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New challenges for universities in Nigerian sports

By Emmanuel Ojeme

Universities are centres of excellence in all fields of human learning and development.  The university as an institution  is designed to provide a forum for young people to acquire knowledge and prepare for a productive life.  Sports is an integral part of this programme and process.

In the field of sports, the University institution has been known to produce the best performing athletes around the world.  In Nigeria, the University system seems not to be living up to expectation.  The orientation and programmes of the University system have been more of academics and very little about sports.  This observation is also replicated in other higher institutions in Nigeria.  There is now however, a compelling need to retool the University system to be more relevant to sports development in Nigeria.

The Vision 2020 initiative and the re-branding project provide this new impetus and challenge.  In this paper, the focus is to provide an overview of where we are now in varsity sports and suggest what must be done in the University institution to enable it play a leadership role in Nigerian sports in the new emerging dispensation.

Perspectives of University Sports in Nigeria

Right from inception sports has been part of University programmes in Nigeria.  The operation of sports programmes at the competitive  level is operated through the Nigerian University Games Association (NUGA).  It organizes inter-university sports competitions every two years.  At the organizational level, NUGA, through its council, has the zeal and professional competence to deliver quality games.

NUGA operates in a university  system that is purely academic in orientation.  Nigerian University students consequently participate in sports as a recreational activity.  Studies have shown that academic goals drive the students’ life and not sports.  It is common knowledge that university sports activities operate at the fringe of the academic programme.  Hence, Lectures are programmed with little or no time for sports.

Sports facilities in Nigerian Universities are rickety, perhaps with very insignificant exception of Ahmadu Bello University, University of Port Harcourt, University of Lagos and University of Benin.  The University Budgets for sports in a year cannot even lift a single sports to any meaningful level and when applied to the multi-NUGA Sports programme, it amounts to nothing.  It is little surprising therefore, that the Nigerian University System is a lame duck, unable to make any significant impact in the nation’s quest for sports excellence.

In the mid seventies and early eighties, the then University of Ife sports programme  was a model, under the leadership of the legendary Sports Administrator, Late Mr. Isaac Akioye.  The Akioye’s paradigm of university sports has since vanished from the university system, unfortunately.  In Akioye’s era of varsity sports, his programme was not only exciting and productive, the Sports Centre which he operated was the best in the Land.  I had the privilege of being his student and bear testimony to his philosophy of pragmatism in University Sports.  It remains intriguing why the university system of modern Nigeria are unable to replicate that era.

University Sports in Nigeria suffers acutely from very poor institutional support.  A recent event caps it all.  An International University  Competition  known as F.I.S.U.  is ongoing.  In the last moment of its departure to the competition, the Nigerian University contingent to the Games had to be disbanded because, the team had no money to participate.  In the previous games of F.I.S.U., our athletes always arrived days after commencement.  That is the story of university sports in Nigeria.

Compared to the leading sporting nations of the world, it is an established fact that universities lead the way in producing Olympic athletes.  It is also known that varsity sports infrastructures are venues for world class competitions including the Olympic Games.

Re-branding, Vision 2020 and the Imperatives of Sports in Nigerian
Universities

The Re-branding Project and the Vision  2020 initiative are twin complimentary programmes that will, if effectively implemented bring about positive change.  While the re-branding programme is all about doing things in a better and productive way, Vision 2020, sets targets to be achieved by 2020.

Vision 2020 dictates that Nigeria will be among the best 20 developed economies in the world by year 2020.  It has also been recognized that the actualization of Vision 2020 economic development strategy can be realized by a multi-sectoral development approach. Sports development has been included as a relevant component of this multi-sectoral strategy.  Hence, a Vision 2020 target for sports is to make Nigeria to be among the best 20 sporting nations of the world.  In this regard, it is expected that Nigeria would be  (a) the number one in Africa in sports (b) number four in the Commonwealth and (c) the best 20 best performing nations in the Olympics.

All nation’s leading in sports performance have used the university and other tertiary institutions to achieve world class sports performance.  In our own situation, University Sports has been very low in its contribution to the country’s sports goals.  This is not because it cannot deliver quality performance, but because it lacked institutional support.  In view of its expected relevance to the new dispensation, it is recommended that the universities in Nigeria should do the following:

(1) Establish world class sports infrastructures in the universities.
(2) Elevate sports to a major area of development.
(3) Make significant budgetary provisions for sports.
(4) Create appropriate sports management structures equipped with enabling human and  material resources for sports.
(5) Prevent academic programmes from disabling students participation in sports activities.

(6) Recognize talented athletes as potent source for actualizing the ideals of the University as an institution.
(7) Institutionalize sports in the strategic plans of Universities.
(8) Embrace Vision 2020 Sports development initiative as part of its responsibility.

(9) Create clinically-oriented undergraduate and post-graduate professional training and education programmes for the development of knowledgeable and competent sports personnel to provide leadership and services in Nigerian Sports.

Prof. Ojeme, National President, NAPHER-SD and member of the Vision 2020 Sports Technical Working Group wrote in from University of Benin.


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