By: Augustine Okafor
When I saw this invitation, my first reaction was that I was not going to come, and truly I did not want to come; I came purposely to express my feelings about SWAN and after expressing my feelings I will go.
These where the opening sentences of Tony Oli, Chairman of Anambra Sports Development Commission who was invited as Special Guest and Keynote Speaker at the Anambra Sports Summit organised by the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN), Anambra Chapter held on Feb. 12.
Oli was to set the tone for discussions at the event which had in attendance seasoned sports administrators, club owners, facility owners, people from the academia coaches and sports association for the purpose of chatting the way forward for sustainable sports development in Anambra.
The summit which had as its theme “Anambra Sports Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow “ was organised by the body of sports writers as part of the activities marking the 56th anniversary of the existence of the association.
The chairman who spoke for about 40 minutes continued, “I did not come as a friend, that is why I did not exchange pleasantries with anybody because you are my enemy, you know I don’t hide my feelings, I say things the way they are.”
He said he is angry with SWAN because some journalists in the state don’t write anything good about what he is doing; that they are always looking for his lapses to write about, he said sports writers don’t chase him around to find out and report his activities.
To the chagrin of all present, Oli accused sports writers of not commenting on or making stories out of the pictures of his activities from his posts on WhatsApp groups which he said SWAN members belong to with him, he said SWAN was interviewing his athletes.
The commission chairman did not leave anyone in doubt of his pettiness when he said he has abandoned the athletes Ifeoma Nwoye and Rosemary Nweke, national and African wrestling champions at various levels and potential world champions for their effrontery to talk to the journalists.
As if that was not enough, Oli said SWAN went to the Commissioner of Police in Anambra, CP John Abang who is the chairman of the Local Organising Committee of the National Police Game to inform him on the association’s readiness to partner with the Police on professional and effective coverage of the games instead of coming to him who is the owner of the facilities to ask where the events would hold.
Probably he saw SWAN members as press-boys who must live off the crumbs from his pockets and therefore must mill around him, beggarly singing his praise before they could do their job, indeed they must see themselves as privileged for eliciting comments from the “Lord of Ring” of Anambra Sports.
After his monologue tirade, Oli stormed out of the venue and did not stay the next minute to hear what other stakeholders in Anambra sports had to say, not even the lecture of the day which was delivered by quintessential Victor Nwangwu, a distilled sports personality who was an athlete and a seasoned sports administrator.
Given his role at the summit as special guest and position in Anambra sports, as commission chairman, Oli was expected go stay back and hear what the Anambra public had to say about how he has carried on with task as number one sports development officer but he feigned a call from higher authority and left in a manner that suggested he had come advertise his ignorance and display his arrogance.
When Nwangwu told him that as the chairman, it was his duty to look for journalists and tell the world what he was doing through them, he grabbed the microphone and retorted that he cannot be reporting SWAN members because they were not the people that employed him job, he said that as a matter of fact, SWAN was like an opposition party to the Sports Commission.
In a manner that suggests that Anambra sports has been taken hostage, Oli said “at least for now I am in charge highest in two years time, I will go”.
But it will be important to know what SWAN members have been writing for which Oli was blaming them for his failure, what gave rise to the misplaced anger speech laced with of lies and frustration.
Like most participants observed, Oli is a egomaniac who exudes the persona of a man who is answerable to nobody not even the Anambra public whose part of the common wealth he is superintending for the good of the youth.
Ikem Asika, journalist and member of SWAN said it was a pity that after two years of being chairman of the Sports Commission, Oli does not have an office where journalists could go and speak with him and wondered why a chairman should be operating from his car or office of one of the directors.
Asika wondered why querying organising football competitions alone against giving attention to other games in the name of sports development should be a problem to any genuine lover of sports who is interested in expanding opportunities available in sports for the youth.
He wondered why querying the non proper composition of the Sports Commission as enshrined in the Act Establishing the Commission should amount to anti party, he said how could interviewing an athlete who got invitation to train in United Kingdom on the difficulties she is having with travelling should be Oli’s headache.
“What happened was sheer abuse of privilege, how can you be invited to give a keynote address as a chairman and you end up throwing tantrum at everybody present and even tried to scuttle the programme, he not only has not refused to organise a programme like that but has refused to be in the midst of sports stakeholders.
“We asked a question why an Olympic Stadium Rojenny which has the facility to host about 18 events should not be the fulcrum of the Police games instead of moving them to hotel and neighboring states and it became an offense.
“The Police Commissioner in Anambra is the chairman of LOC of National Police Games, why should SWAN visiting him be his headache, is he a Policeman that we should go to him on police games related matters, if he has a role to play let him call the media and tell the world how he is involved.
“How can he expect journalist to be taking stories of his activities from WhatsApp and other social media channels, is a Commission supposed to be a one man thing, where are the other commissioners and members that the Act talked about?” he queried.
Olusegun Sogbesan, Promoter of Onitsha City Marathon described the effort to change the narrative of sports in Anambra as a struggle which must be sustained as the state was getting much less than it deserved based on its potential.
He regretted that the chairman and officers of the commission were not around to listen to the pulse of the people and see how they could better their effort, he arguing that using medal haul at festivals to manipulate the people as show of improvement of sports was a lie which will not last for long.
Sogbesan who is the Director of Onitsha Business School encouraged SWAN members not to be cowed but continue to discharge their duties as the mirror of the society until somebody who would act hears them.
In his lecture, Nwangwu described what is going on in Anambra sports sector as sports promotion as the critical requirements for sports development were lacking, according to him, we are just promoting football and not developing it.
He said a situation where School Sports is nonexistent, where sports facilities were lacking, where experienced technical officials were retiring and no replacement for them was taking place, a situation where athletes are allowed to defect to other states because of lack of training and motivation cannot support sports development.
Nwangwu further blamed appointment of sports administrators based on cronyism and political settlement for the impunity and lack of progress in the sector, he added that sports development cannot be a one man show.
He said development was a process and not a sudden flight thing, noting that in sports development medals do not necessarily count but the process and programme that led to them.
“We need to know the programmes that produced them, where they trained, the facilities they used and the coaches responsible for their success, it is not just about medals,” he said.
Bonny Akunna, Technical Director of Anambra Table Tennis Association said the game has gone comatose due to the unwillingness of the Sports Commission to work with the association.
Akunna who represented the National Vice President of Nigeria Table Tennis Federation, South East said a female director told them that the Commission could not write the ministry of information to release students for a coaching programme because it did not have letterhead.
He said as the most experienced hand in the game of Tennis in Anambra, the Commission under Oli has not allowed him to come close because he had no time for sycophancy.
On his part, Anthony Oji, Chairman of SWAN in Anambra disagreed with Oli that the association had issues him as a body but blamed it on the averse disposition of Oli to involve SWAN in what he does.
Oji said was wrong to use objective reports of one or two members of SWAN which he was not comfortable with to form basis for executing his ploy to shy away from the media.
He said SWAN remain a catalyst for positive transformation of sports in Anambra and will continue to provide platform for egg heads in Anambra sports to brainstorm on the way forward even if those who should benefit from it were narcissistic.
“If he does not want to work with SWAN, he should not be jealous when he see us working harmoniously with others persons, groups or institutions, out interest is to get the best out of the system, in the interest of Anambra youths.“ he said.