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Encomiums as Tayo Oreweme leaves sports ministry

By Samuel Ifetoye
13 July 2020   |   4:12 am
Any person who has experienced Mrs. Tayo Oreweme (Née Agbemuko), who retires from active service on Wednesday, would agree that she is a human machine, indefatigable, workaholic and unyielding to compromise like the preacher she is.

Sports Minister, Sunday Dare (third right); Tayo Oreweme (left); NOC President, Habu Gumel (second left) when the executive committee of the Para-Powerlifting Federation of Nigeria, led by former international and world record holder, Ruel Ishaku, visited the minister… recently.

Any person who has experienced Mrs. Tayo Oreweme (Née Agbemuko), who retires from active service on Wednesday, would agree that she is a human machine, indefatigable, workaholic and unyielding to compromise like the preacher she is.

Unknown to many, she was purpose-built for sports and, accordingly, she has outstandingly fulfilled her calling as a critical pivot in the many successes that Nigeria has achieved.

Born in June 1962 in Mobo Local Government Area, Ekiti State, Oreweme showed when she first stepped on the field at St. Patrick Catholic Primary School, Bacita, Kwara State, that she was made for sports. At the school, she dominated in 100m, 200m, long jump and basketball not only in inter-house sports, but also in the State Primary Schools competitions. Then, little did the world know that she just got on the track of a destiny of long meritorious service to Nigerian and African sports.

Oreweme was consistent at both the Notre Dame Girls Secondary School, Oro, where she was appointed the Health Prefect, and at the University of Ibadan, which she represented in several Nigeria Universities Games, as the best forward of its basketball team.

During her national youth service, the Director of the Bauchi State Sports Council, Babayo Shehu, quickly recognised her as an asset and not only took her into the state basketball team but also appointed her Secretary of the State Basketball Association. Impressed with her input and commitment, she was further appointed Secretary of the Fund Raising Committee for the Third All Africa Handball Championships hosted by the state in 1984.

It was no surprise that when Babayo Shehu was appointed the Director General of the National Sports Commission (NSC), he requested the NYSC to transfer Mrs. Oreweme into the federal service with him. The National Sports Commission retained her.

From 1985 till date, Oreweme has remained in sports, ascending higher offices and responsibilities with innumerable achievements on her trail.

From her first assignment as Assistant Secretary, Festival/Games Secretariat, she has served as the General Secretary of over 15 sports federations in which she left her footprints in the sand of time through the reorganization of the secretariat for improved efficiency, introduction of new competitions, creation of new sponsorships, sustenance of existing partnerships, establishment of youth clinics for talent discovery, regular attendance of international events and hosting of continental championships, improvement in athletes welfare and team harmony, all of which gave verve to Team Nigeria.

For instance, as Secretary of the Handball Federation, she sustained sponsorship of all domestic championships from 1986 to 1990; led Team Nigeria to the Algiers 1986 Fourth All-Africa Handball Championships at which Nigeria won the girls continental trophy for the first time. She led them back to retain the trophy at the Tunisia 1988 Fifth All Africa Junior Handball Championships.

She organised the Maiduguri 1988 Fourth All Africa Senior ‘B’ Handball Championships at which Nigeria won the male and female trophies; organised the Minna 1989 Third Commonwealth Youth Handball Championships in which Nigeria also won the male and female trophies; hosted the Owerri 1987 Ninth All Africa Club Handball Championships, and the Bauchi 1989 Seventh World Junior Ladies World Handball Championships, the first time ever Nigeria hosted those continental and intercontinental events.

The record is the same in Taekwondo, Table Tennis, Cricket, Basketball, Traditional Sports, Athletics, Judo, Swimming and more.

Promoted to Chief Sports Officer in 2007, Oreweme headed the technical branch of the Technical and Coaching Department responsible for the preparation, training tours and camping of Team Nigeria for local and international competitions, as well the establishment and interpretation of rules, guidelines, statutes and resolution of technical disputes for sports Federations and the treatment of matters relating to international organizations like the IOC, SCSA, Commonwealth Games and International Federations.

