Open letter to the Sports Constituency!

Categories: Featured, Politics, Sports Development
Written By: Olusegun Odegbami

My dear Friends in Sports,

Some months ago, I took a major step that you all are likely to be aware of. I joined the train of Nigerian politics. I understand the reaction of most of you in keeping a respectable distance from my unilateral decision by not openly associating with it in any way, or even expressing an opinion, one way or the other. You all may also already have your political interests and affiliations. I believe that had I informed you, or sought your opinion on the matter, it is most probable that you would have advised me to avoid the temptation, by all means, and not venture to enter into the Lion’s den of Nigerian politics. You would probably have correctly reminded me of our past general understanding of the relation between Sports and politics. They never worked well together. Strategically, those were the sentiments I did not want to hear at all at the time I took my decision. Nigerian politics are not of the sort that, as a sportsman, an Olympian for that matter, I would ordinarily want to be associated with – the graft, the lies, the corruption, the intimidation, the treachery and betrayals, even killings – conduct and tendencies that do not work well with the values that we espouse in competitive Sports – merit, transparency, equity, excellence, healthy competitiveness, fair play, clear rules and regulations, winning and losing graciously, friendship, discipline, honesty, equality, and integrity.

On the value scale, Sports and Politics are planets apart from each other. So, for me to have unilaterally plunged into this obvious murky minefield means there must be more to my decision than meets the ordinary eye. Yes, indeed, there is. The separation of Sports from politics in Nigeria has been responsible, in the main, for the stunted growth of an industry that should be thriving with the abundance of natural talent available. Sports have the capacity to make Nigeria a global superpower. Through Sports we could have united Nigerian people better, ‘laundered the image of the country better, taken a lot of our young boys and girls off the tracks of illiteracy, joblessness, drugs, prostitution, crime and uncontrolled emigration, and prepared them to pursue happiness through a sector they have a passion for, that engages them, creates global job opportunities for them, makes them healthy, wealthy and wise, empowers them, and imbibes in them the best of human values.

What we are now doing is denying the entire demography of young people the entry into the opportunities to be productive on a global scale because of our myopic optic of the power of Sports. Through the decades, Sports has continued to show the world glimpses of its ability to break down racial, social and religious barriers, and, through strategic deployment of its power and followership, to drive economic, political and cultural goals that can help in transforming Nigeria.
We have said a great deal through the years but have failed to move from ‘talk’ to ‘walk’. Sports remains a wasting natural resource in Nigeria. Previous political leaders have lacked the understanding to use it to drive national goals of development beyond winning athletic medals and trophies.

Intermittently between 1960 and 1980, Nigeria was actually on the right trajectory. The Olympics Games of 1980 was an unfortunate tipping point. Since then, Sport has been getting only the short end of the stick of government’s attention. Successive changes in government and in Sports administration left the field with a deficit of human capacity and the vision to advance the cause. Since then, major experienced and knowledgeable stakeholders have never been in the positions of power to influence, or even implement, their visions and ideas.

Sports, therefore, needs the fuel of political power to be able to burn brightly. Sports need political power to will facilitate and implement the advancement and development of the sector. Sports is a driver as well as a major contributor to the national economy, culture, tourism, diplomacy, infrastructural development, youth engagement and empowerment, and so on. Since I ended my career as an active sportsperson, I have experienced the roles that Sports can play in all the above sectors. In the eternal words of late Nelson Mandela in 1995, Sports has the power to change the world. There is a glaring disconnect between Sports and government in taking advantage of what Sports offer Nigeria and its army of youths in every cranny passionate about Sports but wasting like beautiful flowers in the desert.  Therefore, we cannot, stay away from politics and expect that things will change. Nothing will change unless we go in there and effect the change ourselves. It is as simple as that. That’s my motivation for daring to break away from the norm and enter the lion’s den. You all know me and my antecedents in and out of sports. I have always been the ‘guinea pig’ in my own various ventures in sport, using the results of my work as testimonies of their efficacy, or failure. Either way, the important thing has always been that I did something rather than prevaricate and play ‘siddon look’. So, I am venturing again into politics, a new and unfamiliar terrain. I have painfully found out, to my chagrin, that it poses an exciting new kind of challenge that, with the support of my major constituencies (sport and the media), we can, together, surmount, make a difference and possibly change our world.

I assure you I am not motivated by vaulting ambition for power. Neither is this a quest to amass wealth. My intention is simple – to use Sport, a territory I am very familiar with and for which I am eminently qualified, to drive a national development agenda. I choose to start ‘small’, to emulate our ‘brother’, George Opong Weah of Liberia, and plant a political seed that will germinate quickly to establish in Ogun State the foundation of a new political paradigm in Nigeria. My mission is that Ogun State will become the take-off point of a revolution using the power of Sports and other related fields of entertainment that includes culture, music, arts, film, dance, drums, literature, hospitality, theatre, leisure, etc, to initiate and undertake the fastest national development program driven by youths, in our history.

Starting from Ogun State, we can replicate the model and establish a continent-wide renaissance, an unaccomplished dream of Africa’s founding political fathers at Independence from colonial rule around 60 years ago. Their goal was to reclaim the dignity, respect and equality for the Black Race and Africans in the world. In the general architecture of the world today, those goals can be attained quickly only through a cultural revolution, deploying the energy and passion for the arts, culture and sports to drive productivity and innovation, building an industry in the process that will be the fastest and most effective transformative tool in the world. That’s why I am attempting, even against all the odds, to become the next governor of Ogun State where I come from. I intend to use the State as both a laboratory and a launch pad, working with the best brains and talents across the sectors to make this dream become reality. I shall soon have an interactive session with all members of our Sports family in order to share my vision and mission in Ogun State. But until that happens, I am writing this to crave your understanding and support. This is going to be a very daunting task, but I assure you that Sports has prepared me adequately for the challenges ahead. To me, ‘failure’ does not exist. The will to win is the essential tonic that drives the spirit of hard work, single-mindedness, commitment, determination, never-say-die attitude, teamwork, humility, fair play, decency, honesty, integrity, discipline and dedication to the cause.

My ‘campaign’ started subtly a few days ago. I am contesting for the governorship of Ogun State. The party platform I am using is Zenith Labour Party. It is a new party, the last to be registered by INEC, the last party logo on the ballot paper, an empty structure waiting to soak in persons that embrace our simple motto – ‘The People, Our Priority’. I did not join any of the other major parties in order to be able to get to this point where I can even contest without carrying any existing or future burdens as result of Godfather(s), political patrons, political funders and investors, and so on. We are setting up new structures across the State, populated by disenfranchised people, people living with physical disabilities, civil servants, retirees, restless youths, women, and the elderly. I humbly invite you to support me in any way, join me, or simply just watch me without shooting me down.

Your compatriot,

Segun Odegbami

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