The Passing Scene

November 14, 2009

My verdict on the “chief justice”

I always knew I would one day be forced into making a comment or two about sports although I had decided to reserve any expression of my feelings, exciting or depressing, to myself. I was sure that I would mostly be assailed by the latter anyway, so why bother.

Adokie Amasiemeka, MON, seems unable to contain the frustrations encountered and absorbed by many sports writers as the burden of their profession, down the years, and recently erupted in his usual frank and forthright manner on the age-old (no pun intended) problem of presenting players who are older than the specified limit in international FIFA competitions.

We do not appear to be guilty of such misconduct in the competitions of other sports apart from football, though very few people would notice, and even less would care if we did. But “King” Soccer turns us upside down in a country where the passion for the game exceeds our pride in our good name.

It has been so for many years. It got so appalling that, in one instance, Nigeria was suspended for a number of  years from FIFA competitions. I was a member of  the Nigeria Football Association at that time and felt that we would never live down the shame.

But we quoted the names of other countries that had suffered similar disciplinary action and bounced back to continue with business as usual.

The press, all the same, continued to have its say – people like Peter Osugo, Ayo Oshitelu, Abiola Laguda, and Fabio Lanipekun, refused to compromise standards and boldly said that it was not right. “Boldly” is the operative word in that statement for there were “patriots” strewn all over the place who were ready to challenge them at every bend on the road.

It was even more difficult for people like me who were officials of the NFA who should not be seen as criticising the body to which they belonged. But, peace to the shades of Oyo Orok Oyo who was very clear about his opposition to the ugly practice though he was the Chief Executive Officer at some period during that time.

He had a column in The Punch, as I recall, and fearlessly expressed his opinion on football matters.

He always maintained that these were his own personal opinions but that view was opposed by those in authority, with the claim that he was no longer qualified for such a luxury in his public expressions on football matters, since he was virtually the personification of official views on such issues.

He was eventually persuaded to drop the column. I am sure he must have envied me, though he never said so, because I kept doing my thing since I had no boss in the Ministry of Social Welfare (and, later Sports) under the aegis of which football was then administered.

All the same, I cannot honestly assert that I wholeheartedly opposed the idea of sneaking in one or two over-aged players in the age-grade competitions. I was definitely against over-doing it, though; and it can be over-done.

But the issue of a squeaky-clean representation of teams at these soccerfests remains arguable until there is an assurance that all nations in the competitions can be made to be one-hundred-percent truthful, each time and every time.

It is not as though I am in support of the argument that other people’s acts of dishonesty serve as an excuse for our own misdemeanour, but I would feel like a fool if Nigeria was defeated by some of those giants” from some of the other countries.

Even in the current tournament, not every player from all the other nations is in any way qualified more than every Nigerian Golden Eaglet. The predicament is not solely Nigerian in nature.

The inclination to trim corners with regard to rules and regulations in sports competitions indeed goes beyond the peccadilloes that are encountered in age-grade football.

The coach of the South African lady (?) who won the eight hundred metres race at the recent World Athletics Championships openly confessed that he might indeed have committed a sleight of hand in his handling of  his ward’s performance, but he added that he saw a chance of winning a gold medal in the offing, and who could really ignore such an opportunity, he pleaded .

I mean, not all of those who supported Adokie’s views turned off their television sets in disgust when the Golden Eaglets won each game as they moved closer to the final. On each occasion, I must confess, I joined some friends down the road to have a cold beer.

It served to subdue the queasy feeling I faintly sensed with regard to the over-age matter. At any of those comfortable moments, the word “cheat” seemed to be unnecessarily strong. If  Nigeria won, few of us would abide it.

Adokie’s effort might have been more welcome to me personally, if there were the glimmer of a hope that it would swerve in eradicating this unwholesome pastime.

I would also have been inclined to support it much more if  the timing had been a little more careful. But it can achieve no more than giving those unstable “patriots” a field day: they would be the first to roll out the drums if the Golden Eaglets remained “golden” – which would be nothing new from the way these things have always been.

And coming, as it did, slam bang in the midst of  the competition right here in the host country, seemed to have denied the action a lot of discretion, no matter how candid it may be.

What fun we had

In 1973, I was the Publicity Secretary of  the Nigeria Football Association under the chairmanship of  Navy Captain Eddie Kentebe, God rest his merry soul. that was the year we hosted an international sports festival for the first time – The Second All-Africa Games. An official of the Ministry of  Information was appointed the Press Officer, while I assumed the role of the official for publicity.

