Peace In Nigerian Sports – Going Back To The Future!

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Nigerians are tired and frustrated with the unending crisis in some national Sports Federations. The particular case of the Nigeria Basketball Federation has compounded the situation as the Ministry of Youth and Sports, frustrated by the endless crisis, took a desperate decision that appears to have added salt to the injury.

The crises in some national sports federations are not new. They were inherited by the current Sports Minister, Chief Sunday Dare, and have existed for at least 4 generations of ministers before him. He is only now being called upon to nurse back to health what have become very sick ‘babies’.

It is not an easy task to accomplish because the virus of abnormalities introduced at a time past have grown into cancers, and the new normal. The simple processes in sports associations (federations) at the birth of modern sports administration in Nigeria, have been smudged and obscured by inadequate advice of the dwindling pool of experienced and knowledgeable administrators on what needs to be done to connect the roots of the past with the state of affairs of the present, and serve as a compass into the future.

Without being disrespectful to those presently advising the sports ministry, there is a clear disconnect with history in some of the Ministry’s decisions. Without going back to the genesis of the crisis, a step that requires courage and wise counsel, there may never be a way out of these seemingly impossible situations. There are too many previous pitfalls and potholes along the way that the ministry is falling into that could have been avoided but are not

If the sports ministry did not think it had run out of patience and simple solutions, it would never have taken the huge and unprecedented step of withdrawing Nigeria’s national teams from all international basketball events, something that brings unquantifiable honour and glory to the country, provides a whole world of opportunities to the gifted youths of Nigeria.
Nigeria’s absence creates a big hole in the global basketball industry, and does irreparable losses in the lives and careers of innocent athletes who would never get a second chance at the present lost opportunities… again.

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The problem in this whole brouhaha is a ‘virus’, a few articles in the federations’ constitutions, smuggled into them at a point in Nigeria’s sports history, to serve some narrow interests. They served those purposes well, were not expunged, became the new ‘normal’, became further engrained and are now almost impossible to get rid of because those that planted it are no longer around to recant their ignoble acts, and those benefiting from the act now will never easily give up their new found power, source of influence and glamourous living.

The era of electing only authentic members of sports organisations as leaders of the national federations may be gone forever, unless some drastic steps are taken. Hence, the ‘hard’ stance of the Sports Minister that has now backfired only because the ‘sinner’ is free and the victims, without whom even the federations would not exist , are suffering!

Since the announcement that shocked the entire world, rather than calm the situation, criticisms, concerns and condemnation have followed, and have been very loud, sustained and global. The decision is not producing the desired and anticipated results.

There are now genuine calls for the ministry to take another look at the whole matter, review its withdrawal from international competitions, and find another route to solving its greatest problem.

The good thing is that, in the Ministry’s action, we now see clearly the frostiness in relations between it and some of the national federation leaderships.

The reagent of the crisis in the various federations is, once again, the process of board elections fueled by a few disputed articles in the constitutions of the bodies that were altered and have now birth a situation where unqualified and undeserving persons manipulate their way to the boards, and hold on with a vice-like-grip to the levers of sports administration in the country. They even usurp the Ministry’s statutory responsibility clearly spelled out in the constitution of the country and leave sports in the country to be swallowed up in the swirling pool of ignorance and the absence of clear roles and responsibilities.

To compound the challenges of the sports ministry, even as the basketball saga goes on, in October 2022, the ‘Mother of all crisis’ looms. Unless the ministry uses uncommon wisdom and its awesome but idling powers to amicably resolve the matter of the NFF quickly, there shall be an ‘explosion’ into a fresh round of crisis that may even consume the ministry itself, if care is not taken. The elections into the Nigeria Football Federation’s Executive Committee over which the ministry superintends comes up in October.

There is an ‘irritant’ law suit in a court in Bàyelsa State filed by some stakeholders against the NFF. The court has temporarily halted the entire process that should lead to the elections. One of the matters before the court is very germane as it raises the fundamental issue of the present constitution of NFF. Unless and until that case is resolved quickly, Nigerian football may be heading for the rocks…..once again.

Without doubt, the sports minister faces a complex situation that most people do not fully understand, and with history taking its toll on the mind, it appears things are becoming even more complicated.

Even the advisers of the sports minister appear to be lost in the labyrinth of the present confusion, and cannot find their way back home to the start of this ignoble journey. What can be done now? How can the knots that were tied selfishly by narrow-minded former ‘pilots’ in the ministry at a time in history, be undone so that the levers of control can go back to the rightful owners of the game, persons who are ready to work with the Sports Ministry and carry out clearly separated roles and mandates, without conflict, friction or rancour?

My humble suggestions?

  1. The ministry should retrace its steps. It has not found any support from any section of the global sports fraternity. It should withdraw its withdrawal of national teams from international competitions as soon as ‘yesterday’. It is an unpopular decision because it punishes, in the end, the wrong persons for offenses they did not commit.
  2. The Ministry should get more advice about how to manage the present situation with the NBBF without infringing on subtle ‘rules’ in sports that exposes it to the clause of ‘interference in the internal affairs of its member’.
  3. The matter of a Court of Sports Arbitration to be established in Nigeria should be quickly revisited so that a learned, independent, acceptable, and neutral arbiter to deal with the complex issues in sports is put in place to resolve differences and restore control of sports to their right constituencies. 4. The matter of the NFF in various courts can surely be managed better and settled with the intervention of the Ministry. It should invite all the key-parties in the conflict to a round table, settle the personal differences between them, and then embark on the tortuous and difficult process of re-writing or expunging unwanted articles from the mutilated constitution of the NFF which must be normalised in order for final peace to return to Nigerian football. The Sports ministry must go back to the past to find the ambiance required for a peaceful transition into a brighter future.

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