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By Paul Bassey
Monday, March 26, Senate conference room, venue of a two day public hearing on the Dwindling Fortunes of Nigerian Sports In General and Football in particular.

The who's who in Nigerian sports troop into the room. Three former ministers, six sports commissioners, a former Chairman of the Nigerian Football federation, four former secretary generals of the Nigeria football association, state football association chairmen, chairmen of football clubs, Directors and management of the National Sports Commission, board members of the Nigeria Football Federation, journalists.… could go on and on.

Naturally,  there are the traditional ' long times,….how are yous and how is the family greetings' followed by light banter, laughter and the inevitable  ' which side you dey?'

It is Davidson Owumi, the ousted Chairman of the Nigerian Premier League who captured it more directly by saying it was a ' rent a crowd ' situation. Otherwise put, that the hall was divided into two major factions, those backing the NSC and those who had come to favour the NFF in their submissions, so ' which side you dey?'

' I dey God side' was a classical reply.
The Senate president David Mark must have sensed the tension when he pointed out in his address that he Public Hearing was not an inquest but a quest to seek answers to the many problems bedeviling sports….Too late the papers had been written….fireworks were to follow when he left.

The failed anthem
No sooner had the  Senate President entered the hall than the National Anthem blared forth from the Public Address System……then hiccuped and stopped as those present now raised their voices and sang.

When the Senate President was to make his opening speech, he let go in his anger ' … this country where we have problems every where. Imagine we can not even play the national anthem in the national assembly. Most of you think it is light matter. It is not. I want to know why the anthem failed. Somebody must be held responsible so that this type of embarrassment does not repeat itself…' He was roundly applauded.

As he was about going, the 'anthem man' wanted to play again, but was silenced as the voices of those in the hall silenced him. Classical case of once beaten, twice shy.

Obakpolor spits fire
Former Chairman of the Nigeria Football Association  Group Captain John Obakpolor arrived the venue of the hearing an angry man.

From left, Chairman Senate Committee on Sport , Senator Ibrahim Gunba chating with Secretary General of Association of Professional Footballers in Nigeria , Mr Austin Popo with Senator Nkechi Nwoagu, during the committee public hearing on the dawn ward trend in Nigeria sports in general and football in particular held at National Assembly yesterday. Photo by Gbemiga Olamikan

He went round telling those who cared to listen that what was going on was not what was expected. That there were a lot of misinformation going on and he was anxious to be given an opportunity.

At about six pm, that opportunity did not come and the day's session was heading to a close when he finally got his way. He thanked God for his life ( Had turned 73 a week earlier) and that he was the oldest in the hall.

That he was not invited to the public hearing but came on his own due to the love he had for the game.

That the way the hearing was going was not going to produce much since the very people who are the problem were the one being asked to solve it. He said sports should take a cue from aviation where he has devoted his time and today Nigerians can fly in all safety due to the sincerity involved in tackling the issues that arose.

Mark stuns Nigerian coaches
Nigerian Coaches present at the Hearing when Senate President, David Mark was making his comments did not find it funny when he talked about the employment of foreign coaches.

' Whenever I open the newspapers and I read all the energy we waste in arguing whether we should employ a Nigerian coach or a foreign coach.  I regard it as all nonsense. It does not matter to me whether the coach is black,  white or yellow. All I am interested in is that we should have results.

' If tomorrow I am told that if a woman is employed to coach the Super Eagles she will give us results, I will support such a woman '

It is rumoured that Nigerian coaches supported by the National Sports Commission are planning a show down with the Nigeria Football Federation over the employment of a foreign Technical Director, a position they believe can best be filled by a Nigerian

Ndanusa sings his own tune, threatens 'drug chairmen'

After former ministers Damishi Sango and Gimba had spoken, it was the turn of Sanni Ndanusa, current President of the Nigeria Olympic Committee ( NOC ) and he protested the exclusion of the London 2012 Olympics from the public Hearing.

He ignored the five minutes given to him and went on and on about his success story at the NOC. He said his organization was now corporate Nigeria friendly, that the 'former schools sports logo' of the NOC has been redesigned to produce a more appealing one.