I do not remember being actually appointed to the position, but it seemed right to everybody that it was my baby, so I picked it up and began to breast-feed it. Apart from Colonel (as he was then was) H.E.O. Adefope, the next important man in the administrative pecking order was Lt. Colonel Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, a Sandhurst-trained officer, who was to later play a major role in the administration of the entire country. He was the Chairman of the Protocol Committee.

He invited me to be on the committee as the “Head of Publicity”, and I was home, safe and dry. I became his ardent admirer. He worked with a clipboard, which you felt was absolutely unnecessary, because he impressed you by his uncanny capacity for details of a diverse nature on various subjects.

I was in good circumstances in those days. The Second All-Africa Games saw the birth of the Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria, BON. the members were the Chief Executive Officers of all the broadcasting organisations which were only a handful then, and the operations committee members were their executive officers. The Chairman of the operations committee was Segun Olusola, who is better known for his arts and culture connections these days.

Very few would believe that he ever took part in any kind of sports organisation, but he was the very first operations boss of BON – and what a boss! I was the Head of Radio (Programmes and News) and though were quite close as friends, it took us no time at all to lock horns in a conflict that almost blew the entire organisation apart. Segun proceeded to send me a letter withdrawing me from my position as the Head of Radio.

I promptly pasted the latter on the general notice board and went for a swim. The matter was however, resolved two days later and I continued as the Head of the Radio Sub-committee of BON.

The sub-committee subsequently became the ipso facto Publicity Sub-committee of the Second All-Africa Games. It consisted mostly of co-workers in Radio Nigeria, a group tightly knit together by a bond of friendship based on a shared high standard of professionalism.

We felt it our duty to perform the task of publicising the event because we were clearly the best people for the job. We had no “budget”, no finance or any means of procuring whatever we needed for ourselves. The BON operation operated strictly on a voucher system by which payments were made as liabilities were incurred, when the invoice was supported by an audited voucher. It was adequate, convenient and left no room for any hanky-panky.

Whatever funds were provided for publicity went to the Press Officer who politely tolerated us but left us to our own resources. And you never saw a more resourceful gang than the self-created Publicity Sub-committee of the Second All-Africa Games.

At first, we wanted for nothing. It was enough to do our job – the official as well as the extra-official. But then came the issue of uniforms. The offer of the Ministry of Information was so drab. We needed money to procure suitable attire as befitted our positions both as members of the BON and pseudo-officials of the Games LOC.

At this point, still a few days before the opening of the Games, we came across the brochure produced by the Ministry for the event. It was even drabber than the vest uniforms. So we took permission to publish our own brochure, and we were also allowed to sell it.

We had my late buddy, one of the most creative minds of his age. Yinka Craig, with us. He was a first-rate commentator, presenter and producer, who played music like he was born to it. But what was more, he was also an artist. So, we designed a superb brochure, which, on opening day, was preferred above the official one by no less than the Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, as he discarded the official one in its favour. We cheered silently.

The beauty of it was that we had sold more than a thousand of our brochures that, in the first place, we had published on credit. After paying off our debt, our profit was able to furnish us with hundreds of uniform tee shirts and sports shirts in various colours, which we distributed among other BON members.

I wish we had some of these millions of naira that are being spread over sports these days. But then we probably would not have known what to do with them. Definitely, they would have ruined all the fun.

My friend, bode

Bode George is my friend. His father was like a big brother to me when I was young. He was so loving and I found that same trait of friendliness and civility in his son.

His uncle – his father’s elder brother – was also like that. It seems to run through the whole family. I like his quiet humour matched in sober measure by his assertive stance in the face of opposition. He also had an admirable passion for neatness, like almost all the navy officers I know. They are a special breed when it comes to looking after their persons.

I used to appreciate that about him as I observed his presence across the aisle in church on Sundays. But I should not, nevertheless, condone what he was been jailed for – and I don’t. He deserves to be punished and he is already being punished.

Even if the appeal comes through, the scars of the suffering and the marks of the disgrace of someone who feel from the palace steps into a penitentiary will remain for quite some time. the time for condemnation is past. One may pause to sympathise a little with him. I do. After all, he is a human being. and he is my friend.
Time out.