by Olalekan Okusan, ITTF-Africa Press Officer
Christened the Asoju Oba Cup, the inaugural tournament drew athletes from Lagos State only, the home to the most talented players in Nigeria. Small beginnings but the event has continued uninterrupted for 50 years, outliving its founder, Sir Chief Molade Okoya-Thomas, who passed away in 2015.
Later, the Lagos State government saw its immeasurable potential and came on board with its support via the Lagos State Table Tennis Association. The longest running table tennis tournament in Nigeria, the Asoju Oba Cup has been the platform for success for Nigerian stars such as Atanda Musa and the late Yomi Bankole, as well as for their female counterparts Olawunmi Majekodunmi, Bose Kaffo and Olufunke Oshonaike.
It is an event that former Nigerian national coach, Babatunde Obisanya remembers with great affection.
“We used to train at the Alakoro Training Centre and one day the Secretary of the Lagos State Table Tennis Association, Olasuyi Ajayi, walked into the hall with a suit-wearing gentleman. After our training, he introduced the well-suited man as Chief Molade Okoya-Thomas who wanted to sponsor a table tennis competition. We were all excited because this was what we had been looking forward to and we all welcomed the idea. In the first edition, we had 20 male and 12 females.” Babatunde Obisanya
Likewise Olufunke Oshonaike, appreciated the value of the Asoji Oba; one in which she enjoyed notable success.
“I cannot quantify the impact Asoju Oba had on my career. It is one of the competitions in Lagos where good players emerge and I can remember vividly that it was a television set that I won at Asoju Oba that was the first television set in my house.” Olufunke Oshonaike
Most notably Wahid Oshodi, former Chair of the Lagos State Table Tennis Association was also of the view that the Asoju Oba Cup has proved vital over the years to the promotion of table tennis in Nigeria.
“The Asoju Oba Cup is the bedrock and foundation of modern day table tennis in Nigeria. A great majority of our top players over the last 50 years honed their craft playing in this tournament. To win the Asoju Oba Cup is the crowning glory of any player and a stepping stone into the national team. One should also note that with the Asoju Oba Cup unlike other tournaments the prizes don’t end with the tournament, Chief continued to support the players’ education and careers.” Wahid Oshodi
Importantly, since the passing of Chief Molade Okoya-Thomas, his family plans to uphold the legacy and continue to organize the annual event.