By Paul Bassey
Even before President Yarâ€™ Adua was sworn in over three years ago, those of us who have sports as their culture medium, braced up for four years of disaster, in the first instance.
The initial argument was that the PDP as a party does not have sports in their manifesto, going back to the Obasanjo years, when people of all professions but sports were drafted to the sports ministry to fill the space in the absence of further portfolios.
The enduring conclusion for me was the review of the Yarâ€™ Adua days as governor of Katsina State, days that were hostile to sports, putting it mildly. Surprisingly though, it was President Yarâ€™ Adua who sent pleasant shocks reverberating through the sports fraternity when he appointed Sani Ndanusa as minister of sports.
We brought out our drums and trumpets, chilled bottles of champagnes, lined up dancers and singers and threw a big party. The praise singers in our midst sang the praises of Yarâ€™ Adua to high heavens for finally giving us â€œone of our ownâ€ asÂ minister.
AlhajiÂ Ndanusaâ€™s credentials were intimidating. Years as tennis president, African leader of the sport, first vice president of the Nigeria Olympic Committee ( NOC ), there was no faulting this choice of a man who for years with other colleagues had suffered under the yoke of football concentration and was going to Abuja to redress the situation by fighting the war of the â€œlesser sportsâ€, neglected sports.
The appointment of the then Vice President Jonathan Goodluck to oversee sports was also roundly applauded given his interest back home as governor of Bayelsa State. The combination was a perfect match. So we thought.
Minutes turned to hours to days to weeks to months and â€œour ownâ€ doused the enthusiasm of our expectations.
Suddenly we did not know what was happening anymore. Mock association elections were held and like in the past those selected thought they owed their â€œsuccessâ€ to the man who despite his elevated status still clung to the tennis federation as president, even when he had no business holding on to a sport.
Suddenly, the associations started complaining. The man had joined the football camp, while they were consistently starved of funds, not able to perform even with one of their own in the saddle. Then came the most absurd of all. The first vice president and chairman of the technical committee of the NOC, came out to accuse the very executive of which he was part, all in a ploy to annex the post of President of the NOC to that of the minister.
In a piece entitled: What does the Minister want?, I took a look into the NOC election, said if the ministerâ€™s papers were not a forgery, I wondered what was, I wrote condemning the greed of the minister and the aides who dragged him into it, noted his failure to perform as minister and advised chairmen of associations not to follow him blindly to the detriment of their self esteem.
Then came the forgery allegation, the court case and for the first time ever a minister of the federal republic was in court and no one seemed to raise any eye brow. More were to follow as tax payerâ€™s money was used by the NSC leadership to quash and paper over what was developing into a scandal.
I have my personal experiences. In an age where we are busy asking corporate organisations and individuals to identify with sports, with government functionaries seizing every opportunity to preach how expensive sports was for government to run alone, one would have expected that whoever answered that call, will be treated with respect. Not minister Ndanusa.
Last year, Mobil rolled out the red carpet to celebrate 20 years of track and field sponsorship in Nigeria, invited the minister and the whoâ€™s who in the sports ministry, took the competition to Abuja and sat through a disappointing three days as the minister boycotted the final event.
Later in the year, it was again time for Mobil to send out an invitation toÂ minister Ndanusa for what has come to be established as the prime athletics grassroot competition in the country, nine years running, hosted by Mobil in Eket in Akwa Ibom State.
Part of the letter inviting him reminded that â€œALLâ€ his colleagues before him had honoured the event with their physical presence as a mark of respect for Mobilâ€™s contribution to the development of sports in the country, yet Minister Ndanusa,Â a sports person, broke the chain, and failed to attend! Paying only lip service to grassrootÂ sports development.
We can go on and on. Other sports suffered the same fate. You can then imagine the heavy sigh of relief when his name did not feature on the new list of ministers put together by the Acting President, some say, for pending issues, mostly financial, regarding the disastrous hosting of the FIFAÂ U-17 Championship.
A friend called me to say we were back to square one. That there was no one on President Jonathanâ€™sÂ list with a sports background. I rebuked him. There we go again. Where did sports background leave us the last time around?
Besides, Mr. Austin Akosa had pointed out that Senator Sanusi Dagash was a former member of the football association. Murtala Shehu Yarâ€™ Aduaâ€™s youth could be used to good advantage while Mr. Labaran Maku my colleague at Champion Newspapers never shied away from sports issues when we met at the Editorial Board. Whoever.
When portfolios were announced, more shocks were around the corner. I had spent a year as consultant to Kwara United during their CAF Cup sojourn and came across commissioners, members of the house and special advisers dropping in to watch the team train and see matches on weekends, did not remember seeing Hon. Ibrahim Isa Bio.
I quickly put a call through to my friends in Kwara and got my fears confirmed that apart from compulsory appearance at novelty matches and a cup that was arranged for him when he was Speaker of the state’s House, there was no sports identity that could be traced to him.
My informant then added what I considered key. That unlike Sani Ndanusa, Isa Bio has been so long in government (Immediate past transport minister) that his administrative savvy will come to his aid when dealing with key policy issues. That all he needs is to surround himself with sports technocrats who will provide all the logistics and leave him with decision taking.
I agree. We had such intelligence in Minister Aku who died before he could translate his dreams. The problem is, do we have in the Sports Commission and by extension the sports ministry, the required manpower, specialists to guide and lead the minister towards taking credible sports decisions?
Perhaps it is now time for us to set up, as a matter of urgency, the board of the National Sports Commission, men and women versed in sports who will advise and help the minister run sports in this country.
Call this a letter of resignation or submission. Call it whatever, yet I remain convinced that after what we went through in the hands of the last minister, any one will do better. Yes, any one.
While wondering whether President Jonathan will still have time to oversee sports, I dare say history awaits him.
Calling the FCT Minister
In the Mobil boycott story narrated above, also guilty was the former minister of the FCT slated as Chief Host, yet did not have even the courtesy of sending a representative. This year, the Abuja Grand Prix is billed for early July. As the name suggests, this is an event that enjoyed the support of past ministers of the FCT but one. I pray new minister, Senator Bala Mohammed will show some interest, invite the AFN over for some discussions. I pray.
See you next week.