From ROMANUS UGWU, Abuja
Though he is the lucky Commissioner for Sports when Rangers International FC of Enugu broke their 32-year trophy jinx, Honourable Charles Ndukwe, says he won’t want to carry the tag of Commissioner for Rangers.
Fielding questions from Sunday Sunsport recently, the youthful sports commissioner chronicled the success secret of Rangers, how capital intensive sponsoring Rangers has been on the state government and the challenges of heading the ministry.
He equally used the opportunity to set the records straight on the controversial decision of the state governor, Hon Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, to directly take over the running of the stadium, dismissing the insinuation that he was guilty of fraudulent mismanagement of the proceeds from the stadium.
Rangers winning the league trophy
The first credit must go to the governor, His Excellency, Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, for his support. He is a God sent governor and we are benefitting from his good luck because if not for providence and divine approval, I wonder how he could be the governor and I the Commissioner for Sports when the team broke the 32 years jinx.
It is his luck that the trophy which eluded Enugu State and Ndigbo in general could be won. Many things have been happening since he became the governor of the state. I have to however admit that the successes come with many challenges especially when there is scarcity of funds.
Challenges of finance
We are in the era of recession and only God knows how the Governor is managing to pay workers’ salaries and finance the team. He knows how to manage resources especially in an era funding is a major problem.
We did not attend National Youth Games last year not because we didn’t have interest or don’t have the athletes to win medals for us but because of scarcity of fund. We need prayer for availability of fund to participate in the National Sports Festival scheduled this year.
We have however done well in the areas of talent hunt within the state. We organised programmes in almost all the senatorial zones. I know for sure that by the end of this first quarter when funds are made available, we will do the state finals to enable us prepare very well for the Youth Games.
It has not been easy but the performance of Rangers last season was good for the state. From relegation threatened team in the 2015 league season to the champion in 2016. We now have our eyes on the continental campaign and I will say so far so good.
I want to assure Rangers fans that the prosecution of continental matches is a mission possible. We are happy to have a man of many ways as the governor of the state. I know that he has made solid plans for the tournament.
He has his eyes on the ball and I am sure that he will surprise everybody with his own plan. I may not be in his mind, but I can tell you that as a goal getter, he will do another magic just like the way he supported Rangers.
There was no much fund but the team never lacked anything. They were not owed salaries, they needed bus and it was provided for them. He even bought a brand new car for the coach and rewarded players and officials.
Setting target for Rangers
We are hoping that the team will go far despite the unimpressive start to the season. To avoid limiting ourselves to anything, we will encourage them to win everything possible. We know that other teams are there and have equally planned; we will do our best to keep the tempo and keep the flag flying.
Assessing Nigerian league
Sincerely speaking, there were lots of improvements from the 2015 league season. Heavy sanctions were meted out to teams that misbehaved last season. The LMC and NFF did not take chances on referees and even teams. If mighty FC IfeanyiUbah could be suspended and fined, what other way can you assess the improvement in the league.
Government spent much to influence Rangers results last season
I did not see or hear anything like that and I know that it is not true. We never did anything like that because we believe strongly that match officials are not for sale. We never did anything of such because we have good players.
We played more live matches than any other team. Many teams are scared of live matches and there were instances where teams cancelled proposed live matches. We accepted all the live matches given to us even when they imposed additional expenses on the government like using generator to train at night.
In most of the live matches, we are like playing away from home. I am sure anybody could be fired if His Excellency sees such fund in the budget we send to him. It is not just possible.
The magic of attracting fans to the stadium
It has to do with people identifying with success. The issue of playing live match also helped us. The first Friday live match was an eye opener. The stadium was filled to capacity because people never saw something like that before. Traders, young boys, girls and others took it like attending a party.
Again, we did not see it as wholly fund-generating avenue because we threw the gates open sometimes to check the pressure of controlling the crowd even when they came out with their money for gate takings.
We essentially want to avoid stampede. It was not as if we made so much on those Friday live matches, but we are happy that people who enjoy good football came out in numbers to support the team.
Recruitment for continental tournament
I can conveniently tell you that we are continentally ready with the quality of recruitment done. Beyond recruitment, team spirit plays very prominent role as has been seen in our first round matches.
There were players we signed and paid very big amount but did not get any result from them last season. It is not about big names but team spirit.
Relationship with Rangers management and scrutinising their books
My relationship with them is very cordial in the sense that we adopt dialogue in handling issues. However, the good thing is that the House of Assembly Committee on Sports has been very effective especially concerning Rangers.
They scrutinise the books and ask questions. Even the House Committee on Financial Malpractice also play its role very effectively. I also know that there has not been any red-light inasmuch as His Excellency has his eyes everywhere, getting security report as and when due.
Allegations of fraudulent practices in the management of stadium
There was no case of fraudulent malpractices on my part in the decision by the governor to oversee the management of the stadium. The management has always been such that there were few revenues coming from there.
I was not directly in charge of the management of the stadium because Rangers management print and sell tickets during matches. They only give the state government 15 per cent of the sales, which we pay straight to the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) account. We have all the documented receipts.
I don’t have any atom of fraud concerning the management of the stadium.
When I took over, the stadium was very bushy, dirty and smelling that I had to engage a cleaner. We pay from the funds generated from those using the stadium for events. Previously, Rangers management pay only N25,000 for the cleaning of the stadium after matches. It was not enough and we have to augment that from government purse.
His Excellency taking over the management of the stadium is for further improvement, he wants to institute in the stadium. There was nothing like my involvement in fraudulent practice because I am not directly involved in the day to day running of activities in the stadium.
If I am found wanting in any fraud concerning the stadium, I am ready to face the full wrath of the law. I did so many things there with my personal money including bringing the pumping machine from my house. The toilets were not working and I had to bring out my personal money to fix them and other things there.
We have maintained the stadium from the little money we get as proceeds which substantial part of them go into the IGR account. The records are there to speak for me. It was a case of the challenges that comes with success. Clear conscience fears no accusation.
We fixed the generating sets to ensure that those night games were made possible.
Preferred other ministry to sports
I appreciate the fact that God made it possible for me to be here. I strongly believe that it is not about money but passion for what I am doing. I express that passion anywhere I find myself.
If I find myself in another ministry tomorrow, I will equally prove myself there but I have my eyes on the ball for now to ensure that I leave the stage on high. I want to improve sports in its entirety because I don’t want people to remember me as Commissioner for Rangers instead of Sports.