Chairman of Cross River State Sports Commission, Rt. Hon. Orok Otu Duke, opens up on the prospects of sports development in the state. In this exclusive interview with Extra Time duo of ANDREW EKEJIUBA and EDEM EDEM the highly travelled sports technocrat speaks on the future of sports in Cross River, renovation works at the UJ Esuene Stadium and the hosting of the National Sports Festival in the state. Excerpts:
Looking at the facilities at the U. J. Esuene Stadium, it appears they are lying fallow. What is the true state of sports in Cross River because nothing seems to be happening here as it use to be in those old days, when Cross River held sway as a very serious state when it comes to sports?
Well, I want to say, first, the facilities are not lying fallow; those ones that are unoccupied have not been completed. The main bowl has since been completed and is being utilized by the athletes. In terms of general situation of sports in the state, everything has to do with paucity of funds; you know in a state like this where my Governor is so eager to accomplish so much in a short period of time, there are so many issues contending for the limited resources, so he has to apportion resources appropriately and sports too is one of those areas that are queuing up for fund.
I actually sympathize with him (Governor) because right from when they took away the 76 oil wells from us, we fell to the last role in the whole country in terms of statutory allocation. We were almost tempted to go into the area of taxation to generate more funds to add to statutory allocation. That would have had negative influence against the citizens of the state by making them to over pay.
Actually, tax supposed to be a painless exercise, so when you know you are crossing that boundary of going to a realm of it being very painful, it’s always good to withdraw. So, as much as possible, my Governor is of the view that they should not over tax the citizens.
The resultant effect would be that you may not have the full amount needed to execute most of these important projects. The Governor on his own part has acknowledged the fact that his predecessors have spent a lot of money in the area of sports. Like the Sports Hall, 14 million US Dollars was paid at the cost of N150 per Dollar then. The contractor would tell you that he has 2 million Dollars left. At N520 per Dollar, the cost of two million Dollars might even depreciate the amount used in purchasing the 14 million Dollars. As far as the completion of those facilities are concerned, they have foreign exchange components, thus you have to face some challenges as we are passing through right now.
Is Cross River State still interested in hosting the National Sports Festival, more so now that the Hon Minister of Sports, Barr. Solomon Dalung, has initiated the Grassroots Sports Festival coming up in April; will it not clash with whatsoever plan you have?
The Minister of Sports is at liberty to keep on initiating other sporting programmes for the country, but let me talk on the National Sports Festival because we got the hosting right in 2011. Nigeria was about to come to the age of 100 years then and we all know the role Calabar played in sports. Football began at Hope Waddel in 1902, Hockey and Cricket followed suit and Calabar played vital roles before and after amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914. Therefore, looking at all these, it was agreed that the state should host the National Sports Festival in 2014. It was a right decision!
It was called ‘Millennium celebration Games’. But because of short falls in terms of funds, we couldn’t meet up; they now extended it to 2016. To be fair, the Sports Festival supposed to have held between December 8-21, 2016, but we couldn’t still meet up because of other competing festivals. Calabar Carnival and Christmas festival came up. Our Governor is of the view that the state will still want to host this festival as it has appropriately been captured in 2017 Budget of the state.
Coming to the renovation work at the stadium, Governor Ayade still wants to complete renovation work at the stadium. On the issue of contractors, some are asking for variations, some are saying that when we gave them the contract, naira was at N150 for a Dollar and now it is over N500 for a Dollar. Even those who have brought in some of their equipment already are talking about foreign partners, professionals and that for those professionals to come and finish their work, they need their payment in foreign currency.
Frankly, our Governor wasn’t interested in getting involved in all these; some of the contractors have left the sites and have collected close to 80% of the contract sum. I know what to do, but my Governor is a philosophical person; he said if you keep throwing stones at every dog that barks at you, you cannot get to your destination. He believes in looking forward because we need to provide facilities for these kids to train, so let us concentrate and complete the project!
Why was Cross River absent from the last edition of the National Youth Games?
