Sports In Nigeria: Where Do We Go From Here?

Now that President Goodluck Jonathan has rescinded his decision to disband all national teams from participating in international competitions following the country’s dwindling performance at the just concluded 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, where does the nation go from here, as Nigerians continue to struggle with their own identity as a Nigerian.

Last year, I met Abdulmumini Aminu (rtd), former chairman of Nigeria Football Association, Ikeddy Isiguzo, chairman Vanguard Newspaper editorial board, and Segun Odegbami, former Super Eagles captain at a meeting of the Vision 2020 Sub-committee on Sports in Abuja. The purpose of the gathering was to review and make recommendations to the Presidency (through the National Sports Commission (NSC), the body charged with the administration and supervision of sports at the national level in Nigeria. The NSC through the 36 Nigerian Sports Federations has the primary function of assisting all the sports federations with the basic resources needed to support “elite” players in order for players to perform at the highest level and to project to the world a nation in harmony through sports. International sporting organizations such IAAF, ITF, FIFA etc also support sports federations with all sorts of grants to promote, develop, and organize training and competitions for promising young athletes (see FIFA, IAAF, and ITF websites for development grants information). The state and local governments also have specific roles to play in promoting and developing sports through their various sports councils and local chapters.

The role of the Federal Government in sports all over the world is very clear. For example, governments of the top 20 leading economies of the world do not interfere in sports only in an emergency. The reason is only political and economic, it is practical. These nations have a robust and vibrant economy. They have a sophisticated and efficient management system with reliable accounting protocols (transparency, checks and balances, and open communication). The United States Congress, for example, can hold hearings in order to preserve and protect the integrity of sports and the nation. They do not mingle in the day-to-day affairs of the sports. The United States congress will not tolerate any organization violating any of its federal laws such as discrimination, sexual abuse, money-laundering etc.

President Jonathan may have rushed to pass judgment and reacted without fully understanding the long-term ramifications when he directed the immediate withdrawal of Nigeria from all Federation of International Football (FIFA) related events to enable the country reorganize its football administration. Many Nigerians still believe it was the right decision in the right direction because individuals who have managed football in Nigeria have failed to live up to the nation’s expectations and failed to live up to national and international standards. Seasoned individuals such as Adokie Amiesimaka, Alhaji Ibrahim Bio, Patrick Ekeji, Musa Ndanusa, Segun Odegbami, Austin Jay-Jay Okocha, and many others have asked the question, what happen next? The next step is the total re-examination and re-evaluation of all the existing sports federation accounts by an independent audit in order to begin with a clean slate.

In the next few months, two significant and historic elections will be held. The first is the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) elections in August. The other is the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) elections shortly after. Both elections will signal a new beginning for Nigeria in terms of sports management and leadership if there right people are elected. Is the nation ready for honest and transparent leadership? This will be transformative.

President Jonathan believes that the NFF has a structural problem. Others believe that the problems facing the NFF can be characterized as follows: that the individuals managing NFF have relied too heavily on established social norms, rituals, and procedures to protect themselves from failure or to avoid uncertainty about their future. These individuals break rules, structures, and laws to make things better for themselves, their families and their cronies. They don’t willingly agree to share power and resources for the betterment of the nation. They become power hungry. They stratify the organization into layers by creating levels between people based on power, authority, prestige, status, wealth, and material possessions. They are more interested in individual goals and accomplishments rather the collective goals. They do not have pride and loyalty to the nation. Finally, they are not futuristic in thinking. They do not engage in future-oriented behaviors such as planning, investing in the future, and delaying gratification. They want to amass the wealth now.

Nigeria as a nation may be perceived as corrupt, nasty, backward, and internally selfish, there are many Nigerians who are willing and ready to encourage and reward athletes for being hardworking, academically intelligent, fair, generous, caring, and kind to others, particularly to their teammates. In my life, the late Air-field Marshall Alfa, late Alhaji Adejumo (tennis president), and Alhaji Otiti (former deputy governor of Central Bank of Nigeria) have readily shown the sensitivity needed and provided the values and support that have sustained many athletes including this writer.

In closing, the bottom line here is that there is an urgent need to shift our thinking to goals- and results-oriented thinking. Peak performance at the highest level in international competitions is what is desired. In order to achieve that we need to change a culture that does not reward his athletes past and present to a culture that encourages and rewards group members for improved performance and excellence. In performance orientation thinking, all involved have the opportunity to be rewarded for setting challenging goals, high standards, and meeting them.

Written by
Sadiq A. Abdullahi
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