Helen Ovbiagele, Woman Editor

In this country of ours where, sadly, many important things are handled shoddily, or, totally ignored, it’s heart-warming when you read or hear of something that actualizes your own thoughts.

When I saw the headline ‘Ogba commends coach Osagie’ on the Sports page of the Vanguard, I was curious and got drawn to reading the piece.  Who was Ogba and who was Osagie, the coach who was commended?  A coach being commended in Nigeria?  Strange!  Usually, we throw verbal bricks at our coaches at the least opportunity.

It turned out that Mr. Solomon Ogba is the president of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria, while Isaac Osagie was listed a grassroots athletics coach.

‘President of the AFN, Solomon Ogba, has commended grassroots athletics coach Isaac Osagie, who has been fishing out budding talents from primary and secondary schools, to train.  Coach Osagie and his wife, Edem, a former Nigerian International, were spotted at Kermbo Schools annual inter-house sports competition where they stayed the entire duration of the event.  At the end of the event, they said they picked three athletes.  Ogba said he was encouraged by efforts by people like Osagie who, on their own have initiated similar programmes.  “With efforts like this, the sky will be the limit for Athletics in Nigeria,” Ogba said.’

File photo: Kids in action at a football match.

Well, like I always say in this column, we are never found wanting when it comes to the authorities saying the right things and signing the right documents relating to national and international issues. Our problem is ‘doing and doing well’ the right things.

After our dismal outing at last year’s Olympics, I wrote a piece suggesting that we should emulate the Chinese government who is always on a serious hunt for promising athletes..  They like to catch them early, so, they scout for them all over the country.  When those with prospects are found, the government puts them in hostels and  takes over their  education and training.   I didn’t know that there are individual coaches here who, on their own, go to sporting events at grassroots level on talent-hunting.

This is good news for those Nigerians who want our sports men and women to bring home  lots of worthy medals from international sporting events; especially the Olympics and the Commonwealth games.  It is very important that we start early, and the primary and secondary schools are good search grounds.  Parents or guardians of promising athletes, and the heads of their schools, should be told about their ability, and their permission got before coaching begins.  Their regular education should be taken into consideration, so that their studies are not neglected. Proper legal agreement should be drawn up to protect all the parties concerned.

I suggest we shouldn’t limit our search to educational institutions.  What about those young men whose dash to sell wares in traffic must be faster than that of Usain Bolt?  What about wrestlers in the village squares across the country?  And the fast swimmers and divers, and the canoe people in the riverine areas?  Their prowess is awesome!  All they need is good nutrition and intense training by experts so that they can perform according to laid-down rules in these sporting activities.

You’d be surprised about the height to which they can rise. That said, now that the head of the AFN is aware that there are talent-hunters at grassroots level, and he’s impressed by their activities, which is the way forward in our quest to have quality athletes who will do us proud?   What can be done to help these coaches so that they can travel far and wide in the country in the search of promising athletes?  Will there be adequate funds and facilities provided by the government for the training of those found by both the coaches and the AFN worthy of  grooming for future sporting events?  What about their education?

Do we have government scholarships, like they do in the United States of America, for promising sports people to go to the appropriate Colleges?  If we don’t,  I think we’re enthusiastic about Sporting activities enough to establish this.  This is the 21st century and we live in a competitive world.  We must move along with the rest of the world, according to our means.  We may not realize it, but in sporting activities, our country matters on the international scene, especially in football.  Nigerian footballers are playing for notable clubs in Asia and Europe.

The government seems to focus more on football than on other sporting events.  It’s like our concentrating mainly on oil as our major source of revenue; a thing financial analysts say is unhealthy for the country.  I think government should pay much attention to Athletics too, and fund it well.

We need to change our fire brigade approach to the Olympic games; of inadequate preparations of the participants, and then making last minute decision of who to appear for what event, and also the delay in releasing funds at the appropriate time.  We the masses are onlookers from the outside, but these are complaints we read about in the papers.  If there are misrepresentations of facts, the public has a right to know the truth.

After all, the disgrace of  our troupe returning from the Olympic games without even a bronze medal, is disgrace for all Nigerians.  So, when there are complaints, the government officials  should tell us their own side of the story, and it should be the truth. We need to be carried along.

Personally, I think Nigerians are too tolerant, and don’t show enough interest in the way the country is run.  Many of us would rather pay more attention to how to make it on our own in life, than insist on the government doing their appointed duty of serving the citizens well and honestly.  This our attitude  encourages the half-truths and lack of accountability that we’ve been getting from our rulers over the years.


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