The Politics of Sports Development and Privatization in Nigeria

The purpose of this paper is to discuss the implications of politics and privatization on sports development in Nigeria. The discussion is made with the context of the recent pronouncements by the Acting Director-General, Chief (Dr.) Patrick Ekeji that a decision has been made to invite the private sector to adopt and fund sport federations in Nigeria. He said this is consistent with the Federal Government mandate to create a public-private partnership policy. Two questions are raised. The first asks whether the move to privatize sports violates the Nigerian Constitutional provision. The second asks whether there is an existing national policy on sports development in Nigeria. Answers to both questions will help the reader to have a better understanding of the rationale for privatization sports in Nigeria.


Many of the historical precedence and the social and political structures that have sustained us as a society are inherited from the British colonial philosophy and administration. The British colonial master developed infrastructures in order to facilitate not only the movement of economic goods from one location to the next, but to facilitate their own well-being and their own existence. They believed that Nigeria is a complex and complicated nation to control and govern. In order to govern well, the British divided nation was divided into the four regions (North, West, East and South). This marginalization was poorly managed and disproportionately handled. This resulted in the indirect rule in north and direct rule in the south. The West, East, and South became a burgeoning manufacturing and industrializing centers and producers of highly industrious, competent and ambitious educators and intellectuals. The North, on the other hand, was slow in responding to change and to modernity after the departure of the British, but the north had its own highly competent educators and intellectuals. This division caused tension that ultimately led to the civil war. The division also created personal and cultural problems at various sections and sectors of the country.

In sports, the nation did not experience tension as the federal character program during the Gowon administration proved. In the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Nigerian sports enjoyed an unprecedented feat in world competitions. Shortly after the civic war ended in 1967, Gowon administration kept the British philosophy of sports development intact, and built infrastructures to support and sustain its continued development. Also during this era coaches and trainers traveled abroad for more training and athletes compete in regional, continental, and international competitions with pride and honor. In 1979, during the civilian administration under President Shehu Shagari, we begin to notice a decline in infrastructure for sports. And since then, the nation has struggled to define itself and reclaim it hegemony in the region. One of the reasons is the nature of Nigerian politics and the politics of Nigerian sports development. To help me make understand politics and the nature of politics of sports development in Nigeria, I borrowed Harold Dwight Lasswell, a leading American political scientist and communications theorist’s definition of politics. He defined politics as “who gets what, when, and how.”

Status Quo

As a consequence, there is a perpetual reluctance on the part of sports administrators and politicians to change the status quo. In order to do that, they must first affirm the contribution that sports make to the social, political, and cultural education of the populace. On the other hand, serious effort must be made to change the status quo. Today, there seems to be a growing interest, particularly in Europe and the United States, to change direction.

Public Private Partnership

So when I read that the National Sports Commission (NSC) has issued an invitation to the private sector to bid for the management and control of sport federation in Nigeria, I was not sure how to characterize and interpret the intention. Privatization of Nigerian sports may have positive and negative consequences. In the United States, for example, most sports are privatized. College sports are designed to raise revenue for the institution. It is a big business. College sports are regulated by the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA). American government gets involved by supporting the Olympics Committee with funds, transportation, and facility development, with the backing of big business. This seems to be the direction the NSC is headed. Governments in other nations have also exclusively funded sports (Cuba, Romania, and Russia).

The Vanguard Newspaper has reported that the NSC under the auspices of the Acting Director-General, Chief (Dr.) Patrick Ekeji, has said that the decision to invite the private sector to adopt and fund any of the federations is consistent with the Federal Government policy on Public Private Partnership (PPP) initiative, and the policy is consistent with the NSC’s policy position. The NSC remains the regulatory arm of the federal government. The director-general reports to the minister of sports. The intent is to have presidents of the boards/federations that shall emerge from this partnership shall automatically constitute the membership of the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC). The tenure of each federation chairperson comes to an end after Beijing Olympic Games in August, 2008. Each chairperson serves a term of four years. But the details of this arrangement are still very sketchy. The deadline set for the submission of expression of interest by corporate organization is December 31, 2008.

