Nigeria’s basketball on the brink
Nigeria is one of the most improved basketball nations in the world. The country, which hitherto played second fiddle to Angola, Mozambique, Senegal, Central African Republic and North African countries in the continent’s pecking order, has in the last 15 years, dominated the sport such that its national teams, D’Tigers (men) and D’Tigress (women), during this period, won more continental trophies than all the other African countries combined.
At the world level, Nigeria has become one of the pundits’ favourites to excel at such competitions as the Olympics and the FIBA World Cup. Among its recent feats, Nigeria’s men team in 2012 became the first African country to win a game at the Olympics when it beat Tunisia at the London Games.
The women team went a notch higher, when, in 2016 it became the first African side to get to the quarterfinals of the World Cup at the Spain edition of the FIBA competition.
Nowadays, it has become common for pundits to list Nigeria’s men and women teams among the favourites in major championships. That explains the surprise expressed by many pundits when the country’s teams failed to reach the podium at the Japan 2020 Olympic Games.
The expectations are that going by the caliber of players, both overseas-born and home grown, constantly becoming available for selection by Nigeria’s coaches, the country will soon become one of the top five nations in the world.
But, all such expectations seem to have been put on hold by the ambitions of two self-confessed pious, greedy and unpatriotic administrators. Nigeria, as expected, has qualified for the FIBA Women World Cup billed to hold in Australia later this year, while the men’s team is among sides billed to vie for the Rwanda 2022 African qualifiers for the 2023 World Cup in July. Sadly, the country will no longer feature in these competitions due to the Federal Government’s decision to pull the teams out of international tournaments for the next two years.
For over seven years, Nigerian basketball has been enmeshed in a leadership tussle between two factions laying claims to being the authentic controllers of the Nigerian Basketball Federation (NBBF).
Five years ago, Ahmadu Musa Kida and T.J. Umar fought a bitter war over NBBF presidency. Kida prevailed at the election in Abuja supervised by the sports ministry. Umar went ahead with a parallel election in Kano. The world basketball body, FIBA, recognised Kida’s election.
Four years later, Kida wanted a second term. A properly convened NBBF congress held in Abuja agreed that an elective congress would hold in Benin City. FIBA and even the ministry endorsed it. Along the line, the ministry stopped the NBBF elections fixed for October 30 in Benin, Edo State, using security as
TO reconcile perceived aggrieved stakeholders, the ministry set up a ‘reconciliation committee’ but with FIBA deadline at hand, ministry officials announced that the election be rescheduled to hold in Abuja.
Apparently sensing mischief, Kida and his group, with the backing of FIBA, decided to go ahead with the Benin election on January 31 this year. Twenty eight states were present in Benin. Four of the seven elected representatives were also in attendance. Both the National Olympics Committee (NOC) and FIBA were represented as observers. Same day in Abuja, Igoche Mark emerged from a parallel election that held with some current and former basketball players, as ‘delegates’. Not surprisingly, FIBA recognised as the authentic election the polls in Benin, which produced Kida.
However, for a reason the sports ministry has not explained, it has been romancing the Mark led NBBF body, which it dubbed as a faction of the country’s basketball ruling body.
But apparently feeling frustrated by FIBA’s attitude to its stance on the NBBF crisis, the ministry chose to withdraw the country from all international competitions, claiming that it wants to use the period to grow the sport in Nigeria.
The decision, according to the government, will also create room for the restoration of sanity in the sport’s administration.
With this decision, the Federal Government has effectively dissolved the leadership of the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF).
In its stead, the government has named and inaugurated a caretaker committee to oversee basketball for the period pending the restoration of normalcy in the sport.
But these decisions taken by the Federal Government have come at enormous cost to the country. One, sequel to the country’s decision to pull out of international competitions, FIBA has replaced Nigeria’s women team, D’Tigress, with Mali in the list of teams billed to participate in the Australia 2022 World Cup.
D’Tigress had qualified as only African team to play in the World Cup slated for Sydney, Australia later in the year. But following Nigeria’s decision to withdraw from all international competitions, FIBA said in a statement that it has picked Mali, as the next ranked team from Group B of the qualifying tournament earlier held in Belgrade, Serbia.
In the statement, FIBA said the NBBF “is unable to confirm its participation in the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022.”The world body added that it, “will announce whether there will be any other decisions related to the NBBF’s participation in other FIBA competitions and any potential disciplinary measures in due course.”
The statement reads: “FIBA was informed about the decision of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to withdraw the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) from all international basketball competitions and activities for a period of two years.
“In subsequent communications with the NBBF, and despite FIBA’s request, it has become clear that against the circumstances created by the government’s decision, the NBBF is unable to confirm its participation in the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022.
“Given the multiple strict deadlines that cannot be postponed to ensure the successful staging of a major international event (visa procedures, schedules, ticket sales, accommodations, friendly games, preliminary rosters, flight tickets, accreditations, etc.) and to protect the integrity of the competition, the FIBA executive committee has decided that “Mali, as the next ranked team from Group B of the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022 Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade, is invited to participate in the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022
“FIBA will announce whether there will be any other decisions related to the NBBF’s participation in other FIBA competitions and any potential disciplinary measures in due course.”
