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March 23, 2024

The role of the Sports Ministry in Nigerian Sports, by Segun Odegbami

The role of the Sports Ministry in Nigerian Sports, by Segun Odegbami

An interesting news report ‘provokes’ this article.

Ordinarily, I would not attempt to delve again into a controversial subject that has created the most crisis and confusion in Nigerian sports administration through the decades. The more one discusses it the more confusing it gets. Presently, there is no clear understanding in the separation of the roles and responsibilities of government, from those of the various sports federations.

On this matter, there are too many ‘experts’.

The role of the Sports Ministry in Nigerian Sports, by Segun Odegbami

One wonders with what authority the different voices back the varied positions they take on such an esoteric subject. Most of those that knew how things worked ‘successfully’ in the past, and why, are either no longer alive, or are completely outside the present-day sports loop.

Those that are there now are either victims of the more recent failing adaptations, or are a part of this excursion into the bush led by the ‘blind’ as guide.

The country is today still swimming in uncharted territory that is leading to more confusion on the vexed issue of roles and responsibilities. What is going on now is a fanciful adoption of some foreign templates that may have worked in more developed climes, but surely have been flailing in the Third-World setting of Nigeria.

The President of the Nigeria Amputee Football Federation was on television some days ago. The Amputee football national team has been in camp preparing for the Amputee Football African Cup of Nations, taking place in Cairo Egypt from 19 to 28th of April, 2024.

The President, Paul Maduakor, as is the practise with every other sports federation president, says that the federation has completed its responsibility of assembling, preparing and camping the footballers. It is now waiting on the Sports Minister to respond to the budget for the event submitted to his office by the federation, for release of the funds for the competition-proper from government! Meanwhile, the federation is also seeking sponsorship support from the private sector, something that has proven to be as difficult as a camel passing through the eye of a needle for all federations, including the seemingly most lucrative, the Nigeria Football Federation!

The Minister has not responded. There is now the real threat, or risk, that unless funds are provided, the national team may not attend the championship.

This scenario is common.

Whose responsibility is it to fund competitions, domestic and international?

The above scenario is common now in Nigerian sports, clearly demonstrating the typical relationship between the Sports Ministry and every sports federation; this blurred area of conflict; and who is responsible for what within sports development, administration and competitions.

What brings them together and always creates the friction is the funding of International competitions. Outside of that the federations will continue to survive on life-support funds, no-domestic competitions, and the perennial dependence of government to cover international competitions.

Private sector funding has been very sparce and almost impossible for most federations, and that’s why most do not have the number of domestic competitions that can drive their grassroots, amateur or even elite sports development programs and events with any success.

During international competitions where the country’s flag is flown, the country’s national anthem is played, and the competitions are between national teams (not club sides), the federations fall on the Ministry of Sports almost entirely for funds.

That understanding was clear and generally acceptable to all until the issue of administrative power struggle reared its ugly head, some 30 years ago. Since then, sports administration lost some direction.
The big question now, therefore, is that in funding the International competitions what is the Ministry’s role? Is it to get the budget from the federation, approve it, get the funds from government and hand over to them, with or without any further supervision over the funds?

In the past, for providing the funds to run federation secretariats and International competitions, the government seconded a Secretary, provided a secretariat and nominated one or two members who was always eventually ‘elected’ or appointed Chairman of the board.

For three decades, since Independence, even though the federations were registered as private organisations of clubs and a few other major member-stakeholders in the sport, of equal representation on the board, there was always the government’s representative included in the board composition. The board doubled as the electoral college, appointing or electing its own Chairman. I repeat: the Chairman was appointed or elected from amongst the board by the board members. It was a simple, inexpensive, one-day process that attracted no acrimony, no public or private campaigns, and never resulted in controversies or litigation.

For 3 decades this arrangement worked almost flawlessly.

The Associations ran their domestic events without government funding, and only got government funding for international competitions. All of these without complaints.

When some sponsorship funding and international grants started to come into the associations’ accounts, ‘greed’ and the urge for non-accountability reared their ugly heads.

As revenue from other sources started to flow in, members of the board started to enjoy the freebies, and the clamour for freedom to escape financial scrutiny was birthed. There was extra booty to be shared since government took charge of the basic funding.

Then, there was a silent ‘protest’ and a plan was hatched to stop government’s nominee from becoming ‘automatic’ Chairman. This ‘nomination’ was identified as interference in the internal affairs of a private organisation by some radical members of the board. They rebelled by insisting new rules must be created, the electoral college expanded, and an expanded general assembly put in place to approve the new rules and elect a Chairman from amongst the general assembly and not the board.

The new ‘concoction’ made the process of electing board leadership convoluted, expensive, confusing and disenfranchising government, preventing it from playing its statutory responsibility in funding international events.

So, they fought government and changed the rules and process for electing the leadership of the federation.

To crown it they started to chant that government should hands-off the running of sports, that sport could run itself through private sector funding. Inadvertently, they took over government’s statutory responsibility to fund International events.

Thus was created a huge chasm in sports administration that has lasted 30 years without a clear resolution, plenty of friction, reduction in domestic and grassroots sports development, stagnation at elite sports levels, and ad-hoc and intermittent support that government provides different sports federations with international responsibilities for taking over what they cannot cope with for the ‘price’ of external funds that are not enough to do anything. Football led this rebellion against government. Till now, even football, with all the external funding it gets, is unable to funds its international competitions. It still depends largely on government.

The other federations stand no chance of securing funding from the private sector to run both local and domestic sports. The new sports policy of introducing business is a most desirable objective, but its success still lies decades ahead and would only go side by side Nigeria’s development as an economic power. Government in also a legitimate stakeholder through its funding and must have a legal membership in every federation with clear and unambiguous roles and responsibilities.

Of course, who pays the piper dictates the tune. That’s why Sports Ministers have been fighting back since 2004 when the rebellion started.

It will take plenty of courage and plenty of sacrifice on the part of federation members to give up a little and get a little, in order to clear up the cobwebs and bring back a workable and acceptable template that will include every stakeholder particularly government on an equal basis for true development to start again.

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