Anambra State Government’s total abandonment of sports has left the once vibrant and entertaining sector on a death-row and stakeholders frustrated. News Echo findings show that Sports is one area where the ‘Willie-Is-Working’ mantra does not find fertile ground and the government seems not to be disturbed.
During Obiano’s first administration, while speaking at the opening ceremony of 8th edition of the Anambra State Sports Festival at Rojenny Sports Stadium, Oba on that fateful Wednesday of October 15, 2014, Governor Willie Obiano had pledged to kick-start a revolution in sports in the state. “Ndi Anambra, the strategic approach of my administration to sports development in Anambra State focuses on three areas – the discovering and nurturing of talents and the development of sporting infrastructure across the state.
“The third component is the reward for outstanding achievements and the welfare of coaches. We shall restructure our policies to encourage more sporting competitions that will serve as talent hunts”, Obiano declared, drawing spontaneous applause from cheering crowd.
“We shall also remodel existing facilities in the three senatorial zones to meet the dynamics of the times. We shall acknowledge and reward high performing athletes and coaches. When we do our work very well in these three areas, Anambra State shall return to its glorious days as the reference point in sporting excellence in Nigeria”, he added.
Seven years after Obiano laid out what analysts view as his administration’s blueprints for sports development in the state, the much anticipated revolution is still being awaited and there is no evidence on ground to suggest that it would eventually come to fruition under this administration.
News Echo investigation shows that Anambra state government under Obiano has not only failed to meet its promises on sports, but the continued neglect has virtually reduced the sporting sector in the state to ruin. The state is littered with stalled sports facilities while many sports development programs have been suspended as the government prefers to dole out funds for entrepreneurship or other empowerment programs.
Obiano’s administration has left most athletes, coaches and other stakeholders in the state increasingly frustrated while many who can no longer cope with the harsh conditions have fled to other states to salvage their careers.
The recent scrapping of the Sports Development Ministry in favour of Ministry of Youths Empowerment and Creative Economy seems to have delivered the final devastating blow to the struggling sports sector in the state, amid frustrations from youths whose hope was to get trained and empowered by the ministry.
Obiano’s administration refusal to build a standard stadium or multipurpose indoor sporting facility in the state capital, Awka as well as establish a professional football club or other sports teams remain a tell tale sign of the culture of neglect of sports in the development agenda of the government.
Anambra holds the record as the only state in the South East geopolitical zone, and probably in Nigeria that has no standard sporting stadium in its capital and professional football club. Although, the state government had consistently sponsored athletes to some national sporting championships, some of which won laurels, it had failed to invest in sporting facilities, training programs for athletes and coaches in recent times.
When News Echo Correspondent visited two stadium projects in Awka, it was revealed that there were little or no evidence of recent construction activities, yet the government had continued to make budgetary provisions for them.
The recent scrapping of sports ministry and commissioner, despite budgetary allocations for the defunct ministry, seems to suggest that it had become possibly a conduit for siphoning public funds rather than the intended purpose.
Checks by our reporter on the budget document reveals that Obiano led government appropriated the sum of N114.9million for upkeep of the recently scrapped Ministry of Sports Development and Youth Entrepreneurship in the 2018 budget. The government also has a proposal to funnel additional N328.6million between 2019 and 2020 to the defunct ministry.
It was equally learnt that a total of N109.4 was funnelled into the sports ministry in 2017 while the sum of N100.3 was budgeted in 2016 but approximately N83million was eventually spent. Similarly, N85million was spent on sports in 2015 yet nothing concrete to show for the huge spending in the sector within the last three years. A summary of capital expenditure for the now scrapped ministry in 2018 budget show that the government proposed to spend N29.5bn on various sports projects with additional N93billion expected to be expended in the next three years.
However, official records show that as of September 2017, the sum of N4.9bn was spent in the ministry on unspecified projects out of N9.2 budgeted for the ministry. In 2016, N6.7bn was budgeted for projects in the ministry but only N2.49 bn was eventually spent, while N3.2billion was expended in 2015.
Budgetary records also showed that Anambra state government spent N50million on what it called ‘National sports competitions and others’ in 2017 and planned to spend another N200million on same programme in 2018, with further N630.5 billion proposed for it between 2019 and 2021.
Further Check reveals that N15.2 million was spent for national sports competitions and others’ in 2016 although it was never budgeted for, while N253million was spent in 2015. Again, the detailed capital expenditure for state Sports competitions: National sports competitions and others (N200million in 2018, N630.5million in the next three years.
N50million budgeted and spent in 2017, N15.2million spent in 2016 although it was never budgeted for, N253 million in 2015); Development of community playground across the state (N25million in 2018, N78.8million in the next three years, N10million in 2017 but N8.7million was spent as at September 2017, N1.96million spent in 2016 although never budgeted for, and N9million, spent in 2015).
