By Emeka Obasi
Sports minister John Owan Enoh must believe in the ashes of his forebears. Let me make it clear to him that this job will mark a new beginning. You cannot come from Cross River State and relegate yourself to the background.
Calabar is the cradle of Sports.
Enoh is the first Cross Riverian to be appointed Sports minister since independence in 1960. And we had about 35 before him. Soccer was introduced in Nigeria by James Luke, Principal of Hope Waddell Institute, Calabar in 1902.
The first International Sports event in Nigeria was held in Calabar, on June 15, 1904. The Hope Waddell football team defeated HMS Thistle, 3-2. The visitors were officers of the Royal Navy. By 1906, there was the Beverly Cup for teams around the Canaan City.
The first Nigerian team to play overseas, the 1949 UK Tourists, was captained by Etim Henshaw. In that squad were Mesembe Otu and Edet Ben. As a politician, I am sure the Sports minister remembers Michael Ani, Chairman of the Federal Electoral Commission, in 1979.
Ani came to Lagos with Calabar Eleven to face Lagos Selected, on August 26, 1939. I can also mention Bassey Ikpeme ( Mickey Mouse) and Patrick Noquakpor ( Rokpokpo). The first Green Eagles captain to play at the African Nations Cup, Ghana 1963, was Asuquo Ekpe.
In 1954, a bunch of School Boys from St. Patrick’s College, Calabar won the Challenge Cup. Skipper Ekanem and his team mates that included Francis Bassey, Hubert Ejoh, Tim Nwogwu and goalkeeper Brendan John, dethroned defending champions, Kano. They were inspired by Rev. Father Fitzgibbone.
The first Nigerian world champion, Hogan ‘ Kid’ Bassey, was Efik. He defeated Algerian turned French man, Cherif Hermia, in 1957 to wear the Boxing Featherweight Crown in Paris. His chief ringside supporter was Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Old Boy of Hope Waddell who played for Lagos Diamond in 1923, ZAC Bombers in 1938 and built the Sabo, Yaba Stadium in 1940.
The horns cannot be too heavy for the head of the cow that will bear them. That is my message. Enoh should not panic. Like the Biblical John the Baptist, he has come to clear the road. Anytime he visits Lagos, I will take him to the grave of Hogan Bassey.
Kid Bassey was a man of steel but he died as a soldier of Christ so Enoh has nothing to fear.
The former world champion would be glad to be honoured. Calabar Spirit cannot kill a man from Cross River. It will only give him the power to produce champions.
It is good news that Enoh’s arrival came with bad news. Tobi Amusan lost her 100 metres title in Budapest, Hungary. Now the minister should be hungry for gold. D’ Tigers were battered like pussy cats in Lagos, Enyimba were embarrassed in Aba while Remo Stars were removed from the CAF Champions League.
There cannot be anything worse than this. Welcome, Mr. Minister. As a former Member of the House of Representatives and distinguished Senator, ( I have not heard that he shared from palliatives), time to get cracking is now.
I recommend four distinguished gentlemen that can help do a good job as Consultants. Call them Engine Room. Dr. Segun Odegbami is just everything. Dr. Bruce Ijirigho captained Nigeria to the botched Montreal 1976 Olympic Games. Prof. Sadiq Abdullahi was national Tennis Champion. Dr. Steve Olarinoye understands Sports Politics.
Odegbami can open doors anywhere. Ijirigho was in Cross River where he turned out junior champions. Abdullahi who also played Basketball lives in the United States but is available. Olarinoye survived the 1994 Oriental Airlines crash in Algeria, retired from the Sports ministry as a Director and played good soccer.
After assembling these great men, Enoh must embark on Business courtesy visits. I love his humility. Let him say hello to Femi Otedola, drink tea with Jim Ovia, have lunch with Aliko Dangote, listen to Jazz music with Allen Onyema and work out with Tony Elumelu.
Corporate bodies are very romantic. Court them. MTN, Globacom, NNPC, NLNG, NIMASA, Bet9ja, Central Bank of Nigeria and Moniepoint, these corporate bodies have a lot to offer. Service Chiefs also deserve quite some attention.
It is not enough to wait for Federal Government subventions. Some state governments may be useful. Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Delta and Bayelsa are sports friendly. The Comptroller General of Nigerian Customs Service is a strong supporter.
Enoh should avoid being labelled a ‘Waka Pass’ minister like Beneth Birabi, Stephen Akiga, Musa Mohammed, Yusuf Suleiman and Tamuno Danagogo, before him. Names to look up to are Henry Adefope, Paulinus Amadike, Emeka Omeruah and Ishaya Mark Aku.
John Owan Enoh, yes, JOE, sounds like a brand. He reminds me of the American R and B Singer and Songwriter and his 2002 album, ‘ Better Days’. We also have our own Joe Boy. His real name, Joseph Akinwale, should take the minister’s mind to Admiral Joseph Edet Akinwale Wey. The Navy Chief grew up around Calabar and played soccer for Marine and Nigeria.
Owan is the location of the Afuze Games Village, built by Dr. Samuel Ogbemudia in the old Mid – West. Some of the best Nigerian athletes were groomed there. I will find out from the minister if he was born in the Sabongida Ora part of Owan.
I love the fact that JOE is operating from the Moshood Abiola Stadium. Cross River is full of churches. We may have to invite one of their Bishops – Roman Catholic, Church of Scotland or Olumba Olumba – to cleanse the main bowl. It is not always a lucky ground. One last thing, the minister should be given a ‘fitted’ green – white track suit.