- Category: Kelechi Eme
- Published on Monday, 19 September 2011 00:00
- Written by Kelechi Eme
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Nigeria has been acclaimed for importing what it has in abundance and exporting what it lacks. The development of sports in Nigeria typifies this absurdity that has eaten deep into our collective fabrics. Sport is the most important weapon in occupying the youths who are naturally restive by virtue of age and social inclination. Apart from the leadership qualities it imbues on the youths, it offers them joy when victorious, strength when defeated and above all hope for a better tomorrow when they transit to adulthood.
In recent past, specifically speaking of the 80s and 90s, we remained the numero uno on sprint and short distance races in Africa and competed favourably among the world elites. Under the tutelage of Abdulkareem Amun, we produced world beaters in Chidi Imo, Yussuf Ali, Innocent Egbunike, the Ezinwa twins, Sunday Bada, Olapade Adenikan, Chioma Ajunwa, Falilat Ogunkoya, and a host of many talented athletes, Nigeria excelled in major events worldwide. Our marathons were won by the likes of Yohana Waziri and Abbas Mohammed all over the country. Compare that to fourth rate Kenyans winning every marathon in Nigeria today. This is Nigeria for you where everything is easy in the eyes of officials when accomplished by hardworking citizens. From the time Emmanuel Ifeajuna won our first gold medal at the Commonwealth Games to Chioma Ajunwa’s heroic jump in Atlanta to clinch our first individual Olympics gold, we have treated sports as leisure instead of a business that has national security implications. The manifestation is that we performed abysmally in Beijing and Berlin, won nothing in Daegu and currently having our worst All African Games in history. Is there any future for athletics in Nigeria? What is preventing current administrators from reviewing the Alhaji Abdulkareem Amun’s experience and tapping from it?
The malice is not synonymous with athletics alone. What about boxing? Did we fare better? Amateur boxing demised with the death of Group Captain Brian Ayonote who bestrode the sports like a colossus when he was in charge. Profession boxing thrives on a well sustained nurturing and management of amateur boxers who climb the ranks to win titles. I recall the Peter Konyegwachis and Jerry Okorodudus who were wonderful amateur boxers before becoming professionals. The Nigerian Boxing Board of Control (NBBC) collaborated with the Nigerian Amateur Boxing Association (NABA) to institute a result oriented boxing development. The champion of champions tournament was staged in Lagos in the 80s and pugilist had the opportunity of earning money and gaining fighting experience in preparation for African and world title bouts. We relied on our boxers to win medals at Olympics and Commonwealth Games. The various gymnasiums that were located all over the country kept the youths busy and prevented them from crimes. I weep each time I remember the late Group Captain Ayonote. I will never forget his anger when he visited Bashiru Ali at Sheration Hotel and Towers Ikeja before a world title fight and saw met him in company of numerous ladies. The man simply wrote “Bash” off before the fight. He eventually lost the fight.
Our football ascendancy started in Ethiopa during the 1976 African Cup of Nations when the Green Eagles won the bronze medal. This was simultaneous with continent triumphs by IICC shooting Stars of Ibadan and Rangers International of Enugu in the second tier of African club football. The achievement of the Christian Chukwu led team of 1980 at home wiped away the tears of Odiye’s own goal that stopped us from participating in Argentina 1978 world cup. Astute football administrators like Sunday Dankaro, Tony Ikhazoboh. Emeka Omerua and Sani Toro presided over the golden moments. The frenzy that characterized local derbies like Spartans versus Rangers was far beyond the English Premier League hype. It is heart rendering to note that we threw all that away with the accompanying employment benefits and retention of talented footballers at home.
Since the victory of Atlanta in 1996, only Enyimba Football Club of Aba has won a major trophy for Nigeria. Their two time triumphs in the elusive Champions league remained the only trophies we have won following the democratic dawn. What is responsible for the fifteen years of drought? Is the problem administration of lack of talents? An ungrateful nation that pays servile wages to indigenous coaches will never extract patriotism from them no matter their love for country. What is the justification in paying 50,000Euros per month to a Swedish journeyman while Amodu Shuaibu and his crew got peanuts? Why are they not paying Samson Siaia the same amount that was paid the Swede? Clueless administrators have continued to destroy football in Nigeria and I do not really know where they spring up from.
Considering that our sports development is at across-road, it amounts to an exercise in futility if commentators concentrate on identifying the banes without proffering workable solutions to turn things around. It is my view that sports development starts from the grass roots. Every known world beater in any sport had the benefit of early nurturing that combined training and education. This is where I fault some of our state governors for their lack of imagination. Why can’t they replica Afuze model in every local government in Nigeria? Gen. Ogbemudia built Afuze sports facility and it ensured the dominance of the old Bendel state in all sporting activities. The construction of a mini sports complex in every local government at a maximum of N1.0billion will go a long way in discovering budding sportsmen and women that will make the country proud. A complex that contains a football pitch, athletics track, basketball court (or three of the most popular sports in the locality) and a multi-purpose hall will be accommodated by the suggested budget. The benefits are huge and a serious governor has the capacity to accomplish this with four years. These benefits include:
*Unquantifiable employment opportunity for the youths and Nigerians who will engage in the construction project.
*An unrestricted opportunity for hard working youths to engage in sporting activities at a young age without hindrance.
*The availability of a social gathering venue that will generate income for its daily management.
Once the facilities are in place, the government can then institute an inter Local Government sporting calendar that runs all year round. This could be in the form of a local authority football league or any sport the local government is capable of competing in. Even fun games in the mode of the popular “Tele Match” will be an interesting addition. The cogitations of public officers should be elastic without fear of breaking point. That is the only way to achieve durable results. A constant resort to ephemeral solutions to sports development will continually lead to failures.
Another way of improving sports is the establishment of enabling environment that will encourage private investors. We have the richest man in Africa, yet he cannot be identified with any football club in the country. The Nigerian billionaires must be supported to invest in sports. It is a shame that today’s billionaire is not interested in the youth. The likes of late Bashorun MKO Abiola and Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu showed the light in this direction. Let the Dangotes, Otedolas, Offors, Adenugas and the rest of the “Oligarchs” invest in sporting clubs as their contemporaries are doing all over the world. Nigerian sportsmen and women will remain in Nigeria if they have a modicum of what is availed them overseas. We tend to forget that the European teams we “kill” ourselves to support are akin to village teams owned by the inhabitants of their location.
Furthermore, the corruption that infested our country did not spare the sports sector. We have administrators who have no business with sports at the helm of affairs. The result is the shameless stealing of sports fund while expecting sportsmen to exhibit patriotism. It does not work like that.
Finally, I implore the government to see sports development as part of the remedy to our multiple problems as a nation. It will prevent crimes, create jobs and bring honour to the country. The diplomatic benefit of an Olympian success is worth more than 100 ambassadorial image launderings.