Sports neglected again

‘Nemo dat quod non habet’ in Latin means, ‘you cannot give what you do not have’. This is a truism concerning many of our politicians who throw themselves at us as our leaders. 

Yes, that is what it is because the system never allows us to choose who we believe have what it takes to move us from a consuming economy to a producing economy.

Even though this is not a political space, if I want to access the four major candidates who are aspiring to succeed Muhammadu Buhari as president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the only person that has shown that he has what it takes to help Nigeria achieve being a producing economy is Peter Obi.

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Unfortunately I’m not a political writer and this column is not about party politics even though I write about the politics of sports most of the times. And none of these aspirants, Atiku Abubakar, Bola Tinubu, Rabiu Kwankwaso and Obi himself have told Nigerians anything about sports and how to make it a money spinner for the country.

Over time, Nigerian politicians don’t know what it takes to turn our sports around. They have always seen sports as a play play thing,  that is recreation and nothing else. And it could be traced to the maxim that ‘you can’t give what you don’t have’.

That is because either they were   never into sports  or were just passive sports people and don’t have any atom of passion for it. Without passion for anything, you may never be interested to look closely at it or do anything tangible to move it from its raw state to a refined or polished state to make it attractive and appealing to people.

One Nigerian leader who however exhibited passion for sports even though he never rose to being the president of Nigeria was the late Dr Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia, a retired Brigadier-General in the Nigerian Army.

He had passion for sports and used sports to unite the former Midwestern region after the civil war. He remains one of the greatest administrators in Nigeria who turned sports around and used it to empower many youths.

It was not until he granted me an interview which turned out to be his last before his demise in 2017 that I knew that he drew his passion for sports from being a sportsman himself. He was actually a boxing coach in the military and so when he found himself in government as the Governor of Midwest State, he didn’t need anybody to tell him how to develop sports. 

He was involved and therefore knew exactly what to do and how to go about doing it. He did not only appoint competent people to run the sector but monitored them through personal supervision to ensure they achieved success.

That is why he built a Games Village in Afuze, a distant town from Benin City, the capital of his state to avoid athletes and their officials from being distracted by not only friends and family but the lure of city life. 

One would think that Dr. Ogbemudia will stop at that and wait to get reports from the officials on ground. No. The burning passion to see his pet dream blossom didn’t allow him sit in his cosy office in Benin City. 

Former Vanguard Media Corporate Affairs Manager, late Victor Omoregie, who was a beneficiary of Ogbemudia’s sports revolution in Midwest State, told yours truly how the Governor would drive himself all the way to Afuze and reside with the athletes to see how they were faring. 

According to him, Ogbemudia participated in trainings with the athletes and ate what they ate. He would go round the hostels early in the morning to ensure no athlete or coach was still sleeping when he or she was supposed to be out training. And did so at night also to ensure they were in bed.

Nigeria would have been lucky had the 1993 election not been annulled as the winner, Bashorun MKO Abiola was equally passionate about sports and was involved in its running. Under him, Nigeria’s sports would have blossomed.

Many leaders, including in the present dispensation pay lip service to sports, that is why they appoint politicians without passion to man the sector. They hardly put square pegs in square holes when it comes to sports which is the least they consider when it comes to allocation of resources.

Let me tell a little story on how little politicians care about sports. In 2014, then sports minister under President Goodluck Jonathan, Bolaji Abdullahi was eased out of the administration. President Jonathan wanted a replacement immediately.   During the screening of candidates for ministerial positions, they were going through the CV of Dr Tammy Danagogo and saw that he mentioned he did sports at some level, and pronto they said, “put him in sports”. 

Just like that. That was without even checking whether he was grounded in the field or even passionate about it.  That was a story told by Dr Danagogo himself. Of course he had no excuse to reject it even though he was eyeing a much more ‘juicier’ ministry. 

Only ministers with love and passion for sports had made any impact in the past. 

A president with passion for sports will not appoint just anybody to man the sports ministry which he knows is a great tool in uniting a fragmented country like Nigeria, in addition to being a job creator for the teeming youths of this country.

From Atiku, Kwankwaso, Tinubu to Obi, none seem to have that burning passion for sports and so far have neglected talking about it. And so once again, those clamouring to govern Nigeria have neglected talking about what they will do to lift the sports sector to an enviable level.

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