By Onochie Anibeze
Sports minister Bolaji Abdullahi cannot be at ease.
Aside his own concern, President Goodluck Jonathan has interest in sports.
Many will agree with me that the President has demonstrated this.
He visited the Super Eagles while they were in camp for the last Nations Cup which Nigeria eventually won in South Africa. He made it clear to Sports Minister that it was time Nigeria won the cup again. That accounted for the pressure that caused Abdullahi nightmares before and during the Nations Cup.
President Jonathan has equally shown interest in other sports. Few weeks ago, he honoured the relay team that won Nigeria the silver that turned gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games after one athlete in the USA team that won the gold tested positive to doping.
When Nigeria returned from the London Olympics without a medal, the Presidency was outraged. They quickly held a sports summit to find solutions to our problems in sports.
Only on Wednesday, the President hosted Blessing Okagbare for her two medals at the Moscow World Championships. What he did for the Super Eagles after the Nations Cup victory in South Africa is still news to many. Money, Abuja land and National Honours.
I want to, from the bottom of my heart, commend President Jonathan for these and many that I have not recounted here. I don’t think that any Nigerian President has shown the kind of concern President Jonathan has demonstrated in sports in the past two decades.
General Sani Abacha did well but those managing other sports other than football would not readily agree. Again, Nigeria was a pariah state at the time and only sports could give us succour. And Abacha embraced soccer. It paid off.
President Jonathan has demanded gold medals at the Rio Olympics in 2016. For now, it’s a dream. And it’s good to dream well. President Jonathan should set the ball rolling for his dream to be realised. He can do this by not only showing interest in sports but also supporting performance mechanism that will win Nigeria more laurels. His government does not fund sports well and he could influence a change. He should not only be seen celebrating achievements.
He should inspire them. Funding sports will help. Why should the sports ministry be about the least funded ministry and we want win gold medals at the Olympics? The current vote for capital expenditure for the ministry is N1bn and their total budget is always about N2.5bn. Sometimes, it is less.
Sports cannot develop this way. Mr. President was at the sports summit and he heard of the billions of money countries like China, Japan, USA, UK and even some lesser countries invest in sports. Can we begin to implement the report of the summit? Can the Presidency begin to fund the implementation of that report?
I was expecting someone to tell Mr. President that we are late for the Rio Games. What have we done after the Abuja Sports Summit? And what can we do with the kind of budget the sports ministry receives? Nigeria could invest more in sports.
It pains me that we have not been able to make the government or the Presidency realise that aside the good image that achievements in sports can earn the country, sports is a huge industry that contributes to the economies of the countries that invest in it.
Has anybody told Mr. President how many people Kanu Nwankwo, for example, employs today in his hotels, Kanu Foundation and other businesses? So it is with Jay Jay Okocha etc. Do we need to tell government about the foreign exchange our footballers in Europe and some other athletes bring home to invest or those who depend on them for their daily bread?
Those are at the individual level. What makes FIFA, IOC and other international bodies rake in billions of money every year? It’s all about sports business. Cant we begin to develop a strong culture of sports business here?
Some will say government must not be the sole funder of sports. I agree. But those countries that are now enjoying support from the corporate world really funded sports, developed their products before the corporate world came in. And that’s the most important message I want to pass to the government today. The corporate world mostly identifies with finished products than a raw materials.
This is because they are also in business and they expect mileage from their investments. Stars can endorse their products, not beginners or amateurs. When the standard of sports is high and we have world beaters in many sports, it will be easier to attract the corporate world. It could be difficult when we have no Olympic or World Championships gold medallists.
It is not when you lose in the first round of World Cups, not when in a country of over 160 million the biggest star we have in football is Mikel Obi and we go to the Olympics and depend on only one athlete to win us a medal that we expect manner from the corporate world. The few companies which support sports here do so as their social responsibility and not largely for business gains.
Their input will, therefore, be minimal. Government will have to provide the enabling environment, provide the funds and manage them well to produce many stars and create a sports culture that will be the envy of many including the corporate world. When it is so, when they have such solid foundation, sports will grow in such a way that would attract sponsorship from the corporate world and this will drastically reduce the burden on government.
Until then, government has a strong responsibility to grow sports. That will not happen the way they fund sports right now. So, I beg Mr. President to just take one more step. Invest in sports for Nigeria shall reap bountifully from it. Don’t only celebrate victory, inspire it. I pray that Finance Minister, Okonjo-Iweala will understand and stop giving “envelops” to the sports ministry even when their budget is reasonable.
Raji Babatunde Fashola
I was out of town when the controversy on the ‘deportation’ of some Igbo ‘destitutes’ raged.
I have read many accounts and opinions on the incident and I do not intend to add to the demerits or otherwise of the action of Lagos State. I only want to tell those who accused Governor Babatunde Fashola of tribalism to tell their story to the marines.
They do not know the man. Fashola is humane. He is a patriot, an organiser, a detribalised achiever and one who means well for all. An Igbo man is a commissioner in his cabinet. His government has touched the lives of many people including Igbos that it will amount to ignorance to accuse him of tribalism.
He is among the few governors trying to lift sports in Nigeria. I have never met him but someday I’ll tell his story my own way.