Governor Ben Ayade
By Emma Una
On Monday last week, two of Senator Ben Ayade’s aides on sports engaged each other in fisticuffs following a misunderstanding over office space for, arguably, the most neglected sector in the state in recent times.
Chief Ofu Aya, the Commissioner for Sports and Cinematography and Mr Emmanuel Elom the Chairman State Sports Commission who, for the past two months, have been squabbling over office space threw caution and dignity to the wind and engaged in physical combat, a complete denouement and paradox to the great strides the state was known for just a few years back.
In retrospect, between 2011 and 2015, Cross River State came from behind to become one of the top states in sports development, winning laurels in the sector and positioning the state for the huge benefits of the industry. This was made possible by the efforts of then governor of the state, Senator Liyel Imoke, Mr Patrick Ugbe, the broadcaster who served as commissioner for sports at the time and their consultant, Bruce Ijrigho, a one time Nigerian top athlete who pulled all the strings on technical and development matters.
Through careful planning and visionary leadership, the duo of Ugbe with Bruce Ijirigho, the 1976 Captain of the Nigerian Olympic team who served as consultant, the state overtook leading position over renown sporting states like Delta and Lagos in school sports by winning most medals.
“We called a sports consultant whose main focus was to develop and nurture sports programmes and see them to fruition. That was what we did and within a few years we started dominating in youth events, secondary schools sports and overtook states like Lagos, Delta and others which were leading sporting states. What did that tell us? If we had continued with those programmes, Cross River State would remain the top sporting state in the country”. Patrick Ugbe, MD of HitFm , one time commissioner for Sports told Saturday Newzandar News.
He said the successes achieved through these programmes made the state to produce athletes in swimming, volleyball and basketball, with some of them fully engaged in professional sporting career outside the country. Track and Field was also special.
But like a raisin in the sun, all of that is now history and what has become the regular decimal is for sports officials to squabble over superiority and office space. Between 2015 and 2019, it was Asu Okang, then Commissioner for Sports squabbling with Mr Orok Duke, Chairman of the Sports Commission over who takes precedence in sports administration in the state. That contest probably made Senator Ayade while appointing officials at the start of his second tenure, to move Okang to the Ministry of Information and Duke to head Calywood and brought in new men, Ofu and Elom but unfortunately, the Okang /Duke war of words has been taken higher through physical combat.
Narrating what happened between them, Emmanuel Elom, the Sports Commission Chairman who had his dress torn and eye glasses broken in the fight said when he assumed office two months ago, he found the commission’s office at the state’s Sports Stadium occupied by Ofu and after a dialogue, he ,Ofu, agreed to vacate the office after some time.
“He said his office was occupied by the Commissioner for Education and that he would relocate when, and if he found an alternative office space”.
Elom stated that he waited for two months without an office and was operating from his car and when the commission held a board meeting last week, it was decided that the commissioner should be asked to vacate the stadium office for the commission Chairman and members.
“We were scheduled to meet with athletes on Monday to find out how they were doing following the lockdown and they had arrived and were waiting outside and when I arrived, I went to the VIP Lounge where I have been operating from and there I met three men smoking and drinking hot drink and I asked what they were doing there and they said the Commissioner brought them there”.
He stated that when he turned his back to go to the office where the commissioner was, someone pounced on him from the back with punches and others joined to beat him up.
“While the thugs were attacking me, I escaped and went down stairs, that was when the Commissioner came up with a kokobo ( horse whip) to flog me. I am surprised that a commissioner in government should do that “.
The Secretary of the Commission Mr Jude Amadi said he witnessed the incident and appealed to the commissioner to calm down and settle the matter amicably.
“He asked everyone in the stadium to leave the office and gates were locked up”.
Though Chief Ofu did not answer calls or reply text messages sent to his phone, DSP Irene Ugbo, the Cross River State Police Command spokesman said the matter had been reported to the Command.