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National protests – A sports revolution may be afoot too

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NFF President Amaju Pinnick and Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr

At evening, like the sun dipping suddenly in the horizon, an unusual situation has taken Nigeria by storm and complete surprise. Civil protests have been spontaneous and widespread. I am not sure anyone knows who the leaders or the organisers are. The scope and demands have been escalating with every passing day, and there is palpable fear in the air.

Undoubtedly, a chain of uncertain reactions has been set off by Nigerian youths, and, like an avalanche, almost everything in its path is being cleaned or swept by this gale into an unknown abyss. No one knows for sure where the protests will lead, or when they will stop, or even how to stop them.

They remind me of American writer Gore Vidal’s rare interview that he granted Penthouse, a magazine for women, decades ago. In that interview, he predicted that one day a civil revolution against a failing American leadership system would take place in a spontaneous explosion by the public. The revolt, he said, would be without known leaders or organisers to be held responsible by the authorities, and so would not be able to be negotiated or halted, until it destroys the old order of things and ushers in a new era of upright leaders.

I don’t know much about America, but it is such a revolution that appears to be afoot in Nigeria today. I have a feeling that from the ongoing protests, we may not be far from a monumental catalyst for change in the social and political architecture of Nigeria.

For the first time, celebrities from the entertainment industry, including film actors, musicians and sports personalities, appear to be in the front line of the agitators. Without guns or sticks, but with their voices raised and their marching feet pounding the streets, the revolution is gaining traction and yielding results immediately. The people are tired of the shenanigans of a political system that has grounded the ship called Nigeria on shallow waters. Nigerians are calling for a change.

On behalf of the sports constituency (although youth I no longer am), I add my humble voice. Those of us in the sports sector have been fed for too long on the diet of mediocrity, ethnic sentiments and politics. We are praying that this whirlwind blows away all the vestiges of the baggage and garbage of the worst decades of Nigerian sports that truncated the evolution of a major industry that would have catered for the interest and futures of the vast army of Nigerian youths naturally endowed, gifted and passionate to join the huge global sports and entertainment industry.

Last week, I postulated the establishment of a single Ministry to handle both Education and Grassroots Sport. Grassroots sport is about sport during the school age of children. It should be inevitably anchored to schools and education. In Nigeria, for three decades since the country’s sports development structure was derailed, the country has been unable to find a happy medium of collaboration between sports and education. Hence, my seemingly desperate solution last week, – a single ministry to handle both education and sports development in the schools, up to secondary school level. I also added, of course, that there should be a separate body, the National Sports Commission, to take care of sports beyond the grassroots level!

I assumed that the concept would end up as another idle thought.

Suddenly, it has taken firm roots in some informed, educated and respected minds. I have received several very interesting responses to my suggestion. One response in particular caught my full attention. It came from one of the persons that I truly respect in the sports industry. I am certain she would not appreciate my drawing attention to her person today because she never hugged public attention in all the decades that she has being in the corridors of Nigerian sports establishing a rock-solid foundation of knowledge and invaluable experiences, Quietly, diligently and without ruffling any feathers, she served successive ministers and senior administrators of the sports ministry with loyalty and respect for the culture of the civil service. It is no surprise that she survived all the turbulences that bedeviled sports, and retired unscathed and with flying colours only a short while ago.

I have known her for decades and worked with her for over one year when Dr. Patrick Ekeji deployed her to serve in a small committee created by President Goodluck Jonathan that I headed that set out to ingeniously create the missing link between Education and Grassroots Sports in 2011.

Last week, for the first time, she responded to a public document by reacting privately to my published article. She did that I believe only because she is out of service.

I quote her briefly:

“That a solid relationship must be built between Sports and Education is a task that must be done. I handled the KPI (Key Performance Indicators) when I was in service. When I checked the KPI of the Ministry of Education I discovered that school sport was not mentioned. The point is that the Ministry is burdened with a myriad of challenges facing the educational system that school sport is not a priority to them at all. Meanwhile, school sport is a priority to the sports industry in Nigeria.

A ministry of Education and Sports Development with a National Sports Commission as a parastatal under the said ministry might provide answers to all the questions on sports development in our great country. To create the Ministry of Education and Sports Development without a National Sports

Commission as a parastatal under it, will create more problem’.

Finally, she asks: “But who will push this idea? How are we going to walk the talk?”

I was completely blown by her reaction.

For one year during the existence of NASCOM, an ad-hoc committee that I must write about very soon, I worked with Hauwa Kulu-Akinyemi.

NASCOM had that set out innocuously to bridge the missing link between sports and academics but was truncated by Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi when he became Minister of Sports without appreciating the vision behind the organization,

I found out that she is one of the sharpest, most knowledgeable and most equipped-for-development female sports administrators in Nigeria’s sports history.

Dr. Patrick Ekeji, former Director-General of the Ministry of Sports, her former boss, has since confirmed my opinion of her in several conversations I have had with him, and also in his latest book, ‘The Sports Officer’ where he pays her great credit: “a hard-working and dedicated officer with a rich knowledge of the evolution of the NSC”.

That she spoke at all on this new subject raises the ante for me.

That Hauwa Kulu-Adeyemi has embraced the concept means a great deal to me, and speaks volumes.

I am convinced that the answer to Nigeria’s grassroots sports development (the operative word here is ‘grassroots’) lies in finding how to marry sports and schools in a seamless complimentary relationship.

The least we can do, having failed variously with other experiments through several past decades, is interrogate the new concept and idea.

The Ministry of Education has the funds to drive sport. Sport is embedded in UBE’s (Universal Basic Education) funding mechanism through compulsory tax deductions from corporate Nigeria of the basic education sector.

Sports as a co-curricular subject and activity in Nigeria’s education structure can be adequately funded. It can also be monitored and driven without interference of any other body, by the Nigeria Schools Sports Federation, a body of very qualified sports professionals working within the educational ministry structure.

Nigeria has everything in place except the clear vision and the political will.

I see a big role ahead for Hauwa Kulu-Akinyemi in this emerging dispensation.

My humble take!


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