Sani Ndanusa has been the President of Nigeria Tennis Federation for over a decade.
He has served as sports minister during which he became the President of Nigeria Olympic Committee, a post he holds till date. He has one regret today.
As sports minister he could not realise one dream. He had planned to use his position to influence mass participation in sports from the local governments to the state and national levels.
In a chat recently, Ndanusa said that the story of Gokana Local Government, in Rivers State, which he read on this column on January 10 this year brought him mixed feelings. He was extremely excited about the achievement of the Local Government and at the same time sad that other local governments in the country have not taken such giant strides in sports development.
I picked Gokana as my Local Government of the Year and commended their chairman, Demua Ledee Demua, for his vision for sports. Gokana commissioned an 8,000 capacity stadium with facilities for track and field , tennis courts and a swimming pool. It’s a small sports complex which the local government built without any funding from the state government. They won my heart. And I told them so. I do know that if not for the culture of corruption in the country many local governments would be on the same page with Gokana for they have the capacity to build similar structures and engender some kind of sports revolution in the country. Such facilities will lead to the kind of mass participation that Ndanusa was talking about. And that’s some kind of revolution. Such facilities in our local government areas will certainly attract people to use them and organise programmes that could produce talents. The lack of such facilities is denying us potential world champions in many areas. Ndanusa said this to me:
“I read your column on Gokana and it made me recall my plan when I was sports minister. My plan was to meet state governors and get the federal government to encourage them to build such facilities all over the country. The type of mass participation that will produce world beaters. I strongly feel that we can still do it and must not give up. His Excellency, the Governor of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan had promised to take me to the Governors’ Forum so that I would be given few minutes to address them and sell the idea to them. The idea was for State Governors to encourage local governments in their states to embark on such projects by providing a certain percentage of the cost. You can imagine what sports will be like if we have sports facilities in many local areas. The effect will be tremendous. In years to come Nigeria would be among the best in the world because we have talents and would have produced stars. The problem is that we lack the facilities to nurture them into stardom. I commend Gokana Local Government. I commend you on your columns and I feel we should continue to pursue the objective of mass participation in sports. Construction of sports facilities will encourage that. Other Local Governments should emulate Gokana ”
Well, Ndanusa spoke well. I’m sure that his seeming short stay as minister of sports (and the inability to execute the lofty idea) may not be his only regret. He cannot be celebrating the state of the Tennis Federation and Nigeria Olympic Committee which he heads. But the system is partly to blame. The National Olympic Committee of England and many other countries have huge budgets from which they grow sports. It is different in our clime. NOC is so poor that they lack resources to run a decent office what more growing sports. The structure does not favour them. And they lack the will to radicalise their status. Our NOC depends on the sports commission for survival. And it has been an uphill task for them. How can such a body then develop sports like they do in some other climes? And how far is the NSC doing? In August Nigeria will participate in the Commonwealth Games. As I write, only track and field appears to have a programme and they have camped their athletes. The NSC is waiting for budgetary allocation to start preparation. We cannot grow sports this way. And I’m more interested in real development programmes and not just participation in games.
The states have the responsibility to produce athletes for the sports ministry, National Commission or NOC as the case may be. But they do not. Rather, the national bodies try to produce athletes for the states. We will never develop well this way. The mass participation Ndanusa is dreaming about may never be realised if the states do not change and start taking sports seriously. I have mentioned Delta, Lagos and Cross River as the flag bearers in sports development but I don’t see what others are doing. Anambra, by appointing Tony Nnachetta sports commissioner, has sent a signal that something could be in the offing. But that’s still far from it. Let’s hope the governor, Willy Obiano, will, materially and financially, support the former NFA Vice Chairman to succeed. The buck stops on his table.