As a student of Methodist Boys’ High School in Lagos, Nigeria, Wahid Enitan Oshodi topped his set from the first year to Form five, from where he got admission into the University of Lagos to study Engineering. Though the then school principal, Chief Ade Osuneye felt he should have put in for medicine considering his academic prowess. After graduating as an Engineer, he went on to study law and today he runs a success law firm. But all these count for little compared to what he has achieved with Table Tennis in Nigeria and indeed Africa. KUNLE ADEWALE in this report x-rayed the achievements of the first Nigerian to be elected into the board of the Commonwealth Table Tennis Federation

Wahid Oshodi’s passion for Table Tennis is without doubt. However, the challenges as the Lagos State Commissioner for Youths and Sports and his determination to take sports in Lagos State to greater heights are enormous and more than enough for him. Therefore, when he was approached by stakeholders in the game of Table Tennis to steer the ship of the federation based on his antecedents in the game, he was quick to discard the idea. But with mounting pressure, most especially from Nigerian players scattered all over the globe, the engineer cum lawyer had little choice than to bow to the pressure and threw his hat into the ring.

“There was a lot of pressure from stakeholders who felt that based on the good work I had done with Table Tennis in Lagos State over the years, that I probably could assist in transforming the face of the game and bring the necessary change to return the national team to the top of the table of world tennis. The support of many credible people and their pledges to support the game alongside the persistence of many of the country’s top players that I ran into made it very difficult for me to refuse. The challenge is one that I hope the team we have now built in the federation will overcome,” he said.

Considering that Nigeria table tennis was at his lowest ebb when he took over as President of the Nigeria Table Tennis Federation, Oshodi had his work well cut out. The first step he took was to establish a strong youth development programme.

“There is undoubtedly so much talent in a country the size of Nigeria. We now have to go back to some tried and tested methods to enable us discover the abundant talents at a much younger age so we can harness them quickly and get our top coaches working with these players. We also have to provide tables and other equipment to enable the young children in our schools play. We will be working through the members of the federations from the six zones and the state coaches in the various states to get to the schools all over the country.

“We have to stage more competitions at the state, zonal and national levels. This will help our coaches see the players and assess those players who have that extra talent which will take them to the top of the game. There has to be greater coordination between the state associations and the federation. Luckily, having served at all levels of administration of the game I know the type of problems confronting the associations and clubs. We have to work very hard to enable Table Tennis regain its glory,” he told THISDAY in an interview then.

One of the greatest achievements of Oshodi in Nigeria’s table tennis is producing a player, Aruna Quadri, to be ranked number 30 in the world-the highest ranked by any black man and the generosity was not lost on the player.

“In every aspect of life, rising to the top is not always easy without having some God-sent angels in one’s life. Nobody knows about me after I started my professional career in 2010 but I have sacrificed a lot by sponsoring myself to tournaments every year and I guess my seriousness convinced the President of Nigeria Table Tennis Federation, Wahid Oshodi, to be sponsoring me since the beginning of the year. With this rare opportunity from the man, I started praying to God so that I will not lose the opportunity because I knew that a lot of players were looking forward to the same opportunity. For this reason, I started working harder than before.

“The country only gives support for championship like All African Games, Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games and that’s not enough for sports development. An organised country should not always be thinking of preparation for these games but rather regular participation in international tournaments that can make us win medals in any competition. I can boldly say that I have not been supported by the country but rather by the Lagos State Commissioner for Youths and Sports, who also doubles as the NTTF President, Oshodi,” Quadri told THISDAY.

Asked if he is satisfied with what our players have achieved in the sport, Oshodi reacted thus: “Definitely not. This is where a lot of people get it wrong. We are still living on past glory. Our current players have not done much. Quadri’s achievement last year and our team medal in the Commonwealth games are now history. We need to move on from that. Our next major test as a nation is at the Africa Games. We need to fight hard for the seven gold medals at stake. If we can take all seven gold medals as we used to do many years back, it will be good. There are still so many mountains to climb. We are currently at the peak of a small hill. We must in the nearest future aim to be number 1 in Africa and the Commonwealth and a top 10 nation in the world. It is achievable but we must set about doing our work properly – both players and officials.”

In the ‘60s up till the late ‘80s table tennis was very popular before its dwindling fortune, but Oshodi was able to bring back the game to its glory days by organising more competitions and giving more exposure to players. He staged more competitions and exposed the top players. He was able to engage with the sporting public and get them back into the stadiums to watch and support our young players.

