Sport and Politics – exciting times ahead!

By Segun Odegbami

I am formally announcing to readers of this column my intention to run for political office in Nigeria starting from Ogun State. I want to whet the appetite of Nigerians and Ogun State people in particular. They should be prepared for an avalanche of new ways and an exciting future.

They shall be actively involved in the creation of these new ways and a new life that shall reflect the best parts of Yoruba culture and traditions.

They shall be the first (in the ancient tradition that they were renowned for of being the ‘first’ in a lot of things in Nigeria’s history) to translate Nelson Mandela’s vision in 1995, when he walked into a packed stadium in Johannesburg during the opening ceremony of the World Rugby championships, one year after he was freed from prison, and declared that ‘Sport has the power to change the world’, into reality!

Since then, the world has continued to see in glimpses the possibility of what he was referring to that evening.

We just saw what Russia did with the recently concluded World Cup hosted by the country to reposition it as the next global friendly tourist destination.

But still, the world is in the infancy of maximizing what sport can do in society.

Ogun State is about to join that company.

There is too much power in this human activity (sport) that drives deep incomprehensible emotions, passion and followership, and breaks down intractable economic, cultural, religious, geographical, tribal, racial, and social barriers.

Nothing else on earth demonstrates such powers the way sport does.

How to channel that energy more purposefully is ongoing even in the most developed societies in the world.

That’s what is in play when the most powerful nations struggle to host the biggest sports events in the world, at the expense of the ‘weaker’ ones that actually need the events more in order to advance their development, but if only they know how.

That is the awesome power that I am bringing to Ogun State in 2019.

Not for me the usual pattern of politicians to promise all the basic things that every responsible government should ordinarily and routinely provide in the course of governance from the altar of academic politics.

As time and experiences have shown, such promises evaporate as quickly as they are made, into the narrow interests and agenda of successive leaders limited by resources and creative juices in their blood.

They only are able to fulfil token promises.

I shall be in tune with the wind of new ways and new projects demanded by the people today after the failed experiences of the past.

I shall not make the same usual promises that the people have heard so often they now sound like a broken record.

It is not in the nature of the sports to tow failed routes.

To say that sport is a powerful tool is an understatement. It is a lot more than that.

That’s what Nelson Mandela saw in 1995, one year after his release from jail when he stood before a packed audience of his countrymen and women during the opening ceremony of the World Rugby Championship in Johannesburg and declared that sport has the power to change the world.

I want to bring that eternal statement to reality in Nigeria starting from Ogun State as my own strategy to lead the entire people of the State in the fastest development project by a community ever undertaken in the world.

That this can happen in Ogun State should not surprise anyone. This is an environment that has the richest history of several ‘firsts’ in the country, a State whose greatest strength lies in the depth of its human capacity.

The evidence of that is there for all to see.

The result of my decades of interaction with sports has programmed and prepared me in such a way that I now process everything in life through the filter of sport, just as Cinematographer, Tunde Kelani, will see everything in the world only through the lens of a camera. That’s when it will make more sense.

It is an amazing discovery and realization.

That’s my situation. I see and process the world around me through the prism of sport.

When Nelson Mandela spoke in 1995, he was not referring to the aspect of running or jumping or kicking a ball on the field and tracks. Those are only the lubricant, the facilitator, the catalyst for producing a grander product, much beyond the sport.

It is in that regard that those who ask me what plans I have to develop Ogun State in my mission should be ready for an interesting excursion into that vision seen through the lens of sport!

I once proposed to the Nigerian government to host a West African World Cup in 2010 led by Nigeria. The idea was accepted by the governments of Cameroon, Ghana, Togo, Benin and even Nigeria, before it was abandoned because people failed to look at the proposal through the lens of sport, to see beyond the football matches that would be played and not the huge expenditure it would attract to a country infected with acute corruption.

Whereas, even attempting to embark on that exciting and challenging journey would have impacted on every aspect of life of the people of the region, from education, to health, immigration, security, transportation, roads, rail and air facilities, the economic and social integration of West Africa, etc. and stimulated unprecedented development and regional integration.

In short, it would have been a most ambitious development project that would have impacted on the whole of the 250 million people of the ECOWAS region at the time.

All of that was lost in a plume of ignorance.

Sport evokes passion incomparable to any other human activity on earth. That’s why the youths gravitate to it.

It is a fun-filled passport to recreational activities that the youth have a passion for with incomparable economic and social benefits.

That’s why I am excited about the prospect of presenting my vision of Ogun State through the prism of sports. It will be the most interesting thing I have ever done.

So, when I say that Ogun State shall prepare to host a virtual mini-World Cup in the State in 2020, be prepared to be a part of the proper World Cup in 2030 in which Nigeria will lead 4 other African countries to host the event, establish the biggest football club in Africa, resurrect the international Green Courts tournament, I am referring to a process of fast-track development that will cut across the entire spectrum of life of the citizens from the market women to traders and artisans, to engineers, technologists, architects, town planners, medical personnel, security men, agriculturists, security, and so on.

That project will be complemented by a cultural renaissance through the revival of a mini version of the Black and Arts Festival of Arts and Culture to be hosted by the State in 2020.

What this means is a generation of activities around the entire cultural spectrum – arts (all the forms), music, theatre, drama, film, reading, dance, colloquiums, technology, and so on, throughout the State.

Start to picture that world.

It is not about the acts themselves but about the processes of the derivatives thereof.

The traffic of humans in specialized fields that will ‘invade’ Ogun State, and the facilities the State would have to put in place, will ensure that the entire citizenry are actively engaged, creating work opportunities and invaluable experiences for the youths, driving several sectoral businesses and commercial activities, building a great image for the State, and engaging the best brains and workmen in the process.

This sportsman in government will be the greatest thing to happen to Nigerian politics.

We shall bring the energy, creativity, passion, discipline, commitment, integrity, focus and the friendship mantra to the table of politics and add to it the passion, trust, support and the winning sports spirit of the people.

What we shall get is a winning combination and product – the safest and the best place to live, to work and to invest in Nigeria.

I can’t wait to hit the ground running in May 2019!

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