Capacity building/grants for sports activities (in 2018 stands at N20, 000, 000; N63, 050, 000 in three years coming, N65million in 2017 but N8.7million, was spent as at September 2017, N1.9 million spent in 2016 even though it was not budgeted for, N9million spent on it in 2015).
Others are Anambra State Young Pioneers Club (N10million budgeted in 2018, N31.5million in three years coming, One million in 2017, nothing in 2016 and 2015); state football club formation and grants (N20 million in 2018, N63million in three years coming, N5m in 2017, zero in 2016 and N21.6million in 2015);
School sports project (N20million in 2018, N63million within the next three years. zero in 2017 to 2015); and sports equipments and vehicle Awka township statuim field purchases (N80million in 2018, N252.2million in three years coming, N15million in 2017 but N12.2million spent as at September 2017, N75, 000 spent in 2016 although not budgeted for, and N10.46million spent for similar project in 2015).
No stadium, but budgeted for.
Meanwhile, as people continue to wonder if the aforementioned budgetary allocations and expenses had been utilised in developing Anambra State sports sector, available records show that Anambra state is yet to succeed in building for itself, a befitting football stadium since its creation in 1991. Despite repeated promises and budgetary allocations, the state government is yet to establish world standard, capacity stadium.
Checks by this reporter at the site of Anambra State Township Stadium, Awka revealed no sign of recent construction activity as the projects have been stalled. A security man guarding the abandoned facility lamented the continued neglect of the project, with the abandoned project now overgrown by weeds.
Similar development had trailed the FIFA Goal Stadium project located at Amansea in Awka North Council Area. News Echo learnt that the project awarded by the Anambra state government in partnership with the federal government and FIFA had not received any attention since it was awarded six years ago even though its counterparts sited at Bauchi and Lagos States have been completed.
Curiously, detailed capital expenditure for the now moribund sports ministry in the 2018 appropriation bill showed that construction of state sports stadia (in 2018, stood at N280million, and a provision of N882.7million within the next three years, while N98.9 million out of the N160million budgeted in 2017 was spent as at September 2017.
Meanwhile, the sum of N61.1 million was found to have been spent within the 2016 financial year though it was not budgeted for. Again, the sum of N253 million was also spent on the same project within the 2015 fiscal year.
Others are, Construction of Zonal sports stadium across three senatorial zones (no provision), state sports development and grants to special sports bodies (N20million in 2018, N63million in the next three years, N5million in 2017 but N1.8million was actually spent as at September 2017, though not budgeted for in 2016 but N1.4million was spent on that while nothing was spent on it in 2015.
Even the Chuba Ikpeazu mini stadium at Onitsha built during the administration of Peter Obi after relocating the Onitsha South Local Government secretariat formally situated there is fast turning to decrepit facility due to lack of maintenance.
The stadium which construction was awarded to Paul B Construction Company is ill maintained and has been overgrown by wild grasses. Despite making budgetary provisions for stadium projects without sign of implementation, the state government had continued to spend millions of Naira annually to rent stadia facilities such as the Rojenny Stadium, Oba; the Nero Stadium, Nanka and the FC Ifeanyi Ubah Stadium in Nnewi/Oraifite built by private individuals- Rommy Ezeonwuka, Poly Emenike and Ifeanyi Ubah for its sporting activities.
Further checks on the recurrent revenue for the defunct ministry as captured in Anambra State 2018 appropriation bill showed that the sum of N2.8 million is expected to be spent on hiring of stadium during the 2018 fiscal year with about N9.5 million mapped out for hiring of stadium between 2019 and 2021, an evidence that the state government has no plans to complete its stadium project soon and stop spending monies on hiring sports facilities.
Obiano administration had in 2017 budgeted N17 million but spent N2.5 million for the same purpose, while in 2016, it budgeted N2.28 million but spent N5.11million; and also spent N4.44million for same stadium hiring in 2015.
Aside these, Anambra State government has no known state sports clubs or seasonal sporting activities like football, athletics and field events, wrestling, scrabble, to name a few, except football clubs competitions found, financed and managed by private individuals namely, Godwin Ezeemo, Ifeanyi Uba (FC Ifeanyi Ubah/Anambra warriors), and others.
These philanthropists, News Echo learnt, respectively organise annual sporting events mostly football competitions for selected few at community, local government, or state levels although investigations show that none of them was able to organise such in December 2017.
However, it was recalled that while performing the kick-off of the 2017 edition of the Obiano Unity Cup tournament at Rojenny Stadium, Oba last October, Governor Willie Obiano had claimed that his government was ready to establish a professional football club in the state.
