During the last weekend in May, the 2017 edition of the Pan Africa Hash held over a period of three days. Non-competitive in nature and charged with the purpose of fitness, social connection and charity, the Hash is the world biggest running/walking club. 2017 marks the first time that Nigeria will be hosting the African regional inter-Hash, known as the Pan Africa Hash. Fausta Alakwe, an entrepreneur and leader of the bid team for Nigeria, Co-founder of the Surulere Hash and the event’s Local Organising Committee Chairman, speaks on the event among other issues. He spoke with Eromosele Abiodun
The 2017 Pan Africa Hash held in Lagos penultimate week. As the head of the local organising committee, tell us, in a nutshell, what this event is all about.
It was a three-day bi-annual running/walking, social and charity event that brings together all the Hash House Harriers (houses) in Africa. Hash, being an international organisation that exists in almost all the countries of the world, typically attracts visitors from beyond the African continent for such events. The host would use the opportunity to showcase different geographical areas, topography, and culture of area. We had 13 different runs within the three days, which showcased the rich diversity of Lagos, both in people and places. We had runs from Takwa Bay, Elegushi Beach, Eko Atlantic, Lekki/Ikoyi axis, Victoria Island, through Third Mainland Bridge, Sangotedo and many others. Each of these runs/walk was on the average 10 km and participants had the opportunity of participating in different runs on different days. The first day was only for charity run, which we fondly call Red Dress Run. You may have seen sea of people wearing Red that walked through the streets of Victoria Island, on the last Friday of May. The second and third days were planned for the other 12 runs – 6 per day.
The Hash strongly promotes fitness, social connection and charity. This has been the tradition for decades. How, in your opinion, has the Hash sustained this?
Hash runs on the first working day of the week in all locations around the world. This could be Sunday or Monday, depending on the region’s work calendar. It is estimated that 10 million people run in the hash every week, around the world, making it the biggest running organisation in the world. In cities where more than a House exists, the running days are scheduled to avoid conflict. In Lagos, we have five Houses that run on different days. The weekly runs are Monday for Lagos Hash House Harrier (LHHH), Thursday for Thursday Boys HHH and Sunday for Surulere HHH. There are 20 Houses in Nigeria with about 5,000 members. Participation in any or all of the run/walks keeps our members fit. We had in attendance an 88-year-old participant from the United Kingdom that participated in the 2017 Pan African Hash. Every run is followed by a social “circle”, where runners are “rewarded” or “punished” with gulp of hasher’s choice of drinks for any conceivable reason, by the Grand Master (GM) and the Religious Adviser (RA). Through our annual Red Dress Run, we identify with the less-privileged and make personal and group donations to our adopted charities. The three core objectives as you mentioned, are central and eternally relevant to humanity, therefore the hash easily connects with people for the individual reasons or a combination of them.
Hashers from about 20 countries participated in the 2017 Pan Africa Hash, how did Nigeria emerge the host country?
Hosting right for Pan Africa Hash is earned in a similar way to the Nations Cup/World Cup bid through very competitive bid process. We won the hosting right in July 2015 at Malinda, Kenya, the host of the last Pan Africa Hash before Lagos. The East and Southern African countries have dominated the hosting of the event because they understand, more than us, the tourism and economic impact of the event. The last event was the 13th edition but the second time the event was hosted in West Africa. Cape Coast, Ghana, hosted in 2013. The other 11 times were between Southern and East African countries. We articulated a bid package that clearly showed the facilities that we would offer for the event, transportation and logistics, hotel accommodation, security and safety plan, visa and immigration plan, etc. We also made a strong case for showcasing our vibrant Nollywood, music and entertainment industry. At the end of the day, we beat Kilimanjaro House, Tanzania, at the final voting by a land slide.
What challenges did the LOC encounter in putting this event together and how did you overcome these challenges?
We had agreed internally, amongst the leadership, since 2013, that we would bid and host Pan Africa Hash in 2017, so we carefully developed a road map that was closely followed to the letter. This included organising national hash events around Nigerian cities and participation in all international events to learn, form alliances with other countries and develop competencies in select areas. Some of our members attended World Inter Hash in Brussels 2013, and Bali, Indonesia 2016. Others attended regional Inter Hash events in Hanoi, Denmark, Liverpool and Dallas, at different times with clear objectives of learning for the 2017 Pan Africa Hash.
Our first and major challenge was of self-belief that we could organise a world class event. We formed a very formidable Local Organising Committee comprising six very competent Nigerians as Committee Directors, from diverse backgrounds with hashing experiences. They are Dr. John Mbonu, Gabriel Dimowo, Chika Dieobi, Dr. (Mrs.) Nnenna Mbonu, Sir Simeon Udie, and Col. Dr. Oladokun Olayinka (Rtd). They worked with 55 other members in their various committees to actualise the 2017 Pan Africa Hash. The team endeared confidence both internationally and locally.