I want to blame it on poor communication because we got the letter quiet late. The letter arrived when the Governor was out of the country in one of his numerous tours of getting investors. It arrived about two weeks to the games.
We are always prepared, may be not ultimately because like swimming, when they started renovating the swimming pool, we have to move our kids to Obubra where they were trained in a moving stream. Sadly, training in a moving stream is not like swimming pool that is stagnant; we saw the effect in the last Chief of Naval Staff Swimming Competition.
We would have attended the National Youth Games if we knew on time. We would have sourced for funds, but the letter came very late and we missed it by mistake. Well, we were penalized to the tune of N5m for not turning up. We tried every possible best to attend but we just could not.
What is the future of sports like in Cross River State?
The future is bright and let me tell you what we are doing, we are taking one event at a time, National Sports Festival is just one of them, we went to Chief of Naval Staff Swimming competition, and we came back with medals. Of course you know in table tennis, our girls won the National Table Tennis Championship through Cecilia Otu, we have the cup here and the competition took place late last year.
I am not of the view that we should concentrate on one sport, thus we have embraced other sports. The idea is to carry many of the youths as possible. When we engage athletes, we place them on allowances to enable them transport themselves to training ground and wash their kits. It might also surprise many people that we have incorporated Prof Ben Ayade Football Club and the club’s funding has been captured in the 2017 Budget.
Please tell us more about Ben Ayade Football club?
We have introduced and incorporated Prof Ben Ayade Football club as one of the football teams in the state. It is a Division II National League side and we bought the club originally owned by Finix Football of Ekiti.
Looking at the upcoming elections into various sporting federations, will you like to see changes in the sports federations because we learnt that there are some Presidents of sports federations that have over stayed their welcome?
Yes, some have overstayed their welcome and since it is democracy, I don’t want to comment on that but we need to something positive in this regard. If you look at our constitution, section 7 and 14, it talks about effective representation and it should cover the whole country.
We have six geo-political zones in the country and when we have elections, the six zones should be encouraged to throw up representatives, then you now adopt all those people who are going to become committee members here and there. Let me tell you what happened in most of the federations, while you are here trying to groom athletes at the grassroots level like I am the Chairman of South-South Table Tennis, somebody will stay in Abuja or Lagos and go and put his name on the Board that he is CAF Committee member during elections, they will claim they are continental body.
They shouldn’t be given automatic membership; that in totality ignored the provision of our constitution as a country. What we should do is six representatives should emerge and amongst them throw up one person to be President, one person to be Vice President then you co-opt whoever in the world body to come and help you in technical areas. Another point is that we must move all sports to Abuja, if you do that, you can move training venues to anywhere. If football the king of all sports could relocate to Abuja, why wouldn’t table tennis, why wouldn’t other sports.
Move the headquarters to Abuja and only leave representatives in the zones, anybody who is a member of anything must belong to a particular club or a particular state and can take part in their zonal elections to emerge Chairman of that zone. Things must be streamlined properly to be able to be able to move forward.
Share with us the support you have so far received and challenges faced as the Chairman of Cross River State Sports Commission?
We were effectively inaugurated in March 2016, legally the provision that established us has placed the running of sports on the Sports Commission and we have taken over. Completion of our facilities will need a lot of money, engagement in other sports competitions will need a lot of money and we have gone far into the field to solicit for assistance to help sports in the state. Like I said, we are running 43 sports here in the commission and government cannot do that alone. We have companies that had decided to sponsor two competitions at once, Taekwondo and primary and secondary school table tennis competition.
Taekwondo is open for everybody including people from other states. We have put in place arrangement on basketball, two underage for girls and boys and one for adult (three tournaments at once). We are going to have Etubom Charles Ekpo Duke underage grassroots tennis and Ben Ayade under 15 football championships. That competition will take up by March 2017.
We have lined up sports competitions that will last from January to June and as we speak; Royal International Farms and Estates limited and other companies have taken two of the competitions, namely Taekwondo and primary/secondary table tennis and we are appealing for more companies to come forward and support sports in Cross River. So far so good!