By Onochie Anibeze
Chief Assam E. Assam is Nigeria’s Ambassador to the Russian Federation and Belarus.
Seasoned diplomats carry themselves with candour. They portray dignity in their functions. There’s so much diplomacy in the way they talk and in their actions too.
Chief Assam represents all these. But when sports is the discourse, he discards diplomacy and hits the nail on the head. He jabs the authorities for failing to advise the government on real sports development and in turn frowns at government for not appointing people knowledgeable in sports to manage it.
Emotions get the better of him when he discusses sports. He makes some technical points which give him away as a player or technocrat in the field of sports. Assam gives a clue on sports development, administration and promotion and you wonder what such a man could do if he were a governor of a state in Nigeria or in such a top position to influence decisions on sports in the country.
Assam was baring his mind in a chat with Chief Solomon Ogba, the President of Athletics Federation of Nigeria who visited the Nigerian Embassy here in Moscow with the Technical Director of AFN, Navy Commodore Omatseye Nesiama. This reporter was there too.
Assam was calm when he gave a history of Russia and their transformation from the Bolsheviks Revolution of 1917 to the break up of the Soviet Union under Gobarchev who introduced Perestroika and to present day. He gave kudos to the way they manage their oil production and sale. The Russians, he said, own all the oil blocks. They, in turn, invite the oil companies and other partners. Russians are the driving force. In Nigeria, it is Shell, Chevron etc.
“There’s no such case of producing, for example, 2,000 barrels and declaring 1,500. You will go to jail if you do that, nothing, absolutely nothing like that in their oil business,” Assam said with authority.
He said that the Russian economy was strong and that Russians were better for it.
The affluence in the city of Moscow here absolutely confirms the fair assessment of Assam. Those who nurse a picture of communist Russia need to visit this place. They would not believe that free market economy only started in 1991. Russians were bold in addressing their problems and they are reaping from their efforts now.
Assam, would not, as a diplomat, publicly draw comparisons between Russia and Nigeria. There couldn’t be any basis of comparison, in the first place. But inferences can be drawn on how they managed their problems in spite of their political upheavals and the failure of Nigerian leaders to do same.
Assam was brilliant in discussing different economies and what he feels will be a great approach for Nigeria.
“A developing country is like a young girl. You must take care of her clothing, all her needs especially education. If you must borrow to send her to school you must do so because it is an investment that will surely produce results,” he said apparently hoping that the listeners understood the perspective of his analogy with regard to the current policy.
But Assam showed greater passion in using sports as tool for human capital development. He was at home with sports.
“The future lies in the development of human capital and nothing develops the mind more than sports,” Assam says, pointing out the brain work athletes employ to win games. He even gave example with himself, citing how, sometimes, he prepares for a game of squash.
“I visualise how my opponent plays, his weak and strong points and what I should do at every point of the game. You even play the game in your mind before the game.”
Assam is sad that there’s no high quality sports institute which trains coaches, sports administrators and which has programmes for talent development.
“We need sports institutions, we need infrastructure and we need to engage more youths in sports. Why do we not have sports facilities in our schools any more? And why are we not keeping busy some of the few sports facilities we have in the country? Why would you in the first place build a stadium if you would not have a programme to make such a facility productive? Don’t we know that during depression, especially, sports is one of the things that could engage the youth and provide employment?
Assam would not stop. His voice became loud, his gesticulations kept his body busy. When he analysed the men and women 100m finals in the ongoing 14th edition of the World Championships, pointing out the elements he felt produced the champions in Usain Bolt and Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce, Ambassador Assam clearly showed his depth in the technicalities of sports. He clearly impressed his guests. Solomon Ogba was nodding and saying “we need people like him.”
Some of the things Ambassador Assam noted that we now lack in Nigeria were once prominent.
Sports in schools was a serious feature and he recalled how, as secondary school students, they were grouped according to their talents and they all participated in sports. Facilities were in schools. Many of them have now been taken over by weeds or buildings erected on them. Some universities even awarded sports scholarships and sports was part of the school culture.
“What happened to Nigeria? What actually happened and caused this rot?,” I asked Ambassador Assam. He paused and asked if I wanted an answer. “Yes”, I said. He smiled with a tinge of drama.
“The people who lit the candle and handed it to us left and we let the candle burn out on our palms.”
He meant that the colonial masters and the missionaries who laid the foundation for sports development in the country handed the baton to Nigerians and they destroyed the structures and the system that were left behind for them to build on. The same Nigerian factor that everybody complains about but which the leadership fails to act on.
Ambassador Assam’s passion for sports excites. It compels one to admire him and just dream.
“Mary Onyali met him on the flight to Moscow from Lagos and kept on saying that we needed to get hold of him,” Commodore Nesiama told Ogba.
Assam is a chief, a lawyer, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria(SAN) for that matter and Nigeria’s Ambassador to Russia and Belarus. He may need a platform to practice what he preaches in social mobilisation, economy and most importantly sports development. The man is from Akwa Ibom State. And charity, they say, begins at home.