I have waited a long time for a period such as this to come. Now, it may be here. I can see the faint outlines of an emerging super force that can drive the essential change that can alter the face and fate of sports in Nigeria, for good, forever.
The social media is the fuel propelling this phenomenon with on going conversations on several athletes’ platforms, telling their stories and discussing their plight. For the first time, differences are set aside and discussions have been frank. Crises are being resolved between warring groups and individuals, with a message of fresh hope.
There is now a different route to a better future. It has begun to sink that until and unless athletes come together in a common front and fight their own cause, they will continue to languish in neglect, sidelined from the administration of sport where their success beyond their careers in sports lies.
In all of sport, it is the athlete that matters most. Everything is put in place and in order so that the athlete can perform and excel. Success even for the administrator is measured only with the athletes’ success on the field, in the courts or in the the track.
So, Athletes lives matter.
Transiting their essentiality from the field to the boardroom has not been easy.
As a digression let me go back to an incident in the early days of my retirement, and my venture into administration.
I should have heeded some good advise by Chief Jonathan Ogufere, former Chairman of P and T Vasco Dagama FC, Enugu, former President of the West Africa Football Union, WAFU, former board member of the Nigeria Football Association, NFA.
10 years after my retirement from active participation in football, he met me one evening at the NFA secretariat within the premises of the National Stadium, Surulere, called me aside, and had a very interesting conversation with me about my activities since exiting football, and the future he foresaw.
He read the fire in my eyes, understood the direction I intended to head and then gave me his counsel in a calm and measured tone, not intending to offend my sensitivities or dampen my enthusiasm, passion and determination to enter into football politics and administration where he also believed I could start to influence positive and rapid development in the game of football.
He advised that my transition from the football field to the boardroom should be gradual and strategic, even though I was eminently qualified to aim for the topmost job in Nigerian football.
He advised that because he and some of his colleagues in the corridors could influence it, I should aim for the office of Secretary-General of the NFA, get a proper education and grounding in the politics of football administration, and then launch a bid for the Presidency. The SG’s office was by simple appointment which they could influence and get me into. It was also an office I could use to mobilise and galvanise the most passive, most potent, but wasting force in Nigerian sports – the footballers.
I should have listened and reasoned more with him. I was in too much of a hurry. Uncharacteristically, I was stubborn. I did not think deeply enough.
I even privately raised the funds to organise the greatest assembly of Nigerian international footballers in history to support my silent vision and ambition. I invited them from all over the country, transported them and accommodated them at Dr. Victor Olaiya’s Stadium Hotel. These were footballers and survivors from the first Nigerian national team , the 1949 UK Tourists, to the players in the national team at the time of the conference in the early 1990s.
The conference was attended by Isaac Akioye, Justin Onwudiwe, Peter Anieke, (all members of the 1949 UK tourists) Chukwuma Nzeogwu, Okwudili Daniel, Johnny Egwuonu, Paul Hamilton, Ismaila Mabo, ‘Daimond Toe’ Baby Anieke, Cyril Asoluka, Haruna Ilerika, Victor Oduah, Ismaila Mabo, Godwin Etemike, Simeon Njoku, several members of the All-African Games team of 1973, my own colleagues Okala, Chukwu, Otubusen, Nwankwo, and so on. It was the largest congregation of international footballers that represented Nigeria from before Independence in 1960 to around 1990.
Yet, Chief Ogufere said I needed to walk gingerly into the new world I was going into; that I needed to crawl and to stoop in order to conquer. Specifically, he told me he would support any step I took to become the Secretary-General of the Nigeria Football Federation, before attempting later to become its president.
I should have listened but I did not. I have blamed nobody for how my attempts at getting into the boardroom of Nigerian football went because when I arrived at the gates, at the elections, the people I met there were ‘aliens’ from another planet.
There was not even one person from the players’ fraternity, persons we grew up with, living a narrow life, cultivating friendships that would last a life time, sharing rooms, doing everything together, eating together, wearing common clothes, thinking as one, playing as one, winning and losing together, that was part of the electorate.
In all things we were an inseparable team with a common mission and goal – to win and succeed.
That’s who we are as sports persons. We are fed and we grow up on that diet of community. By the time we exit sports as athletes, the greatest error we make is thinking that the rest of the world out there that adores and worships us throughout the days that we entertained them and made them happy, would remain with us in the boardroom.
We are wrong. It is a different world.
The shock of discovering that new world and coping with it, has become an almost intractable challenge for us as athletes, particularly Nigerian athletes. That’s why we have become victims of the prevailing situation where those from other fields have ruled over our affairs and have left is holding on to the short end of the stick, groping to survive, to take care of our own affairs with understanding, to take care of ourselves and lift us out of the doldrums of depression, frustration, poverty and neglect.
The times appear to be changing with social media that is connecting the dots of our commonality.
The Players’ Union has resolved its age-long crisis and is now united and waxing stronger. The Nigerian Olympians Association is also growing in strength and relevance with some of its leadership getting international assignments with the International Olympic Committee.
The future looks very bright indeed.
Athletes power is on the rise!
Ike Sorounmu goes back to his roots!
SOCA advances to a new level.
Charity begins at home. So, permit me to start with my own.
The Segun Odegbami International Sports Academy, SOCA, advances to a new level in complete education for the students of the school. From this weekend and subsequently every fortnight, the school shall play host to distinguished personalities that have demonstrated the values and conduct that scholarship demands for the students to emulate and imbibe.
These fortnightly guests shall cut across all strata of society, provided their story would add some value to the education of the girls and boys in the academy.
The list is long and impressive. It includes distinguished scholars, artists, sports personalities, socio-cultural and political leaders, captains of industry, celebrities and persons that have distinguished themselves with honour in their various fields.
It starts this weekend with a modest ‘pilot’ visit by à former international football star, a player that had part of his early football development as a student in United Comprehensive High School, Wasimi. He later played for a few clubs in Lagos and Ibadan, was invited to the national football squad before moving abroad for a professional career in Switzerland and Turkey for over a decade. He went to the 2002 World Cup with the Super Eagles and was the team’s captain during a few matches. Since his retirement he has coached some Nigerian clubs and the national team as one of the goalkeeper trainers.
This Saturday, May 1, Ike Sorounmu, will be returning to his roots when he comes as first guest of SOCA in a new initiative to inspire the students of the academy with the presence and words of role models in society.
The village of Wasimi Orile is excitedly preparing for Ike’s visit just as the academy has taken baby steps setting up its own agricultural farms, a first step towards self sustainance in food production. In the next few weeks the fish, yam, cassava, snailery and grasscutter farms should be up and running.
There is a long list of proposed visitors from international sports, music, film, and cultural giants, to political leaders, scholars, and captains of Industry.
It all starts this weekend.