BRANDPERSONALITY: NIGERIAN SPORT BRAND, THE TRUTH HAS ONLY ONE VERSION
He is admired passionately by many and equally hated passionately by some. He is Nigeria’s most notable apostle of good governance in sports and football. Not surprisingly, he has stepped on toes powerful enough to try and truncate his vision, business and career. This gentleman, also known as Nigeria’s Football Aficionado does not believe in doing things in half measures. A man of high passions, clear vision and iron-cast dedication to his avowed convictions, Godwin Dudu-Orumen, lawyer, journalist, sports administrator and entrepreneur has seen the good, the bad and the ugly in Nigerian sports.
His recent focus has been youth development and developmental sports. Thinking out of the box as usual, Dudu, as he is fondly called, decided to found a football academy; a capacity-building NGO and establish international affiliations directly in order to lift the fortunes of Nigerian football and sports in general. BRANDPOWER’s editorial team led by Nnanke Harry Willie engaged Dudu-Orumen to decipher the complex elements that make him the brand that he is and his assessment of Nigerian sports yesterday, today and tomorrow.
You have been a major personality brand in the Nigerian sports arena, especially football. You have been a sports, critic, an administrator, and now founder and rector of a fast growing football academy. How did it all begin and why did a legal luminary like you end up being a passionate football brand icon?
Let me say a case of one accident leading to the other started all of these. I thought I was fortunate to enter secondary school at nine but the consequences of such early start showed up when I failed my A levels. That kept me at home and while my classmates where heading for the university, I headed for Ogbe Stadium in Benin. And in Ogbe Stadium, there was a lot. My teenage years were rather turbulent because mum and dad were disappointed that I had in their opinion massive potential which didn’t translate into sterling academic records. But the good thing about it was that in my primary school days, I saw great athletes who stimulated my interest such as Olatunbosun Popoola, Aboyade Cole all of Hussey College, Warri and lots more. By that time I was living with my late uncle, who is my idol – Barrister Godwin Mogbeyi Boyo, President Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) 1969-71, and a life member of the Body of Benchers, the father of Mofe Boyo, Deputy CEO of OANDO Group. We lived behind Ogbe Stadium. At that time i.e in Ogbemudia’s time, sports in Benin was the mega business; we had great football clubs like Bendel Insurance, great swimming and other athletics competitions. I remember in the athletics trials were the Nigerian record holder David Ijoke with three other school boys inside Ogbe Stadium: Peter Ofili, J.O Cole and Idemudia. With that kind of environment, it was an escape from household trouble at the time. I was also lucky to have been accommodated by Bendel Insurance players at the time. And the coaches too listened to me because I asked questions that were very penetrating as I genuinely wanted to know. So before people wake up around the house to abuse me for failing, I had usually escaped to the stadium…
When football time was over, I moved to watch tennis when tennis is over then to swimming; so I stayed in the stadium till 6: pm. So sport was my life; it kept me out of mischief. The people we had the same academic mishap went on to smoking different things but I was lucky to find my way into the sports world. When I found my way back, I decided to take a degree in English from the University of Benin and on to being a sports journalist.
(Cuts in) if you had such passion and interest as it were in all the major sports at that time, was there any reason why you didn’t participate in any of those sports?
There’s hardly any sport I cannot do physically, but in my time, I was 13 in class four, automatically a senior. It wasn’t for want of ability or interest, but because I had physical and age disadvantage. By the time I went to University of Benin to take my degree in English, I wanted to be a sports journalist. Family pressures, and of course, my wife was in medical school; so it was like you’ve got to be a professional. So I went back to study law at the University of Benin and by the time I finished, I joined a law firm but after two years again, another accident occurred. My roommate in the university, Charles Ojugbana who was one year my senior in the English department, was now a public relations manager in the National Sports Commission and the commission was going to appoint a special assistant to the Chairman of the board, late Chief S.B Williams. And then he advised that there should be a departure from the usual journalist as S.A, so he recommended me and the commission bought the idea. I was in the Sports Commission for nine months and now moved to different facets; from being a fan, to an administrator. So 23 years ago, I was special adviser to the chairman of National Sports Commission Board where I participated in crafting and executing policies that brought direction to our football and sports generally until it fell into the hands of those who didn’t have the passion and competence.
