In my typically scientific and medical mind set, I responded perhaps too rapidly that no one was immune (to disease and death). I immediately felt a sense of guilt that I was disregarding the spiritual and supernatural aspects of human existence as Chief Akpofure often accused me of.
I felt that my response to Ambassador Clarke’s comments was incomplete and that I should have added that even on scientific bases, things are not always that predictable and besides the good Lord moves in a mysterious way. On my way home that night I was still musing over the issue raised by Ambassador Clarke. If indeed Dr. Akpofure was not such a solidly built man with nearly 20 years of sporting competition at or near international level perhaps he might not have survived Hogkins Lymphoma for over 12 years.
This short valedictory tribute will not attempt to describe Chief Rex Akpofure’s biographical data. Afterall, the chronological distance between Chief Rex Akpofure’s class set and mine at King’s College Lagos (K.C.) was at least 10 years. In the tradition of K.C. any student going through the portals of the college one day after you, is called a fag (by implication a small boy). Therefore it would be quite impudient (“saucy and overbold even”) for me to be describing that Chief Akpofure was born in Kokori in Urhobo Land, entered K.C. in 1945, e.t.c. I will leave that to his contemporaries (Chief Adebayo, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Dr. Ebi Ikomi , amongst others) who would be far more competent to give an account of the history of his life. This tribute is from a student to a reverted former school teacher, house master and a cricket instructor/coach.
Chief Rex Akpofure will be buried in Kokori on August 16, 2003. The aim of this writer is to praise him and to ensure that the good he did here in this world is not interred with his bones. Chief Akpofure whose life bestrode several generations of the King’s College Fraternity, first as a student, a versatile student athlete, school master, House master, cricket Instructor later became the first substantive African/Nigerian Principal of King’s College. His later exploits in the larger Civil Service and UNESCO will be featured in his full biography.
Chief Rex Akpofure returned to K.C. as a School Master in 1955, the year of entry of my class set. His impression on the whole school especially the fresh young students in form 1 was instantaneous and profound. He was to us then (12-14 year olds), very tall (stood 6ft 2ins), muscular and spoke with an uncommon diction. His biceps bulged through his shirts, his calf cuscles hugged his trousers. He epitomised all the things young boys would like to be” good height, muscular, athletically versatile and articulate. He walked with a swank. One of the nicknames we called him then was “STYLE”.
Yes, K.C. Boys experienced style before John Kennedy popularised style in the corridors of superpower politics of the cold war era.
But it was not all style and panache with Chief Rex Akpofure. Chief Akpofure was a characterful teacher both in the academic classroom and sporting field. He lectured us at various times in English literature; Civics, and General paper. But history was his major. There was a high content of European history in the syllabus of Secondary Schools in those days. The medieval history of what later became Eastern Europe (Bohemian Empire, Poland, Hungary and the Principalities of Wallachia and Modovia) was particularly interesting for their endless disputes of Royal succession” in some cases one dynasty ruling in two countries. Another influential ex Principal of K.C. Mr. P.H. Davis was nicknamed Wallachia.
In order to illustrate the involvement and commitment of Chief Akpofure in his teachings I crave your indulgence to digress a little bit by describing one of such disputes in Hungary. At the demise of King Louise of Hungary who ruled over Hungary and Poland, he was survived by two daughters. He had willed that the elder daughter, Maria Theresa succeed him in both thrones. But the Poles refused to continue the union if the younger daughter who had been married to a Polish Prince was not made the King.
The Hungarians were up in arms. The picturesque description of the Hungarian response was Rex Akpofure at his best. He would take one step backwards head slightly turned upwards for effect and would reel off one Latin quotation after another in his extremely entertaining lectures in which we used to be spellbound. “Moriamo pro rege Nostro Maria Theresa”. According to Rex Akpofure. “No matter how bad Latin construction that may be to the Hungarians Maria Theresa was the King”. Some of his nicknames like “Moriamo” “le Roi” were coined from some of the Latin quotations during his history classes.
Rex Akpofure’s sporting activities ranged from Track and field Tennis and soccer, but cricket was clearly his main claim to fame. He took over as the master in charge of cricket as soon as he returned to K.C. Being an all rounder (batsman as well as a bowler) he coached us both in bowling and batting. He was a fast bowler with an off swing. In those days, helmets and face protectors had not been introduced to cricket. When we faced “Rex” as a bowler you go out to defend your life; if in the process your wicket survived, thanks be to God.
In addition to his school responsibilities as an academic teacher, Boarding House Master, Sports instructor he was also active in the competitive cricket league matches which were mostly played across the road from King’s College – the Race Course. He later became the Captain of the Nigerian International Cricket side. Till today, Rex was arguably the most accomplished all round Cricketer, dead or alive; white or black that has ever played the game of cricket in Nigeria – with due respect to Late Pa Edward Highes, Namse Eno, Chris Enahoro and Ewa Henshaw.
It was therefore quite painful to see the once Rugged Rex devastated by disease and aging. How time cuts down all both great and small. But despite his own ailment he had to attend to his wife’s ill health, during the greater part of his last three years on earth. He faced the challenge with characteristic strength and courage. He applied his well-known discipline and strict adherence to the rules. If a prescribed drug was incomplete by one tab, Rex would drive out at 10pm to get it and made sure his wife had the correct dose as when due. In between dropping off his wife, at St Nicholas Hospital for admission, Rex would take off to Kokori in Delta State to see his two elderly sisters whose lives revolved around Rex Akpofure’s own existence. Unfortunately his wife passed on in July 2002 – just 11 months before his own death. I cannot imagine how those elderly women in Kokori will now take the death of this devoted family man.
Rex was an icon of dedicated and upright public service. He was a man amongst men. He left his footprints in the sands of our time and as we bid him farewell on his ascent to his creator, we pray that his surviving family members will be protected in the years to come, in the Mighty Name of Jesus.
Esangbedo is a medical practitioner in Lagos.