This deadline is intended to allow the NSC to put in place processes leading to election of the Executive Board of the NOC on 30th April, 2009. The following sports will be impacted: Athletics Federation of Nigeria, Nigeria Basketball Federation, Nigeria Cricket Federation, Nigeria Amateur Boxing association, Chess Federation of Nigeria, Cycling Federation of Nigeria, Nigeria Golf Federation, Handball Federation of Nigeria, Gymnastic Federation of Nigeria, Hockey Federation of Nigeria, Nigeria Judo Federation, Karate Federation, Shooting Federation, Squash Racket Federation, Special Sports Federation, Nigeria Table Tennis Federation, Taekwondo Federation of Nigeria, Nigeria Volleyball Federation, Traditional Sports Federation of Nigeria, Nigeria Wrestling federation, Scrabble Federation of Nigeria, Para-Soccer Federation, Darts Federation of Nigeria, Fives Federation of Nigeria, Nigeria Rugby Federation, Roving Federation of Nigeria, Nigeria Kung-fu federation, Nigeria Kick-boxing Federation, Nigeria Tennis Federation, and Nigeria Football Association (Patrick Omorodion, Vanguard Online Edition, December 2, 2008).

Chief Molade Okoya-Thomas’s Appeal

Chief Molade Okoya-Thomas has appealed to the new minister of sports to reexamine sports development in Nigeria. The Chief was quoted recently as saying that “it behooves on the would-be-minister of sports to give every sport an opportunity to blossom.” He understands the politics of sports development very well. He has been involved in it all his life. He knows that politics and inept administrators continue to undermine genuine efforts to improve sports in Nigeria. He opined that “the era of late and poor preparation for international meets should be jettisoned for good.” The nation should have achieved more than it has over the years if early preparations had been made a tradition. Furthermore, he argues that “it will take more than just sponsoring a championship to win international laurels.” He also argues that he has made a substantive contribution to the game of table tennis for the past 40 years, with little or no returns, and that “we have not won a gold medal in table tennis at the Olympics is not my fault.” And “there are certain things we have to do to be able to win gold.”

The question I posed earlier, Does privatization of Nigerian sports violates the intent of the Nigerian Constitution. The answer is no. The Constitution has been silent on the issue of sport development. The Constitution, however, gave the sole authority to the state and local governments for safeguarding the welfare of the people. The second question asks whether there is an existing national policy on sports development in Nigeria. Just recently the National Assembly had a series of investigations and invited experts in the field of sports to educate the body on the intricacies of sports administration and sports management. It is not clear whether there is an ordinance that allowed for the created of the NSC, and if so, does the ordinance allowed for the privatization of sports in Nigeria?

Nigerian Sports International Foundation and the Nigeria Tennis Foundation

The Nigerian Sports International Foundation (NSIF) and the Nigerian Tennis Foundation (NTF) are organizations that support the pubic-private partnership initiative. The new minister of sports must reach out to other organizations for input and assistance. He must strive to leave behind a tradition and a legacy for the younger generation. Chief Okoya-Thomas reminds us that sports development must be a complimentary venture of individuals, businesses, local, state, and federal government partnership, and we must allow best hands to administer sports in the country. Thank you, Chief!.

Written by
Sadiq A. Abdullahi
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1 comment
  • Public/private ownerships initiation in Nigeria Sports administration is excellent idea concept, but it has dare consequences for generating revenues. No public or private sections that conduct successful sports programs that does not profits, if it does not it shut the doors. Likely private organizations will eventually shuts their doors, living the public to reinvent self with not profit making as we are seeing in the Nigerian government sports sectors! More, as Sadiq pointed (see paragraph five), it is also important to carefully observe these nations that have successful programs have constant electricity and good roads for localization of sports, industries, institutions and very good support systems from the governments. Nigerian government does not, and stills struggles to provide basic things in life for its citizens who will eventually support the sports organizations, etc. Then, who will patronize events that the organizations organize on massive scales, when sizeable number of citizens do not have good sources of dependence to earn and exchange manpower with products the organizations have? Dr. Patrick Ekeji may have good ideas for promoting such concepts, but he must note that those sports organizations will not survive knowing Nigerian complex diversities. In addition to, those nations having successful sports programs are run and control by ‘one race,’ unlike Nigeria where every group is using every muscles to lead even if it has not common sense public and or business administration.