“It is the fans and the media that will make stars out of these players. It’s not encouraging playing before empty stands; fans need to fill the stadiums and to do this, we have to package our competitions in a way in which they are sufficiently attractive to the fans such that we can lure them from their televisions and football. We obviously cannot compete with football and the English Premier League but we can ensure that when the fans are not watching football they are watching table tennis. It is a fact that in the 70s the likes of Atanda Musa, Babatunde Obisanya, Lasisi Kasali, Late Yomi Bankole, Olawunmi Majekodunmi, Ethel Jacks and Cecilia Arinye were household names and were as popular as the likes of Christian Chukwu and Segun Odegbami. That is what we doing with the help of our friends in the private sector we are surely achieving this objective,” the law graduate of the University of Lagos said.

Asked how he had been able to combine his work as Sports Commissioner with being NTTF boss and now a board member of CTTF, he replied: “For me being in sports cannot really be classified as work. I love my sports and I have a great passion for the young athletes and the coaches that I work with on daily basis. Of course, I cannot do this without the great support I receive from my boss, Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola. He is seriously committed to the growth of sports in Nigeria and this has made our work manifestly easier. We tasked ourselves on meeting world standards in sports and that I believe is the greatest driver for us in Lagos and I translated this to the Table Tennis Federation. Furthermore, I have an excellent team working with me in Lagos and their support is invaluable in making the work that lies ahead succeeding a success,” the former board member LSSC noted.

When he was elected as President of Table Tennis Federation, Oshodi was quick to identify that for the country to get to its height in table tennis, “we need to stage international competitions here in Nigeria so that our players can test themselves against the best in Africa, the Commonwealth and the world. All these will cost money but we are quite confident that with well-organised plans, we can successfully attract partnerships for the good of the game. We must package our competitions in ways that will show off our sponsors in the best light. We must give our sponsors the option of using our top international players to affiliate and promote their products. In doing this, we must also ensure transparency and accountability in our dealings with them. We must also engage the state governments for whatever assistance they can give us.”

True to type, the Lagos International Open Table Tennis Classics has been ranked by the International Table Tennis Federation and the competition is yearly attracting top table tennis players across the world. The Classics is the highest prize money tournament to be staged in Africa and it is organized by the Main Organising Committee of Lagos International Sports Classics in collaboration with the Nigeria Table Tennis Federation (NTTF)

“I must say that the ITTF has been very commendable about all we have been able to do in the time we have been on board. We continue to receive technical support for our programmes and never ending excellent advice of how a modern day federation should operate. We are really grateful for their support for all our events and plans. The Lagos Open is now a jewel in the ITTF crown and the awareness of our sport through the Nigerian media extending all over the world continues to find appreciation with the ITTF. It gives us great pride that they speak of the NTTF in such glowing terms. We will continue to work closely with them and ensure that we are an important part of what the ITTF does worldwide.”

Oshodi was recently elected board member of the CTTF, in Suzhou, China and has promised to take advantage of his latest position to aid the growth of the sport and reposition table tennis in Nigeria and the Commonwealth as a whole.

On what the election into the CTTF means to him and table tennis in Nigeria and Africa, he said: “This just gives us another opportunity to be part of a decision making body that we can use to attract benefits to Nigeria and African nations that belong to the Commonwealth. I will work with others to best see how we can ensure the growth of table tennis in the Commonwealth. It is also a recognition of the work we as a Federation have done since we came into office by an international body. But as my governor reminds me so often, that the only reward for hard work is more hard work. We must continue to find ways to improve.”

The CTTF is the highest ruling body administering table tennis in the Commonwealth nations and Oshodi is the second African on the board after South Africa’s Audrina Macdonald.

One of the aims of the NTF is to halt the dominance of Egypt in Africa, but so far this seems not achievable, but the table tennis boss said the battle continues.

“Like I have, said we will continue to work hard to take over the mantle of being the top nation in Africa. This is one of the goals we set out when we came into office and we are working very hard to see that we do this in the nearest future. We continue to encourage our players to do better. We are creating competition in the national team thereby displacing the complacency that had crept in. Players feeling indispensable will be a thing of the past. There will be some new faces who are ready to fight for Nigeria in the All African games team. It is so easy to be indispensable when you are winning. Things have changed and we are not winning so with regards to personnel there will be more changes in the coming months. Once our tried and tested players start showing signs of complacency and a decline in form, then the younger committed players will get their chance. I assure you that we will bring in players who are committed to the cause of Nigeria: it is sad that even when people are no longer committed to playing for their country they do not choose to retire from the national team.”

 

Culled from Thisday Newspaper, Nigeria