According to him, the tournament was expected to produce talented footballers that will constitute the Anambra Football Club that the state government plans to float via the Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement in early 2018.
Obiano added, amidst applause that his administration had factored the establishment of Anambra FC into the 2018, budget. Five months into the year, nothing has been heard from the government house about the Anambra FC project, although budgetary provision was made for it in the current fiscal year.
Sports ministry scrapping saga:
The Anambra State Commissioner for Youths Empowerment and Creative Economy, Mr Bonaventure Enemali, in a recent press briefing, announced that the state government would establish a Sports Commission to manage and drive sports in the state. According to Enemali, the development would enable sports to enjoy full attention from technocrats and administrators, and insulate it from the bureaucracy of civil service since “Sports Commission will be responsible solely for sports because under the ministry arrangement, sports are fused with many other things.”
Enemali said his new ministry had the mandate to ensure that the state bring out the best in the Anambra youths and empower them for economic independence as the government wants to explore opportunities in the film, agriculture and technology industries to empower the youth.
According to him, sports was a creative endeavour and would not be left out in the scheme of things but that must be through Public Private Partnership in order to complement the governor’s effort on security because economic independence will curb youth restiveness, lessen corruption and reduce criminality. Hear him: “Sports is part of what we do here because, it is creativity; we are going to develop the youth in line with their skills and talents. We shall still be having competitions, capacity building for coaches and training of athletes and facilities, its’ a very good decision.
We have already inaugurated the Youth Economy and Creative Council to serve as a think-tank to develop the blueprint and implement the ideas. The program will centre on film industry, agriculture and entrepreneurship, so, it will create film academy and technological hubs across the senatorial zones of the state.”
But stakeholders in the sporting sector hold a contrary view to the government. For instance, the Anambra Coaches Association (ACA) had officially registered its objection to the official neglect and proposed scrapping of the Sports ministry.
News Echo obtained a three-page letter the embattled state coaches wrote to Governor Obiano pleading with him to rescind his government’s decision to disband the sports ministry.
The letter jointly signed by ACA Chairman and Secretary, Aka Chika and Paul Okechukwu, argued that since its creation in 2000, the sports ministry had won numerous laurels and, in the process, transformed lives of many sportsmen and women in the state.
The group lamented that the planned scrapping of the ministry would throw state athletes and officials into jobless market with its attendant consequences on their families and the society. The letter read in part: “This action is viewed with every seriousness considering the place of sports in Anambra State.
Removing sports entirely from the new ministry’s nomenclature, and renaming it the Ministry of Youth Empowerment and Creative Economy, seems to relegate sports to the background.“It will take sports development many years back, putting the state in a reverse gear sports wise. It will seem like the biblical going back to Egypt. It is also out of tune with present realities when even the Federal Government has scrapped the National Sports Commission (NSC),” the group added.
The state coaches’ further advised Obiano led government to consult widely on this issue because “most states, and even the Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports, have scrapped their Sports Commissions and NSC (as the case may be) in favour of having ministries. No meaningful height would be achieved in sports without adequate funding and the development of standard infrastructure.”
They went further: “We also need sponsorship for state athletes to both national and international competitions where they will win laurels and bring back honour to the state. Government will also develop sports using various sports associations, which were inaugurated by the immediate-past Commissioner for Youth Entrepreneurship and Sports Development but are yet to resume duties,” the coaches association maintained.
Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN) also viewed the controversial scrapping of sports ministry as ill-conceived project that would further degrade sports in the state. Anambra SWAN, in a statement jointly signed by its chairman and Secretary, Anthony Oji and Chimezie Anaso, urged the government to reverse the decision before further damage could be done to the sector.
It argued that a government that knows its onion does not toy with sports and social development. “Sport is crucial not just for the development of the youths but a veritable means of economic emancipation of the poor but talented budding athletes. Sport, more than any other activity, takes the youths away from most vices and converts them to bread winners swiftly.
“Anambra SWAN looks forward to a more vibrant sports sector, with standard infrastructure, representation of Anambra in all national competitions and commensurate reward for sports men and women in Gov. Obiano’s second term,” it adds. Again, in a communiqué issued at the end of the 54th National full council meeting of SWAN held in Port Harcourt between May 14 and 18, 2018, the council condemned the demolition of its Imo State Chapter’s office and decried the non-existence of a ministry responsible for sports development in Anambra State. The Association called for immediate action to address it and urged state governments to take the issue of sports development seriously in view of its ability to engage the nation’s teeming youths positively.
As at the time of going to press, there is no evidence that Governor Obiano has responded to the pleas from those stakeholders nor rescinded his government’s controversial decision to scrap the sports ministry. Even official letters sent to the ministry’s top officials for their official response on some vital questions raised on the sports development projects and programs have not been replied, more than three weeks after it was delivered and acknowledged.
