There was a time when Lagos State arguably was the mecca of sports and Table Tennis in Nigeria. The time of the Obisanyas, Atanda Musa, Kuburat Owolabi, Bose kaffo, Funke Oshonaike, Yomi Bankole and a host of others. They produced lightening strokes on the green table that was the envy of many other states. But that glory moved over to the South where Cross Rivers state produced the duo of Offiong Edem and Cecilia Otu who took over the dominance of the female events.
Then, comes the entry of Wahid Enitan Oshodi as Sports Commissioner. He not only restored the lost glory of sports in Lagos but also went to the grassroots to produce budding athletes. What about the International Table Tennis Classics that placed Nigeria on international podium? In this interview, the inimitable Oshodi reflects on his tenure as sports Commissioner in Lagos.
How were you able to administer sports without any controversies during your tenure?
It depends on what you mean by controversies. If you mean by controversies problems and clashes with certain people and groups, then I encountered several obstacles during my tenure. The key is not to try to avoid controversies but to have a clear vision of development and steadfastly pursue this goal, irrespective of the controversies that may arise. When I came in there were certain things that needed to change in Lagos State sports, we set clear goals and I am thankful we were able to achieve a lot of them.
Are there major challenges that you faced as commissioner?
As I just mentioned, we faced a number of challenges and hurdles along the way. This is normal and to be expected. Once you sail away from the old way of doing things and towards a path of growth and development, you are bound to face certain obstacles and challenges. With a lot of patience you will manage such situations.
How will describe your tenure as Lagos State Commissioner for Youth, Sports and Social Development?
It has been a tremendous adventure and a great privilege. Of course I have been involved in Lagos State sports long before I became a Commissioner, but to serve at the helm of sports in this great State is a special responsibility and opportunity, one in which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Can you say you are fulfilled as a commissioner in Lagos?
I can say I am pleased with what we have been able to achieve during my tenure, but there is still a lot of work to be done in sports and my true fulfillment will come when we have fully developed, vibrant, public engaging, developmental and commercially viable sports sector in Lagos State and Nigeria as a whole. My predecessor, Prince Adeniji-Adele did a lot of good work and introduced a number of key innovations.
I am pleased that I have been able to carry that baton and run a good race, but true fulfillment for all of us sports lovers will only come when sports in Lagos and Nigeria truly begins to flourish and live up to the tremendous potential that we all know it has. I have always set my standards by those attainable in the most successful sporting nations. Until we attain those standards I can’t be satisfied. We have the talent and skills in this country to attain such standards but we need to be visionary, knuckle down and do things properly.
Was there any time you felt like quitting?
I suppose such thoughts may cross your mind when things aren’t going the way you want them to but I was brought up with the knowledge that quitting does not solve problems. I worked with a great team in Lagos, many of whom we had worked together in different capacities over the years. It was hard at times but overall I think the team did extremely well.
What will you be remember for as a sports commissioner?
I will leave that to posterity. The people of Lagos are very discerning and perceptive. They will be the judge of that. A lot of people talk about the innovations we brought in across the spectrum of sports but for me personally if I was to touch upon anything I think it was the wonderful engagement I had with our athletes especially the secondary school athletes. We made the athletes the centre of our vision.
The Lagos Sports Classics has hosted series of international competitions, how were you able to ensure the consistency of this and what can other states learn from this legacy?
The support we received from the Governor, my colleagues in the Executive Council and the international and national federations across this sports was wonderful.
The Classics brought together a wide range of Government and private sector officials to work together and the results we achieved were fantastic. It is common to put down Civil and Public servants in this country but my experience with many of them was wonderful. To put together events that attract world class international athletes takes a lot of planning.
I must thank and congratulate all those involved from the Immigration Services who oversaw the arrival of foreign guests, protocol officers, security services down to our sports officers in Lagos who went above the call of duty and this was what made the event a success. It gives me great pride to have led such an excellent team. Lagos is now the centre of sports tourism this side of Africa.
How was it working with Governor Fashola?
