By Michael-Azeez Ogunsiji
I was caught in awe when I saw the jubilation of my fashionista Governor and helmsman of Ogun State, Prince Dapo Abiodun, CON during the semi-final encounter between the Super Eagles of Nigeria and Bafana Bafana of South Africa at Stade Bouaké, Ivory Coast on Wednesday night.
Clad in the deep green Super Eagles jersey and a green tracksuit with a matching branded Fez cap on which DA — and abbreviation of his name — was boldly inscribed, Governor Abiodun was enthusiastically elated when the captain of the team, William Troost-Ekong scored from the spot kick in 67 minutes of the encounter after Victor Osimhen was fouled in the 18 box by a South African defender.
The wild celebration by the governor was not fake, not stage-managed, nor rehearsed; it was the real emotional reaction of a typical football fan who won jackpot or overjoyed as a result of his team’s successful display.
The governor was accompanied by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Tokunbo Talabi, the governor’s Personal Assistant, Debo Adeleke, and a handful of aides who were all ecstatic with the jubilation of the Chief Security Officer of Ogun State.
In the build-up to the semi-final match, the Ogun State government had opened seven live viewing centres across the four geo-political zones of the state — Ijebu Ode, Sagamu-Remo, Ilaro-Yewa and Abeokuta-Egba. The creation of these live viewing centres, according to the State Commissioner for Sports Development, Hon. Wasiu Isiaka, was part of the state government’s support for the Super Eagles back home.
The Commissioner added that the idea was to bring everyone together and avail all football fans the opportunity to cheer the national team to victory following the poor power supply across the country.
From 6.00pm, the thrilling encounter was aired live at designated venues across the state — MKO International Stadium, Kuto, Abeokuta; Skating Ground, Panseke, Abeokuta; Agunloye Pavilion, Ilaro; AUD Practicing School, Iganmode Road, Ota; Akarigbo Palace Ground, Sagamu; Dipo Dina International Stadium, Ijebu-Ode and Imososi Primary School, Ago-Iwoye.
I marveled at the amount of resources put together by the state government within 24 hours of notification to have arranged these match venues.
As early as 11.00am on the match day at the MKO Abiola International Stadium, Kuto, Abeokuta, the digital display screen had been assembled and installed, waiting for fans to troop into the stadium for the kickoff.
As the match commenced, the Ogun State Deputy Governor, Engr. Noimot Salako-Oyedele, in the company of some Commissioners and Permanent Secretaries stormed the stadium to join other teeming football lovers who were already glued to their seats to cheer the Super Eagles to victory.
Governor Abiodun’s celebration which went viral on the social media and his government’s preparation for the pulsating semi-final match, no doubt, portrayed the governor as a sport-loving personality.
Shortly after the final whistle, the governor congratulated the Super Eagles for their bravery and team spirit, describing their victory as well-deserved.
In his congratulatory message to the national football team and the entire country, Abiodun praised the players for their outstanding performance against their South African counterparts. He expressed delight and pride in the team’s remarkable victory. He also commended the players, coaching staff, and the entire Nigerian football fraternity for their dedication and hard work.
He said, “The Super Eagles have once again proven their mettle on the international stage, showcasing their exceptional skills and determination. I am incredibly proud of their achievement in securing a well-deserved spot in the African Cup of Nations finals.
“This victory is a testament to the strength and unity of our beloved country, Nigeria. The Super Eagles have shown the world what it means to be a team, fighting together to achieve a common goal,” the governor remarked.
Meanwhile, in the governor’s home state, Ogun, the state government-owned football club, Gateway United, is struggling for survival at the bottom table of the second division of the Nigeria Nationwide League (NNL).
It is on record that since the governor was elected in 2019, he had never for once visited the training ground of the team, let alone honour any of their matches.
Whereas, during this electioneering campaign in 2018, many people reposed much confidence in him to turn around the misfortune of every sector of the economy in the state, including sports as someone coming from private sector.
Apart from the economic viability of sports investment, the sector dominated by talented youths also serves as an employment generation.
Since the 2016 season, during Senator Ibikunle Amosun’s tenure, Gateway United Football Club, founded in 1976, has been struggling to gain promotion to the elite division of the Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL).
