This year 2023 is rated as a great year in terms of the high standard of sports administration, politically in Nigeria. This positively constructive rating by even the most pessimistic analysts is attributable to the masterstroke that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu pulled in the appointment of a vibrant, dependable, and consistent technocrat and politician Senator John Owan Enoh as the Minister of Sports Development.
This young but vastly experienced statesman in the Ministry of Sports has made the drive and advocacy for private sector involvement in sports development the centrepiece of his job which draws profound inspiration from the blueprints of President Tinubu’s Renewed Hope Agenda.
He has just demonstrated this not too long ago when he repeated that mantra of sports investments and the greater involvement of the private sector in sports development when he paid a working visit to see for himself, the high level of investment in sports made by one good Nigerian whose identity will be unveiled shortly.
The huge investment in sports by the President of Remo Stars, Kunle Soname has received ravishing applause from the Nigerian Sports Minister, Senator John Enoh, so reports a sports media practitioner in one of the most brilliant newspapers in Nigeria.
The minister on Saturday visited the state-of-the-art facilities that Soname had put up in his home town Ikenne. The facilities house the current Nigeria Premier League table toppers, Remo Stars as well as the women’s team and Beyond Limit Football Academy whose products are excelling in both academics and football.
Soname informed the minister that at the last West African School Certificate examination, 16 of the academy’s final-year students made six credits and above. Some of the products of Beyond Limits Football Academy are making waves in top European Leagues. For instance, Ebenezer Akinsanmiro is in Inter Milan.
The Sports Minister inspected the facilities, which include an all-covered football stadium, lush green turfs in different forms ranging from natural grass to hybrid artificial grass, office complexes, and residential buildings with 56 rooms for junior and senior players and accommodating 112 footballers.
The complex also has five semi-detached blocks of 10 units, two-bedroom coaches’ accommodation, a restaurant for players and officials as well as an administrative block comprising of offices, a conference room, training classroom, and reception. The office block is equipped with a panoramic lift to the first floor, which is the table tennis centre.
Other facilities include a gym, clinic, swimming pool, hydrotherapy chamber, and a 30-room hotel with a panoramic lift. Also at the model arena is a tournament pitch with 10,000 capacity covered pavilions, three training pitches, 2,000 capacity car parks, and a good internal road.
Impressed by what he saw, Enoh, who is the first sports minister to ever visit the facilities, expressed his admiration. He commended the self-effacing businessman, whose airline, ValueJet ferried the Super Eagles to their last World Cup qualifying match in Rwanda. Enoh emphasized the crucial role of private investment in the growth and sustainability of sports in the country.
He lauded Remo Stars as a shining example of a privately owned sports entity that is making significant strides in elevating the standards of football in Nigeria. “The government alone cannot carry the weight of sports development, and that is why we need more private investors to float outfits like Remo Stars Football Club.
“I am impressed by the commitment of Hon. Kunle Soname and his team, and I assure you that the Ministry of Sports Development will actively encourage and support private investment in sports across the nation.”
Kunle Soname expressed gratitude for the Minister’s visit and reiterated the club’s commitment to contributing to the overall development of sports in Nigeria.
“Our facilities are open to junior national teams for camping of players any time the football federation feels we can be of help.” It will be recalled that in the past, the Super Eagles spent so many dollars and euros paying for similar facilities at Papendal in The Netherlands and Hôtel Sol Béni in Cote d’Ivoire.
It is factually accurate to stress that in the realm of Nigerian sports, Senator John Owan Enoh has emerged as a beacon of transformative leadership since assuming the role of Minister of Sports Development. His activist style and unwavering commitment have not only reshaped the global image of Nigeria in the sporting arena but have also fostered notable successes in various facets of the country’s sports sector.
Upon assuming office, Senator Enoh faced the challenging aftermath of the World Athletics Championship in Budapest, Hungary. Despite the discouraging performance of Nigerian athletes, the Minister remained hopeful and committed to understanding the sector for effective repositioning. His optimism was evident as he personally received the team at the International Airport in Abuja, displaying a hands-on approach to leadership.
One of the cornerstones of Senator Owan Enoh’s sports development agenda is grassroots development. Recognizing that the foundation of sporting excellence lies in identifying and nurturing talent at a young age, the Minister has initiated programs to promote sports at the grassroots level. Actively engaging with educational institutions, he aims to integrate sports into the curriculum, ensuring physical activity and healthy competition become integral parts of the educational experience.
