The development of Sports in Nigeria has deteriorated in recent times and this is particularly caused by a lack of proper governance and sports strategy.
Aderonke Bello writes:
The nation which has a massive number of talents must begin to focus on grassroots and school sports in a bid to bring back the glory days which could help the nation reach its potential.
In London 2012 Paralympics, Nigeria’s athlete Yakubu Adesokan set a new world record in power-lifting at the London 2012 Paralympics, alas it was a great honour as he hoped it would be difficult for anyone to shatter in a while.
With the outstanding performance that year, Adesokan’s hopes were dashed barely four years later as he could not defend his record or attempt to improve it at the Rio Olympics, just because of shoddy preparations due to the Nigerian sports ministry’s handling of the sportsmen.
“You know, may God help us, I trained harder for the Rio Paralympics than the London 2012 Paralympics, but I miss out because of a small mistake that happened between some top officials and us, we got to the Paralympics a bit late and they said we are too late to process our way in,” Adesokan told playthegame.org in Yoruba local language.
For a long time now, the Nigerian Sports ministry has been found culpable of high-leveled corruption, bad governance, as well as incompetence of some officials and this has led to many failed and aborted outings at the world stage.
Today, Nigerian contingents to any major tournament are centre of shame and failure and are treated with much absurdity like mere garbage, the same way the government abandoned gold medal winning Paralympians.
The most populous black nation on the face of the earth has an all-time worst performance at the 2012 and 2016 London and Rio Olympics as the country’s participants returned home without a single medal and a Bronze medal respectively.
Looking back at sports administration
Statistics have shown that 62% of Nigeria’s population is below 25 years of age, and one wonders that in a country of over 170 million people, a sizeable number of talented athletes are not discovered annually.
Due to bad governance and lack of proper the records of Mary Onyali, Chioma Ajunwa and Blessing Okagbare, are yet to be broken by any Nigerian for 25, 20 and 10 years respectively.
It was evident that between the time of independence and1985, there was relatively better governance in sports as Nigerian teams excelled. Unfortunately, administrative inconsistency and corruption became an obvious problem when Nigeria attended the Nairobi '87 All Africa Games and onwards.
The sports policy of the 80s-sports policy focused majorly on talent discovery and youth development, but continuity of implementation of the policy became a tall order after corrupt administrators took over the saddle.
Nigerian sports have continued to struggle in planning, organizing and this sad situation became transparently obvious at international and local competitions.
From the showmanship of the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, it is largely clear that governance is more or less absent in Nigeria.
Nigerian sports analyst, Oma Akatugba said: sports governance in Nigeria is poor as we all know which amounts for the poor state of sports in our country.
"The biggest problem is leadership. We have never had the qualified persons as minister of sport in Nigeria and as they say, everything rises and falls on leadership,” he told playthegame.org.
It is safe to say the caliber of people running sports in the country know little or nothing about their position and this is because sports officials are regrettably appointed on political stance regardless of their previous experience.
The constitution of the country has stated clearly that law enforcement agents to ensure that corrupt officials are investigated and those found culpable are brought to book.
The Sports Minister is the number one sports official in Nigeria, previously followed by the director-general of the now scrapped National Sports Commission, recently replaced as part of the role of the permanent secretary.
With the new structure in place, the secretary is expected to work with directors and federation presidents across the sporting circle but sadly,the current top sports officials are not technocrats.
Youth participation in the administration of sports is low as a result of lack of encouragement, enticement and inadequate government policy.
The peculiar problems in Nigerian sports is always resuscitated each time an important tournament beckons.
Ahead of the 2012 London Olympics, Tosin Oke a Nigerian athlete in Triple-Jump lamented about how he used his personal funds to train in Singapore.
During the London 2012 Olympics, many athletes complained about the lack of adequate training facilities, lack of funds and support from the government.
Blessing Okagbarein 2015 lambasted sports officials on social media: "For those hoping for a change in our Nigeria track & field, should not just wait but also pray," she wrote on her facebook wall.
