Once upon a time, the appointment of every new Minister of sports in Nigeria was greeted with heavy criticism by those who felt only sports technocrats deserve to lead the sports sector. However, after a series of futile efforts to get one of their own to lead the Ministry, stakeholders appear to have resigned to fate. They no longer shout from the rooftop even when a complete ‘outsider’ is appointed to take charge of the Ministry.
It is against this background that when President Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT), on August 16, appointed a politician and farmer, Senator John Owan Enoh (JOE), as the 36thMinister of Sports, there was little or no public condemnation of his choice. After all, even before the appointment was announced, most Nigerian sports stakeholders had seen the handwriting on the wall.
The fact that another ‘outsider’ would emerge as the next Minister of sports was evident from the list of ministerial nominees that was sent to the Senate for screening. There was none among the potential Ministers who boasted of a rich background in sports.
As a matter of fact, during the screening, nothing much was heard about sports from the nominees. All of them were busy trying to use their knowledge of Nigeria’s socio-economic and political problems to convince the Senators to clear them. So, as usual, sports was a peripheral matter.
Therefore, when a renowned farmer was eventually announced as the new Minister of sports, only ‘strangers in Jerusalem’ raised their eyebrows. There was nothing to grumble over because the appointment was in line with the tradition that has been established by past administrations. Successive Presidents have forced Nigerians to accept the painful narrative that sports is an all-comers affair. What this means is that anyone can lead the sector. Once you are a political stalwart who has contributed immensely to the victory of your party at the state and the federal level, you are qualified to be appointed a Minister. But if you are not a Grade A party man, you may end up with a less juicy portfolio like the Ministry of Sports.
Well, apart from the total submission to the will of politicians, the cacophony over the appointment of ministers of sports has reduced drastically because it is now a known fact that most Nigerians are sports enthusiasts. It is hard to find a Nigerian who is a complete novice in sports. I remember when Dutchman Clemence Westerhof was the Technical Adviser of the Super Eagles, he confessed that it was difficult to manage the national team because every Nigerian is a ‘football coach’. This means you can not underestimate the knowledge of an average Nigerian about sports, especially football.
Therefore, there are bound to be dissenting voices concerning the appointment of Enoh as the new Minister of Sports. However, it will be wrong to write him off completely. Yes, he is not a known sports administrator but that should not be enough reason for anyone to conclude that he will be a monumental failure like the ‘beret man’. After all, Senator Enoh may decide to surprise us with his grassroots sports pictures in order to clear our doubts.
In 2002, when President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed one of my kinsmen, the late Steven Akiga as Minister of Sports, he was harshly criticised. Many questioned his choice of a prison officer to serve as a sports master.
However, to silence his critics, Akiga went into his photo archives and exhumed a picture to prove to everyone that he once played hockey in his secondary school days. He enlarged the black and white picture and hung it in his office. Therefore, don’t be surprised, if the new Minister decides to come out with his own pictures to prove that he is also a member of the sports fraternity in Nigeria.
So, there is no need to dwell too much on whether Enoh is qualified to serve as Minister of Sports. What is important is for all genuine stakeholders to support him to transform sports from a recreational activity to a serious business. This reminds me of the immediate past Minister of Sports, Chief Sunday Dare. The same skepticism that greeted the appointment of Enoh was there when the famous journalist was appointed as the 35th Minister of Sports in 2019. Only a few people gave him a chance. However, on assumption of office, he quickly adapted to the hostile environment. In the end, he left indelible footprints in the sports sector.
At this juncture, I want to boldly say that Enoh is a lucky man because he is not going to start from scratch. His predecessor has laid a solid foundation upon which he can easily take sports in Nigeria to higher heights. Of course, at the time Dare was appointed, the sports sector was in near disarray as nearly all the sports federations were engulfed in one crisis or another. But using wisdom and diplomacy, he calmed the turbulence and presided over one of the most free and fair sports federations elections in the history of the country. Although there were issues in one or two federations, that was not enough to invalidate the success of the process.
This means that Senator Enoh is coming to inherit viable and professionalised sports federations that can help in delivering on his mandate as Minister of sports.
More importantly, his successor initiated developmental programmes which ensured rare podium appearances for Nigeria at global tournaments. It is an open secret that Nigeria’s impressive showings at the 2022 World Athletics Championships and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham were made possible by the adopt-an-athlete initiative of Dare.
Again, before he left office, Dare improved on Nigeria’s sporting facilities using the adopt-a-pitch initiative. He also midwifed the Nigeria Sports Industry Policy which is aimed at taking Nigerian sports from a mere recreation to a serious business. Dare also revived the moribund National Principals’ Cup and added more impetus to the National Youth Games. All these combined to stimulate sports development. If he chooses to continue with these laudable initiatives by his predecessor, Enoh will definitely succeed in his new job.
Therefore, let me conclude with a piece of advice for the incoming Minister of sports. A few days after Dare left office, his friends organised a dinner party for him in Abuja and I was invited to attend. It was at the ‘celebration of excellence’ that I discovered why the former Minister was able to weather the storms of Nigerian sports. Among renowned sports men and women who had defiled the heavy downpour to celebrate Dare were Chief Segun Odegbami, Mallam Alhassan Yakmut, Engr. Habu Gumel, Senator Obinna Ogba, Hon. Gbenga Elegbeleye, Mallam Abba Yola, Barrister Dudu Orumeh, Dr. Henry Nzekwu, Hon. Silas Agara, Dan Amokachi and a host of others. It then dawned on me that Dare had intelligently tapped into some of the best brains in the sports sector to succeed.
A word is enough for the wise. Welcome on board Senator Enoh.