By ROMANUS UGWU, Abuja
The awards and honours inside the office of Godfrey Ali Gaiya, chairman House Committee on Sports at the National Assembly Complex, would leave no one in doubt that the honourable is the right man for the job. From the emblem of Rangers International Football Club of Enugu to the professional plaque from his field of study, Geology, evidences abound that he has done well with the portfolio he is holding in the house.
Speaking to TS Weekend recently, Hon. Gaiya x-rayed a number of issues, explaining how he became the House Committee chairman on Sports, the problems with Nigerian sports, the endemic budgetary challenges facing the sports sector in Nigeria and above all, the threatening attacks on Nigerian sports.
Meanwhile, he was explicit in answering questions on whether he truly got involved in an alleged pornography scandal during the 2013 London Olympic Games, and if joining the sports family actually made him promiscuous.
Becoming chairman House Committee on Sports
I was a member of the House Committee on Sports in the sixth assembly and I think that the leadership of the seventh assembly thought it wise to leverage on experience, hence I was appointed to head the committee in the current dispensation. However, when it came to who chairs the Sports Committee, nobody consulted me before the duty was assigned to me. The speaker decided to entrust the responsibility to someone that has been there, who seems to have passion for sports.
Of the above 80 chairmen of the various committees in the house, I knew that I was one of them a week after the speaker was elected. Rt. Hon. (Aminu) Tambuwal simply summoned me and without asking for my opinion, appointed me as the chairman House Committee on Sports. I wanted to complain, but he said that I should accept the appointment as a divine assignment. As a loyal house member, I felt that since my fate has been decided, it would not have been right for me to think otherwise. But in all sincerity, as a professional geologist and an active member of the Water Resources Committee, I would have preferred to chair the Committee on Water Resources to Sports if I had the option to make a choice. Though it is not for any other reason than the fact that I had a cognate training and working experience in that field.
I thought I was more qualified for the Water Resources Committee, but the speaker confided in me that people advised him to appoint me to head the Sports Committee if he wanted to record success in sports. They advised him in that line probably because they felt that since I was in the Sports Committee in the sixth assembly, that I knew the terrain better. I did not lobby for the position and if they had asked for my opinion, I would have asked for something different.
Round peg in a round hole
I don’t really know if I am the best man to chair the House Committee on Sports as people say. But one thing is that I always approach any assignment that is entrusted in my hand with all diligent and the best of my ability. I hate failure and would do anything to avoid it.
Let me however reveal that immediately after the speaker informed me that I would head the Sports Committee, I delved into thinking and planning how to leave my footprints on the sands of time in Nigerian sports. I made friends with the people I felt should know one thing or the other in sports. I visited the archives to understand what has been going on, I refreshed my mind on the things I learnt as a member of the sixth assembly, I consulted the former chairman of the committee and his deputy and I have been developing myself continuously in the line of my duty.
I also took notice of the things we did not get right during the sixth assembly. So, if I have done something, which people think was in tandem with my position and office, the honest thing to say is that it is not because I am an exceptional human being, but because I had approached my work with all diligence. I still listen to people who are knowledgeable in sports.
Let me reveal that I don’t watch league matches in the comfort of my home. Instead, I usually put on a pair of jeans and face cap to disguise myself, and go to a viewing centre to watch actions. There, I listen to opinions of Nigerians of all classes and I have to confess that articulating and applying the diverse opinions have helped my committee in recording resounding successes in some areas of our endeavour.
Agenda for sports
My agenda for sports is simple, to ensure that the sports sector excels, if possibly, more than any other sector in the Nigerian economic. Sports is a competitive business and any time Nigeria wins in any type of sports, every Nigerian would be highly motivated and many would want to share in the glory. If such an attitude could sink into our psyche, I believe that it would propel us towards becoming the best in every other sector of our national economy.
I want to achieve success in sports and also, watch the success to provoke improvement in other sectors of our national life. As the current champions of African football, applying champions’ attitude in the power sector, water supply, industry, health, education among others, will actually reposition our country. For me, Nigeria has all it takes to excel; our only challenge is to develop a winning mentality.
It might sound funny if I say that winning the 2013 AFCON was one of my take homes as the House Committee chairman on Sports. But I think I would be happier if we can take our sports to a higher level. It would be a better take home if we could promote our sports to the level where other sectors would be challenged towards making Nigeria great. We are not there yet, but I am working to see what we can achieve before I leave in 2015.
