By Onochie Anibeze
One time Davis Cup player, Sadiq Abdullahi has reacted to my last week’s column in a piece he titled “Wake Up, Nigerian Sportswriters, Wake Up!”
I am writing this critical essay in response to Onochie Anibeze’s October 24, 2013 piece titled Wake up, Ndanusa, Wake up because the piece failed to make the case for tennis and its development. Although the intent is to draw attention to the state of tennis development in 2013, but the piece failed to directly address the complexities and politics of tennis development in Nigeria.
Rather it focused on building personalities and attributing accolades to a state governor to bring out the bias in the piece. Building sports in educational institutions are essential and critical to long term sports development in Nigeria. Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan may indeed be doing a wonderful job in Delta state, but are sports back in secondary school?
This is my beef with Nigerian sportswriters.
They need to now wake up to the realities of Nigerian politics. Many Nigerian sportswriters continue to focus on individuals and their past glories, with or without merits.
The piece focuses on Sani Ndanusa’s overdose of sleeping tablets which explains his politics and the politics of tennis development. He is woken up alright, and probably regretting the missed opportunities. His inability to turn the tennis program around after more than16 years at the helm of tennis administration may be affecting his ego as he now realizes that no tennis development in Nigeria can be done in isolation. He failed to re-think how to grow the game, to develop a 10-year grassroots tennis development plan. He failed to consult with former national and international players and be inclusive and transparent. He also failed to offer a different approach and new strategies to reclaim tennis in Nigeria. These pronouncements are old news.
The Minister of Sports, Bolaji Abdullahi is quite aware of this predicament. This past summer we talked about what can be done. But I am cautiously confident that this intellect and spirit would move to do the right thing for all sports especially tennis. Nigeria tennis will reclaim its rightful continental and global position if concrete decisions are made urgently at the top to start from scratch. The Nigerian sports system, and by implication tennis system, is structured for failure and in such a way that we could only succeed in international competitions by chance or by accident, not always by design and good leadership….”
In the said article that my friend Sadiq is condemning in his attempted defence for Sani Ndanusa I summarily wrote that tennis in Nigeria has suffered tremendously since Ndanusa assumed office as the President of Tennis Federation in Nigeria and regretted that even as sports minister and President of Nigeria Olympic Committee Ndanusa has not been able to help tennis. Many tournaments have died under his tenure and he has not been able to convince any sponsors to return to the game. It is so bad that teenagers, as I experienced myself at the National Stadium, who should be playing tournaments and mapping a future for themselves now beg to coach elderly people for tokens that could help them live.
These are facts that Ndanusa himself appreciates. They were not spiced with politics. The story started with a comment made by Rolake Olagbegi who was hired by Delta State to train their tennis team for the last festival. Rolake wondered why there were more tournaments in the past than now that Nigeria has more companies. I tersely mentioned how the players she trained won almost all the medals at the festival and how governor Emmanuel Uduaghan commended her for the feat. That was what probably irked Sadiq as he clearly showed above.
The last time Sadiq wrote was also to attack Adokiye Amiesimeka for saying that the sports ministry under Pat Ekeji as Director-General could have done more for sports. Ekeji himself knew what Adokiye was saying was true although he could attribute it to some challenges that we all know in sports. But Sadiq also condemned Adokiye but gave himself out by saying that Ekeji promised to engage him in some programmes that could help our sports and that he was hopeful the plans would materialise. Only God knows how Sadiq saw that piece as glorifying Uduaghan who should, in anyway be commended for his investment in sports. If Delta engaged Sadiq would he have made such comment? Delta has been in the vanguard of sports development in Nigeria and I once wrote that if five more governors could be like Uduaghan and Liyel Imoke Nigeria would rise again in sports. I stand by it. Uduaghan has done more for sports than any other governor in Nigeria. And that’s why about 60 percent of Nigerian contingent to games like the Olympics are from Delta. With Governor’s Cup and Awoturo Eleya Cup Delta is taking sports back to schools and local communities. There are other programmes space will not allow me mention here.
And two of the players Rolake coached are now in the US. More are on their way. Those who do well should be commended and those lagging behind should be told the truth. And the truth Sadiq should appreciate is that one could still be progressive in his character and comments even while in pursuit of jobs from the authorities. The Ndanusa he was trying to help himself knows that he needs help to revive tennis. What with saying that Ndanusa’s failures are old news when the man is still in the saddle? Common my Friend Sadiq. What has happened to you? Remain blessed but be assured that sports writers have been doing a lot to raise the awareness and campaign for development in schools and that it would be wrong to attribute the problems of Nigerian sports to them even as I know that we have enormous role to play.