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Nigeria sport:Falling standards, result of leadership vacuum

By Jacob Ajom

Nigeria’s disastrous outing at the 2012 Olympics in  London sparked off a rash of reactions from Nigerians. The performance of Team Nigeria was so low that the number one citizen then, President Goodluck Jonathan initiated a one-day retreat on Sports. The retreat elicited a lot of interest from stakeholders that some even decried that one day was not enough to treat the numerous problems confronting Nigerian sports.

Speaking before the historic event, the then Minister of Sports, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi said, “It is the first time that a President of Nigeria is calling for a retreat to address problems in our sports and we all need to lend a hand because the President means well and he is leading the way.”

The retreat held and it was hailed as one of the best legacies the Jonathan administration bequeathed to Nigeria before leaving office. As the retreat came so late into his administration, he could not execute the numerous recommendations made before leaving the seat of power.

However, like every other thing Nigerian where every new government wants to chart a new course, the report on the retreat has not been implemented. Indeed, there are fears that the President Muhammadu Buhari government may have consigned the report to the trash can.

This was eloquently demonstrated by the Minister of Sports, Solomon Dalung who, early in 2016, set up another ministerial committee to reform the sports sector. Dalung’s interest had nothing to do with the voluminous report from the Presidential retreat and others before it, rather his focus was how to make the private sector get  more involved in funding sports as, in his words, government could not do it alone.

However, over the years, research has shown that though funding is central in the prosecution of programmes, poor funding is only a part of the problems inhibiting the growth of Nigerian sports.

Most often, when funds are made available, officials siphon the money, leaving the athletes underfed, underpaid and under motivated.

Chairman of the defunct Ministerial committee on sports reform, Godwin Kienka, speaking in an interview with the Daily Sun of 28 May, 2016 said, “This committee’s task is a lot different from the previous ones and even some members that had served in some of the other committees and are also members here attest to that. We’ve gone through the various recommendations and I must confess there are plenty of postulations.

“For instance, it is difficult for a struggling mother who has not been paid for upwards of six months to position her child towards sports,” Kienka said.

Okagbare

Defining their terms of reference, the chairman of the Committee continued, “what we intend to do is to proffer solutions to our problems in Nigerian sports by hitting the nail on the head. The truth about the problem of our sports is that they are self-inflicted. From state sports councils to the sports ministry, everyone admitted that.” Till date, however, Nigerians are yet to know what job the Kienka Committee did as the Sports Ministry is yet to issue a white paper on it.

Non-functional national sports policy slows down devt

The Nigeria national sports policy is a richly crafted document which, if followed to the letter, could catapult the country into a sports giant. Some of the key aspects of the policy include the co-ordination of sports development programmes at all levels of government. For instance the federal government through the National Sports Commission is expected to initiate programmes aimed at identifying, nurturing and developing talents through a national elite development programme – like state sports festivals, the national sports festival, national youth games, etc.

In the introductory part the document states that, “sport authorities at the National, State and Local Government levels shall undertake periodic assessment of sporting activities to check weaknesses, capacity gaps and adopt appropriate programme of action to correct them”.

The present government seems to have frittered away whatever gains that had been made in the past, particularly, as it affects effective co-ordination of developmental sporting activities. For instance, the 19th National Sports Festival was awarded to Cross River State in 2012. The festival tagged “Paradise Games 2014” would have held in December of that year. .Four years after the last festival hosted by Lagos, the Sports Festival, Nigeria’s local Olympiad has failed to hold. It does not need a fortune teller to tell us that Cross River State that was supposed to host the Games has failed. The National Council on Sports  which is under the leadership of the Ministry of Sports and Youth Development has also failed in its role as a catalyst. The National Council on Sports under an effective leadership was supposed to have found an alternative host as replacement for CRS.

Even at the local government level, there are supposed to be in place periodic sports meets. The events could be sports specific – like an annual relay race or the jumps etc. In Nigeria, nothing like that takes place except in the books. Unless the National Sports Policy which has clearly identified growth from the grassroots as key to our sports development is activated and becomes functional, not much could be attained in that direction.

Lack of active base in educational institutions and communities

There is also this fundamental problem of lack of an active base in educational institutions and communities. In other climes, school sports forms the very foundation of sporting excellence in a nation. The Americans, the Jamaicans, the Europeans all have functional school sports systems that feed the sporting needs of their countries. Back in the days, Nigeria had a robust culture where one heard of the Academicals.

Before now, the Principals Cup, State Academicals, Schools sports festivals were commonplace among the federating states. This has witnessed a slide in numerous states as only a few still organise the annual Principals Cup. Schools sports is near extinct in most states as some schools don’t even have play grounds. The nearest such schools come to sports is perhaps, during the annual inter-house sports competitions held once a year on hired grounds. Some schools look forward to the income such events bring to the school than the benefits they bring to the pupils and students. School competitions like the Principals Cup produced a lot of football stars that later developed into full time internationals. The Haruna Ilerikas, Segun Odegbamis, Adokiye Amiesimakas, among others, were some of the products of the Academicals.

