By Patrick Omorodion
Recently former Governor of old Bendel State, Dr Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia celebrated his 80th birthday and I don’t know what Edo and Delta States did to celebrate the man that made their domain the talk of the nation, especially in sports.
Dr Ogbemudia, no doubt will be a very sad man today when sports is mentioned in the two States, Edo and Delta because what we have there today is a shadow of what he left behind some 35 years ago.
Midwest, from which Bendel State metamorphosed, was the bedrock of Nigeria’s sports because of the foundation Ogbemudia laid. He ensured that talents were discovered from schools and villages across the State and groomed into stardom.
That was how Bendel State discovered athletes like of Felix Imadiyi, Charlton Ehizuelen, Peter Okodogbe, Maria Usifo, and even our own Victor Omoregie, Vanguard’s Corporate Affairs Manager. With such array of fine athletes who got scholarships from the State, Bendel was number one in sports in the country.
Just like you have them in athletes, Bendel also had seasoned administrators like Isaac Akhioye, Abraham Ordia, Jimmy Omagbemi, Awoture Eleyae and Abdul Karim Amu among others, whom the State loaned out to the country to replicate what they were doing in Bendel in the larger Nigeria.
So the catch them young from the schools philosophy spread like wild fire. That was how the likes of Mary Onyali was discovered from a mere Inter House Sports competition somewhere in Lagos and she blossomed into an African and world star.
After the exit of Ogbemudia, subsequent governments jettisoned his policy on grass-root development for already made stars with which the State, now divided into Edo and Delta, won medals at competitions, especially the biennial National Sports Festival.
Sports administrators eager to massage the ego of their governors, used state funds to recruit athletes from less financially endowed states to prosecute the sports festival. That is why you will see a Bayelsa State swimmer competing in Edo State colours or an Edo cyclist winning gold for Delta State.
With this attitude, sports took a nose dive in the States, including the so-called number one States in sports. No attempts were made to discover and groom new athletes from the grass-root. Athletes were recruited and even sent abroad purportedly on scholarships and ferried home whenever the sports festival was at hand.
They never minded the residency clause for athletes to have been domiciled in their States for at least six months consecutively before they can be allowed to participate. Even when the sports festival was closed for athletes who have participated in more than two international competitions, the administrators who camped athletes abroad for a local competition like the sports festival were the only ones who kicked against it.
After Nigeria failed at the Olympics, President Goodluck Jonathan and the Delta State Governor, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan felt that hosting a Retreat and a Sports Summit respectively were the panacea to finding the way out. No sirs. Good as the ideas were, the only solution however, is going back to the Ogbemudia philosophy, school sports and grass-root sports development. These Retreats and Sports Summits are shadow-chasing ventures which will further deplete our already dwindling resources.
Governor Uduaghan especially, should ask from his administrators how many athletes they have discovered since after Blessing Okagbare was ‘discovered’ or the kind of grass-root programmes they have on ground to discover more Okagbares.
Delta State is no longer talking about Oghoghene Egwero because he is already spent. Okagbare, for the governor’s information, is not a candidate for the Rio Olympics in 2016, so budgeting millions of Naira to prepare her for it will amount to pouring water into a basket.
For Edo State, sports is dead there after the people’s governor chose to leave sports in the hands of a commissioner who can barely differentiate a tennis racket from that of badminton. Edo and Delta States cannot boast of an athletes camp like that which Ogbemudia built in Afuze so no monitoring of the athletes by well trained coaches as Bendel had it in those days.
The story is not different in other States of the federation. Only a few States, Lagos and now Cross River States can be said to be grass-root oriented. No hiring of mercenaries to prosecute Sports Festivals every two years like the big two, Edo and Delta do. Ogun and Rivers recently joined in the bug. Lagos is hosting the festival this year but not desperate to win with hired mercenaries.
The Delta State governor must be commended for knowing that sports in Nigeria is dead and thought of a way out to revive it. He should know that his State should begin the revival by going back to school sports and not crying for US-based athletes to be included in the National Sports Festival.
The solution also does not lie in inviting world class coaches from Jamaica and other places to speak ‘Grammar’ for our athletes and administrators. Before Jamaica, Nigeria was the greatest threat to the US’ dominance in world athletics. How did we do it then? That is the question we should be asking ourselves today.
Instead of these Retreats and Summits, President Jonathan should ask his sports administrators to exhume from their shelves earlier works done in the same respect. The most recent are those of the Presidential Advisory Committee headed by General Ishola Williams as well as the Vision 20:2020 Committee, both done under the late President Umar Musa YarÁdua.