Re-purposing Sports for Sustainable end to Unemployment and Poverty in Nigeria

Sunday Akin Dare, Nigeria's current minister of youths and sports

Leading to the 2015 presidential election, the change agenda of president Muhammadu Buhari's campaign encompassed security, economy and employment.

And you can say it again that the thematic tripod was more than apt because where there is no security there can be economic development not to talk of employment.

However, how much of it was achieved at the end of four years is still an ongoing debate (perhaps it has ended because we've had another election) of which it would be difficult if not impossible to draw a conclusion.

But if you ask me, the signs out there have been that of job losses that job gains, especially in the formal sector, which in fairness to the government is not exclusive to it.

The trend has been incrementally noticeable from close to a decade and half if not more prior to the ascension to power of the Buhari's administration.

Which is why in 2019, not surprisingly, the focus of the president's campaign is still very much about security, economy and employment with a next-level spice.

This is equally on point, after all, the war on insurgency has not been completely won. The economy is still ailing and there are not enough jobs to go round the employable mass of the people who are mostly youths.

Going with the next level agenda, the president has charged the ministers during their inauguration to do everything within their powers to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next four years.

Though, that for me is like attempting to soar above mount Everest on an Daedalus and Icarus's flying contraption; but with a total commitment to re-purposing the system for such an ambitious mission, impossible is nothing.

It must be emphasized again that at the heart of job creation are the teeming youths whose passion encompasses fundamentally sports and entertainment; and lately SMSE's and leadership which makes setting a developmental agenda for the ministry of youths and sports under Mr Sunday Akin Dare very paramount.

And I'm speaking strictly in terms of exploring the potentials in sports to drive national economic growth towards significantly impacting on the 100 million Nigerians the president is eyeing for a glorious leap above poverty.

It is, however, not in dispute today that sports in Nigeria has tragically been narrowed to the level of just a handful of them namely football, and may be basketball and athletics. The rest are just making up the number.

Sports generally; and especially football, have also been reduced to a pawn in the political chessboard of political actors. And successive ministers of sports have defiantly and myopically acted like they were ministers of football.

It must be admitted that Nigerians love football but it should not be at the detriment of other sports that are yearning for the same attention for the catalytic roles they could play in helping to reduce unemployment and poverty in the country.

Whereas sports are not just tools for social cohesion, outlets for easing of tension and the laundering of floundering political image of countries and political actors from example of what is obtained in both the western and eastern societies.

Sports are a billion if not trillion dollars business through which stable employment is provided for the citizens of those countries where it has been gotten right. They are also routes to fame and unimaginable fortune for the participants.

Therefore, I think if there is a ministry of the government that is in dire need of unbundling, it is the youths and sports ministry. Its unbundling is necessary because clearly there is a problem of poor funding which I don't think is about to disappear any time soon because the country is currently facing cash crunch as result of over-dependence on oil for revenue generation.

For this reason, many of the sports associations have not been active. You can say they are dead literally. As a proof, I'm aware that the nation's male basketball team, D'tigers who are currently in Beijing, China for the world basketball championship took loan to facilitate their participation. Isn't that instructive?

What other proof do we need that things are no longer at ease with our sports. But if the way to go is that of Nigeria Basketball Association (NBA), why not the country through an act the national assembly makes the various sports associations semi-autonomous for optimal performance.

That's if the governments at all levels still want to have a say in the administration of sports in the country. And no one can begrudge them that right. It is both legit and moral.

If not, then, they should let go. And they should only concern themselves with international representations of any of the national sports teams.

I'm not saying the sports associations should be handed over to the incompetent indigenous capitalist hawks who have always managed to masquerade as foreign investors, bought over some of our unprofitably run national assets only to prove incapable of delivering when it matters the most.

To achieve the unbundling, a retreat for stakeholders should be convene where modalities are exhaustively discussed.

If this is not done and urgently too, the private sector which drives the visibly stunning outputs of Europe and America which we all are obsessed with week in weed out on the digital TV channels would forever be reluctant to come in and commit their hard-earned funds. To them, accountability is a general rule just like profitability.

The non-adherence to this is what was responsible for the disbandment of privately owned football clubs like Abiola Babes, Leventis United, and Nwuayanwu Nationale of those days.

The owners of the above named teams, which include the late business mogul and politician Chief MKO Abiola did reminded the then Nigeria Football Association (NFA) that the game is neither charity nor an outlet for discharging the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) of their various business interests to the society; but a business from which returns must be declare annually. And that's exactly what it is overseas.

The way it is, for example in football where over eighty percent of the teams participating in the nation's top flight league belong to the governments at different levels is an unacceptable aberration.

Because of their sheer numbers, to compromise the process is quite easy. And this they do by interfering in the processes and procedures of electing who becomes what at the management level nationally.

It also makes it difficult if not impossible to mete out commensurate punishments to officials, supporters, and players when they erred. Even when this is done, it hardly serves as sufficient deterrent because before long the same anomalies still rear their ugly heads.

It is a common knowledge that some states in the country bankroll the financial outlays of the engagements of the national football team, the Super Eagles.

This is because the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has proven times and again that it is financially incapacitated to discharged its mandate.

Yet the swan song in the political circles, even as we speak, is that "government has no business being in business." In the worst case scenarios, public-private partnership is the thing.

And it is not as if we're short of models within the Geo-political expression called Nigeria. Lagos is sure one.

It has consistently being building sports infrastructures all over since 1999; whereas, it doesn't own one sport club which is in line with the vision of its fourth republic pioneering governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

The idea is to provide individuals as well as corporate bodies with interest in sports with standard sporting facilities on a continuous basis.

Yet others have dabbled into it headlong to soothe either popular opinion or a temporary penchant to play the sports loving governor or whatever it is the elected capacity knowing fully well they are not ethically equipped to operate as required hence the repeated news of unpaid salaries and wages of players; and all manners of brinkmanship.

And as such when the players protest, they're cowed and sometimes brutalized with state's instruments of forceful cohesion like the police who discharge canons of tear gas on them.

It is by force for political entities to own sports club if not that they want to use them for ill-digested political purposes.

Contrary to this, we all can recollect the accelerated manner the former Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode scaled up the facilities at the Agege Municipal stadium to meet CAF's standards for the use of MFM Football Club which is a privately owned club side in the CAF champions cup competition.

The point I'm making with my advocacy here is that sports men and women should be allowed to earn their pay based on what they can bring to the table of the sports of their choice contractually and not the way it is currently in which sportsmen and women are treated like civil servants but without pension or gratuity.

Without much ado, the minister of sport and youths development will be helping the president to achieve his vision of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty if the idea of unbundling the sports industry is suggested to him.

Like that, continuous nationwide sports circuits will be created and private sector funds will automatically streamed in. This will create a win-win situations for all the stakeholders along the value chain of sports industry in Nigeria.

The youths will be engaged professionally in sports and that will go a long way in minimizing youths restiveness as a result of idleness.

Administrators too will learn to stick to the management ethics of their respective sports.

The governments on their parts will then concentrate on consolidating on existing sports infrastructures in the country where it is their duty to build and maintain them.

As it is, the officials of the various sports associations are elevated above the principal actors themselves by default because at the end of the it is all about service and retiring, no more no less which ought not to be so.

I've no doubt in my mind that sports can be re-purposed if we so desire and we should as catalyst for sustainable end to unemployment and poverty in Nigeria. And if that is done, definitely, the next level agenda of the Buhari's administration which prioritizes the lifting of 100 million Nigerians out of poverty would be well on course.

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