It has been very easy, but more than that it has been an absolute delight. Indeed any success we have achieved during my tenure is based on the support I received from him. He is not only supportive but extremely knowledgeable about sports, which has helped me a great deal. When you have a boss who not only supports you but also has vast knowledge and intelligence, it helps to keep you sharp and motivated, which ultimately brings out the best in you.
What are the things you could not achieve while in office?
There is still so much to do if we are to dine at the top table of world sports. We need to ensure that the processes we have created for the development of athletes must be consistent and sustainable. We are too reliant in this country on one or two individual athletes across all our sports. We must work to develop strong teams in each sport. We must look to the development of school sports to enable us produce a constant stream of athletes. There is still so much to do.
What motivated you throughout your tenure?
Basically it is the will to excel. To attain the standard of the world’s best. In my work as a lawyer and an engineer that has always been my driving goal. To be the best that one is able to be. In Lagos State it is the same and also to work hard to meet that goal of making Lagos the centre of excellence.
If given another chance what will you have done better?
There is always room for improvement. I think I would have focused more on school sports. Going to the foundation is the only way we will succeed as a nation. Get the children playing different sports from primary school, which was the case forty years ago and we have done a lot in this area but there is a lot of scope for improvement.
Lagos is referred to as Mecca of Sports in Nigeria, how were you able to achieve this?
Hardwork and a fantastic team made up of experienced sports administrators like Wale Oladunjoye, Mr. Fatayi-Williams, Kweku Tandoh and many young sports officers and so many others in and out of Government.
I like to tap the brains of many of our veteran sports administrators who had succeeded in the past. I believe that you must know where you are coming from to know where you are going. I worked with some exciting ambitious young men and women as well. To succeed you need to take on board the views of people. The support of my colleagues in the various ministries was overwhelming and of course the Governor’s well known support for sports aided me in no small way.
Eko 2012 remains one of the best organised National Sports Festival, how were you able to achieve vis-a-vis the third place finishing of the state?
A lot of planning and hard work. We had come from the previous festival in our worst position ever. A lot of people were demoralized and a lot of our athletes had left for so called greener pastures. We brought in new ideas with coaches and programmes that meant our having athletes constant training and competition.
We revived many competitions and started supporting many of our athletes with training allowances, the best equipment money could buy. But for me, I think the most important factor was engaging with the athletes one-on-one. It took a lot of my time but for me engaging with sportspeople gives me great joy. I am an unashamed super fan. I knew nearly all our 1000 plus athletes one-on-one and in many cases their parents too. We were a team. The camaraderie in Team Lagos was a joy to behold.
It was a festival in every sense of the word. I think for me that 3rd place with the number of medals we had coming off our very poor outing in Rivers gives me the greatest joy. Another factor which is not spoken off much was the determination of Her Excellency, the Deputy Governor, who is a very determined woman who always wants the best for everyone. Her support and show of love for the athletes was tremendous and really boosted their morale. We built a great team for those games.
How were you able to combine your office with being the President of Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF)?
I tell people all the time that my greatest pleasure apart from my family is the fact that I work in sports. When you enjoy what you do the way I enjoy my sports then it would be an injustice to call it work. To see your athletes develop and grow from year to year really fulfills me. What we have been able to achieve in the NTTF is also down to a lot of hard work from the Board.
The fact that I have so many good talented people working with me at the NTTF and in Lagos Sports make heading both offices much easier than you would think. I really enjoy what I do.
What is your view on making the National Sports Festival an open event for professionals and amateurs?
Our view in Lagos since the days of His Excellency, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu has been consistent. The NSF should be an avenue to seek out new young talents who can then grow into national stars. The participation of our elite athletes in the NSF serves no purpose. I make bold to say that this is just a concoction for those states who judge their development only by the medals they win.
It would even be understandable if they developed many of these elite athletes they intend to use but in many cases they just use their superior funding to buy over young men and women who have been developed by Coaches in Lagos and other states that have grassroots programmes. Either way we will continue to develop our young athletes and they will continue to represent us in the NSF.