By Tayo Balogun
Let me state straight away that I am one of those who firmly believe that Lagos State is strategically placed to positively turn our country around. That it is perhaps the only part of Nigeria that can midwife the turnaround we so much desire. I believe Lagos when it fully realizes its full potential will strategically affect every other part of our country because it is the hub of our national life. Those who control our politics hide (not live) in Abuja. But it is Lagos that sets the pace in almost every other sphere of our national life.
In sports, which I believe is key to our tomorrow, Lagos has continued to totter despite all its potentials for achieving greatness. As someone who was once intimate with the goings on in sports in the state, I know what the blueprint was. By now, the state was to have been opened up in such a way that all local governments/development areas would have sport arenas in at least four different areas. These facilities were meant to make boxing, table tennis, athletics, tennis, football, swimming, judo, chess, scrabble, etc thrive. Table tennis and football in particular were to blaze the trail. That was when the now abandoned but highly successful MTN Street Soccer started.
All local governments were encouraged to raise football teams in their localities who would take part in a J (Junior) League. From the private sector, a young man, Yomi Kuku, and his friend Seye Popoola started the ‘Homeless Football’ body that sought primarily to keep urchins off drugs and walking the streets. They have been raising teams to participate in the Homeless World Cup. Table tennis clubs were to spring up in almost every nook and cranny of the state. Thanks to the untiring effort of former Lagos State Sports Commissioner, Wahid Enitan Oshodi for blazing the table tennis trail. The table tennis revolution is still thriving.
Lagos even embarked on a very ambitious programme to produce ‘authentic Under-16 football programme’ with players drawn from secondary schools in the state. The students whose real ages would be captured in the state’s database would be groomed in a proper atmosphere that would enhance their performance as football players. I also know that there was a plan to put a minimal sports development levy on workers in the state to fund sports in the state.
At a time, it looked like the sports scene in Lagos was on fire. The various stadiums that had been idle came alive. Sports activities and competitions were taking place at regular rapidity. Lagos was becoming the Mecca of Sport…
Then the internecine wars, silently but brutally and vigorously fought began. Accusations and allegations of corruption became the order of the day. Subsequently, the focus began to change and soon the decay will set in. Unless the seeping rot is arrested.
Former Lagos Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode told me during his investiture as a Patron of Niteshift Coliseum that he had a dream of using sports as a tool not only of mobilising the citizens of the state toward the goals of integration and development but also increase the revenue base of the state. He did not quite do that. His successor, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu similarly assured at a similar forum that he knows what sports can do in developing the state. He said he would use sport to galvanize the citizenry. He has almost four years to do that. Almost four years to reignite the revolution of using sports to mobilize the people towards a brighter and better tomorrow. It is to the credit of the governments of the state that despite the humongous population we have, the state is still ‘under-crimed’ when compared to other obscenely large cities around the world.
I hope Sanwo-Olu will set things right here so that it’s template will be replicated all through our country. Lagos represents our country. In it, every single state in our federation is represented. It is through it that the sport injection this country must take would be applied. Not sure our governor is aware of the possibilities sport offers him our state and our country. But the truth is that if he gets the narrative right he is assured of a place in history’s book of reverence and regards.