Sports journalist Godwin Enakhena, in this interview, takes ANTONIO NLEBEM down memory lane on why he couldn’t play soccer professionally, his successful career, challenges and more
I eat Did you start your journalistic career?
My journalism career began in Agenebode, Edo State, while I was at St Peters Grammar School, but it started to make sense to me when Complete Football magazine published one of my articles in 1987. This was a year after I had left school. and after a bunch of articles I had sent them didn’t get published. But I kept believing that I would get to read one (of my articles) one day, and it did. I never stopped writing because it had turned from a passion into a profession when my paths and Paul Bassey’s crossed in Agege, Lagos State. The rest, as they say, is history.
What influenced your decision to study journalism?
It was accidental because I think it came naturally, I mean in writing. My late father wanted me to be an engineer fixing bicycles in the village, since it was a lucrative job back then. Sports journalism was made easy because I played soccer, which for me was like a matter of life and death. I had developed the habit of reading the back pages of newspapers a lot, and I was always excited to see the signatures of people I didn’t know about Adam and wanted to be like them. He wanted people to read my stories too.
Other than soccer, were you involved in any other sports while you were at school?
Of course. I ran and jumped and played soccer, but I excelled at soccer. I couldn’t play the game for long and professionally because my father cursed me every day because he felt it was going to end badly. As you know, only those who thought they could never do well were involved in sports in those days. My mother begged me to stop playing soccer because she was afraid the curses would affect me. I loved my mother so much that I remember crying into her lap and promising her that she would never play the game she loved again on a cold night at Agenebode in 1984. That was how my football career ended. Make no mistake, my dad wanted the best for me, he wanted me to focus on my education and end up as an engineer. Football for him was a great distraction and since I had refused to stop despite the instructions, he resorted to cursing.
What was the experience like when you started out in journalism?
The first few days were very challenging, but with Grandmaster Paul Bassey as my mentor and boss leading me by the hand, I learned quickly and survived. Can you imagine getting stories in those days without phones, internet and DSTV? Can you beat that? We had people waiting to read and listen to us every day and we couldn’t afford to let them down. Once again, I was lucky to have had the privilege to start from print to television and then radio. In general, the biggest challenge was relying only on some crude and very traditional means of having to travel long distances for interviews or going to the homes of the few wealthy men, who could afford satellite installations, to get news.
You became very popular with your style of presenting sports news. How could you do this?
For a boy from the town of Agenebode to stand his ground and excel in an industry with Goliath, he knew he had to do something different. I decided to freestyle during my presentations, keeping it simple, creating shows that would appeal to the old and the young, the educated and the non-literate. Sometimes I talked about social problems and relationships; all in one sporting spectacle. Strange for some people, but it worked. The good thing is that the reception has been incredible. I just made a hole for myself.
Has it been easy to stay as one of the best in the sports journalism industry in the country?
I don’t know if I’m one of the best because I’m just doing my thing, doing what works for me and trying to be uniquely different, refusing to be stereotyped. It really has been easy to do what comes naturally to me. It’s been fun.
Can you share with us some of your fun moments inside the studio while presenting sports?
(Laughter) Let me try to remember, you know it’s been a long journey. Granted, we were on the set of Master Sports, the Nigerian Television Authority’s biggest live show, when the backdrop came down on us, but thank goodness for our producer/director, Tanko Yunusa Abdullahi, who took control and made sure the world saw little to nothing about the near-disaster in the studio.
You’ve also strayed into football and basketball administration. How was the experience?
Very good, bad and ugly. I learned the hard way that football administration in Nigeria is not for the faint hearted. There are three things I won’t quickly forget as an administrator: The first was as president of MFM FC. I helped them win promotion from the amateur division to Nigeria’s top-tier professional soccer league, fighting one of the biggest battles of my life to ensure MFM didn’t get relegated and dealing with Nigerian soccer rackets.
What are your most memorable moments in journalism?
One became famous, the profession opened doors when what started as a passion began to put food on the table, when people you don’t know want to be your friends and when renowned filmmaker, Tunde Kelani, walked into the live studio of Lagos Television, was fascinated by my presentation and cast me in one of their movies, ¡Maami! The downside is that being a celebrity puts you under tremendous pressure from people who believe that being on TV or radio means you are rich and need to help them financially.
How did you feel watching the Qatar 2022 World Cup without the Super Eagles?
It was one of the worst moments of my life. Until the World Cup started and ended, it still seemed like a dream, it ended like a bad dream that I didn’t want to wake up from. But it is what it is, we didn’t go to Qatar and a lot of us lost some good money that would have come from sponsorships. It’s a terrible experience because the sponsors were just waiting for the Super Eagles to qualify. In fact, we all took qualifying for granted, but it ended in tears, the sponsors keeping their money while we watched the World Cup on TV at home. Sad.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Nigerian football was top notch with scouts from our local leagues, but that has changed. What do you think is the cause?
You cannot separate the ills in society at large from the ills in sports in Nigeria. Mend Nigeria and sports will thrive again.
What is your take on the influx of foreign-born players into the Eagles?
I have never had a problem with players who have Nigerian blood running through their veins and show up for the Super Eagles. I only get angry when average players are invited to displace the few good ones in the national league. I want to believe that the Nigerian Football Federation under the leadership of Ibrahim Gusau will put an end to this.
Do you think our top-tier national league, which resumes on Sunday, is on the right track?
An Interim Management Committee has been entrusted with the responsibility of running the league for the next six months, they have started to work and I wish them well. That being said, 18 out of 20 clubs run by state governors tell us we’re kidding. Governments at the federal and state level must follow the Lagos State model of providing infrastructure and an enabling environment for sports to thrive, these are their roles.