By Onochie Anibeze
I tried to imagine what  the mood of Simon Kolawole was  while he was writing his last Sunday’s column in Thisday. I saw a picture of a weeping Simon.

His eyes were heavy. He just couldn’t understand why everything about Nigeria is failing under President Umar Yar’Adua.

And he began to cry over our roads, hospitals, schools, public utilities etc. Simon deviated from the hard critic common with our opinion writers to some lamentation, some mourning typical of what George Awonoor Williams captured in his Songs of Sorrow.

From power failure to the economy and to Niger Delta, everything appears hopeless. And Simon’s worry is that, the President, the man who should visibly be worried shows no sense of urgency in tackling the Nigerian problem.

Just as millions wallow in penury, we hear of billions been stolen, we hear of scandals – Siemens, Halliburton, failed banks etc. For the common man it is “when I turn here, the rain falls on me, I turn there, the sun shines on me … I can only go beyond and forget,” as the poet mourned a grave situation, so hopeless that only death could end his own sorrow too.

This is my understanding of how  Simon tried to capture Nigeria although,  in his usual style, he ended up by saying he had not given up on Nigeria. He probably said this not to send wrong signals about Nigeria. Patriotism? I don’t think I can vouch for his inner being as not given up on Nigeria.

Two days after his brilliant piece Azu Ishiekwe of Punch in his Tuesday column descended heavily on Dora Akunyili and,  by extension, the Federal Government for approving N8.2b for NTA to upgrade their facility for the coverage of the FIFA U-17 Championship. Akuyili, Information and Communications minister presented the memo for the project.

Why would Nigeria spend this much just to upgrade the same facilities that the Obasanjo administration spent $28m to also upgrade some six years ago?

This is the simple question Azu was asking the Federal Government? I do not expect any answers from them. But immediately I heard the news that Akunyili broke, I sent a text to Segun Adeniyi, the special adviser to the President on media.

The text simply read “what sense does it make spending N8.2b to upgrade NTA facilities for coverage of U-17 event months after our outrage over LOC’s N35b proposal? How is FG better than LOC?” Unfortunately, the text kept bouncing back.

I would have wanted to hear from the President’s spokesman.  The Federal Government had, based on the budgetary proposal of the Local Organising Committee, withdrawn from hosting the championship. And they did this without due consultations.

I put a call to Segun (who happened to have strongly backed the withdrawal), and we spoke for almost 30 minutes. I implored him to pull all strings and explore all means to explain to the President that the budget could be slashed but Nigeria must not withdraw from hosting a championship it lobbied for and for which the government under Obasanjo guaranteed. I spelt out the unwritten implications before FIFA.

There were so many others that made the government to see reason in reversing their withdrawal. But they slashed the  budget to N9.5b, about the same amount LOC claimed it would use to organise the championship, the rest being for the upgrade of NTA and stadium facilities.

Everybody cried blue murder and the FG called LOC names. They even sent a delegation to FIFA to explore the possibility of changing the LOC. That didn’t happen and our Federal Government decided to work with the Mainasara Ilo led LOC that they called thieves.

The vice President was called in to supervise the thieves. And I think they remained thieves until Akunyili’s announcement last week embracing the same actions that amounted to thievery when FG was not involved. Now that the FG is doing the deed, it is no longer thievery. Ha, ha ha, ha.

I did not support the N35b proposal then and still do not support it now. But I think that the Federal Government should be bold enough to apologise to Mainasara Ilo and his men. This is my position. It’s fair for them to do so and continue their mismanagement of Nigeria.

All over the world, organisations struggle to win television rights to broadcast championships. Here, the government wants to enforce or influence the granting of such rights. It is wrong. In the past, they used NTA and broadcast instrumentality to steal.

They are not done yet even in their re-branding spirit.  I’m sure that Akunyili did not understand the technicalities of the project that she was made to champion. The whole thing is dirty, fraudulent and wasteful. How can we move forward when the Chief Driver prefers the reverse gear? Leadership has continued to fail us.

I don’t see any change until some kind of revolution enforces sanity, discipline and  transparency that will evolve great leadership and my friend Simon Kolawole may know what true HOPE is and not the one he associates with Nigeria every time that he writes. I end by quoting some lines  from Azu’s piece.

“If, for example, the minister recently cancelled the allocation of the 2.3GHz spectrum (broadband) licenses to some companies on the grounds that the process was not sufficiently transparent, then she cannot tell us that the government will spend N8.2 billion to “upgrade” broadcast equipment without showing that the process has been duly transparent.”

Can our President be concerned about the N8.2 billion waste? Can he remember why he withdrew Nigeria’s Nigeria’s hosting rights before he rescinded his decision? Can he remember? Simon, are you there? Are you still crying?

From My mail Box

My Editor,
You are doing a good job. I owe you barrage of replies. I followed serially, your critical analysis of the Amodu tutored Super Eagles.

I have also examined your technical concerns about the team and your veiled verdict on Eagles. As ever, your worries are not out of place. You have repeatedly berated the Nigerian sports culture for lacking grassroots development ideas, which accounts for our geometric dwindling fortunes.

I also read all that talk about push and kick, about having a midfielder that would go deep into the game and a team that would maintain the pace of lightening. Good thinking!

Let us zero into Sam Amuka’s managed Vanguard group of newspapers. What would a vibrant Onochie with his retinue of sports experts do in Sports division of Vanguard with rickety and out  – of – this world equipment? How good can Emmanuel Aziken be in politics reporting when his working environment emasculates his impressive ideas? What if Uncle Sam is a chronic leftist whose philosophies are embedded deeply in the Newspaper’s Editorial policy.

Newspapering like Sports, is akin to soldiering and team work. Every part is linked to the whole. Who fashioned the ‘editorial policy’ of our football nay sports? Why do we always have a disjointed team?

Few days to the Athletics Federation elections, you did an interesting expose on Solomon Ogba. Less than 48hours after, he was returned as the Federation’s President. You know his antecedents and true to your prophecy good things are already happening in the world of athletics in Nigeria. Reason! May be, just may be; a good team player has taken over the driver’s seat.

I hate to imagine the futility of my efforts at trying to convince you that we have a comprehensive problem with our sports. Of all the things you said, the one on reviving youth programme especially in football is one I consider most potent. But that would not be at this crucial hour where the Chike Obi in us must be revived for us to be in South Africa. Amodu needs help and obviously a stopgap or fire brigade one at that. We do not have time.

I urge us to constantly give him short – term ideas until the ‘owners’ of our sports accept to assemble all the parts that would make the team.

I refused to reply to your observations during the Federations Cup final. That crowd you saw there was rented. In the real sense of it, Nigerians don’t watch the game. Let us say the virus that stunts the growth of the game is also responsible for the misadventure of that rented crowd. Our domestic football is hardly attractive.
Ben Udechukwu

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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.