Back to Law Practice
After my brief stint in the sports commission, I then went back to practice but the experience in the sports commission gave me a hint that there was a need to give another perspective to the public because the public was misled a lot of time by what they read. And many things that are published are paid for and they confuse the equation. We were enjoying Under 17 and Under 20 victories with 30 year-olds. We have a very permissive society ready to take anything. We have government officials that do not bother to ask questions on what government invests money in, many administrators are dishonest hence people like us are seen as renegades and called all kinds of names.
The Journalism Years
I left law practice to create my brand of sports journalism which some called irreverent, daring; I made as many friends as I made enemies but because I studied something as a child that truth only has one version, so I did just that. I tried to put across ideas I know about from global influences and trends but I met brick walls. I was never tired, I pioneered sports on Sunday, set up a premium sports bar (Sports Shack) which pioneered the concept of viewing centres today and I am also the founding Director of the Pepsi Football Academy; I incorporated it. I did a few things to make the game change, but what I found out was that I live in a society that is very challenging and resistant to the truth. I was a member of the Football Technical Committee for years…
(Cuts in)What year was that?
I first became a member of the technical committee in 1993 when I came back with the video of Austin J.J Okocha and Amos Adamu thought that was exceptional; I was even a journalist at the time. I served from 1993 to 1996 and I came back in 1998-99, came back again briefly in 2009 and we had this issue of MRI; awesome dishonesty which is reducing our fortunes so I left it for them.
You left abruptly the last time you were in that committee…
Yes because we had certain agreements but there were some bigwigs who had an agenda which in my opinion was not good for our sports. A man plays under 17, three years later, he is retiring from football. A classical case was in 2007, we beat Spain in the under 17 final on penalties. Ajiboye was in goal for us but now he has retired. De Gea was in goal for Spain and now he is the number one goal keeper of Manchester United; and he is just 21 years old. And when you try to point this out, they tell you oh, other countries cheat too but I said no! Because your house boy steals doesn’t mean mine should steal as well. And there was this clear picture of people wanting things at happenstance. And even when it happens because we are not prepared for it, we have not shown the capacity to manage success.
In 1973, we won soccer gold in the All African Games; easily our best team in thirty years, Eyo Essien, Okala, Achebe, Sani, Yakubu Mambo, Josy Dombraye…but the following year, we were kicked out of the world cup qualifiers by Ghana who didn’t even make it themselves; it was Zaire that went to the world cup. And then we won the African Cup of Nations in 1980 here in Lagos; the following year, we were beaten in the group games in Libya…
(Cuts in) so it’s not just the age grade that we have a problem with?
There’s an institutional dislocation. The custodians of our football obviously don’t have the competence and are impervious to advice. However, I think I have done my bit. At a time when three of my friends are state governors Fashola, Imoke, Akpabio and one Secretary of State to the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, I thought to pull back. If they don’t want to receive what my considered opinions are. I have created a platform where we have 5-14 year olds listen to me. One or two have gotten scholarships to America and every Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday, I am out there; it’s fun for me.
Before you pulled out, there was a revelation in Segun Adeniyi’s book on the Yar’ Adua’s years that indeed there was an opportunity for you to turn around the fortunes of Nigerian Football and that you played a crucial role on how these things should happen. What eventually happened because according to Segun Adeniyi, you didn’t eventually make the committee?
That was the final act! I suffered reverses in business when they appoint somebody coach and I said he wasn’t good enough and media buyers who are sympathetic to their course just closed me out. Certain players who played their football on the pages of our newspapers where invited into the national team and I said no, this man is not good enough. Their friends in the media look for a way of putting me down. A whole lot including clandestinely working against me from becoming secretary general of the NFA despite coming tops at the interviews. But the one you just mentioned was quite devastating, that was why I said it was the final act for me. I was given a call by a close friend that the Presidency was worried that the Super Eagles might not qualify for the World Cup and he had advised Segun Adeniyi to speak with me.
I was part of the kitchen cabinet of the late Admiral Aikhomu and late Chief Williams for World Cup 94, so I knew what the issues had been and how we sorted them out. Based on that, when Segun Adeniyi called me, I told him to give me a few days to give him a position paper which I did and they reverted to me asking for terms of reference and I recommended the presidential task force of which Governor Amaechi was Chairman. And then they asked me to nominate people with reasons, which I did. I tried to create a balance between establishment and non-establishment people. And then I was invited for the inauguration, by the time I got to Abuja, suddenly nobody was picking my calls and I found out a few months later that some people who had selfish interests had protested to Yar’adua that I am a radical so I was dropped. Then I thought to myself that why would I be losing out by just telling the truth? So at that point I decided to quit.
