Opinion 11th November 2016

Nigeria: How zero governance entangled performance at world stage

Nigeria is currently at a sporting low point caused by a lack of governance and sports strategy. Implementing better governance standards and increasing focus on grassroots and school sports could help the nation reach its potential.

When Yakubu Adesokan set a new world record in powerlifting at the London 2012 Paralympics, he thought his record would be there to stay for quite a while or that he would at least attempt to improve it at the Rio 2016 Paralympics. Unknowingly to him, he would later be unable to participate at the following Paralympics to defend his records 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 the local Yoruba language.

Over the years, the Nigerian Sports ministry has allegedly been riddled with corruption practices and bad governance from political appointees with or without experience to chair the institution. This has led to many failed and aborted outings at the world stage.

Nigerian teams in recent times have been at the center of failures, with an exception to gold medal winning Paralympians – abandoned soon after the tournament. At the 2012 and 2016 London and Rio Olympics, Nigeria, the most populated black nation, returned home without a single medal and a Bronze medal respectively, an all-time worst performance at an Olympics.

Governance in retrospect

In Nigeria, where 62% of the population is below 25 years of age, it beggars belief that a sizeable number of talented athletes are not discovered annually in a country with a plus 170 million population. Consequently, the records of the track and field trio – Mary Onyali, Chioma Ajunwa and Blessing Okagbare, are yet to be broken by any Nigerian for 25, 20 and 10 years respectively.

The problem is not the base material or talent, but bad governance in terms of planning, programming and governing structure, which have been shambolic to say the least. Better governance in sports existed between 1960 and 1985, due process was observed and the Nigerian teams excelled. Unfortunately, administrative inconsistency and corruption became an obvious problem when Nigeria attended the Nairobi 1987 All Africa Games and onwards.

The sports policy of the 1980s focused on talent discovery and youth development, but continuity of implementation of the policy became a tall order after corrupt administrators took over the saddle. Since then, the nation’s sport has struggled in organisation and planning which became transparently obvious at international and local competitions.

Governance structure

The two previous Olympics revealed that governance is more or less absent in Nigeria, as there is a modicum of management or a total lack of it in many cases. Frantically, the nation is devoid of chartered association for those who study sports, the technocrats are not given the chance to practice or bring their skills to the fore. Sports officials are regrettably appointed on political stance regardless of their previous experience.

“Sports governance in Nigeria is poor as we all know which amounts for the poor state of sports in our country”, Nigerian sports analyst, Oma Akatugba, told playthegame.org. “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.”

Law enforcement agents in Nigeria are expected to intensify efforts in ensuring that the corrupt officials are investigated and brought to justice, according to the constitution. 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. The Secretary is expected to work with Directors and federation Presidents across the sporting circle.

Unfortunately, the current top sports officials are not technocrats, just as it was the case with the two previous sports ministers. Affairs are only taken seriously at the federal level when a tournament is around the corner, with little attention into state and grassroots development and no early preparation.

The level of youth engagement is low due to lack of encouragement, enticement and inadequate government policy. Overall, inconsistency of funding and programming are the main problems of Nigeria’s poor performance at important tournaments.

The funding system is central, just like in some successful nations – for instance, Great Britain and New Zealand. But, the government agencies over the years have failed to distribute funding allocated for tertiary, secondary and grassroots sports to these various areas because of alleged corruption, lack of planning, new reforms and policy in the sports sector.

Resident problems

The consequences of these different issues seem to crystallise each time an important tournament beckons. A triple jumper, Tosin Oke, once complained about how he used his personal funds to train in Singapore before heading to London for the Olympics.

During the London 2012 Olympics, many athletes complained about the lack of funds and support from the government. Adequate training facilities and support were not provided for the athletes.

In 2015, Blessing Okagbare lambasted sports officials on her facebook wall: “For those hoping for a change in our Nigeria track & field, should not just wait but also pray”, she wrote. “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.”

Unending Controversies, drama, reward

A Nigerian Athlete, Regina George, used ‘gofundme’ – a fundraising website, to raise funds to enable her participation at the Rio Olympics. “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 opening parade at the recently concluded Rio 2016 Olympics in Brazil was marred with costume controversy when the team paraded wearing training kit, instead of the original dress presented to the Nigerian President. Disappointingly, 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 Japan due to shoddy travel arrangement involving the government and the football federation.

This, however, was settled as an airline rescued the team in the nick of time. The Nigerian Sports Minister claimed he was not aware of the team’s trip to the United States for training, another public display of the lack of communication hindering sports in the nation.

The Nigerian Olympic football team was later rewarded with $390,000 from a Japanese plastic surgeon, Katsuya Takasu – a passionate Nigerian sports fan, after their stranded story got to him. The Olympics football coach was not paid his salary for five months, despite leading the team to win a Bronze medal in the tournament.

A reflection of an ill-functioning system

Engineer Tunji Ariyomo, a former team leader of the national technical framework for sports, stakeholder and President of the Nigerian Wushu, KungFu and Tachi Federation said: “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.”

“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,” he continued. “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. Today, our athletes are the most endangered athletes in the world. No insurance. No retirement plans. Nothing. 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 federations. 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.

Ways forward

Speaking to playthegame.org, a sports stakeholder and veteran journalist in Nigeria, Afolabi Gambari, said that to improve the state of Nigerian sport, more focus should be given to school sports. “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, needs bylaws that clearly specify responsibility and ensure budgetary allocation annually,” a former Director General of the National Sports Commission, Al-Hassan Yakmut, told playthegame.org.

Also, the private sector has to invest in sports at the grassroots level. In achieving this, tax waivers can be given on spending to encourage them to contribute to sports development in the nation.

A former Olympian, Mary Onyali-Omagbemi, who has been working in the background to develop talent, told playthegame.org that the right coaches and support system would help improve sports. “With all the talent 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 said.

Poorly maintained infrastructural facilities across the six geo-political regions of the nation ought to be considered as well as implementing a maintenance culture. “It really hurt me deeply to miss out of the Paralympics this year, and if I say otherwise I will be lying, but there is nothing much I can do about it, but I have handed everything to Gods hand,” Yakubu Adesokan concluded.

 • This article was originally published by Play The Game on 2 November 2016. To access the original, please click here.

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