The team’s albatross is the inability of the state government to invest in the youth team and poor remuneration or good welfare incentives for the players and club management coupled with lack of adequate attention. The Governor Dapo Abiodun’s administration did not see sports as a goldmine to boost the internally generated revenue of the state.
It is worthy of note to place on record that the highest-paid player of the club gets the sum of N120,000, while the least-paid player goes home with N80,000. And we want the best result?
During Otunba Gbenga Daniel’s administration, residents of the state can attest to the rousing welcome that rent the air whenever the governor arrived at the MKO Abiola International Stadium, Kuto, Abeokuta to cheer the state team funded with taxpayers’ money to victory. Daniel’s presence at the match venue usually served as a morale booster for the players who might have lost hope of getting the maximum three points.
I recalled with nostalgia, the premier league match between Gateway United FC and Julius Berger of Lagos in 2007/08 season, when the visitors had taken the lead in the 58th minute through a thunderous strike from Forster Amadi. All hopes of leveling up or winning that particular encounter were fading. In his usual style, the governor stormed the 20,000-capacity stadium unannounced and the team eventually won the tension-soaked match 2-1.
Another memorable incident was an away match in Rivers State against Sharks of Port Harcourt in 2008. Governor Daniel traveled down with the team by road to Rivers State to cheer the team to victory, although the OGD Boys, as they were known then, were beaten ‘Bala Blu, Blu bala’ 4-nil, no thanks to Elderson Echiejile’s double assist.
In a season, the governor would attend at least, five home matches despite his busy schedule. Governor Daniel mixed well with his people and used the opportunity to interact with the grassroots and get first-hand information on the streets.
For Governor Amosun, he contributed his quota by providing a new bus for the team in 2011, which has sadly become rickety now. He also changed the astroturf grass of the MKO Abiola Stadium to natural grass, but the poor maintenance by the contractor and stadium management which killed the noble idea is a story for another day.
Amosun, through his Commissioner for Youths and Sports, Hon. Moruf Afolabi Afuape, mobilized the Ogun Assembly members led by their Speaker, Rt. Hon. Suraj Adekunbi Ishola to away matches to provide the needed motivation for the team. It was the supremacy power of the then Senate President, Bukola Saraki, that denied Gateway United FC promotion in 2010. Gateway FC needed just a draw to gain promotion to the Nigerian Premier League that season, but the Senate President’s team, Abubakar Bukola Saraki (ABS FC) protested and ordered for a replay of the match behind closed doors to perfect their game plan which they succeeded.
Since 2019 when Governor Abiodun had been at the helm of affairs, no tangible contribution to the team from the state government aside from the statutory payment of staff and players’ salaries. Late last year, the club’s management cried out for a new 65-seater bus that would conveniently convey both players and technical crew to match venues and other trips. On countless occasions, the rickety bus currently used by the team would break down on the road to an away match and delay the team from meeting up with all pre-match formalities, this stalling good performance on the pitch.
The poor condition of the team’s camp is another call for concern. The team needs good welfare package to recruit the best players in the league. All these below-average players currently representing the state team cannot take the state to the desired heights.
It must be sounded to Governor Abiodun: league football matches are not won on the pitch alone. Paying players regular salaries is not enough impetus to transform the state team to success. There are backroom politics and a serious team ready for football business must be ready to go the whole hog.
Shooting Stars of Ibadan became a reference point of a state-owned football club in Nigeria today because successive governors of Oyo State did not abandon sports for road construction, education and provision of social amenities; they have continued to see the football team as their project and a better way to give the people of Oyo State joy through quality football every weekend.
As the AFCON window winds down on Sunday, my dear Governor, please come back home and adorn the Gateway FC’s yellow and green jerseys, sit at the stand and cheer the boys. Mobilise your sports commissioner to get involved in the backroom politics at the Glass House in Abuja.
Let there be a breath of fresh air around the team’s camp and shake up the technical crew and management to shape up or ship out.
Charity, they say, begins at home. Let’s build our home team sir.
• Michael-Azeez Ogunsiji
is the Chairman, Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN), Ogun State Chapter