The Elections of 2015: Where Are Sports In The Political Discourse?

In less than 14 days, the 2015 Presidential election would have been concluded and the incumbent is returned or a new president has emerged. For sports loving people, this election is very crucial. It matters very much that we have been yearning for changes at the national level for years with little hope.

An objective assessment of the accomplishments in sports in the last 5 years (2009-2014) under President Jonathan’s administration would reveal, in part, that there have been some failures attributable to gross deficiencies and ineptitude in the administration and management of sports at the national level. These are coupled with massive corruption and the proprietary tendencies of our leaders who remain unaccountable and undemocratic in their decision making.

NFFThere are three main problems facing the Nigerian sports sector, particularly at the national level. The first is that the Federal Ministry of Sports (FMS) has no clear mandate and direction. The second is that the National Sports Commission (NSC) has no standing Commission. The third is that the elections into various positions of the National Sport Federations (NSF) are not fair, free, and credible. The FMS and the NSC appear to acting as one and the same without separation of power and responsibility. The National Assembly has been reluctant to make the distinction between FMS and the NSC as to where the oversight responsibility should be. FMS stands as the agency saddled with the responsibility of formatting, disseminating, and monitoring policies, guidelines, as well allocating funds to national sports federations with a set guidelines.

The above issues should frame our individual and collective thinking on the changes we seek going forward. Consider that since the beginning of our democratic dispensation in 1999 and since Goodluck Jonathan presidency, the ruling party, the People Democratic Party (PDP), have recorded marginal and substantive improvement in sports administration and management. Consider also that when Sani Ndanusa became the minister of sports in December 2008, sportswriters and ex-internationals came out boldly in support of Ndanusa with the hope that change has finally come to sports in the form of real appointment of a seasoned sport administrator would end corruption and mediocrity in sports, strengthen national sport federations and states associations, and bring highly qualified ex-national and ex-international athletes along to reposition sports in Nigeria. Subsequent PDP sports ministers also failed to address the fundamental problems facing the sports sector.

Again, consider the role of the former sports minister Bolaji Abdullahi, now a supporter of APC and who many believed will make a huge difference and his former director-general Patrick Ekeji, who was an ex-international, in taking the sports sector to another level but failed. The colossal failure at the London Olympics 2012 Games is a reminder. Globally, international competitions provide opportunities for a nation to showcase its talents, culture and the nation. Continental and international competitions provide economic opportunities to athletes and recognition of the nation. Nationally, competitions provide the forum for competition, friendship, and unity.

The opposition candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), General Muhammadu Buhari should be advised accordingly. The issues raised are fundamental. If true change must come to the sports sector, Buhari should make the pledge to revamp the sports sector in order to reposition sports.

One of the arguments against the sports sector is that the sector is a non-revenue generating sector. This is argument is valid. In industrialized nations and top 20 leading sporting nations, sports have a specific role and function. With a strong middle class based, these nations do not have to delve into sports and their politics. Governments play a limited role. For example, in the United States, American football, soccer, basketball, hockey, baseball, swimming, and track and field are money making ventures at the professional level. Some of the proceeds go to support their sports at the primary and secondary schools. The idea is that the primary and secondary schools provide the talent and training and must be supported. This is not the case in Nigeria.

Many of the former Olympians, ex-internationals, coaches, and sports administrators, including this writer, have gone through the American system and should know better. Yet, some of them are gathering to blindly endorse one candidate or the other for election or re-election. Some of those who have come publicly to endorse the PDP candidate include ex- international footballers and athletes such as John Fashanu, Joseph Yobo, Nwankow Kanu, and Austin (Jay-Jay) Okocha, Henry Amike, EnefokUdo-Obong, and Yusuf Alli etc. At the state level, in Delta state, it has been reported that the Super Eagles head coach, Stephen Keshi will be leading ex-professional footballers for a football match to support a PDP governorship candidate, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa. This is nothing wrong with this scenario. The effort must be purposeful and strategic. It should not be selfish and aimed at gaining political recognition and political leverage as evidenced when President Jonathan revised the wish of Nigerian to sack Keshi when it was obvious that tactical knowledge was lacking in the national team.

Segun Odegbami, an ex-international and respected sports writer, whom I have had the opportunity to study for the last five years, has urged all ex-internationals to stand up for retired heroes in his recent writings. Odegbami who benefitted from the PDP during Obasanjo’s administration in the National Institute of Sports (NIS), knows better. He has called for the mobilization of ex-national and ex-international sportswomen and men to design a blueprint for change in sports in Nigeria. The problem with this group of individuals is that many are uneducated and do not have the necessary pedigree to effect any changes politically. According to Odegbami, many ex-national and ex-internationals are dying daily without any corresponding support for the local, state, and national government.

To what extent should governments be involved in the welfare of ex-national and ex-international players? Odegbami writes that “supporting retired sports heroes and ambassadors should be of concern to the leadership of the country.” When it comes to welfare of athletes, governments should play a limited role. This subject is for another time. Odegbami continues to cry out loud: “The matter of ex-international sportswomen and men in Nigeria should no longer take a backstage in our sports policies and actions.” We ex-internationals have no credibility or a credible platform or constituency to make a strong case to politicians for sports development in Nigeria. Elections are indeed about continuity and change.

Ex-national and ex-internationals should therefore make a firm commitment to their respective candidates to keep sports sector in their minds and to focus on the following critical areas at the state and federal levels:

  • Establish a scientific method of talent identification and development with medical and motivational considerations.
  • Provide standards for training and classification of technical and administrative personnel.
  • Adequately facilitate and guide the development of athletes from the grassroots (communities) to elite levels.
  • Appoint highly qualified individuals to run our sport federations.
  • Return sports to the primary and secondary schools.
  • Allow the private sector to drive sports development.
  • Restructure National Sport Federations
  • Influence the passing of the NSC Bill lingering at the national Assembly.
  • Restructure the National Institute of Sports
  • Appoint women in sports administration at the national level

I write on behalf of all ex-internationals. I am currently serving a one year sabbatical in the Faculty of Education, Federal University Kashere, Gombe State from the United States. I have served my country honorably at various continental and international competitions such as the 1987 All Africa Games in Kenya, the Olympics Games in Seoul, South Korea in 1988 and at several Davis Cup competitions from 1985-1989.

Written by
Sadiq A. Abdullahi
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