The Minister’s commitment to grassroots development became evident during his visit to the National Youth Games in Asaba, Delta State, where he commended the commitment of young athletes and acknowledged the pivotal role of states in nurturing talent before they reach national teams. He engaged with sports directors from various states, gaining insights into the challenges they face.
Grassroots development not only serves as a talent pipeline for elite competitions but also contributes to the overall health and well-being of the nation. Senator Owan Enoh’s commitment to creating a pathway for young talents from the grassroots to elite levels is a strategic move that aligns with global best practices in sports development.
Understanding the importance of compliance with international standards, Senator Enoh engaged key areas in the ministry, including the Anti-Doping Department and NOC Stakeholders. His emphasis on adherence to WADA conditions reflects a commitment to ensuring Nigeria complies with global standards, avoiding potential sanctions on Nigerian athletes in international events.
Senator Enoh’s proactive approach extended to global platforms, such as the World Football Summit in Sevilla, Spain. Here, he championed Nigeria’s interests, engaging with FIFA Secretary General Fatima Samoura and Nobel Prize recipient Dr. Muhammad Yunus on sports advancement.
These interactions reflect the Minister’s commitment to positioning Nigeria within the economic value chain of sports, especially football, on the international stage. Senator Owan Enoh’s focus on leveraging sports as a tool for fostering diplomacy and goodwill on the international stage reflects a nuanced understanding of the role sports can play in global relations. By actively seeking to strengthen Nigeria’s sporting ties with other nations, the Minister not only enhances the country’s reputation but also creates opportunities for Nigerian athletes and teams on the world stage.
The Minister’s engagement in international forums further exemplifies a proactive approach to positioning Nigeria within the global sports community. Such engagements can lead to collaborative initiatives, exchange programs, and increased visibility for Nigerian sports at the international level.
Senator Enoh did not shy away from confronting the realities of Nigerian football. In meetings with the NFF, Club Owners, and the Referees Association, he raised questions about the exclusion of Nigerian referees from international tournaments. The Minister emphasized the integral role of officiating in football development and expressed concern about the potential impact on the nation’s reputation. This critical self-reflection aimed to drive a common vision for the sector’s growth.
Senator Owan Enoh’s commitment to implementing the National Sports Policy signals a shift towards viewing sports as a business and a catalyst for economic growth. The endorsement of the policy by the present administration underscores a recognition of the multifaceted impact sports can have on a nation’s economy. As the Minister works towards attracting private investments and fostering partnerships, the sports sector is poised to transition from mere recreation to a thriving business.
Implementation of the National Sports Policy opens avenues for collaboration between the public and private sectors in sports sponsorship, infrastructure development, and other critical areas. By creating an environment conducive to private sector involvement, Senator Owan Enoh paves the way for sustained financial support, innovation, and job creation within the sports industry.
Senator Enoh’s holistic approach to sports development included a focus on fitness as an integral component. Drawing attention to the fitness aspect, often overlooked in the sports ecosystem, he highlighted its potential to incorporate the generality of the population into sports activities. This emphasis on fitness aligns with global health recommendations and positions sports as a tool for overall well-being.
In commemorating his 100 days in office, Senator Enoh unveiled a comprehensive six-point agenda, themed W.A.I.F.A.R., designed to drive sports development in Nigeria. This agenda, focusing on welfare, grass-roots development, infrastructure, funding, and revitalization of school sports, reflects the Minister’s strategic thinking. It serves as a blueprint to rejuvenate and restore sports to its former glory, aligning with President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s Renewed Hope Agenda.
Former Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Barrister Solomon Dalung, commended Senator John Owan Enoh for kickstarting his tenure with a promising and resolute approach. Recognizing the Minister’s dedication and vision, Dalung highlighted the early initiatives that signify a commitment to reshaping Nigeria’s sports landscape. The endorsement from a predecessor adds weight to Senator Enoh’s impactful leadership.
Senator Enoh’s reaffirmation of the government’s commitment to implementing the National Sports Industry Policy (NSIP) signals a strategic move to attract private investments. By leveraging incentives proposed in a previous administration’s document, the Minister aims to stimulate private sector involvement in sports development. Addressing challenges in Nigerian football, he emphasized the need to restore credibility, ensuring transparency and public trust for the successful marketing of the local league.