As one noted for her academic brilliance, Oreweme was made head of the Research, Documentation and Marketing Department, which managed National Council on Sport meetings, review of National Sports Policy, marketing and maintenance of public-private partnerships, Servicom matters, bilateral and multilateral sports relations, survey, research and documentation, organisation of courses, seminars, workshops, conferences, awards, Sports Hall of Fame, establishment of the Sports Informational Centre, Abuja and upgrade of the Sports Library in Lagos, among others.

Lifted to an Assistant Director position in 2009, she served twice as head of the Lagos Liaison Office, where she introduced innovative strategies to achieve remarkable feats in internal revenue generation, security, maintenance of infrastructure, provision of critical amenities including water and electricity, elevation of workers morale, the computerization of operations and connectivity with the headquartered and the publication of a quarterly newsletter for corporate communications.

She also headed the Schools Sport Division as the Deputy Director, Grassroots, in 2014 before her promotion to a Director in 2016 in charge of planning, monitoring and information management; the position she occupied up till July 2017.

From August 1, 2017 till date, she was redeployed to Federations and Elite Athlete Department, where she supervised the activities of 38 National Sports Federations, under the direct control of the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development.

Oreweme was Commandant of several Team Nigeria camps preparatory to various international competitions, including the Brazzaville 2015 11th All Africa Games and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. She was also the General Manager of Team Nigeria to the Gold Coast 2018 XXI Commonwealth Games in which Nigeria won nine Gold, nine silver and six Bronze Medals. She also led Nigeria’s contingent to the Rabat 2019 XII Africa Games, which Nigeria returned second with 46 Gold, 33 Silver and 48 Bronze medals.

Into the year, she led Team Nigeria to the 2020 World Para-Powerlifting World Cup in Abuja, finishing with 13 Gold, 8 Silver and 7 Bronze medals.

For her expertise, contributions and relevance, she was appointed member of the Main Organising Committee of the Edo 2020 National Sports Festival, as well as Member and Secretary of the Ministerial Advisory Committee for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, which should have held this year.

Oreweme has not been without controversies though. Her critics fault her decision to cut some of the tress that donned the National Stadium in Lagos, as well as the proliferation of so many shops and eateries in the stadium.

There are also those who argue that under Oreweme, athletes, who should be the first beneficiaries of the National Stadium, found it difficult to access the facilities.

They also argue that under the retiring director, the National Stadium only made money from the gates and shops without using same to address rot in the stadium.

Looking at Oreweme’s service to Nigeria, a member of the basketball family, Pius Ayinor, said the retiring director was an upright sportswoman, who ensured the right things were done all the time.

“She spent some time with the basketball federation and came out as somebody upright, who wanted to do things by the rules. Before I worked closely with her, I had heard so many negative things about her, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt. She turned out to be totally different from what people said about her.

“The only things one can say against her are that she is not tolerant of laziness and does not bend when she is convinced that she is on the right path. This attitude brought her at loggerheads with many of her colleagues.

“She also wasn’t the kind of person you take along when you are looking for sponsors. She will always come with her simple dressing not ready to impress. She wasn’t the type of person to market anything with her dressing sense because she was always herself. She worked well, very sincere, but wasn’t the very socializing type.”

Also speaking on Oreweme, a member of the Nigeria Olympic Commission’ (NOC) Media Committee, Patrick Ibe, described her as a hard working woman, who battled the society to do her job.

“The corruption in the sports ministry did not allow her to do her work. She worked for the athletes and ensured they got their dues. But because of that, some of the other directors ganged up against her and tried to sabotage her efforts.

“At the Commonwealth Games in Australia, because she insisted that the athletes would get their dues, some of the directors ganged up against her and lied to the minister that she was maltreating the athletes.

“Unfortunately, she was removed from her position. I believe the minister knows better now, because some of the directors, who ganged up against her, were later found out.

“The sports ministry and indeed the whole country is losing a conscientious worker, who contributed her quota to Nigeria’s sports development.”