Why NPA no longer produce athletes for Nigerian National Team—Charles Okaga

The Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) takes sports very importantly unlike other maritime regulatory agencies. This is evident in the efforts of the current management of the authority headed by Hadiza Bala Usman at resuscitating the dead NIPOSA Games (Nigerian Ports Authority Sports Association) recently.
In this edition of our Maritime Lifestyle segment, DAPO OLAWUNI met with Charles Okaga, the team manager of NIPOSA.

In this interaction, he took a look at the correlation between sports and the maritime sector as being championed by NPA.
The interview held inside the newly reconstructed NPA club house and sports facility located at Bode Thomas, Surulere, Lagos.

Q: Sir, can we meet you briefly?

A: I am Charles Okaga, Principal Manager of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) currently serving in Monitoring and Regulatory Services.

I am the team manager of the Nigerian Ports Authority Sports Association (NIPOSA)

Q: On the NIPOSA games, where are we now, compared to where we are coming from?

A: We have made a lot of strides in terms of recent history, in terms of contemporary history, you would know that the Nigerian Ports Authority was structured in a manner that it gave sports a very important place in its consideration for staff welfare, and that was why at a time in history of Nigeria when the National Team  was known as the red devils, almost the first eleven of the team was made up of NPA background.
In the days of Agaba Merama, in the days of MC Maribe, in the days of Egogo, Ita Henshaw just to mention a few of them, were all NPA staff.

We even had Ogan Bassey that was the first prominent boxer to come from West Africa, he also had a stint at NPA.
We have the Omagbemis of this world, she was the first Olympic medalist for the country, she was also a staff of the NPA.
We have boxers, the Mayeguns of this world who represented Nigeria up to the All African Games, they were all members of the Nigerian Ports Authority.
Incidentally, the building that we are seating in here is so symbolic because it was the first Secretariat of the Nigerian Coaches Association, and the building which you know was in a state of wreckage is what has now been renovated to be a state of the art facility that we are seating in here, all these are contemporary enough.

Q:  What about in terms of the present realities?

A:   Let me say from the millenniums, the Nigerian Ports Authority at the turn of the millennium went into sporting recession, there is recession in the sense that we used to have a professional football team;

The “Sea Siders Football Team” which later became “Warri Wolves”
The team became a victim of the port concession when the authority was told to divest from all none-core maritime activities, hence the Sea Siders football club became a victim.
The NIPOSA games that we are celebrating today was last held in year 2001, but in year 2018, the NPA management led by Hajia Hadiza Bala Usman resuscitated the game.
This is not a matter of praise singing here, Hadiza Bala Usman has demonstrated an uncommon courage in confronting institutional errors and wrongs, it got to a point where NPA management no longer see sports as an important aspect of the Authority’s activities, we at that points lost sight of the fact that all work and no play, makes jack a dull boy.
So, the facility at Bode Thomas which is replicated in every other port city started dilapidating, if you had come to this building about six months ago, this building was in a total state of dereliction, anyone that was here six months ago and now would not believe that he is in the same environment because of the transformation.
It takes somebody with a midas touch, somebody who can see beyond the ordinary, to be able to buy into the vision of the sport administrators, to agree that the authority requires a befitting club house that can be measured with the status of the authority.
Hadiza resuscitated the NIPOSA games last year, she did not just resuscitated it but also brought a new vista into the NIPOSA activities, this is the inclusion of all stakeholders into the games, before 2018, it used to be exclusively for officers and staff of the NPA.

Q: Why is it that the NIPOSA games could not hold between 2005 till 2018?

A: This is why i said we were in a position of sporting recession when nothing was happening.

Q: How would you project the future, going forward from here?

A: The future now, you would agree with me that the days when NPA was producing athletes for the national team were days when we were in the period of public ownership of government business exclusively, but in this days, we have moved into the Public Private Partnership (PPP) era, and what has this done to the system? It has reduced the staff strength, it is now concentrating more on professionalism, because its staff strength has reduced, the Nigerian Ports Authority cannot necessarily be churning out athletes for the Nigerian National Team, but what this facility will do is that it would serve as a ground for the development of talents through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), I remember a time that the national under 23 team came here to do screening for players they would pick, we have this venue serving inter house sports for so many schools and academies, while NPA is not directly using this facility as contributor to the National Team, it is using it as a corporate organisational strategy to provide facilities for which we can catch the youths young.

So, going forward, the first thing we are doing is CSR through sports, secondly is building institutional networks with our stakeholders, thirdly is; affording staff and officers and opportunity to come and unwind, especially during weekends with all the facilities that has been put in place.

Q: What changes have you done to the lawn tennis court?

A: We have just reconstructed the lawn tennis court and we have increased it from two to four, the implication of this is that the tennis court that NPA has is suitable to hold eight finalists, it can hold any international tournament because the minimum required is four, and ours is of the best standards.

Q: Does this facility generate revenue for self sustainance?

A: When you look at a facility of this nature, I mentioned Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) it cannot be run as a commercial venture, it is a donation and contribution from the NPA to support and grow another sector which is the sports, which if well utilized would not only promote the Nigerian Ports Authority, but can also promote and develop Nigeria among the comity of nations when it comes to the issue of sports.

Q: You are now nearing retirement, how are we sure this idea would be sustained?

A:  As a matter of fact, I have less than ten years to spend in the service, we have quite a lot of colleagues that are coming up in NIPOSA, we make sure that the younger officers are the ones driving this process, you can only find where there is a serious problem and I come in to correct it.
In terms of the initiatives, the drive and the action, it is undertaken by the younger officers

Q:  How are we sure this facility will not be mismanaged again?

A: On the maintenance of the facility, you would agree with me that quality of the finishings that we have  here is such that it would not be a subject of immediate deterioration. We also have a Facility Management Team that the Authority has put in place to make sure that the use of the place is not abused, to ensure the use is controlled, thirdly to ensure that the facelift or repair of any faulty part of it is done from time to time. The NPA Managing Director has also assured that deliberate policies would be put in place to ensure that these legacies are sustained even beyond the lifespan of the current management.

Q: How many people participated in the NIPOSA games 2019?

A: As for the competition, we have seven locations, six ports, and the headquarters, making it seven locations, we have eight terminal operators who are participating and also Nigerian Shippers Council and Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) they are under the stakeholders category, we have also the NPA category, all together we have fifteen teams

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