By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
ON Sunday night this week, in Tunis, Tunisia, Nigeria’s national basketball team, D’Tigers, defeated the Angolan national team, to become African champions for the first time. With the victory, our boys automatically qualified to represent Africa at the Rio Olympics next year. It was sweet revenge for Nigeria, after previous losses to the Angolans the dominant African basketball team for the best past of the last decade or so.
I sat glued to the television set with heart in mouth, but in the long run, our boys didn’t look like they were going to lose. Apart from the earlier part of the first quarter, Nigeria was actually in control till the very end! The victory was also soothing balm for disappointment in the wake of Nigeria’s disastrous outing at the World Athletics Championships which ended in in Beijing, China, without a single Nigerian medal.
The traditional sprint events that often saw up to two or three Nigerian athletes right up with the best, didn’t serve us anything. Even the normally impressive Blessing Okagbare couldn’t carry Nigeria’s burden on her shoulders this time around; she failed in the 100 metres and didn’t even bother to show up for the 200 metres. That just summed up the Nigerian situation at the championship!
Basketball & something to cheer
So the basketball team gave us a lot to cheer and told important tales that should be highlighted. Most if not all of the team, was recruited from Nigerians born in the United States, thus underlining the diaspora’s increasing importance to Nigerian development.
It was heartwarming to watch them sing the Nigerian national anthem with gusto and incredibly, even their white American coach, joined in singing our anthem! I felt deep emotions as I watched these guys: Ogwuchi, the Al-Amin brothers, Olumide, Lawal, give their all to lift us all and our country, with valour and underlining once again, the possibilities available if we do right, by our very lovely country!
Those young men fought for the flag and their personal and patriotic honour on the Tunisian court and that collective effort did not know religion or ethnicity; they were Nigerian athletes doing their best to earn victory which placed us all on top of the African continent. Whoever had watched, would not have lost the scene where the team carried the chairman of the Nigerian Basketball Association, Tijani TJ, aloft after their victory.
I was very happy for TJ. When he was elected a couple of years ago, he told me that he would work on a systematic project to build a formidable team for Nigeria, by tapping into the local and diaspora talent to knock the Angolans off their perch. Sunday’s victory vindicated TJ’s vision. He had been a remarkable player and one of the best in his years at ABU and had been posted to do his national service at the Kwara state sports council where we met and became friends in the 1980s.
TJ was one of the best of his generation along the likes of Same Ahmedu and Scot Nnaji, who have also remained in the game in one capacity or the other and they have shown what vision and its dogged pursuit can do for national development.
Primary &Secondary school games
Although we are now forced to use resources from the diaspora, TJ and his colleagues were products of a period in Nigeria, when there was a systematic programme of national sports development that has unfortunately eroded. TJ was a star of the NUGA Games that we hardly ever hear anything about today.
Education provided a platform for the development of our youth and that contained a strong component of sports. Primary schools games prepared children for active secondary schools sports in public schools that had incredibly rich and a variety of sports servings. It was from secondary schools that athletes like Mopude Oshikoya, Bruce Ijirigho, Charlton Ehizuelen, Hameed Adio, Awalu Aliyu, Olapade Adeniken, Chidi Imoh, Mary Onyali, etc., were discovered and many then earned scholarships that allowed them to get some of the best education abroad, especially in America. The late Chief Isaac Akioye was a sports administrator of genius, who laid up an incredible process of discovery, nurture and development of sports, including even the creation of a National Institute of Sports, in some of the most outstanding years of our sporting lives in Nigeria, especially from the 1970s. It was the collapse of that deliberate national process which has led us to the sporting cul-de-sac that we deal with today.
Sports are no longer central to the educational system and most public schools have lost their elaborate sports infrastructure. A place like GSS Ilorin, had sports infrastructure that will be the envy of any modern institution. But today, that collapsed and a succession of irresponsible administrations allocated all the land for residential development thus making mockery of the meaning of education as a process for an all-round development of the individual: mental and physical. This ruinous process is the same all over our country.