A staff of the ministry who spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity claimed that nobody was ready to speak to press on the subject because of the sensitive nature of the matter. “You should direct your question to the people at the government house or the governor himself, they are the only people that will give you satisfactory answers on your questions”, he said, while admitting that most of them were not happy with the development, but “there is nothing we can do about it. We are following orders from above”.
Reactions from the field:
However, those who spoke to this reporter expressed their frustrations on the negative developments in the sporting sector. Mr. Oliver Nwafor, Head Coach, Great FC, a private funded local club based in Awka told News Echo that the impact of government neglect of sports in the state was very devastating, especially on talented sportsmen and women. “The situation is very bad. For instance, most people want to take football as their career, but since they do not have means to play together, they tend to indulge in social vices and other sharp malpractices like (yahoo yahoo).
“It is bad that a whole state capital does not have stadium, and that is why people have resorted to playing at Alex Ekwueme square, and makeshift facilities. Put differently, if we have stadium in the state capital where people can play as a team or group; competitions could also be organised by prominent men in society. He equally chided the government for not maintaining the Alex Ekwueme square that many athletes have converted to sports arena.
“We are the ones that sometimes cut the surrounding bushes. The government only remembers here when they have a function. It is too bad of our government; they should work on it, especially when we do not have any other space mapped out for training in the state capital.
“The government should provide fund or use the internally generated revenue of the state to build a stadium and subsequently maintain the Alex Ekwueme Square in the state capital”, he advised.
Christopher Chukwuebuka Agha, a final year student in Department of Estate Management, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State also shared similar view, stressing that he was a victim. Hear him: “I have a serious passion for sports especially football but lack of standard stadium in Awka, has really denied me the opportunity to develop my football career. If the government cannot give us befitting stadium, they should at least give us something similar where the youths and other persons can exercise themselves. With reference to our neighbouring states, they all have stadia. It is in fact, one of the means of attracting tourist to a state.
“Again, there are a lot of youths in Awka due to the presence of tertiary institution in the state capital, which means that about 65 per cent of them are youths, but there is no platform for youths to convene themselves and exercise, that is too bad a situation.
The implication apart from increasing social ills, is that we don’t have a major league in Awka because the students have no avenue to engage themselves.
Mr Agha equally described frequent harassment of athletes training at the Ekwueme square by government officials as clear indication that it does not like sporting development. “At times, we are harassed at Alex Ekwueme square where we used to train every Saturday.
The government has to create a bigger platform, for the students and youths. We have been complaining and calling on the government, but must we continue in this line? Are we supposed to remind them of good things to do?
They should do what they are voted in for”, he declared in anger. Ugochukwu Umeh Christian, who played football for All Stars FC, Ichida could not hide his disappointment that Anambra was the only state in the region with no functional stadium in its capital. “It is not a good development that we don’t have a stadium here in Awka. All southern states have, such as Owerri, Enugu, Abakaliki and Umuahia. If the state government can borrow a leaf from those states by providing one for us, it will very good.
According to him, having a standard sporting facility in the state capital will also go a long way in addressing the challenge of crime and cult clashes, among others. “The government can do better, we need a standard stadium in Awka, it will help us a lot, especially, we the footballers. Obinwanne Ezedum, who hails from Abatete in Idemili North Local government shared similar perspective.
He wondered why a state capital of a state that prides itself as “The Light of the Nation” does not have a standard sporting facility that would promote sports and social development. “It is one of the areas Governor Obiano has neglected. We need sporting facilities as well as proper maintenance of Alex Ekwueme Square. It will help the youths and as well, bring more peace and unity in the state.
Paul Onyenwife, a legal practitioner told News Echo that he had tried his best to bring the issue to the consciousness of the state government in addressing this pressing issue of lack of stadium in the state capital. “Although, Awka as a state capital, lack a standard stadium, even the miniature ones that exist are not conducive. We plead with the state government to do something about the absence of sporting facilities in the state capital.
He equally considers himself as a victim of the sports underdevelopment in the state.
“When I came into the state, I asked and searched for such facility but to no avail. I used to play basketball, but since there is no facility for training, I had to stop. So, the state of sporting facility in the state has been abysmally low.
“The absence of this standard stadium has been derailing sports development in the state. We want the state governor to intervene. I know that we have a listening governor, and he will accordingly come to our aid. Remember that when one is busy, he or she does not think of committing a crime.
Nevertheless, Mr. Jude Nwafor, a civil servant and coach of the Anambra State Taekwondo team opined that sports was gradually developing in Anambra as the state was doing very well in national sporting competitions.