By BEIFOH OSEWELE
Edo State is popularly referred to as the ‘Heart beat of Nigeria.” In line with this slogan, Lady Osifo Omorede Osemede, the state Commissioner for Youths, Sports and Social Mobilisation says her aspiration is to stir the state from its sporting slumber and steer it to take its deserved place first among equals in the sporting annal of the nation.
She is sounding it loud and clear to other states: Watch it, a new kid is on the block in Edo to take sports to higher height. To show she is not joking about her determination to make Edo the pulsating heart beat of sports, she has already dumped her haute couture, designers shoes and other high fashion accessories for tracksuit and canvass and plunged into the job headlong.
The task is onerous but the gangling lady who is staging a comeback, as commissioner is confident she has what it takes to pull the chestnut out of the fire. “Sports is something I grew up with. The glorious days that people talk about in Bendel State during Ogbemudia’s administration happened when my father was the director of sports. Everybody knows him in sports sector in and out of Nigeria. I have gone to receive awards on his behalf from Edo indigenes in the US. So, coming from such a background is a plus for me.” Omorede’s father was not just a sportsman, he was a disciplinarian and an educationist and served as principal of so many schools. He retired as director-general of education at the ministry of education in the early nineties.
“As a young girl, he ensured that we tried our hands on every sports. My sister played for Bendel State Volley Ball team when she was in Idia College and as an undergraduate in UNIBEN, she played for the NUGA game. I played Hockey and Badminton when I was at St. Maria Goretti College. I tried Lawn Tennis and so on. My father made sure we tried everything. So, with that kind of background, I wasn’t so surprised that I was appointed to oversee the sports ministry. I want to say that because of my background, so far, the sportsman and women are feeling my impact. They expect so much from me because they know that with my background, I have what it takes to put sports where it should be.”
In addition to having been thoroughly schooled in sports by her father is the fact that she has already raised the bar for herself during her first tenure as commissioner when she served in the Arts and Culture sector. Until then the ministry was seen as unserious, and only meant for persons who did not belong to the inner caucus or good books of the power that be, but with barely one and half years in the saddle, she turned the fortune of the state Ministry of Art and Culture around.
The hood does not make a monk
She says her posting to sports rather than her area of core competence, finance, did not shock her.
“I have always said that it is not about your background,” Omorede whose background in rooted in banking and finance intones. “I have always believed that it is not your position that makes you, it is you that makes the position. I feel that any position I am given, I would do well. I found myself in Arts and Culture, which was not my background at the time, and a lot of people tell me I did well. I was a finance person at the time. I was not an artiste, musician or actress, but one of the people they still talk about in that ministry is myself, because of the things I did. I think it is more about you, your idea and what you are able to do with it. I can basically handle anything.”
Passion for change
In her first coming, she turned around the fortune of the Arts and Culture from ‘cobweb’ ministry into a ministry of choice. Her magic wand is the passion to make a difference, she says.
“My greatest passion and driving force is the quest to make a change, to build enduring legacy, to leave a name in the sand of time, to show that Omorede was here and she did so much. Anywhere I find myself, I love to work as if there will be no tomorrow. Everybody would have thought that I would be in Arts and Culture for four years, but I spent only 18 months. If I had not worked the way I did at the beginning, I would have left the place worse than I met it. It is the same attitude and approach I used as commissioner for Arts and Culture that I am adopting now. I am everywhere, because I want to be fast in what I have to do. Like the governor always say, we are contract staff, we are not permanent. Our contract can end at anytime. So, I believe you should work when you have the opportunity to work. What you can do today, you don’t leave it till tomorrow. I am driven by the passion to make a change. I want to make sure that people know that, yes, Omorede has done something. Right now, sports in Edo State is not the best. In addition, the youths are restive. The governor has told me, ‘Go out there and ensure you make things good.’ To me, it is a challenge, and I love challenges. If I had gone back to Arts and Culture, there would not have been any challenge, because I had done what I wanted to do to show that there is life there. Where I am now is challenging because it is another ministry that used to be the pride of the state, but which right now is not doing well. If I am able to revive the place and put life back into the ministry, that would be my joy.”
