By Paul Bassey

I was not supposed to be shocked by the ouster of Sport Minister Bolaji  Abdullahi. Given the political atmosphere, we saw it coming. Some only prayed for a miracle of sorts…..no wonder it made headlines.

By circumstance the ex Sports Minister found himself supervising the sports ministry and did so well that he was retained. True to tradition we the “ stakeholders” cried foul when he was appointed. We wondered why one of “ our own “ could not be found to man the ministry. The young man came in at a very difficult time in the life of our football, our sports, waded  and weathered through the storm . Restored peace in our warring house of football.

With the arrival of Hon Gbenga Elegbeleye, the former vice Chairman of the House Committee on Sports as his DG, sports blossomed to no end.

He was pragmatic while he lasted. A positive dreamer, intelligent and full of  ideas. Young and optimistic. Am I painting the picture of an angel? Far from it. He had his own foibles, the human that he is, but his positives were exemplary.

Bolaji Abdullahi

A few will suffice even as chronicled by his office.

“After a hiatus of 19 years, Nigeria won the prestigious Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in South Africa in February 2013. The last time the country won the tournament was in Tunisia in 1994. Nigeria’s senior national team, the Super Eagles have also qualified for the World Cup in Brazil 2014.  In the final play-off, the Super Eagles beat theWaylas of Ethiopia home and away, and will fly Nigeria’s flag for the fifth time at the World Cup.

“Similarly, our Under 17 side, the Golden Eaglets won the FIFA Under 17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirate. It was the fifth time Nigeria would win the tournament.

“Under the Minister’s leadership, there was a repositioning of the domestic football league in line with global best practices. The new League Management Company (LMC) has restored credibility and transparency to the management of the Nigerian Premier League. For the first time in three years, the LMC has been able to secure a title sponsor for the premier league, and attracted broadcast sponsorship to the tune of $34million (for a 4-year deal).  Clubs, for the first time in recent years, were also paid for participating in the league. The reform to ensure that Nigeria has one of the best leagues in the world is on going.

“In athletics, just like in football and weightlifting, Nigeria has become the number one nation in Africa. Never in the history of African athletics has one nation been  the winner of the Senior, Junior and Youth Championships at the same time. Nigeria has won the whole three in the last two years. First we won the Senior Athletics Championship in Port Novo (June 27–July1, 2012), followed by the inaugural Youth Championship in Warri, Delta State (March 2013) and lastly, we won the Junior Championship in Mauritius (August- September 2013).

“After a 14 years’ absence on the medals table of the IAAF World Championships, Blessing Okagbare won two medals for Nigeria in the last IAAF World Championship, which took place in Russia in August 2013.  She won a silver medal in long jump and a bronze medal in the 200meter race. The last time Nigeria won any medal was at the Seville’99 IAAF World Championship in Seville, Spain, where Gloria Alozie and Francis Obikwelu won a silver medal in the 100m hurdles and a bronze medal in the 200m respectively.

“To ensure early identification and discovery of athletes, the first ever National Youth Games, for athletes between the ages of 13 and 17, took place in December 2013 with over 300 special talents discovered. The Games will be held yearly.

“The National Sports Commission (NSC) has revitalised the National Academic Sports Committee (NASCOM), which is tasked with developing grassroots sports. Mr President launched NASCOM’s flagship programme for grassroots sports development, Rhythm and Play in June 2013. NASCOM’s mandate through the RnP approach is to get 2million additional children to participate in sports. NASCOM is already registering schools, game masters and children to achieve this goal.

“As part of its RnP programme, NASCOMhas started distributing sports equipment to schools. For the North central Zone, the distribution of sports equipment to the schools was done in Lafia, Nassarawa state in November 2013.

“Nigeria is in the process of establishing the first High Performance System in the whole of West Africa.  The HPS is a science –based support system for elite athletes. The National High Performance Director has been appointed and would see to the development of the HPS in selected sports. Also the first High Performance Centre in West Africa is being built in Abuja and was due for completion in February 2014. Already, the NSC has procured all the equipment required for it.

“After the failure of Team Nigeria to win a medal at the London 2012 Olympics, the Presidency with active participation of the NSC organised the first ever Presidential Retreat on Sports. Consultants McKenzie were tasked with putting the retreat together. It held in November 2011, with major stakeholders in Nigerian sports attending. The outcome of the retreat is the blueprint, which provided a holistic framework for sports development in Nigeria. The key recommendations were on funding, private sector participation, management and administration, and developing grassroots sports.

“Nigeria developed new election guidelines and code of governance for the administration of sports federations.  The code focused on entrenching the principles of transparency, efficiency and accountability across the Federations while providing a framework that maintains an ethical culture through a committed self-regulatory approach. We implemented the new guidelines for the last elections into the boards of sports federations and many analysts say the elections were the best in recent times

“Also, working with the office of the CME and the GTBank, Nigeria is developing a framework for sustainable private-sector-driven Sports Development Fund that explores opportunities in lottery and additional tax on some luxury goods such as tobacco and alcohol.”

We have certainly not seen the last of this journalist colleague of mine. Thanks Sir as you move on in life, even as I welcome your successor on to what is believed to be a “ hot seat “

Farewell Festus Nwako

Chief Jonathan Ogufere, President, Association of Sports Veterans, Nigeria, former President of WAFU and founder of Vasco Dagama Football Club of Enugu, mourns today “ a man who put his private Medical Centre at the disposal of Vasco Da Gama so much that the boys became very close to him, appreciated and loved him.

“Boys” here include Patrick Ekeji, Obed Ariri, Nwadioha, Okey Emordi, Alphonsus Dike, James Udemba, Innocent Nwankwo and all those who made Vasco tick in those days.

Chief Ogufere recalls that in those days, Dr Nwako, a native of Abagana in Anambra State was one of the foremost supporters and promoters of the Club. “ highly versatile, he went on to become the first Vice Chancellor of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Awka.

“We lost touch only for me to stumble on an obituary in one of the papers last week. This is a great loss and on behalf of Management, Staff and players of the old P and T Vasco Dagama, I pay him a high tribute and bid his soul sweet repose” Chief Ogufere concluded.

So Enyimba is out?

This, calls for a National Conference on Sports. This is no joke. When Pillars were ousted, I believed the NFF should be worried and ask why. Now that Enyimba is out, we should be more worried. Last year our four clubs could not go pass the first round.

I salute Bayelsa United who on Saturday progressed at the expense of Konzo F.C of Congo. I believe Warri Wolves that did not play at the time I filed in my column will also go through. But what lesson do they have to learn from the crash of the “ big boys?”

It is so sad that when the Champions League starts at the so called lucrative level, Nigeria will not be represented.

I must confess that given the pedigree of Enyimba and the experience of her Chairman I was very optimistic that Enyimba could still sail through and told Chief Anyansi so. His response was heart warming, vowing to fight to the end. When they went one goal up in Mali, I thought this was it, until they went down fighting in victory, too little too late.

So so sad…..

See you next week.

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