It also means that the men’s national team, D’Tigers, will also be replaced in the list of teams to feature in November’s FIBA World Cup qualifying competition.
The world body has also warned that the impact of government’s action will last longer than the proposed two years. Article 9.7 of FIBA’s statutes on third party interference prohibits governments from running national teams and the sport, which means that Nigeria could face sanctions for government’s interference in the NBBF affairs.
In a message to NBBF President, Musa Kida, FIBA wrote: “Any withdrawal of Nigeria from the competitions will trigger potential disciplinary sanctions as per the FIBA internal regulations.
“Furthermore, if the absence of Nigeria from international competitions for the next two years materialises, the consequences may spread out well past such a two-year period.
“For example, please note that the withdrawal from the FBWC23 qualifiers is also a withdrawal from the Paris 2024 Olympic qualification process.
“Similarly, depending on third-party results, the same situation could apply with respect to FIBA AfroBasket 2025.” Afraid of what would become of their career in the midst of the bad vibes from the basketball house, some of the overseas-based players have begged the Federal Government to reverse its decision to stay away from the international community.
Members of the women national team, D’Tigress, have joined in pleading with the government to reverse the ban.
In a message on their official twitter handle, the ladies said: “The D’Tigress team would like to state that we do not agree with this ban.
“This ban is taking away all our future competitions, accomplishments, and goals to elevate, inspire, and make Nigeria proud.
“We would like to be allowed to play for our country that we passionately love to represent in this upcoming @FIBAWWC competition.
“We wish to express our gratitude to all the coaches, medical staff, organisers, and fans. This ban not only penalises us, but you all as well. Your commitment and loyalty to our team will never go unnoticed.
“Our goal is to play and represent Nigeria proudly. We, as the Nigerian Women’s National Team, plead for the reversal of the International Basketball ban for Nigeria. We hope to be heard. Thank you.”
Followers of the Nigerian game believe that the ban could drive some of the country’s finest players away for the national team because they will see the country as unserious.
Sports analyst, Sabinus Ikewuaku, sees the government’s decision as one of the worst things that have happened to Nigerian sports.
He queries the Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, for subjecting the country to such ridicule when he has less than two years in office left. “Strange things happen in this country and people don’t look at the consequences of their action any more.
“The minister has taken Nigerian basketball on a path he will not be around to see the consequences. What happens to the careers of our teeming youths aspiring to make their living through basketball,” he asked.
Ikewuaku said withdrawing Nigeria from international competitions would have far-reaching consequences than the government contemplated before taking the action.
He said: “These action will affect not only the senior national teams, but also the youth sides. So, people will be happy when our young ones don’t have any avenue to hone their talents in the next five years.
“The latest decision has dealt a big blow to aspirations of some Nigerian basketball stars, especially those who recently switched allegiance to play for their motherland. These include the Ogwumike sisters, Nneka, Chiney and Erica, who were looking forward to debuting for Nigeria at the World Cup after switching allegiance from the United States.
“There are so many other players of Nigerian descent still contemplating switching allegiance to the country, but this action is capable of dissuading them from doing that. It is a shame.”
In his letter on the current crisis, Nigeria’s foremost export, Masai Ujiri, said it is unfortunate that people saddled with the responsibility of growing the game are the ones dragging it down.
The letter entitled ‘Enough is enough,’ reads: “From the Ministry of Sports to the Nigerian Basketball Federation (NBBF), the leaders of the basketball ecosystem in Nigeria continue to rob our youths of their present and future, while tearing the entire basketball community apart – this needs to stop.”
He said: “The ongoing senseless power struggle involving the NBBF has resulted in a two-year self imposed ban by the Minister of Sports (an outgoing Minister imposing a ban that in reality would have a four year destructive implication) that prohibits Nigerian basketball teams from entering international competitions.
“This is a symptom of an issue that has permeated the sports ecosystem for years. When leaders put self-interest over national interest, the innocent suffers. It is time for them to step aside for the good of the game, the nation, and the athletes.
“We all know Nigeria is teeming with talent. The country has made leaps and bounds in basketball and has risen to the top. The opening of an NBA office in Nigeria further signifies the country’s importance in the global basketball ecosystem.”
Ujiri, who is the vice chairman and president of Toronto Raptors in the United States’ NBA, who is also the co-founder of Giants of Africa, accused international governing sports body, FIBA, of being complicit in the case, saying: “They have stood on the sidelines making a mockery of the situation. FIBA Africa has also contributed to this drama.”
He lamented that the exclusion from international basketball would drive patriotic Nigerian athletes to play for other countries, adding that administrators, who don’t know what it takes to play for the country, have always treated athletes with levity.
“The time for change is now. I know all athletes, leaders and stakeholders in African sport will not give up on Nigerian basketball, and we will not give up on the youth. It is time for us to move forward. We need a new slate and a new narrative. To do this, all the leaders that have held on to the realms of the Nigerian Basketball Federation (NBBF) for the past several years must all step down.”