Higher institutions in Nigeria sparingly hold inter-collegiate sports like the popular NUGA Games among universities, NIPOGA for the polytechnics and NACEGA for Colleges of Education. All these live in their past glories and that is why Nigerian sports have stagnated. Records set 20 years ago still stand as there are no longer athletes of serious consideration.

Similarly, the communities that were the bedrock of talent hunt have vanished into thin air. One was told stories of clubs that sprang up from communities like the Lagos Boys clubs, community based football clubs like the defunct Ikpeazu Redoubtables in Onitsha, Calabar, the Zik Athletics Club, etc. In some of these clubs one had at least three or four sports disciplines. In Lagos, for instance, there existed numerous local Table Tennis clubs and recreational centres. That was then. All that was used to mop up local talents that may not have found their way to schools. It was always said, albeit ignorantly, that those who were good in sports were usually school dropouts.

Fact is grassroots development in sports has since become a thing of the past as even in our athletics, Nigeria now use naturalised athletes from other countries to compete in international events. In football, which Nigeria parades one of the best records in youth football, the Super Eagles is now dominated by players who, though of Nigerian descent, were neither born nor brought up here.

Writing in his column recently, former Nigeria international and national team captain, Chief Segun Odegbami said, “Gernot Rohr, the new German coach of Nigeria’s national football team, has been combing European leagues for players of Nigerian parentage, groomed on the rich technical diet of European football, to make up his emerging new Super Eagles en route Russia 2018.

Apparently, he has not been satisfied with the number and quality of players coming through the domestic Nigerian leagues, players in the mould of Finidi George, Jay Jay Okocha, Daniel ‘the Bull’ Amokachi, ‘Papillo’ Nwankwo Kanu, Chief Justice Adokie Amiesimaka, Muda Lawal, Nathaniel Adewole, Stanley Okoronkwo, and so on, players with the true DNA of Nigerian football (strong, fast, unadulterated attacking and wing play mentality, never-giving-up spirit and love of the dribble art).

With the way things are going under Rohr, it is not far fetched to think that one day, in the not too distant future, Nigeria’s Super Eagles will be dominated by a foreign legion of European-born, bred and honed football players, good but lacking the flair, showmanship, individual expressiveness and dribbling skills of the home bred.

Check this present list and see for yourself: Carl Ikeme, William Troost Ekong, Leon Balogun, Kingsley Madu, Uche Henry Agbo, and Tyronne Ebuehi. There are more of them in coach Rohr’s radar.”

How the structure and management of sports affects funding of sports and sports development in Nigeria

It’s either that there is a deliberate conspiracy by the establishment to scuttle the dreams and development of millions of the Nigerian youth or that there is  a lack of full understanding  by all tiers of government of the place, roles, responsibilities, power and relevance of sports in a growing  economy as Nigeria’s.

In the annual national budget, what is the percentage allocated to sports? In the same interview quoted above, Kienka said, “there’s insincerity of purpose, greed, lack of respect for the athletes and the failure of not seeing sports as the second largest employer of labour that would create wealth for the athletes, their families, their communities and the society at large.”

Nigeria has become notorious in the international sporting arena where its contingent would indicate interest in participating in events and at the end they won’t show up. This year alone, the country has been absent from the Commonwealth Youth Games, World Junior Athletics Championships and the African Juniors which Nigeria was the defending champion. All because of “no money”. Ironically, the Sports Minister has attended all these programmes. For what use, no one has explained.

Funding sports has been central in the manner the sector has been run over the years. The sports Ministry is  also encumbered with the affairs of youth development. Some people have argued that sports be extricated from the ministry and in its place a National Sports Commission be formed. That was what obtained in the past. But the present administration under President Buhari did quite the opposite by scrapping the NSC. Now the minister is the beginning and the end to all things; like they say, the bulk stops on his table. He determines who gets what and who goes where. He approves funds for trips and stops those he does not fancy.  He even disburses the funds himself, like it was reported at the recently concluded IAAF World Athletics Championships in London. Even when his background shows he knows nothing about sports, it is the minister who determines the direction the country’s sports is going.

A National Sports Commission, headed by a technocrat will avoid lapses in planning and budgeting  and will act and advice the Presidency appropriately. There will be fewer, if any , policy somersaults in the administration of sports in the country.

Government’s influence in the administration of sports has been a big inhibition. The last elections into boards of federations was a clear index that government does not necessarily know the sporting needs of a nation. Elections are supposed to be held by federations according to statutes. But in the last election, the ministry was involved from the word go, set up election guidelines and greatly influenced the election outcomes.

Other myriad of problems inhibiting the growth and development of sports in Nigeria include lack of modern facilities and poor maintenance of existing facilities, the inability of the National Institute for Sports to fulfill its primary mandate. The NIS, which is supposed to be the engine room in the production of coaches for the country is a shadow of itself. Nigeria sports lack standards due to the leadership vacuum.

 

Proffered solutions:

It is worth mentioning that there should be a legislation to back up the existence of a National Sports Commission, establish structures, build facilities, increase funding, better training and reactivation of high performance centres for elite athletes.

Sports science is also vital in the scheme of things, school sports should be taken seriously, scholarships to budding talents and other incentives should be initiated and awarded to deserving athletes.

 


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