Rebuilding Tennis in Nigeria: A Reflection on Segun Odegbami’s Vision for Tennis

Deacon Ayo Ositelu, a well-respected veteran sports writer, in the Sunday CONCORD newspaper The Arena: The Verdict of Abdullahi published in December 2, 1990 suggested that Sadiq Abdullahi may be on a mission to save tennis in Nigeria. In 2008, Segun Odegbami (Chief), also a well-respected former international football star turned journalist, currently the chairman of the Nigerian Academicals Sports Committee (NASC) and the chairman of the Sports Network Initiative, one of the leading sports consultancy firms in Nigeria, has been expressing serious concerns about the state of tennis in Nigeria in his blog (www.mathematical7.com) for the past several years.

In 2008, he declared that “since the exit of David Imonitie, Sadiq Abdullahi, Tony Mmoh, (and Nduka “Duke” Odizor), Nigeria has faulted badly in the production of great or exceptional tennis players.” In 2009, Odegbami also declared that “I see tennis as the sport that will drive Nigeria’s anticipated sports reforms.” He continued: “I can sense it that tennis will play a very important role in shaping the future of sports in Nigeria.”

Ositelu’s pronouncement and Odegbami’s declarations have inspired many tennis players of my generation to think about how to improve tennis in Nigeria.

In 2005, some of the former national and international tennis players including David Imonitie, Sadiq Abdullahi, Tony Mmoh, (and Nduka “Duke” Odizor), Rolake Olagbigi-Kassim and others met in Houston, Texas, USA to discuss and reassess the state of tennis in Nigeria. The objective of the gathering was to sketch out a Roadmap for Tennis Development. In 2008, the Nigerian Tennis Foundation-USA (NTF-USA) was born in the state of Florida. In 2009, a draft of the roadmap was presented to the president of the Nigerian Tennis Federation for review, input, and discussion.

In 2009, I traveled to Nigeria on the invitation of then the minister of sports, Sani Ndanusa to discuss my contribution to tennis development. I was returning to Nigeria after staying away for 19 years. For the past 20 years, we have criticized those who have managed and administered the game for not doing enough to promote and grow the game, and for not providing opportunities for Nigerian youths to play the game at the grassroots level and thus providing opportunities to gain admission to American universities.

In 2009, Odegabmi and I discussed at length in Abuja, Lagos, and Abeokuta about how to address the problems plaguing tennis development and how we can contribute to the game. The idea of a tennis academy at the International (Sports) Academy was born.

In 2011, a comprehensive tennis development was developed to address current realities in country. Recall that in 2005 we developed a plan for tennis development with little or no progress. The plan was revised in 2011. The revised plan was sent to about 100 Nigerian tennis stakeholders for input. The plan will be available on the www.nigeriantennisfoundation.com) website soon. The document represents a collective vision and is a ten-year comprehensive strategic plan to rebuild tennis in Nigeria. The document was prepared by the Nigerian Tennis Foundation-USA is a not-for-profit service provider organization designed to promote and develop grassroots and junior tennis in Nigeria. The primary focus will be on grassroots tennis foundation. Other secondary programs will include: tennis-in schools, tennis academies, Tennis Hall Fame to recognize and honor those individuals who have contributed to advancing the game.

Our vision is to see talented Nigerian tennis youths successfully completing our tennis and education programs, and successfully obtaining tennis scholarships and moving on to compete vigorously at national, continental and international competitions. The organization’s mission is to discover, train, educate, and expose talented youths in Nigeria to high rigor of tennis training and competitions locally and around the world while providing them with the training they need to succeed in life.

Here are some Odegbami’s observations:

“Nigeria must get Sadiq and his group in America to help shape the immediate future of tennis.” He writes that “I am discussing with him [Sadiq] already how to advance the cause and the signals I get are that we are in for some exciting times into the immediate future.”

“In the past few weeks, through Facebook, I have had the incredible privilege of reconnecting with many of them [former international tennis players], all great players of the “Golden” decade of Nigerian tennis (1979-1989).

“I am excited about the Nigeria Academicals Sports project whose foundation is presently being laid that will take off in October.” As the chairman of the Nigeria Academicals Sports Committee set up by the Presidency, Odegbami and his group including Sadiq Abdullahi, will come up with a plan to revive the tradition of sports development within the secondary schools system in Nigeria.”

We believed that we have established the need to work collaboratively with the Nigerian Tennis Federation and the private sectors to transform tennis in Nigeria. My generation of tennis players has an obligation to rebuild tennis in Nigeria. We ask that your join us in this transformational journey to rebuild and reclaim our lost glory in tennis. We need your support!
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Sadiq A. Abdullahi
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