Beyond that, was dealing with the Nigerian stereotyping. We focused on Africa-first philosophy to elicit support. We made several trips to West African countries of Ghana and Sierra-Leone, who traditionally align with Nigeria. Next was the East African diplomacy because of their strength in numbers and depth of hash. Our members made several trips to attend their National and Regional events. This paid off. We had about 150 participants between East and West Africa with Kenya and Uganda attending the most, followed by Ghana and Sierra Lone. In all, we had attendees from 20 countries from across the globe.
With that level of participation, how was the event funded? Did the event attract sponsorship? What roles did sponsorship play?
The hash is a not-for-profit organisation and to that extent, we are almost cash-neutral at all times. To fund the event of that magnitude therefore required a lot of cash and material infusion from external sources. But for the registration fees of the participants, which accounted for less than 30 per cent of revenue, all other funding were from private and corporate support and sponsorship. South Energyx, developers of Eko Atlantic was generous in offering us the venue. Coca-Cola Nigeria sponsored the Red Dress Run and provided the T-shirts and all the drinks consumed on that day. Nigeria Breweries Plc and Guinness Nigeria Plc donated free cases of their assorted drinks. Nigeria Breweries also provided us with musical band. Fiki Marine offered free use of their Marina and cruise boats for trips to Takwa Bay. The Nigeria Navy, through the FOC Western Naval Command, offered us their personnel for security, medics, coaster buses, ambulances, and the use of Navy Hospital in Victoria Island. The Nigerian Army Medical Corp also donated an ambulance, medics, and offered the use of Military Hospital at Ikoyi. The Lagos State Government, through the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture and the Ministry of Sports, supported, endorsed and participated in the three days of activities. In addition, we got the metal barricades, free from the state government. Chairman of the Lagos State Sports Commission/Special Adviser to His Excellency on Sports, Deji Tinubu, conducted the opening ceremony while the Director of Tourism, Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mrs. Ada Oni formally closed it.
We also got cash donations from the following Dr. A. B. C. Orjiako, Taofik Balogun, Nexus Alliance, and Westfield Energy. We received massive support from the Nigeria Police, LASTMA, and FRSC. We are indeed most grateful.
There are about 20 Hash House Harriers in Nigeria. How did the LOC collaborate with these local hash hubs for the planning of the 2017 Pan Africa hash?
The hosting right was awarded to Nigeria Hash Houses. The LOC chose Lagos for the event for several reasons. Every GM of each of the 20 houses in Nigeria was therefore, automatically, a member of the LOC. In addition, some members from other Houses were deeply engaged, depending on their identified offering and skill set. Abuja HHH, for instance coordinated with federal agencies for some approvals. We were meeting every Wednesday for almost 16 months at the committee level. The sub-committees were also meeting on the same regularity. We exploited the social media and ICT to maximum use in conducting our meetings. For example, the Director of Beverages Committee lives and works in the UK and participated in almost all the meetings and only had to be physically present towards the last week. We maintained a very active secretariat that was managing the internal workings of the LOC including communication. There were some daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly communication, at different levels to members of the LOC and registered participant.
From a project management point of view, what has been your experience with the just-concluded hash event?
Hash has unbelievably large diversity – social, economic, religious, political, race, etc. – and therefore poses great challenge in alignment of objectives. Managing that diversity could be frustrating, but in the end, it was most humbling and it offered me insight to the workings of the lager society. Only very few believed that we could host the event about five years ago, yet we ended up with what has been adjudged the best Pan Africa Inter Hash so far. It demonstrates how much we can achieve as a people (Nigerians), if we can set aside our personal and primordial interests and focus on a common Nigerian project. We had world class Directors, who are extremely competent and successful people in their individual careers. That made the biggest difference.
We have several other running groups in Nigeria. What is unique about the Hash?
The three unique distinguishing features of hash are that Hash is a not-for-profit organisation, the Hash is non-competitive, and the run/walk route (trail) is not known to the runners, except the hare (host) who lays the trail ahead of the run. One or more members (“hares”) lay a trail, which is then followed by the remainder of the group (the “pack”). Sawdust, flour, chalk, and toilet paper are used to mark the trail. The trail periodically ends at a “check” and the pack must find where it begins again. Often the trail includes false trails, short cuts, dead ends, back checks, and splits. These features are designed to keep the pack together despite differences in fitness level or running speed, as front-runners are forced to slow down to find the “true” trail, allowing stragglers to catch up. The trails are laid in such a manner that the fastest and the slowest arrive the endpoint at about the same time. This is the most intriguing part of the Hash. We indeed “punish” people for attempting to compete in the runs.
This year’s event recorded donations to the needy. Who are the beneficiaries of the donations and how were they chosen?
In the past, particularly during Christmas, we had raised materials and money, through our Red Dress Run, on annual basis and send to The Lagos Old People’s Home. We traditionally support the Lagos Old People’s Home in Yaba. We adopted Child Lifeline Centre in Ikorodu late last year and have ran from there once. All proceeds from our Red Dress Run, on 26th May 2017, went 100 per cent to the two charities. Coca-Cola Nigeria was the sole sponsor of the run. Our general philosophy aligns with supporting the old and encouraging the young ones.