By Paul Bassey
When the Speaker of the Delta State House Of Assembly Mr Victor Ochei came out to cite lack of patriotism and non allegiance to flag and anthem as one of the bane of our sports development, he did not have to search too far for examples.
A week before the end of the London Olympics, his Governor put a call through to some athletes including Vanguard’s Onochie Anibeze, seeking to know why Nigeria was faltering big time. What he heard worried him and he decided there and then to host a sports summit that will deliberate on Nigeria’s sports problem, going forward.
“ As a Nigerian I felt bad that while other smaller countries were doing well, we could not get even one medal” He then mandated his Sports Council Chairman Amaju Pinnick and our very own Onochie Anibeze as consultant to put together a summit that will help solve some of Nigeria’s sports problems.
Before his dreams could be actualized, a Presidential retreat was held and Governor Uduaghan was to shelve his plans. He thought otherwise. “…in that case, I decided that we should still go ahead and meet, this time, domesticate the summit and focus on Delta State……
“…… Needless to say that our victories at the national scene have become foregone conclusions. We decide when to win and when to come second, so we should aim higher, assume an international perspective, that is why I have invited all of you here to come and help Delta State chart the way forward.
“You do not have to be Deltans, because at the end of the day, it is not only Delta that will benefit from our sports revolution and success but Nigeria as a whole. It is also my belief that Nigeria as a country can achieve greatness if all the states of the federation rise up to the challenge by focusing on and developing one sport or the other” he said.
Those invited included Adokiye Amiesimaka, Yours Truly, Enefiok Udobong, , Ejiro Omonode, Professor Emma Ojeme, Ikeddy Isiguzo as domestic resource persons.
However, the highlight of all the papers presented was the submission of Bertland Cameron, the Jamaican Athletics Coach who throughout his presentation wondered why Nigeria had fallen behind so badly, despite a rich and promising past.
He rubbished the belief that we needed millions of dollars to win medals as he took us through the Jamaican formula that was highly dependent on school sports.
He wondered why Jamaica with a population of only 2.5 million people could do so well and surpass a country that was 150 million strong and with immeasurable human and material resources.
He held us spell bound for the over 50 minutes that he spoke, reeling out freely the names of Nigeria’s forgotten stars who should be driving the sports revolution and development in Nigeria like he and others were doing in Jamaica.
Because Governor Uduaghan had declared that the State was going to focus on Aquatic sports and Athletics, in the house was Roger Barrow the award winning, Olympic Rowing gold medal coach of South Africa.
Again another spell binder as the 36 year old took us through the “Precision and pain “ needed to excel. He advised that we should develop our athletes here and warned that the US will never train them for winning Olympic medals, rather “ they will abuse them, use them and dump them”….the same message Bertland gave out.
Permit me to acknowledge the professional way the Summit was organized and delivered .After the papers were presented, we broke into three working groups and here, some of the who’s who in Nigerian sports took centre stage.
Let me mention a few. Awoture Eleyae, Solomon Ogba, Segha Porbeni, Tony Urhobo, Mumini Alao, Yusuf Ali, Navy Captain Nesiama ( Technical Director of AFN ) Mitchell Obi, Aisha Falode, Gabriel Okon, Henry Amike, Brown Ebewele, Mary Onyali, Larry Izamoje, Gabriel Okpuno, Peter Gumptha, Victor Onanagamue, Eddinton Kkuejobola, Tobias Okwuru……..
Then the gurus of the sports writing fraternity.
Kunle Solaja, Ade Ojeikere, Tony Ubani, Nkem Osu, who is now directing media in the office of the Delta Speaker, Olu Amadasun, Harrisson Ochulor, Calistus Ebare, Gowon Akpodonor, Duro Ikhazuagbe, Joe Ighile, Chris Okpara, Gbolahan Dada, Ben Alaiya, Adekunle Salami, Ignatius Ajuonuma…..
Incidentally my paper was on the Media as an agent of sports development. I said there was nothing to say here because this was a given. That meanwhile nobody should expect the media here to successfully assume this role because over eighty per cent of media establishments in Nigeria established under political selfish interest have wound up, while those still managing to operate are owing as many as six months’ salaries.
“…….those who pay, pay peanuts and have turned us into monkeys…”
So threatened, “ …..the schools fees of our children, our house rents and hospital bills are being paid by governors, commissioners, chairmen of associations and clubs. So compromised, there is no how we can be expected to excel as we daily report and quote administrators instead of the athletes ..…”
I gave the classical example of the Olympics and how we are yet to get the correct and true picture because ninety per cent of the reporters in London were on the sponsorship of government in a system where media houses can no more fund the coverage of events even at local level.
I spoke about the jack of all trade and master of none situation where in Nigeria you expect the sports reporter to be able to report ALL sports rather than specialize and in that environment he cannot give out his best
My colleague Mumini Alao is working on “ a way out “ and I have volunteered to be part of any attempt at salvaging a profession that made me who I am.
Did I tell you that the event was blessed by the physical presence of both the chairmen of the Senate Committee and House of Representatives Committee on Sports? Oh yes. In their speeches, both Senator Gimba and Honourable Gaya pledged support for the success of the Delta initiative and gave an insight to what they have done so far as regards the development of sports in Nigeria.
At the end of the group discussions we went into a plenary session where all the groups presented their reports and the house was nearly brought down with applause when Governor Uduaghan ( who sat in the whole day, ) in his closing remarks promised that this will not be “….just another sports summit. I am not an expert, You are, that is why you should be ready, because I will call on you again to help me move the recommendations further, but you can be rest assured that I will guarantee the political will needed for its success…..it will not be another document. We will drive it to the end. Even when I leave office, the state will take up its execution….” He promised.
So help him God.
See you next week.