• Thursday, June 13, 2024
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BusinessDay

Last week was an interesting one by all standards

Aso Rock Villa
After enduring a dull and very quiet week a fortnight ago, it was a relief for me that some buzz returned to the Aso Rock Villa last week. And it turned out to be quite an interesting one too by all standards.
On Tuesday, July 19, the Villa hosted the National Olympic Committee (NOC) who came for the official handover of Nigeria’s 2016 Olympic team and the investiture of the President Muhammadu Buhari as the grand patron of the NOC. The event was void of the pomp that we were used to. Most of the seats were empty. The compare, a loquacious fellow, tried to liven the event. He kept us all laughing. The Nigeria’s team to Rio has a total of 79 athletes, 49 qualified male athletes and 29 female athletes who will compete in 10 different sports.
At the start of the event, that doubled as an  investiture and a fundraiser, Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, read his fine speech praising the President for his support and commitment to sports despite the economic situation in the country. He pleaded with companies and individuals to support Team Nigeria however they can. Thereafter, there was no mention of the fundraising. It was dead on arrival. Who would dare make donations when ‘Baba’ is seated? I bet what was going on in the minds of the audience, would be something like, `who are you trying to please?’ `Him?’ `Do so at own peril.’
So I was expecting that when the President took to the podium he would make donations to the team to gear them up as it was a fundraising event. Rather, he just went on to issue stern warnings that I’m sure you are familiar with now. “Funds must be used judiciously”, he admonished. He warned that “if you have no business going to Rio de Janeiro then stay at home and support the team from here”.
“We are all aware of our nation’s dwindling revenue and the current global economic challenges,” Buhari said. “It is therefore, imperative that funds provided for the games are utilised judiciously. In this regard, any official who has no business at the games should
stay at home to cheer the team from here and if they must travel to the Olympics, they should do so at their own expense.” Right!

Yes, Nigeria is going through the worst of times. Did you hear the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, and the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udoma, contradicting themselves on the current state of the economy? Adeosun told the Senate that Nigeria was in a recession while Udoma told journalists at the Presidential Villa that until figures for the second quarter come out negative again, he couldn’t say Nigeria is in recession. Ok, whatever the school of the situation, realities on the ground says we are already there, but I guess the government cannot help it, sports keeps Nigerians happy, so let’s go there.

Back to the topic of our discussion, in-spite of the way it was masked, the athletes gave out a hint that they were happy that the President was rooting for them rather than joining the sycophancy.
When he charged the NOC on the judicious use of funds, the athletes clapped extra. It got us all laughing and thinking what was going on.
As a sports documentary was aired during an interlude, one could feel the palpitations and the significance of the Olympics to the athletes.
Nigeria live and breathe sports; from football through basketball to boxing. Sport is the only thing that binds us together as a nation. When cheering for the nation teams, Nigerians discard any divisive issue whether politics, region or religion. Through sports, the beauty of our diversity shines the brightest as we unite in support of the green and white. The hall was silent as everyone was glued to the giant screens at the sides of the hall.
On the light side of things, President Buhari and VP Yemi Osinbajo couldn’t help but banter and even take sides while admiring the uniforms the athletes wore. To be honest, they looked more like choir robes from the 1980s than a team gear from 2016. When the compere announced the unveiling of the Team Nigeria’s Olympic uniform, they emerged dressed like choristers and undertakers (sorry to describe it like this). The men wore bowler hats with a funny gown-like suit but the lady’s gowns fitted better, oh yes or what did you think?
Disappointingly, though, some of the athletes were denied lunch at the banquet that was supposedly hosted in their honour while guests had access to the menu. I’ve covered similar events like this in the past and I must say this is the first time this has happened. Apparently, lunch cards were issued out for people to use in accessing the meal venue and some of the athletes did not get them. Come to think of it, this is the first time anything of the sort is happening. Why do you need to invite guests only to select who get to eat?
Hopefully, this ugly trend is nipped quickly.
Elizabeth Archibong