So you wanted an environment that you would have some level of control of so that you could prove your point, was why you started the academy?
To be honest with you, my kids are growing up well in the UK as sports men; swimmers and footballers. I have seen what academies have done for them in my absence. They augment what parents and teachers give to children and I thought I could bring that experience here and borrowing your word, be in control of the major elements. In life, whatever you want to do, the ingredients must be there in appropriate proportion. My friends have supported and sustained the academy until Cowbell saw that it was a good CSR platform and machinery for youths’ development. I have found good partnership with Cowbell on the platform of Promasidor and today, wonderful smiles on my face is interpreted by some as millions but no; I have watched over 600 children grow overtime and its some kind of surrogacy on my part, as I have kids who believe in me and I have been able to put together children with whom we have played 93 matches both competitive and invitational, and we’ve got just two yellow cards. Bringing up better Nigerians, building sound minds and bodies who can do anything on the platform of football is what brings me joy. Today we have Cowbell academies in four centres: Agege, Sango Ota, Ajegunle and Surulere. And in my interactions with parents, I get feedback that tells me that I am doing something that is worth a while. I am keeping children out of mischief the same way sports kept me out of mischief.
Apart from these social benefits, as an academy, you have achieved some milestones. Can we have a list of those achievements?
Last year, Tony Amoruho got a scholarship to an American University. In my own opinion, that was a child rescued from somewhere down there to quality education and a better life. As we speak, a couple of them are in the Aspire Academy stand a chance of studying abroad.
What is Aspire Academy?
Aspire academy is probably the world’s biggest sports academy in Qatar. They have satellites mainly in Africa helping to develop football; we have an affiliation with them. We have players who they have invited and of course we have arguably the most talented player Toheed Gidado who came out in flying colours in his SSCE exams now in MTN Scholars programme, he is in camp as we speak. If he gets a scholarship, he goes to an American University. If I am a multi millionaire, I might not have been thinking of giving scholarships to children but by luck, I have become a platform for children to go up there. That said, I am looking to next three/four years when we can get our talents into the hands of credible European agents who would give us contracts that we can interpret instead of selling players into slavery. In all my years of dealing with sports, I have never done a single transfer because I thought it would clash with my interest as a journalist but now that I have stepped down journalism, I am looking at a situation where over the next three years, we have two three players in Europe, we have millions of Dollars and I take that to a reputable bank, it would be an investment to give the academy a continuous life to outlive me.
Last year you did something extraordinary by Nigerians standards. You brought in 6 coaches and you trained 150 Nigerian coaches. What were the motivation and the outcome of that experiment?
I am a bit of an adventurous person and when I spot a problem, I try to give it a solution the way I understand it. Probably the biggest problem of Nigerian football is poor coaching; in fact, Nigerian sports generally. And I thought that since I run a football academy for children between age 5-17, over that next three years I could groom 500 coaches for grass roots sports to move them around and see how they can help change the face of our football so that we don’t use grandfathers as under 17. My friends contributed and Promasidor again came to my rescue and bought tickets, they came, saw and knew that ‘there is something here’. We are working on the second edition and I have a set of NGOs called ‘Free Kicks’ a complement of this Cowbell Academy to create this platform where we can train coaches , referees and a help desk.
We want to be able to offer free advice on investments and also get insurance and health covers for our sports men. It’s tough because corporate Nigeria does not believe in developmental sports; they just want the live games where they can advertise their brands and services but I am sure we would get to a point where they would see that what appears like social service is now becoming strategic to market penetration, business development and brand profiling.
If you have the opportunity to do 3 things in Nigerian sports, what are the three things you would do?
The first thing is to privatize all government facilities for sports. Many of them are derelict and underutilized while the private sector have the idea of how to make them viable. A 21st century stadium should at least have five destinations. The Abuja Stadium where we claim to have spent millions of Dollars has only one destination which is your seat.
What other destinations should we be looking at in our stadia?
A stadium should have sports shops, sports bars and restaurants, leisure centres where your wife can go to the salon and your kids can access the Play station while you go to the bar., the match venue and proper security. The next thing would be to ensure that those running our football who claim to the independent but still collect money as NFA and run as NFF are put in their place. So I would annul the NFA or the decree and allow the real stakeholders in. The third is that I would go to the federal government and tell them to make it mandatory that anybody who wants to set up a secondary school must have a sports ground. The first day my father took me to school, the first thing I saw was a sports field, but today, you find a secondary school in a four flat complex and the first thing you see is the bursar’s office. School sports which was the conveyor –belt for graduating sports men in every sport is either not existent or has been cut and that’s why it took us about 19 years to win the Cup of Nations again.