This is the reason that our athletes supply system dried up and we now recruit our stars from abroad. Primary and secondary games are gone; there is no more NUGA; NIPOGA; COEGA; Nursing/Midwifery Schools sports; or Armed Forces and paramilitary sports. But we MUST rebuild those processes for our future’s sake. The median age of Nigeria is about 17 and these young people must do sports to enhance patriotism and to build a healthy future. The victory of D’Tigers points the way!
Appeal to the Kwara state govt: Stop building shops on road setbacks
I RETURNED from Ilorin this week. I noticed that the road setback by the wall of the Government Secondary School on the Fate Road, was being cleared. Over the past couple of years, individuals from various backgrounds have built shops and sheds, mechanic workshops and all kinds of anarchic developments on that setback, on a road that leads to the GRA. I discovered the clearance going on now is by the Kwara state government as part of an effort to construct shops on the setback, in a maddening pursuit of internally generated revenue.
A similar development has already taken place on the Yidi Road, by the Irewolede Housing Estate and on the opposite side, by the House of Assembly residences. The ones by the estate are said to cost N2million while those by the Assembly residences are also said to go for N5million.
Again, the over riding reason is to generate funds, without any thought given to the long-term interest of healthy living in the Kwara state capital. I discussed the issue with two very senior officials of the Kwara state government on Monday and Tuesday this week, and they confirmed the plan to build on the setbacks.
One spoke of security issues arising from the anarchic, free-for-all developments that had been taking place and the need for government to take over to stem the problem while also making money. While the other spoke of the effort as part of a plan to encourage entrepreneurial efforts, and create something similar to high street shopping in Europe!
But the truth is that anyone familiar with Ilorin cannot fail to see the dysfunctional state of the city today. The business district from around the Challenge Bookshop on the Murtala Muhammed Road going to the Wahab Folawiyo (Unity) Road is constantly caught up in traffic gridlocks most of the day and this extends to the Ibrahim Taiwo Road.
The shopping complex there was built on railway right of passage land and that has been largely responsible for the gridlock there. The shop owners park cars by the road and shoppers also try to park in the same area, thus narrowing the road and making movement a nightmare. This is what will be replicated on the Irewolede Road, where the Eid praying ground is located.
A foreclosed future
The possibilities of road expansion in the future have been foreclosed by the shortsighted decision to build on the road setback, because of the desperate search for IGR! This same problem will also emerge on the Fate Road, where they have already constructed SHOPRITE that has fatally damaged the original purpose of opening that part of the city of Ilorin, from the 1970s. But I am APPEALING to Governor AbdulFatai Ahmed to STOP the plan to build shops in that part of the GRA, because it will DISTORT that part of Ilorin FOREVER, if he goes ahead with the plan.
On the contrary, what should be done is to review the master plan of the city (if there is one) and begin a systematic development of new layouts in the city. Ilorin’s infrastructure as we know them today, were laid up over three decades ago, for a population that was probably a quarter of what the city has today.
While we cannot blame the government there today for all of the problems of urban decay and the attendant chaos that is threatening a decent existence for all of us, there is no gainsaying the fact that the period since 2003, has seen some of the most horrific abuses of the development process in our history.
There has been an arrogant abuse of all the carefully laid out canons of development. Vast areas laid out for a different set of usages have been pulled down, like the huge Ministry of Agriculture complex and allocated to members of the government and cronies of Bukola Saraki and the new elite that formed around the ruling administration in Kwara state.
Similarly, all the architectural pieces of late colonialism from the 1950s were torn down on Ahmadu Bello Way, including the Government House and today, the Government House is an example of a tasteless and dreary architecture that has no relationship with the history of the community. A well thought out, futuristic usage of urban space, well defined infrastructural expansion and a deliberate effort to ensure that urban development serves the best interest of the citizenry have been absent and short term expediency has been central to all that has taken place in the development process in Kwara state.
Re-think use of urban space
But there is a need to re-think the use of the urban space in Ilorin so that our people can have a decent existence. The traffic gridlocks today and the alienation of road setbacks for the construction of shops, because the government desperately needs money, cannot help us live in a decent state capital. If Governor Abdulfatai Ahmed can re-think the plan to build on road setbacks and stop them, he would have helped our community into the future. That is why I am making this DIRECT APPEAL to him today: PLEASE STOP BUILDING ON ROAD SETBACKS IN ILORIN!