Race for elections into sports federation for another four years tenure is around the corner with stakeholders already in subtle campaign and negotiations. Immediate past President and current Caretaker Committee Chairman, Handball Federation of Nigeria, HFN, Samuel Ocheho, while reeling out his scorecard, on the sideline of the recently concluded National U-12, U-15 boys and girls handball championship held in Sokoto, opened up to ADENIYI OLUGBEMI, in this interview, on his aspiration to recontest for the coveted seat.

Q. Prior to your emergence as President, Handball Federation of Nigeria, not much is known about you, kind take us through a run down of your antecedence, in the game of handball?

A. If you say much is not known about me before my emergence as President, Handball Federation of Nigeria, HFN, It is probably because I am not a moneybag or someone who crave for undue publicity. My antecedent in the game of handball is dated to my playing days as a player in Lagos State, I also played for Plateau state and the University of Jos, as a captain of the University handball team right from my second year. Three months after completing the NYSC programme, I got a job in the banking sector and that, abruptly put paid to my playing career as a handball player. However, I did not turned my back to handball, because of my love for the game, I went into it administration as a board member of Lagos State Handball Association and rose to became the Chairman. After my tenure as Chairman, Lagos State Handball Association, I still get involved, to the extent that, I attend every competition and fraternise with all stakeholders. To confirm that I am not a passive stakeholder, I have been organising the bi-ennial Samuel Ocheho International invitation tourney since 2012, before the board decided to adapt it in 2018 as a Federation programme.

My emergence was not a fluke as there was earlier plans to brought me on board but, I declined basically because, I want to attain a certain status in the private sector, until the last election which was God appointed time for me to emerged President of the Federation, and to where we are today as Chairman, Caretaker Committee, for the HFN.

Q. Before your election in 2017, a lots of power play and intrigues bedevilled the Federation, how did you emerged amidst the high wired politicking that ensued?

A. You were absolutely right that the Federation was bogged down with lots of issues particularly by the veterans group, who championed the cause against the Federation president then. The situation was so bad, that it degenerated into court case. Among the three of us that indicated interest to reposition the Federation, most of the stakeholders saw me as a God sent. The elections took place and I won. In all modesty, I will like to point out here, that my emergence as the President of HFN, was a calming effect to the whole issues boggling the affairs of the Federation and the game or handball in Nigeria because, people who are agitated dropped their arms and sheath their sword.

Q. How eventful was your tenure as President, HFN?

A. To the glory of God and immense support from all stakeholders, it was an eventful tenure with lots of activities. Immediately we were inaugurated on June 21, 2017, the entire board of the Federation went into a two-day retreat, to chart the way forward. The remaining part of the year was spent on reconciliation among contending stakeholders in the game of handball.

Highlights from the retreat was the composition of committees for National championships, International championships, Coaching and Technical events. Our target was, to return the game to the grassroots, ensure the return of all our championships, empower our technical people with the right capacity and knowledge, create employment through handball, ensure Nigeria return to the top echelon of handball in Africa and return handball to it position as the second most popular team sports behind football.

At the beginning of 2018, we rolled out our plans with the National U-12 and U-15 youth championship held in Lagos and, since then, we had not looked back. All our planned age grade programmes from U-12, U-15, U-18 to U-21, the Division One League and the Premier Handball League, all in the male and female categories, without gender bias in cash prizes, ran smoothly.

The last four years have been eventful. We have been able to raise the level of activities in the board to a level that the game of handball is beginning to receive national attention again. Accross the continent and the International Handball Federation, Nigeria is gradually regaining her lost glories.

Q. Your scorecard?

A. At the home front, the Federation successfully executed all its planned programmes, we attract sponsorship for some of our flagship competitions. Sokoto state benevolence of a coaster bus donation to the Federation, made us the envy of other federations as the only proud owner of a coaster bus. Our online presence significantly improved compared to what we met on assumption of office. Today, we live stream our championship on Facebook for the world to see our matches. These modest achievements did not go unnoticed as the organisers of the Nigeria Sports Award recognize and bestowed on me, The 2019 Best Sports Administrator Award. Our plans to pay more attention to the grassroots, will start to yield fruitful results soon.

We no doubt, have loads of achievements, that have earned us kudos and thumb up from every stakeholders in the game of handball. This however, did not blur our vision because, we are out to leave a worthy legacy. One of our major goals is to be the best in Africa, though we are not there yet, but we plan to get there. On the international scene, the Federation under my leadership restored Nigeria back into international competitions that the country had not been participating over decades.

We are back into the International Handball Federation, IHF, recognized tournaments, where we qualified Nigeria for the Junior Men World Championship after over thirty two years. Same for the Youth World Cup for the first time since inception in 2005. The Federation under my leadership returned home with the gold medals at Zone 111 Africa IHF Men’s Junior and Cadets in Niger Republic and winners of the IHF trophy by the Male Cadets and Men’s Junior national team.

Our various age grade national teams also returned home with bronze medals from the Junior Nation’s Cup and Africa Youth championship respectively, held in Marrakech, Morocco. Same at the 3rd African Youth Games in Algeria and at the IHF Challenge Trophy International in Kosovo, for youth cadre.

Q. Federation elections is around the corner, would you say, you have done enough to justify the confidence stakeholders reposed in you, four years ago and should be handed the driver seat of the Handball Federation of Nigeria, again?

A. The scorecard of the Handball Federation under my leadership as President, is in the public domain and I can confidently blow my trumpet that, the Federation have positively impacted on the game.We are able to secure a five years deal with Prudent Energy and Services Limited, with option of renewal, as the sponsor of the Handball Premier League, secured three years sponsorship by the Sokoto state government for the U-12, U-15 boys and girls handball championship and lately, a four-year hosting rights for the Division One League by the Edo state government. The Federation is immensely grateful to Diosk Nigeria Limited that donated five million naira for the national team trip to the World Cup.

Back to your question, when the time comes, I will proudly present myself to lead the federation for another four years, to consolidate on what we have been able to achieve collectively, so far. Talking from the vantage point of view, there are still more to do, in developing the game of handball to the appreciable standard of where the stakeholders wanted the game to be and, with their continued support, we will get to such height in no distant future.

The job ahead is still enormous. The North Africans have left us behind. We will continue to push for grassroots involvement. We are not oblivious of the crunching challenges of funds, it will not deter us to build on what we did in the last four years.

One area the federation will focus attention, when I am reelected is attracting more sponsors to the federation programmes because, in all honesty, financial constraints is a big hinderance that slowed us down in carrying out some of our lofty programmes for the desired growth of handball. We will do more to popularise and develop the game accross the country.

Let me place it on record that, we have gone far in our stride to bring more sponsors on board but I will want to keep what we are doing in terms of getting more sponsors for our programmes under wraps. I would not want to start reeling out names of our would-be sponsors that we are currently discussing with, until the discussion become a reality. The one’s I mentioned earlier, were secured through painstaking, collective and concerted efforts of all and sundry.