Nigerian sports is faced with many challenges. This is because sports is a passion to most Nigerians. I discovered that every Nigerian wants to be a winner without minding the impediments. We are less concerned with what we will do to win and always take defeat for failure.
My first challenge was to understand why we fail in most competitions. I needed to understand what we ought to do to satisfy the yearnings of Nigerian sports lovers. Then, I discovered that we have not invested properly in sports because we consider it as a mere recreation. I realised that we have negative impressions about sports and our attitude to it is wrong.
Sports has become a weapon for diplomacy, public relations and rating in the comity of nations. If we can get it right in sports, our rating among the comity of nations will definitely appreciate. So, the major challenge before us now is to see how we can make concessions to sports to enable us reach the height we are aiming at.
I also found out that sports is not sufficiently funded. The funds are not really there. It is true that the private sector drive sports in most advanced countries, but businesses that are making good profit out of their investments in Nigeria are very few. So, it has remained a very difficult task to compel corporate bodies to invest in sports in the country.
Considering the current situation, I think that government must be willing to inject money into sports. The current funding pattern does not encourage the growth of sports in the country and it might interest one to understand that the Sports Committee is rated among Grade C committees in the House of Representatives.
Grading of committees informs you about the inflow of resources to different committees based on their categories, and the Sports Committee receives less than N9 billion annually from the federal government. Yet, the sports sector has over 40 federations under its umbrella. It is a sector through which most physical infrastructure are developed. Through that sector, sporting facilities are being developed in each of the 774 local government areas in the country, yet it is being starved of funds.
In a country where greater percentage of the population has the ability to participate in one form of sports or the other, we face a big challenge with the funding. We must provide facilities to engage the youths. But unfortunately, it is not possible with the kind of funding that comes from the government.
As a member of the National Assembly, I would have loved to expand the budget so that more projects could be done in sports, but we are dealing with a system that is complicated. The budget should be dead on arrival at the National Assembly because we represent the people and know where the people want their money to be spent. We know the kind of dividend the people expect at their various constituencies and we are in a better position to advice the executive arm on this matter, but in most cases it does not go that way.
Everything is fundamentally wrong with the budget template and sports is the worst hit. Sports is not rated as a key sector in the country, at least, when you consider the level of funds that accrue to it. If you try to complain, the members of the executive would tell you to stop bringing sports matters up when they have other serious issues to handle. I always feel so bad about it.
There is need for the executive arm to be reoriented so that they could see sports as a critical sector of the economy. The apathy over sports has been the war we are fighting and will continue fighting it till the end of the seventh session.
But even though the allocation to sports is meagre, there is also something fundamentally wrong with the budget template. We cannot correct successfully within a short time what has been part of the system for many years.
In the budget template, we have maintenance, miscellaneous for maintenance, refurbishing of generators even when there are no generators, electricity and telephone bills, but we know that all these are not true. If you attempt to mop up the items for something more productive, they would insist that it came from the budget office and any adjustment to it must as well come from there.
We discovered that about 60 per cent of our budget usually end up in unimplemented project, while only 20 per cent of the remaining 40 per cent is implemented. The capital projects are poorly funded because the priority line is already recorded as overhead. The capital project implementation is only 20 per cent.
Simply put, when for instance N80million is allocated to sports, only N20million will be deployed into productive sectors. Projects could be on in the ministry for many years without any meaningful progress made on it and the money meant for it would end up in few individuals’ pockets. Unfortunately, people think that we are just out to make troubles, but it is not true. Instead, we want things to be done the right way.
Our suggestion is that if you have N1billion for capital project, we must sit down and agree on the projects to allot the fund to. If it involves using the money in starting and completing only two projects within a particular fiscal year, let it be.
Again, we have corrected the fraudulent idea of earmarking a large sum of money for lumped sporting activities. In the past, they would allocate funds on whatever that catches their fancy. What we did in the 2013 budget was to tear the envelop of the amount earmarked for sporting activities and ensured that the items in it were specified. We specified the amounts the federations must get for their activities.
In fact, much is shrouded in secrecy in the budget template. The expenditure has been at the discretion of the members of the executive. They are comfortable with it, but this and many other odds are what the house is working hard to correct.
