By Demola Akinyemi
Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, former Minister of Sports and Youth Development, who celebrated his 50th birthday recently, in this interview spoke on his experiences in and out of office and the most difficult decision he has ever taken among other.
50 years is a milestone in the life of a man, how has the journey been so far?
I thank God and I will continue to do so because I have every reason to be appreciative to Him. I usually tell people that I’m the 12th wonder of the world. There is nothing in my background that justifies where I am today. God has been extremely kind to me.
On his greatest challenge so far
What you call challenges are those things that happened in the normal course of work. One of the most difficult things for me was the day I had to leave office as Minister. What was challenging in it was the circumstances that surrounded my leaving. I felt I was doing a good job, working and maintaining high dose of loyalty to the president. For the first time in 19 years, Nigeria was African Champion in athletics. But suddenly, I had to choose between someone I have always considered as a boss and friend against someone who appointed me as a minister. I wished I was not in that situation. It was difficult for me, but I had to go on the side of principle, which to me means loyalty. I come from a home where loyalty is everything.
When you give your words, you must stand by it. My father used to tell me that when you say something and people have to call you to swear to confirm what you have said you are not a human being. People should believe your words because you are the one who said it. One must be dependable, reliable and an Omoluabi (well-brought up person), this is what I believe in. So, attacking someone I have always loved will not go well with my beliefs. It was a trying period for me but I have no regrets whatsoever.
If you have to take such decision again, will you still follow that step?
Principles that are conditional are not principles. If your stand on something is conditioned, then you don’t believe in it. Principle comes with very expensive price tag. Principles are very costly. If you choose to stand for principle, you must be ready to pay the price. For me, what I stood for was not conditional and relative; truth is truth today, tomorrow and forever. Truth is universal. It is the same.
What is 50 years of existence to you?
I served in public office for 16 years as Special Adviser, Special Assistant, Commissioner, Minister, I served at the party level and in a board, and in those years, there was no single instance that I was accused of corruption. For me, that is the most important. I am not claiming to be a saint but for me, there are lines I have drawn for myself which I will never cross. That is the most important accomplishment so that I can continue to be good example to children and those who believe in me. I am not likely to celebrate another 50 years, so, this one is a milestone. The reality that I won’t do another 50 years makes me think about legacy and what I want to be remembered for.
Since you left office as the All Progressives Congress, APC spokesperson, what have you been doing and what is next for you politically?
I have been doing more of travelling, writing, reading, like I did in the past. I have time for myself to do many things and I do a bit of consultancy. I have also been giving my attention to my children more than before.
What is next for me politically, I am not sure yet, but I am still in politics. We are so much in the period of uncertainty. I can’t claim I have clarity about the direction my political life will go. I have friends, associates, and at the right time, we will sit and fashion out what I will do.
If you have the opportunity of going back to the Ministry of Sports, is there anything you will like to do differently?
I will rather say I will like to complete what I started. In Nigeria, we have not imbibed the true essence of sports. As long as you are not winning trophies or medals, you are not working, you are not doing anything. I won the AFCON for Nigeria but I don’t consider that to be my best achievement in sports.
The biggest challenge in Nigerian sports is there is no system in place that can make one predict the direction things are going. That is why when we go to international competitions, weare still the only country singing ‘You’re a miracle working God’. I was watching International athletes indoor Champion, Nigerian team was not there, and it will be expected of us to go to the Olympics and win, how? What is our current position internationally? If I have the opportunity to go back, I will want to continue from where I stopped.
We are going to set up a human performance laboratory, the equipment we imported for this are still in the container with which they were imported, at the national stadium. For me, it is sad, I want to get that off the ground. We still don’t have laboratory to test for drugs. I am glad that the National Youth game has continued, this year’s edition is taking place at the University of Ilorin.