Describing government’s action as primitive and shameful sports politics, director of International Tennis Academy, Godwin Kienka, who recently presented his latest book, ‘Sports in Nigeria – Going Round in Circles,’ said the sports ministry has taken one of the worst decisions seen in Nigerian sports. He added: “Hiding behind the Presidency to make that decision makes it even more odious. It just confirms what we have exposed in the book that most of those who run sports in this country do not care about the athletes, the coaches and the promotion and development of sports in the country.
“At a time when the national women’s basketball team has qualified for the world championships and the men are on the way to making it a double, how does their participation or not participation impede a grassroots or local league programme in Nigeria? If the decision was from the Presidency, why did the statement not come from the presidency?” he queried.
He lamented that the decision has denied home-based players, who would have been a part of the two teams, opportunity of being scouted by agents from America, Australia, Spain, France and Italy where professional leagues thrive, from landing dollar contracts that would change their lives and those of their families and communities. It has also wiped out the momentum Nigeria’s basketball is gaining at the world stage.
“If the problem, as alleged, is between Tijjani Umar, who is now a Permanent Secretary in the Presidency and had established a lucrative local league during his eight-year tenure and Musa Kida, a retired former Group Managing Director of Total Oil, who, in his first term, made Nigeria number one in the men and women in Africa and took the men’s team to the 2020 Olympics, why not ‘focus’ on them instead of throwing away the babies and the bath water.
“We had the same mix-up and confusion in the Athletics Federation before the last Olympics leading to the ban of several athletes essentially because of utter negligence of drug procedures by the Ministry and the ‘Federation’. It is said that when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.”
Kienka said the situation has again pointed to the need to get the “National Sports Commission up and running the way the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) is operating most professionally under the Ministry of Communications.
“The Ministry of Sports appears to be overwhelmed by political pressures from so many quarters.” Also speaking on the development, NBBF Vice President, Babs Ogunade, lamented that the D’Tigress absence from the Women’s World Cup will set the nation back by 10 years.
He said: “The worst has happened to basketball development in Nigeria. By replacing D’Tigress with Mali in the World Cup, the sports ministry has helped in ruining the future of many of the country’s basketball players.
“We have over the years tried to assemble a formidable national basketball team, which have dominated Africa, but out of some people’s selfish interest, D’Tigress will not be at the World Cup for which they suffered to qualify.”
He queried the Federal Government’s reason for withdrawing the country from international competitions, saying that it could not have been because it wants to develop the game.
“The government said it took Nigeria out of international championships because it wants to focus to building the domestic game. So, when a player is discovered at the grassroots level, is the next stage of the player’s development not to play at international engagements?
“You see when the right advice is not given to people, they take unpleasant decisions. Playing at the international level and the domestic arena go together. The government cannot close one and open the other. The government is talking about organising grassroots competitions for two years, but where will the players so discovered go?
“I believe the Sports Ministry doesn’t understand the implications of what they are doing to Nigerian basketball. They should understand that Nigerian players are the ones that will feel the effects of the ban more.”
Ogunade said FIBA sanctions, when it comes, will have ripple effects on all stakeholders, including players, referees, table officials and even those who sell sports equipment.
Disagreeing with the NBBF Vice President, factional president of the federation, Mark Igoche, said the withdrawal from international competition is the best decision in the current situation, adding there is need to focus on the development of basketball at the domestic scene.
He said: “Not happy on D’Tigress replacement by FIBA from the World Cup, and their absence from the World Cup is not a pleasant news. But I feel the situation at hand is for all basketball stakeholders to come together and see how we can move it forward.
“I have never been against speaking with the other NBBF factional body to see how we can develop local basketball, which is totally dead.
“That is why I started the Mark D Ball Basketball Championship to reduce this gap. How can we be happy in a country where there is no league; where basketball players roam the streets without playing games. This is not right for a country that wants the development of basketball.
“The ban will give basketball stakeholders opportunity to focus on grassroots development and the game. It is unfortunate D’Tigress have to face this withdrawal from the World Cup.” FIBA is expected to decide Nigeria’s fate on or before its forthcoming congress.
The ongoing senseless power struggle involving the NBBF has resulted in a two-year self imposed ban by the Minister of Sports (an outgoing Minister imposing a ban that in reality would have a four year destructive implication) that prohibits Nigerian basketball teams from entering international competitions. This is a symptom of an issue that has permeated the sports ecosystem for years. When leaders put self-interest over national interest, the innocent suffer. It is time for them to step aside, for the good of the game, the nation, and the athletes.
Hiding behind the Presidency to make that decision makes it even more odious. It just confirms what we have exposed in the book that most of those who run sports in this country do not care about the athletes, the coaches and the promotion and development of sports in the country. At a time when the national women’s basketball team has qualified for the world championships and the men are on the way to making it a double, how does their participation or not participation impede a grassroots or local league programme in Nigeria? If the decision was from the Presidency, why did the statement not come from the presidency.