People have called me names, blackmailed me and wrote all sorts of thing about my committee members and I. For instance, I was in London where the National Sports Commission (NSC) hosted us for only two days during the 2012 Olympics, but on my return, my face and name was all over the social media. They said that I was in London watching pornographic movies when Nigerian athletes were busy sweating it out at the Olympics. They said that I did nothing to enhance the performance of Team Nigeria, but I laughed over it because I knew it came from ignorant fellows.
In all honesty, my two days effort to visit the athletes at the camp in London during the Olympics was not granted because my superior, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, The Rt. Hon. Aminu Tambuwal was there. My deputy in the Sports Committee and the deputy Senate Committee on Sports were equally denied access to the athletes’ camp. On the third day, I decided to leave London because I discovered that I had nothing to contribute to Team Nigeria at the Games, as I was not given assess to meet with the athletes.
The NSC arranged for only a two-day accommodation for me in a ramshackle hotel. So, when I heard from the sponsored agents that I was watching pornography in London, I was not surprised knowing that they had done the worst to my reputation before coming up with that story. In fact, one of the writers called for my sack, alleging that I neglected the athletes for pornography.
I was happy because my speaker was also in London and he was even the first to alert me on the issue. I was not bothered about their evil machination because I know where they are coming from. Our job is not done in the spiritual realm where everybody is an angle. Good enough, I had informed my family earlier about the consequences of what I was going to do in my job. I vowed not to steal, ask for bribe or compromise my job, and I thank God that nobody has accused me of defaulting in any of these areas.
For the records, if I had done anything fundamentally wrong, I wouldn’t wait for anybody to ask me to step down. No administrator can accuse me frontally of conniving with him to share money meant for athletes or for any project. But I am surprised that people could go to the extent of accusing me of mundane things like watching pornography in London and I want to state emphatically that I never did any such thing.
Somebody advised me to go to court to clear my name. I was told that I could earn billions of naira in damages if I had sued my detractors, but I turned it down because it would be a distraction to my mission for sports in Nigeria.
My wife was not comfortable with the position I occupy because she believes that it could put me in the public eye. But I don’t clamour for publicity. I am an introvert. I don’t like making troubles. So, I expect people to respect me as such. If doing my best as chairman of House Committee on Sports has made me popular, then I thank God for that.
My detractors might have thought that they could destroy my family with their pornography story, but I want to tell the world that my wife knows that I am the same husband any day. She knows that politicians don’t even have time for himself and she understands my predicaments very well. I thank God for her.
My wife knows that I have unwavering passion for sports. I am a staunch supporter of Kano Pillars and Rangers International Football Club of Enugu right from my youth corps days. My family knows that sports gives me joy and they appreciate it.
Crises and litigations in sports
These are our most daunting challenges. Uncomfortable stakeholders would always go to court to seek redress when the system fails to favour them. On our assumption of office, we met more than 15 pending litigations against the football federation alone. Good enough, the situation is now under control with the intervention of my committee, the sports minister and other stakeholders who want to move the system forward.
But the issue with the Nigeria Premier League (NPL) is still a case in hand. The former chairman of NPL, Runsome Baribote is in court for some reasons, but my committee is intervening in the matter to see the possibility of resolving the case out of court.
Reps Committee on Sports versus its Senate counterpart
I wouldn’t know the arm of the committee that is more vibrant, but all I can say is that the House of Reps is the people’s parliament. We are closer to the people more than those in the senate. I think the house naturally is always more vibrant than the senate because, on a lighter note, sports is for the youths and you don’t expect the assembly of the elderly to make youth games their most important priority.
Ladies as honorarium
I think people usually over exaggerate the moral life of sportsmen. The truth is that an average sportsman is a lively and friendly person, who knows how to unwind. And to unwind does not necessarily mean that there must be a massager in every outing. Sportsmen may be lively but not promiscuous.
Advice to sports administrators
They have to be transparent in their dealings. They must be forthright and look at achievement beyond pocketing fat envelops. If the members of the federation had shared millions of naira among themselves during the AFCON in South Africa without winning the trophy, Nigerians would not have been happy with the administrators.
No AFCON victory largesse for Sports House Committee members
Yes, the presidency shut out a number of persons in the largesse giving to the players of the Super Eagles and their technical team, but I told them that the wealth they missed in naira and kobo, they gained it in reputation and respect. My colleagues equally complained that I would have also been given even the lowest national honour to compensate me for my contributions to the success of the team in South Africa. But for me, I don’t see sports as a place for making money. I follow sports because of the passion and love I have for it. For me, sports is an avenue for relieving tension and stress.