There is a movement in Nigeria to reach out to Nigerians in the Diaspora. This movement is gaining momentum within the National Assembly and elsewhere. My intent here is to reproduce an article that was written by Jide Alaka and published March 1, 2009 in the NEXT Sports. The goal is to stimulate a national and international debate on the issue.
The article has raised some questions in my mind. For example, what would be the role of Nigerians in the Diaspora? What would be the nature of the role? Who determines the role? What conditions exist to facilitate our return? What is the purpose? Is the nation ready? What is the cost?
Since the first batch of Nigerians that left the country in the 40s and 50s, many of whom have since returned, the subsequent generations (those who left in 70s-90s) have found it difficult to return in order to assist in nation’s unity and nation building. Alaka’s article illustrates a dilemma many of us in the Diaspora face. But the context is always different. The reader should read with that in mind.
Alaka writes that: “He was one of Nigeria’s brightest tennis stars in the mid to late 1970s. And then just as suddenly as he had climbed the commanding heights of the sport, he disappeared. Today, thirty years after he departed the shores of Nigeria for the United States of America, Sadiq Abdullahi, an adjunct Professor of Social Studies at Homestead Senior High and Florida International in the United States of America, is hoping to turn tennis around in Nigeria. He is unhappy about the state of the sport in the country and to underscore his determination to help turn things around, he helped in authoring a 22-page document, titled, “The TennisNigeria Vision 2020”, a road map of sorts for Nigerian tennis and forwarded it to the chairman, National Sports Commission, Sani Ndanusa.
The document is the product of research carried out by United States-based Nigeria Tennis Foundation of which Abdullahi is secretary. He explains the foundation’s motivation.
The need to revive tennis
“To run for the Nigerian Tennis Federation presidency is a huge undertaking and it will take uncompromising commitment. Because the tennis world has changed, Nigerian tennis must also change. For now, I would like to have the opportunity to assist any organisation that has a long term commitment to developing tennis in Nigeria. The TennisNigeria Vision 2020 project is a grassroots tennis development project,” Abdullahi told NEXTsports from his base in Florida. For someone who started playing tennis at the age of ten, he is determined that a lot of young Nigerians get the opportunity to play tennis early on in their lives. This belief is outlined in the document. The project will combine tennis and education at the local level. The 10-Year Tennis Development plan is designed to nurture a 6, 7, and 8-year old for a period of 10 years. “By the time he graduates, the player would have gone through stages of tennis and personal development regimen that will culminate in one of the following: (1) turn professional, (2) attend a university, (3) attend a tennis school, and (4) change profession,” Abdullahi said. He says that for the vision to be actualized there have to be changes at the Nigerian Tennis Federation. For him, the Nigerian tennis governing body needs to be restructured if there is to be any headway: “I would like to see the Nigerian Tennis Federation restructured to be more efficient and productive. In the past, the tennis federation has been controlled by individuals who have absolute control. There is no accountability. There is no transparency. There is no program to continue. Individuals in the past have used their personal money, government money, the international tennis federation grants, and the international Olympic committee grants inappropriately. These are my concerns if we are to move forward. Tennis can be run from anywhere. The management could be national and international, but the implementation must be local.”
Challenges tennis players face
He is very passionate about this because he believes that players do not need to continue with the difficulties they face. He said the challenges he faced as a tennis player in Nigeria were legion even though they are different from those faced by today’s generation.
“The challenges were many. One was a lack of confidence in my ability to compete at the highest level. The second was finance- the lack of sponsorship. The third was a good support structure from the Nigerian Tennis Federation. The fourth was good coaching and my inability to pay for good coaching,” he said. Today, he says the challenges before tennis players in Nigeria centre around lack of focus and adequate management. Abdullahi has lived in the States for 30 years. He was offered a tennis scholarship to study economics at St. Augustine’s College, Raleigh, North Carolina from 1979-1983 and that was how he picked up tennis as a career. Presently, in addition to his job as a teacher, he is also a tennis coach in Florida where he organizes clinics for children aged between six and twelve years.
Difference between tennis in Nigeria and United States
He believes the differences with Nigeria are huge. “Tennis is a big deal and big business in America. Tennis is matured and run very well by the United States tennis Association. The USTA promotes tennis at all levels. Congress gives it the sole authority to manage tennis. In Nigeria, tennis has been struggling to find its footing. It is still in its infancy when compared to developed nations. There is an overwhelming individual and corporate support for tennis in America. There is almost zero support for tennis in Nigeria. There is no clear focus and direction in Nigeria. The interest is there but not commitment and the political and financial will. To right these imbalances, he says: “We need to first change the conversation from “what” to “how” to get to our desired outcomes or desired goals. We also need to make a commitment to grass roots mobilization movement for substantive change in direction. We must go back to the basics. We must strengthen our primary and secondary tennis schools programs. We must strengthen, create and support existing tennis academies.”
Why Odizor must lead NTF
Interestingly, for someone determined to see tennis in Nigeria transformed, he is not taking up the challenge himself. Instead, he is backing former tennis foe and compatriot, Nduka Odizor, to emerge as the new leader of Nigerian tennis. “I believe that Nduka has the knowledge, ability, skills, and disposition to head any organization,” he said. He says though that running an organization in Nigeria is a different ball game and believes the same obstacles facing many organizations will confront Odizor. On Sani Ndanusa’s private partnership drive in developing sports in Nigeria, Abdullahi says he strongly believes that the federal government’s public private partnership initiative is the right thing to do. He however adds that he is opposed to giving tennis to a private company without examining all aspects of the game including the politics, economics, and its history in Nigeria. He writes that “he is obliged to help give tennis in Nigeria, a new lease of life.” He said: “I have an obligation to promote and grow the game at all cost. The game made me what I am and I am urging all my friends to give back to the game,” he said.”
Many Nigerians in the Diaspora continue to face similar dilemma. Can Nigerians in the Diaspora contribute national development? Can they make a significant difference?