Senator Enoh’s call for public-private partnerships underscores the importance of collaboration in fast-tracking sports development in Nigeria. Recognizing the economic impact of sports and the need for innovative approaches, the Minister expressed openness to collaboration with the corporate and private sectors. This approach aligns with the government’s commitment to transforming sports into a lucrative business, as outlined in President Bola Tinubu’s Renewed Hope Agenda.
As the Minister of Sports Development, Senator John Owan Enoh has set a challenge for the Super Eagles to secure qualification for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. Recognizing the heartbreaking non-qualification for the 2022 World Cup, he emphasized the need for a strong start and urged the team to avoid leaving their fate to permutations. The Minister’s faith in the squad’s talent and his call to give it all reflect a commitment to ensuring Nigeria’s presence on the global football stage.
After the Super Eagles’ 1-1 draw against Lesotho in the 2026 World Cup qualifiers, Senator Enoh publicly expressed dissatisfaction with the team’s performance. Acknowledging the importance of the World Cup, he called for immediate action to address deficiencies before the next match against Zimbabwe.
Despite the challenges faced so far in the AFCON 2024 and World Cup qualifiers, the Minister has been actively involved in rallying support for the team. The Minister’s proactive stance highlights his expectations for excellence and his dedication to ensuring the team’s success.
Nigeria’s sweeping success at the CAF awards, with Victor Osimhen named African Footballer of the Year and Asisat Oshoala retaining the women’s award, underscores Senator Enoh’s commitment to celebrating and promoting excellence. The recognition of athletes’ achievements contributes to fostering a culture of success and national pride, aligning with the Minister’s vision for a vibrant and competitive sports landscape.
As Nigeria looks ahead to the 2024 Olympics and other international competitions, Senator John Owan Enoh’s visionary leadership sets the stage for a promising future in sports. His transformative approach, encompassing grassroots development, global engagement, policy implementation, and public-private partnerships, positions Nigeria to emerge as a powerhouse in the global sports arena. The Minister’s consistent efforts to address challenges, celebrate successes, and drive strategic initiatives reflect a commitment to realizing the full potential of Nigerian sports.
While significant progress has been made, there are areas that require urgent attention for sustained growth in the Nigerian sports sector:
The Minister should prioritize comprehensive youth development programs to ensure a continuous influx of talent into various sports disciplines. Establishing sports academies and talent identification initiatives can be instrumental in nurturing young talents.
The refurbishment and construction of sports facilities should be expedited to create a conducive environment for rigorous training and high-level competitions. Collaboration with both the public and private sectors can facilitate the development of modern, well-equipped venues.
Enhancing the marketing of the local league requires a focus on transparency to regain public trust. Addressing issues such as refereeing accuracy and ensuring the integrity of the league will contribute to its credibility, attracting more spectators and sponsors.
Senator Owan Enoh’s commitment to strengthening Nigeria’s sporting ties with other nations should be expanded. Actively engaging in international forums and collaborations can open doors to opportunities for Nigerian athletes on the global stage.
Continued emphasis on grassroots sports development is vital. The Minister should explore partnerships with educational institutions to integrate sports into the curriculum, fostering a culture of physical activity and healthy competition from an early age.
The rhetorical question posed by the Minister—”Where” are we as a footballing” nation?”—serves as a call to action for all stakeholders to collectively chart a course for the future. The Minister’s leadership style encourages transparency, accountability, and a shared vision for the development of sports in Nigeria.
In conclusion, Senator John Owan Enoh’s activist approach represents a paradigm shift in the approach to sports in Nigeria. From grassroots initiatives to global engagement, the Minister’s activist approach, coupled with a commitment to collaboration with the private sector, holds the promise of sustained growth for the Nigerian sports sector.
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By addressing challenges and implementing proposed strategies, Nigeria can continue to make strides in the global sports arena under Senator Owan Enoh’s visionary leadership. There is therefore no doubt that President Tinubu got it right in the ministry of sports development with the appointment of Senator John Owan Enoh. It is believed that going forward, the Nigerian sports sector can only witness phenomenal growth and sustainability.
- By Emmanuel Onwubiko; head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and former NATIONAL COMMISSIONER OF THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA
Disclaimer: “The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Emmanuel Onwubiko and do not necessarily reflect those of The World Satellite will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article.”