"Honestly, I have been so calm about these people killing our grassroots section/home based athletes with their recruiting of athletes from other countries instead of building the great talents that we have. What a show of shame the administration has become."
Days before the commencement of the Rio Olympics, a Nigeria’s Regina George, used ‘gofundme’ – a fundraising website, to raise funds to enable her participation at the Games.
“To all my family friends and fans thanks for being here for me through the good times and bad times. This year it's been hard financially for me but it wouldn't have been possible without your support.
“I’ve just been told that we will have to pay our own way to the Olympics this year. Sadly, this is such short notice for me to come up with the money,” she wrote on the fundraising website.
The shame reached an unacceptable point during the opening parade at the just concluded Rio Olympics in Brazil.
Team Nigeria was enmeshed in costume controversy when the team paraded themselves with training kit instead of the original dress presented to the Nigerian President.
Hours before their opening match against Japan, the U23 football team, known as the Dream Team VI was stranded in the United States where they almost missed their first match of the event which was against due to shoddy travel arrangements.
Thanks to a private airline company which eventually saved the day in the nick of time.
Public display of the lack of communication hindering sports in the nation was also exhibited when the Nigerian sports minister claimed he was not aware of the team’s trip to the United States for training.
It is sad to note that Olympics football coach was only paid his salary after months of leading the team to win a Bronze medal in the tournament.
A mis-placed system
A former team leader of the national technical framework for sports Tunji Ariyomo, stakeholder and President of the Nigerian Wushu, KungFu and Tachi Federation complained that the state of sports is a true reflection of the Nigerian state.
“Our overall institutional framework for sport is also faulty. This is where government and leadership matter.
“Nigerian sport is a reflection of the Nigerian state. So while as sports enthusiasts or administrators we may legitimately be worried that we are gravely underperforming in virtually all sports, we only perfectly mirror the malady and organic ills that have defined the spirit and essence of the larger Nigerian nation," Ariyomo said.
“Our sports reflect the absence of functional systems, the presence of powerful interest often at variance with national interest, the absence of merit and other vices that stifled the development of Nigeria,"
“Sport is a very important sector. It is as important as defense, as works, as education. But that is only if we are doing what other high flying nations are doing.
Some attended a grade A international events such as the Olympics on their personal funds, all these issues must be addressed and a system forced into place that ensures the sector can thrive without needing powerful people, before we can get it right. We need a system that works in that sector.
"Look carefully at each of our sports federation, our administrators spend more time dodging landmines of administration's politics, infighting and catering for personal interests than they spend on developing the sports,” Ariyomo told playthegame.org.
Afolabi Gambari a sports stakeholder and veteran journalist in Nigeria told playthegame.org, that school sports must be a major focus if the country must live to its full potentials.
“School sports must return and in a forceful manner. This can be guaranteed by government’s encouragement of synergy between education and sports ministries from state to the federal level,” Gambari says.
The government could enforce school sports if the sports ministry works in tandem with the ministry of education to regulate and integrate sports activities into the school calendar. Unfortunately, inter-school competition is history because of the weak governance in Nigerian sports.
“One solution is the proliferation of infrastructural sports in the three tiers of government, and also community and school sports. If you provide the activities, the children will blend in naturally and then you can start thinking of technical sessions.
"But the administration of sports which is also 60% of governance need bylaws that clearly specify responsibility and ensure budgetary allocation annually,” said a former director-general of the National sports commission, Al-Hassan Yakmut.
The private sector should be encouraged to participate in sports as a business because it is a big source of revenue in other countries.
In her opinion, Mary Onyali-Omagbemi a former Nigerian Olympian disclosed that the right coaches and support system would help improve sports.
“With all the talents in the world, with no funding, sports cannot grow. It takes money, use the right facilities, employ the right coaches, the right support system around the coaches, create a right environment for athletes and watch how we generate the likes of Mary Onyali,” she concluded.
The article was originally published by playthegame.org, authored by Aderonke Bello