Nigeria’s Pillar of Sports, Chief Donatus Agu-Ejidike, is optimistic that the Super Eagles will pick one of the tickets for this year’s African Cup of Nations as the qualifiers wind down this weekend. Speaking exclusively with ANDREW EKEJIUBA in Ilorin, the highly travelled sports technocrat charged the government at all levels and stakeholders to redouble their efforts at giving sports development a boost in the country. Excerpts:
Kindly assess the state of sports development in Nigeria?
Thank you, first, I cannot say we are doing badly but there is room for improvement. Currently the Covid-19 is seriously ravaging all sectors of the Nigerian economy and the sports industry is equally affected. But looking at my earlier call when President Muhammadu Buhari took over from ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, I charged the Federal Government and all elected Governors, National and States’ Assembly members to give sport development the desired attention in order to enhance national development, however it is not yet uhuru.
In 2019 you also repeated such call, what has changed since then?
I see a ray of hope despite daunting challenges, but like I said, Covid-19 dealt a cruel blow on sports worldwide and Nigeria was not isolated in this regard.
Yes, I charged all elected and winners of the 2019 General Elections in Nigeria that for a truly genuine nation-building and national integration to be actualised, sport development and promotion must be given serious attention.
As a kicker, I have travelled far and wide and nowhere in the world is sport development left in the hands of government alone. Corporate bodies and well-meaning individuals should come forward in bankrolling sports in the country. This is a major problem and coupled with a poor economy, things cannot be rosy.
My worry is that the Nigerian population is dominated by the youths who are sport lovers, hence there is this serious need to capture and ignite their patriotic zeal for nation-building through sport.
I also remember that I called for a genuine sports summit that will be all-encompassing where all the stakeholders would be given such opportunity to express their motives and understanding about the way forward for sport development.
Since you made that clarion call can you confidently say that the administrators of sports in Nigeria are on the right track?
Efforts are being made as far as I’m concerned by the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, but we must redouble our efforts towards actualizing the dream of taking sport development to the next level in Nigeria. The Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, has activated the Principal’s Cup which is a veritable opportunity to catch budding talents at the right age.
We need more grassroots sports programmes in order to give our youths hope to express their talents for the glory of the country cum nation building.
Sport as far as I’m concerned is the only instrument through which nationalism and patriotism could be preached and imbibed in the heart of our youths who are our future leaders. Also, sport has been identified as a platform through which crime could be curbed as the youths would be gainfully engaged in that venture. So, I implore the Federal Government led by President Muhammadu Buhari, National Assembly members, Governors, and all elected State Houses of Assembly members to legislate and implement policies that would enhance sport development in our dear country. When this is accomplished, the nation would witness rapid socio-economic growth than all these crisis and insecurity we are witnessing in our nation today.
Frankly, armed robbery, kidnapping, banditry, terrorism and other vices will be a thing of the past if our youths are kept busy through sports.
What is your take on the election of the President of Nigeria Football Federation, Amaju Pinnick into the FIFA Executive Council?
It is a good omen for our football development and for African football too. He is the third Nigerian to reach such position and is worth celebrating. I joined other well-meaning Nigerians to congratulate him on such feat when I heard the good news. It shows that we are on the right track!
In the past, most sensitive posts in the world football governing authority from Africa had been dominated by Francophone nations; and, now that the likes of Pinnick are breaking the ground, there is need to celebrate and rally support for him.
Nigeria really needs to have her voice at international levels particularly at FIFA and CAF in the game of football, hence to lend Nigerian voice at the level of FIFA makes the victory of Pinnick a highly desirable one.
I strongly advise that we should not bring or pull him down, rather we should give him all the necessary support to succeed. Pinnick has done his best as the NFF president, let’s all wish him the best in his new assignment.
Pinnick’s journey to the top of world football administration cannot be said to be rosy because he faced a lot of criticism back home. What advice do you have for such individuals who are involved in this ‘pull down syndrome’?
It is pretty very unfortunate that we are not our brother’s keeper which has greatly slowed down our progress in sports in Nigeria. My advice is that Pinnick is a Nigerian, he is our own, let’s offer him advice and counsel that will make him become a benefit to Nigeria.
Having won the FIFA Council seat at the 43rd CAF General Assembly elections held in Morocco in March where he defeated Malawi’s Walter Nyamilaadou 43 to 8 votes is enough to call for celebration and encourage other aspiring Nigerians to actualize their dreams at the international sporting levels.
Finally, the Super Eagles are going to battle Benin Republic in Port Novo on Saturday March 27 and Lesotho at the Teslim Balogun Stadium Lagos three days later for the final phase of the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, what are your expectations in both matches?
I expect resounding victories for the Super Eagles because we have the players that will accomplish these tasks for us.
I also know that we no longer have minnows in African football but our players are well motivated to pick the AFCON ticket which is most important. Nigeria is one of the power houses of African football and I expect such status to remain undented.
I’m optimistic that this weekend will bring smiles back to the lips of Nigerians with a qualification ticket for AFCON 2021. I wish Super Eagles great luck!