Agenda for sports development
“Basically, one of the things I want to do is to get Edo State back to where it used to be in the days of Bendel State- the top. We used to be number one in sports, but at the last National Sports Festival, we came fourth. If in my tenure we can get Edo State to at least second position, that would be a modest achievement. I have told my athletes that I want them to be the best, but even if we move from fourth to second, for me, it is a good deal.
“We have problem with our soccer teams, Bendel Insurance and Ine Queens. We need to rejuvenate the teams and make them the best in the country. We are determined to get Bendel Insurance back in the premier league. Things have not been going well for them, but one of the things I have noticed is that our sportsmen and women have not been feeling the best of government’s presence- in the sense that nobody comes to clap for them, to spur them on, make them feel appreciated. So, I want to be everywhere with them. I go to watch their football matches, I go for the Taekwando competition. So far, I want to say that we have started seeing results. The last match I went to, the players and officials were quite excited, because they had not seen any commissioner coming to watch them play in recent time. They had not been winning but they won that particular game by 3-1. The following week, they went for an away match in Ilorin and forced a draw. For an away match, particularly for a team that has not been winning, it was a good effort. The change is already happening, because during the half time, I went into their locker room to give them pep talk. I told them that some of them might become international stars very soon, playing in Europe and everywhere. That motivated them. They did well to make sure that they won that match. That is the spirit one is trying to nurture, and I think if we can continue with that spirit it will get us where we want to be.”
Before the next national sports festival, she says she wants to start doing something that would impact on the fortune of the sectior.
“We plan to go back to schools because sports is almost extinct in schools in Edo State. We want to reawaken sports in our schools, because that is where we would get our best and brightest out. Most schools don’t even do sports again, we want to see if we can have facilities in schools such as basket ball and hand ball courts to encourage them to play. We would also bring back the principal cup, a competition among schools in Edo State. So, basically, the plan is to ensure that before the next competition, we train our athletes in all the different areas and keep the various sporting associations busy to do well in future outings.
‘Also, we are going to resuscitate Ogbe Hard Court, which used to be the pride of Bendel State and Edo State over the years. But there has not been Ogbe Hard Court in years, even before the Comrade governor came in. One of my dreams is to get Ogbe Hard Court back again.
“We also plan to review some of the things the athletes said they are lacking. The governor has turned Ogbe Stadium into astro turf, which is currently in vogue. For him to have done that shows he is interested in getting sporting facilities up to date. For instance, we have the basketball synthetic court in pace as opposed to the bare ground that used to be in place. In my time, I hope to turn all the sporting areas into what they should be- modern technology. I believe that the provision of necessary facilities, conducive environment and the right tool to practice would spur our athletes on and bring out the best in them.
“We also have a lot of restiveness in the youths in the oil producing area. We are trying to explore ways we can use sports as a means of occupying the youths in the oil producing local government areas of Edo State so that they can come out and compete, do things, win prizes and keep themselves busy. We intend to do skill acquisition for youths in the oil producing areas. I believe that once they are busy learning and they have something that would set them up to able to earn a living, it would take them off the streets and stem the tide of restiveness. We plan to put together as many youths’ programmes as possible in different areas. Since I assumed duty, and because people have seen that I really want to make a change, a lot of people are already extending hands of fellowship to us, both within and outside Nigeria. They want to partner with us. With the response I am getting, I believe we would be able to do a lot of workshops and skill acquisition for the youths.”
New kid on the block
Mens sana in corpore sano is a famous Latin quotation, often translated as, “A sound mind in a healthy body.” This is also the Motto of the Michael Imoudu College of Physical Education situated in Afuze, Owan in the northern district of the state. But for too long, the institution, which used to be the anvil in which great sportsmen and women were forged for the state has slipped into coma. Lady Omorede says part of her agenda is to rouse the once vibrant institution from its deep slumber to perform its mandate.
“Part of what we intend to do is to make the sports centre in Afuze working again. It has been left to decay over the years, so the facilities there are a far cry from what they should be. The Comrade governor is very interested in making Afuze work. It is part of the areas we are supposed to be putting back on track. Outside Afuze, we are also thinking of building a mini-stadium in each of the senatorial district, to break the current circle whereby everything is concentrated on the stadium in Benin City. This will help development the right sporting facilities in every part of the state, because without facilities, we would go nowhere. The dream is to create an Edo State that people would remember in sports just the way they used to talk about Bendel State.”
