Comrade Phillip Shaibu’s attitude to sports development is the typical hands-on approach to task management. The Edo State deputy governor, who is leading Governor Godwin Obaseki’s youth empowerment programme, has been practically involved in the move to reposition the state as the sports hub of the nation. He is so involved in the efforts to make Edo great again that you will always find him wherever progressive sports ideas are projected.
A registered player for the state’s number one club, Bendel Insurance, Shaibu also played for the team that won the football event of the last National Sports Festival hosted by Edo State.
Now in the second half of a mandate to change sports in Edo State, Shaibu admits that the task is difficult, but also achievable even within the limited time and resources. His driving force, he says, is that at the end of the day, Edo State sportsmen will get opportunity to make profitable use of their talents.
Speaking with The Guardian in Benin recently, Shaibu revealed that Edo State’s sports development programme is anchored on three pillars of infrastructural development, capacity building for coaches and officials and talent hunting and development.
According to Shaibu, Edo State wants to build facilities across the state and also create an enabling environment for private sector players to key into the sports development programme. He added: “We want to do what is obtainable in most developing countries by bringing in the private sector to buy into what we are doing.
“The government will provide the enabling environment, create facilities and build the infrastructure to make it easy for the private sector to key into what we are doing.”
One major area Edo State is deviating from the norm, at least in Nigeria’s context, is in centralising the sports development programme in select schools in each of the local councils of the state. The idea, according to Comrade Shaibu, “is to create educated sportsmen like the famous Socrates of Brazil, a qualified medical doctor, who played football for his country.”
With the rebuilt Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin, as headquarters, the deputy governor revealed that the state has started replicating the facilities in some of the schools across the state with large compounds.
“Some of these schools will be equipped with football fields, basketball courts, tennis and cricket facilities, while others will be centre for handball, hockey, volleyball, boxing and other sports in one space.
“We want to reintroduce the Principals Cup, Headmasters Cup, Governor’s Cup and some of the other games we had in the past and invite the private sector to sponsor them. They will also help us in maintaining the facilities.
“We currently have contractors maintaining our facilities, but they are training our people so that on the long run we will have qualified people to take care of these facilities. These trainees will graduate to become facilities managers and can be exported to other states to maintain their facilities.
“We pray that the Federal Government and other states will start building modern structures so that the people we train here will find avenues to practice their trade.”
Comrade Shaibu is of firm belief that if Nigeria got its priorities right, sports could rival oil and gas as the main source of revenue for the country and its citizens.
He explains: “The NFF must be alive to its responsibility and ensure that clubs qualify to play in the Nigerian National League (NNL) only after winning in their states. That way, many youths will find employment at the state level. Football alone can take more than 50,000 people off the labour market. Basketball can also do that.”
He disclosed that Edo State hosted the last National Sports Festival as part of the plans to reclaim leadership in Nigerian sports. “Our target is to contribute more athletes to the centre in all events. We are almost completing a 30-year masterplan for Edo State, which will be legislated into law. It will be such that nobody can wake up one day to remove anything from it; but it can be updated as time requires.
“We are moving away from the sports council era to a sports commission, which will take care of many issues, including issues of legislation. We will have a system that will ensure that the private sector takes over funding of sports from government. We have dissolved all the boards affiliated to the sports council and replaced them with five-men boards in charge of all the teams.”
On the state’s flagship football team, Bendel Insurance, Comrade Shaibu said the club has been rebranded to make it more efficient, adding, “When we discovered that the club had 280 staff managing a team of 40 players, we had to wade in to remove all the excess luggage. We changed all that to reduce overhead cost and ensure the players are well remunerated.
“Before our arrival, the club’s annual budget was between N250 million and N400 million, yet the players were still being owed salaries and bonuses. We now have people dedicated to making the club great again, legitimately.
“Our governor has told us to ensure that we build a team that can win matches and qualify for events without relying on outside influence to do us a favour. This is what we want to bequeath to Nigeria.
“Now, we have rebuilt Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium to make it family-friendly. It is for Bendel Insurance and Edo Queens and their supporters are being encouraged to buy season tickets and get dedicated seats in the stadium.
“We have 20 mini stadiums in Edo State and all the pitches are of the same size and have the same quality of grass like the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium. The teams don’t train on the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium unless three days before a game.
They train Monday, Tuesday and Wednesdays while Thursday and Fridays are for maintenance.”
Comrade Shaibu argues that Nigerian clubs will start being independent and more competitive outside the country if club managers understood and treat their clubs as professional outfits the way it is done in more developed countries. He says the NFF has a major role to play in repositioning Nigerian club football through rules and conduct of officials.
“The NFF should fund the league properly until they get sponsors for it. You cannot leave the referees at the whims of clubs and their fans and expect them to conduct themselves properly.
“We have acquired the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) facility but we have not been using it because the NFF said CAF has not sanctioned it for Africa. We need to put them to use in real match situation, but we are constrained by the refusal of NFF to allow us to use it.
“We are among the few clubs in Nigeria that clear their players professionally. We have feeder teams that are very strong. This season we promoted five players from the feeder team to the first team of Bendel Insurance, and in the next three seasons, we want to have more home-grown players than those bought from other clubs.”
He disclosed that the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium has “a complete nursery that grows grass and sells to people who need to plant them in their homes. All these are part of policies backed by law. That is why they call us MoU government because all agreements have Memorandum of Understanding; legally all our policies are backed by law.”