Government Must Stop Funding Sports to Derive its Benefits – Tony Obot

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By Eric Elezuo

Sometime in the early 90s, a shrill voice, feminine in nature reverberated on radio, creating eagerness among sport lovers. Everyone wants to listen to sports broadcast with him on the then Larry Echiejile, now Izamoje sports programme. He was a very young youth corps member then. His name is Tony Obot.

Today, Tony Obot is no longer that shrill voice on radio; he is into big time radio promotion. In this interview, he outlined the steps he has taken so far to build his empire, Kandaval Communications Limited, having left Brilla FM and Larry Izamoje about 11 years ago, the qualification of the Super Eagles for the Russia 2018 World Cup, the person of the Sports Minister and the problem with Nigeria sports among other issues. Excerpt:

You are now identified with Kandaval, what happened to Brilla FM

Oh yes! Brilla was where I cut my journalism teeth. I arrived at Brilla after my first degree in the University of Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, and it may interest you to know that I did my Masters and PhD at Brillia FM. However, I left the company some 11 years ago. At Candabal, we veered into another aspect of media practice; not just sports, but total content for radio and TV.  We are on over 26 radio stations including Rhythm FM from Monday to Friday presenting programmes ranging from sport, entertainment and lifestyle.

Can one therefore, confidently say that Brilla FM actually made you the Tony you are today

No, on the contrary, I contributed to making Brilla what it is today.

What is your target audience

I cut across demography. My programme is called Fun Things; it is an educational/entertainment program for children between the ages of eight and 15 years, and sponsored by sponsored by Etisalat. We are on Cool FM Port Harcourt, Cool FM Kano, Abuja and many other radio stations. We are also on Campus radios with a programme called Hashtag Campus, sponsored by MTN. On a daily basis, we give them want they need as fits the age bracket. So our target cuts across.

Do you have a vision of setting up your own radio station one day

You know one will take it one step at a time. You can never tell what is going to happen next. I want to be in every home. I want to have a programme that runs across the country and I cannot achieve that with one radio station. Why don’t I just go to existing platforms that can deliver my wish /target and give good content for substitution which is practically what we are doing now. But if tomorrow, radio station comes why not? If tomorrow a TV station comes, why not? But like I said, we need to take it one step at a time.

Now, as a veteran sports journalist, what do you think are the Super Eagles’ chances now that we have qualified for Russia 2018  

Well, we were not in the last World Cup; we were not in the last Nations Cup; we could not even qualify for the youth tournament which was what we are really good at; we failed to win the Women’s Nations Cup; it was that bad. So what we have now is this World Cup qualification, and we are guaranteed playing three matches, whatever happens after then is a story for another day. Whether we lose all the three or not may not be the issue; our flag will be flown, our national anthem will be rendered in Russia, and that is good.

Don’t you have expectations like we can get to the second quarter finals

Expectations! I want to be pleasantly surprised. I wish our route to the world cup was more tortuous, I wish our qualification to the world cup was more challenging, I wish it was rigorous. Not the one we won all our matches.

I think it is because we prepared well

Not because we prepared well, I think it just happened. There is something we call luck, but whether luck or not, we were not there before now. This time we are there, luck may take us further. But I can predict, I can forecast, I can bet my money that we are going to play at least three matches at the world cup (laughs). It is this kind of stuff that makes us say that we are good. And this gets to affect things. That is why I said that I wish it was a more tortuous route to the world cup, that notwithstanding, we are there. We are going to play our three matches, if we qualify for the next round beautiful; it is good for business and everybody because the happiness level will increase.

Fine, we are going through not the best of time as an economy, so if we play in the next round of the World Cup, I tell you, we will not remember what is going on in Abuja, everybody will be happy. I pray and wish we get to the second round. And we can get to the second round, it can happen. We won the Olympic gold medal in Atlanta because we were super prepared. Although some things happened that did not made us get that far. But it was coming hard.

When we were to play Brazil, the cameras were all set for Brazil; the Bebetos, Romarios and the rest for them to come out. While they were delaying, Nigeria had already moved through the tunnels, on their way out, but they were asked moved them back for Brazil to pass first. That was what gave us the match against Brazil. And then we finished Argentina, things like this can happen; I wish we have something like that. However, we have qualified and we will be there. Many countries did not even qualify; Italy is not going to the world cup, so we are still better than them.

Let me say our ability to qualify will sustain that desire to win

It will! Our desire to win considering that things hardly work right for the Nigeria Federation. Let us serve well, enjoy.

Now about our minister; Solomon Dalung…

My take is that when it comes to getting personnel to run the sports ministry, I don’t know whether they look for the one that cannot deliver and send to sports. Nigeria is playing an FA cup match and someone who calls himself Minister of Sports is travelling to go and watch a premiership match in England. It didn’t end there; he is wearing the paraphernalia of the club and taking selfies which are posted on Facebook page. What does that tell you?

But he is not taking sides, just trying to be the minister for all clubs

No, let us talk about Nigeria clubs. He should be the father of all clubs, not staying somewhere shouting up Arsenal, up Chelsea. I am sure as we are talking; he is glued to one TV set, not watching a local game but watching foreign stuff. But again, listen to the way he talks, how can he say that Argentina is one of the biggest football associations in Nigeria. How can he say that? No look back, we are always worst of in sports except maybe for just handful many years back. I think they just look for a way to meet the quota, and without checking credentials, someone is sent to sports. I seriously think that we should end this stuff. We have a sport commission, but how has it been operating. Let us move it away from government, take it away from Abuja, they should just hands off. Let government stop funding sport. The moment government stops funding sport, you will see how far we will go.

The moment government stops funding sport, we will struggle, we will get it done, then we will see it as business. Because it is business, we will not be checking time. The government should stop funding sport, even football. Now, the Minister is saying that we should organise dinner to raise money; which money? We don’t need it. Football can fund itself, sport can fund itself.

With all these shortcomings, why do you think the government has refused to sack the minister

You see it still falls back to what I said earlier. He is representing one zone. The question is; is he the only person in that zone? But that is the person the godfathers have anointed. That is the person they want to use. Unfortunately if they sack now, they are going to bring another dead wood, I guarantee you. This is not the first time, second time, not the third. That is just who we are. That is the kind of government, the kind of PR we propagate.  The benefit you get from getting somebody who knows this thing is worth trying. The day the World Cup starts, crime level will drop, people will sell more, there will be more businesses here and there; if we see it that way, that it can be a cash cow, they will do the right thing.

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