Let’s go back a bit…You stirred the hornet’s nest when you stoutly insisted that Samson Siasia could not qualify us for the Nations Cup and World Cup. You probably must have made more enemies at that time but you were eventually vindicated. What did you see that many Nigerians did not see and how did you feel when you were eventually vindicated?
Let me start by saying I am not a man who gloats and when I am proved right, I just smile and I am used to people not apologizing to me for all the undeserved insults and umbrage they may have heaped on me. Like I said, my foray into Ogbe Stadium got me in contact with big coaches of that era; Alabi Essien, Pam Anyasere, Ogbokodo, Eto Abachina , Godwin Etemike and co. without having a serious claim to football skills, I saw coaches at work, I knew what they look for. By the time I turned a pundit, I listened to people who played the game analyse and I knew the ingredients and the elements the coaches wanted. I was privileged once to lead under 20 to the Aspire Academy in Qatar to train. I sat with Siasia for about 12 days, I didn’t see a coach there; he didn’t display those things I had seen in coaches. After the first 5 days I invited him to my room and told him I can’t see a team here. He promised me that the boys were going to do wonders. We were beaten in round two in Egypt and by the time people started saying they should make Siasia coach because he won Olympic silver and under 20 World Cup silver, he used granddads to be honest.
There’s nobody in Siasia’s team that was under 23. I am not there parent but I know where and when many of them started playing football. And today apart from Mikel Obi, Echijile and one or two others out of about 40-50 players he used at those two levels, if he scored just two percent, I don’t think that is good enough. Simply for me, he was like giving a driver a Hiace Bus to drive to Ibadan and he crashes at the toll gate then you now give him a trailer; I didn’t see how he was going to qualify for the Nations’ cup. They gave him the job and everybody thought I was talking rubbish and then his first and second call up list told me I was right. No matter how you put big tyres in a car, it can’t convert it to a Jeep. When he brings out his team list, he has five midfielders, nine attackers instead of the other way round, I knew we were going nowhere. So in direct response to your question, what I saw in Qatar told me we would not be there. Samson is a very close friend but even if he’s my twin brother, the truth needs to be told.
When Henry Nwosu was coaching the under 20, I was a member of the technical committee. Henry and I have been friends for over 30 years but I made sure he was fired because I didn’t think he could do the job. I have a responsibility to the Nigerian people to tell them the truth as I see it. It doesn’t mean I am right all the time but my wealth of experience gives me the capacity to see all sides of the equation.
What is your advice for Nigerians out there on their general attitudes and how we should grow ourselves to attain higher levels of sporting glory?
In the last one year, I have seen parents come to me and say Dudu, my child has to play football. There has been an improvement but the growth rate has to be a bit speedier. A lot of children just go from an air conditioned house into an air conditioned car and into and an air conditioned classroom and play computer games all day long. They grow too fat, don’t know anything outside their home and school buildings. Today I think parents are thinking differently and I would use this opportunity to implore corporate Nigeria that there is need to do corporate social responsibility. Don’t wait until Nigeria qualifies for World or Nations’ cup before you start paying for live broadcast. The people who played for Nigeria were not manufactured. Some money has to come into the developmental platform, so I am inviting industry captains to make decisions that will change the face of our sports. There are 20 clubs in the premier league and 19 are owned by the government and this is unheard of anywhere in the world. For me, I think it’s just a conduit to fleece funds but it would be nice if parents ask a few more questions, expose their children to activities that improve their health and mental capacity and their relationship with others. Then we would begin to set new values and will then have a better country.
Don’t you think the reason corporate organizations don’t want to put their money in sports is because they believe such monies will not be properly accounted for?
You are right because there have been incidents like that. That said, if everybody did that, our sports will die. Emerging sports promotion companies can be engaged, you invite them the same way you ask agencies to pitch for advertising accounts, ask them to come and tell you what they will give you. Promasidor does not owe NFA any explanations. They just picked up my social platform and asked me what do we get in return for it? I give it to them and everybody is happy. If 10-20 organizations do the same thing, it becomes a trend and people will begin to believe in these things.
The truth about it is somebody has to take the bold step and there’s no rule in the world that says it’s the track and field federation that should sponsor inter house sports and no rule says the NFF should regulate street soccer. So the corporate organizations should make sure they put back into the society and look for the right people with right competencies, ask questions and let them account for their dealings.
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