She is not under any illusion that achieving the goals she has set for herself would be an easy task. But she is ready to give it her best shot. She says so many persons believe in her that she cannot afford to fail. She is ready to put everything she has into the job.
“I have put myself under pressure for two reasons: I must not rubbish my father’s antecedent in sports administration. People expect me to be at par with his performance, at least if I can’t surpass it. Then my record as Arts and Culture commissioner has raised people’s expectation of me. When you have a lot of people looking up to you, you want to make sure you don’t disappoint. And if you are somebody who strives to live up to where people expect you to be, you cannot but take on the challenge headlong. I love working under pressure. Pressure actually brings out the best in me. I sleep, wake up thinking of how to take sports in Edo State to a higher level, and to make it number one in Nigeria. I am under pressure, not in the sense that I have lost it, no. I am in control of the pressure. I am under pressure to beat my record.”
Lessons from my father
Given the tutelage she has had under her father, she says she is cut out for her job. In fact, her father could not but be happy when he heard of her appointment to superintend the sector.
“One of the things he said to me is that the sporting world is not happy about the state of sports in Edo State, a fact that we all know because Edo state used to be the state to beat in sports. He feels this is the time to change the fortune of sports in the state. I feel that is what the common man and woman wants to see happen. He said to me, if you need me, come and see me, I will give you some tips to get the job done. He is my technical adviser. It is good to have such a person around you, to talk you into line when you’re not doing things right. I feel honoured for what he has done before in the past. I feel lucky to be his daughter, because even when associations come to see me, they talk about him because they all know him, and what he did in sports.
“The lessons I have learnt from my father are the ones I am deploying to the job at the moment. As a young girl in my teen, athletes used to come to our house to see my father, he was like a father to them. It didn’t just end with him saying, ‘Oh, I am director of sports for Bendel State,’ he personalised his relationship with the athletes. That made them feel important and special. That is the style I am adopting as well. That is why you would find me going to the stadium, meeting with the athletes, giving them the extra motherly love so that they feel that ‘mummy is watching, mummy expects me to do well. I need to make mummy happy by doing well.’ That is one of the things I learnt from him.
“Another one is that athletes must be taken care of, their needs must be met if they are to give you the desired result. That is another thing I learnt from my dad. Also, he also taught me that athletes need to be kept busy all the time. There must be continuous training for them. You don’t just wait for a competition to come before you start training. You have to keep training them over a year or more before any festival. That’s one of the things I want to introduce. Practice before the national festival starts at least a year before the festival. We need to train, train and train. It is very important. These are tips I got from my dad, which are coming in handy. And he is still alive to chip in advice whenever the need arises.”
“Now I live in GRA, but I didn’t grow up in the GRA. I grew up in New Benin, which is the centre of Benin. My father’s house is at Mission Road. If I grew up in that area, I know what the youths of those areas look forward to in terms of sports. I see myself as one of them. I like to work with the grassroots. I intend to keep a very close relationship with my sports men and women. I am ready to go anywhere there is sporting event. So, I am not just going to concentrate inside Ogbe Stadium. If there’s an event in New Benin and they call me, I would be there. If there is one in Igun and I am invited, I would go there. Anywhere there is sporting event in any part of Edo State, and the youths want me to come and see that they have talents there, it would be my duty to go look at them, support them and see if we can get scouts to pick some talents from there too. That is the kind of things I am planning to do.
“One of the greatest qualities that I have is that I am very patient person. I can be very patient because it is not who is in a haste to get somewhere that gets there. I want to say that it has paid off. My patience is what has got me to where I am today. In politics, you don’t run away, in spite of any challenge. Rather, you must remain resolute, focused and fight your way through. I am a good fighter.”
Different people look at success in various ways. To some, it is to be the president of Nigeria and or whatever. She says success to her is raising the bar wherever one finds oneself.
“It is getting into a position and making the best of that position in terms of your output while you are there. Meeting your goal, to me, is success. It is not a case of getting somewhere and not able to achieve anything, it is being able to make a difference wherever you find yourself. That is what makes you a successful person. Success to me where I am not is being able to turn ministry of youths and sports around in Edo State. That would make me happy and fulfilled.”