Like Emperor Nero who fiddled while Rome burnt, Ogun state Governor, Ibikunle Amosun, looks on as crime and unemployment destroy Ogun youths yet spends millions of Naira to celebrate Anthony Joshua, who could have suffered a similar fate if he had not relocated to England where he got opportunities to channel his delinquency to boxing, writes OLUKAYODE THOMAS
CHARITY is said to begin at home but for Ibikunle Amosun, the Executive Governor of Ogun State, charity begins abroad.
Six years into an eight year tenure, Amosun has abandoned sports, one of the most potent tools of youth empowerment, raising global icons and crime prevention in the world today.
In fact, Amosun’s scorecard in education, entertainment and sports, three industries that are the ‘get out of poverty’ ticket for youths, especially those from the slums and troubled youths, is abysmally low.
For a governor who inherited excellent sports facilities, equipment and a robust sports industry, including developmental and promotional programs from his predecessors, Amosun did not remember sports has the power to change stories, sell Ogun to the world, prevent crime, empower youths, boost tourism and others till Anthony Joshua defeated Vladimir Kiltschko to become the world champion last April.
That was when governor Amosun recollected that sports is a powerful tool for youth empowerment; that there is an Ogun indigene in London and his government will pay for an official visit to congratulate the newest world heavyweight champion who has made the state proud.
It does not end there. During Joshua’s last fight against Carlos Takam, the government sent a delegation led by the Deputy Governor, the Commissioner for Sports in company of Minister for Youth & Sports, to Cardiff to “support” Joshua. A support he does not need; while millions of Ogun youth who need the support are abandoned.
The state of Sports in Ogun State
With about five stadia and other sports facilities across the state, equipment, grassroot development programs in football, athletics, boxing and other sports, Amosun inherited a vibrant sports industry that a visionary leader could have built upon.
Not just facilities and grassroot sports development, Amosun also inherited a state that was competing strongly with Delta and Lagos State in sports promotions.
Promotional programs initiated by his predecessor, which Amosun jettisoned, includes but is not limited to the hosting of international competitions, games and championships like WAFU, international football matches, National Sports Festival, School Sports and others.
Today, sports at developmental and promotional levels is dead in Ogun State. A land that produced talented greats like Segun Odegbami, Falilat Ogunkoya, Muda Lawal and others only claims sports honour today by proxy; stealing a champion produced by England.
Investigations by this reporter shows that sports in Ogun today has no policy nor direction. Amosun’s passion for sports is nil. Presently, there is no developmental program except the ineffectual principal cup which has no connection with the community or students.
Players of the state owned clubs are not motivated, with the highest paid earning eighty thousand Naira per month. One does not need to be a seer to understand the team’s poor performance in the league.
If the authorities in England had behaved like the Ogun State sporting establishment, would there be any Joshua to celebrate? Like Ogun youths today, Joshua too would be doing menial jobs or would probably be in jail.
Amosun not unaware of Ogun youth crisis
Ironically, Amosun is not unaware of the problems of the youths in Ogun State and how sports can be used to solve the problem.
In February this year, shortly before Joshua became the world champion, Amosun described youth unemployment as a time bomb that might explode soon except urgent and proper steps are taken.
Quoting a World Bank report that shows unemployment had not decreased since 1999 and that youth unemployment has been on the rise,
He said: “Unemployment among the youth is put at 35.9 per cent, which when compared with national overall unemployment of 21.1 per cent is significantly high.”
Amosun identified key sectors of agriculture, housing, ICT, commerce and industry, environment, sports, entertainment and hospitality as alternatives to the teeming Ogun State youth.
But it all ends there; all talk, no action. Even when his predecessor, Gbenga Daniel, gave an insight into how they used sports to get troubled kids off the streets and how his successor can do same, Amosun ignored him.
“We went out to the streets and started picking up the boys who were actually like security threats and risks. I remember that we marched them to Abeokuta sports complex and created a boxing ring and I said look, why are you disturbing the peace of the state? Go and be boxing yourselves. If you box well, you can become an international boxer.’’
But to Amosun, Daniel’s sermon was rendered in Greek. Even the boxing gym that Daniel built is currently dilapidated. Money spent on congratulating Joshua and travelling unnecessarily would revive and build several other boxing gyms across Ogun and give thousands of talented youths an avenue to channel their delinquent energy.
Would Amosun celebrate Joshua the bricklayer?
Would Joshua have become a world champion if he had remained in Ogun? Probably not, in fact like most Ogun kids today, Joshua was a delinquent child who embraced crime and was even sentenced in England.
A bricklayer before turning pro, in 2009 Joshua was remanded in Reading Prison for “fighting and other crazy stuff”. He was made to wear an electronic tag on his ankle when released.
In March 2011, Joshua was arrested by the police and found to be in possession of 8 ounces of herbal cannabis hidden in a sports bag.
He was charged with possession with intent to supply a class B drug, an offence that carries a maximum 14-year sentence. Joshua was suspended from Great Britain boxing squad and was sentenced to a 12-month community order and 100 hours’ unpaid work after pleading guilty at crown court.
Thanks to his cousin, Gbenga Ileyemi and excellent sports facilities and equipment in England, Joshua redirected his energy from crime and other negative activities to boxing.
If he remained here, he would have returned to his vomit (crime) at the slightest opportunity as the opening to direct his energy to sports or entertainment does not exist in Sagamu.
A visionary leader would have been spurred by Joshua’s feat to start developing sports in all the nook and crannies of Ogun State in restitution for his six years of the locust but not Amosun, a man who, by this actions, seems only interested in the ephemeral rather than leaving a lasting legacy.
As for Sports Minister Solomon Dalung, he is beyond redemption, the state of boxing and sports generally in Nigeria today calls for sober reflection from the head of sports and strategies that will enable our youth fulfil their potentials in sports.
But not Dalung, acting like a child deprived of toys in childhood, who sees everything around him as a play thing. Dalung had probably been starved of foreign trips before he became Minister, and the moment the opportunity presented itself he became a glutton for foreign trips.
Even when he doesn’t understand the subject and what the trip is about, the act of hopping on the next available plane probably gives him innate joy.
Imagine going to watch a fight and you don’t even know that Joshua’s opponent, Takam, is from Cameroon not West Africa.
“Of recent, Nigeria has enjoyed the upper hand against its West African neighbours Cameroon,” Dalung said.
Well, Nigerians won’t be surprised, Dalung’s penchant for scoring own goals strains the descriptive power of any adjective.
While Dalung takes delight in travelling First Class or Business Class to Cardiff to cheer Joshua and other places with tax payers’ fund, Nigeria has no functional boxing gym or equipment and facilities are in a terrible state.
While Dalung flew about in luxury last year, Nigerian boxers could not fly economy to attend the African boxing championships which serves as qualifier for the world championships because funds were not available to the team to travel to Morocco. They missed the World Championship in Doha, Qatar.
Affliction, they say, shall not arise the second time but not with Dalung. This year as well, our boxers could not source for funds to travel to Brazzaville for the same African Championships.
Only President Muhammadu Buhari can explain why he gave us an inept Sports Minister. The earlier Dalung is moved from sports, the better for our youth. As for Amosun, stop clowning, Joshua is not a Nigerian. If he had remained here, he would be a miscreant or a jailbird. Atone for your sins and restore Ogun’s lost glory in sports.
OLUKAYODE THOMAS is a Lagos based journalist.