'NOC is now a brand we can all be proud of.' He told his audience that Nigeria was ready for the Olympics and had gone ahead to acquire a befitting site just a stone throw from the Games venue and that the keys of the apartment were handed over to him over a year ago, just as he has bought all the tickets for the contingent worth 240.000 pounds over two years ago.

He jocularly told Dr Ladipo not to come to London because '…. our support there has been guaranteed '

The NOC president also gave out a warning to drug cheats that before the Olympics proper all the athletes will be tested for drugs and those found to have cheated will not only be flown back home immediately but that their chairmen will be sent back with them, even as he promised at least a gold medal in London.

Finally, he regretted the absence of Nigeria in the football event of the Olympics and wondered why the NFF could have done well with as many as 17 court cases filed against it.

Gumba decries National Sports Festival
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on sports and Social Development Alhaji Adamu Gumba from Bauchi in his opening address decried the dwindling fortunes of sports in the land.

He said the year gone by was the worst in the history of Nigeria sports and went ahead to reel out a litany of failures. He mentioned Nigeria's drop from number 5 in FIFA ranking in 1994 to 56 today.

The National Sports Festival which hitherto was an avenue for the catching them young, has now become a process for ' catching medals'.

He said there was no alternative than to return to the grass roots with emphasis in schools and that the lost glory of Nigerian sports must be recaptured and that was the reason for the public hearing.

… And they begin to leave
A question mark was put on the seriousness of the Public Hearing when as the hearing continued, members of the committee started leaving one after the other.

At the time the Hearing got serious and interesting, only three senators were around to benefit from the mines of information available. Chairman Gumba and his deputy and senator Abdul Ningi.

Boko Haram respects football
In outlining the importance of sports and football as a vehicle of unity in the country, Senate President in his remark said even Boko Haram respects football.

'I can tell you that when we are involved in an important football match in this country even Boko Haram will stop and watch. That is how serious sports is.'

He remembered the glory days of our sports and said that '…….Today we are even finding it difficult to be the last….'

We will not fly in London - Gimba
Former minister Gimba was all negative in his submission. As far as he is concerned Nigeria will not fly in London because we are ill prepared. He latched on the information given by the NSC that the budget for the Olympics was yet to be released and wondered how we can compete seriously under such an atmosphere.

He went back to his days as Minister and recalled how efforts at getting corporate Nigeria to partner with him always ended with them asking him to go and ' clean up the place'. He believes the place has not been cleaned up and until that is done, the problems will not go away.

He then submitted tons of documents to the committee including past records and his memo to three Presidents on the problems of sports in the land.

'Give NSC Balotteli's wages'
Former sports minister Damishi Sango threw the hall into laughter when he informed that Mario Ballotteli, a Manchester City of England player earns 250,000pounds a week '…..Mr Chairman 250,000 pounds that is what the small boy earns EVERY WEEK ( Emphasis his ). Please can we give that amount of money to the NSC every week. Yes the whole of NSC, and see whether they will not perform'

Roll call
Senator Ningi,
Minister Abdullahi
Ex minister Sango
Ex minister Gimba
Sanni Ndanusa
Patrick Ekeji
Aminu Maigari
John Obakpolor
Hon. Sani Toro
Barr C. Green
Barr. Musa Amadu
Segun Odegbami
Barrister Isaac Danladi
Suleiman David
Tayo Balogun
Tony Ubani
Charles Ojugbana
Fanny Amun
Taiwo Ogunjobi
Bolaji Ojo.Oba
Alhaji Maude
Ikeddy Isiguzo
Gara Gombe
Dr. Ken Anugwese
Rafiu Ladipo
Prof Ojeme
Dr A Muazu
Dr Akin Amao
Isaac Ibhafidon
Barr Elumelu
Chief Dilichukwu
Austin Popo
Alhaji Zamfara
Harrison Jalla
Effiong Nyong
Leye Adepoju
Gloria Obajimi
Henry Amike
General Usara
Falilat Ogunkoya
Mary Onyali
Hon Godfrey Gaiya
Bar Leye
Dr. Adamu
Prof Asagba
Alhassan Yakmut