SPORTS WITHIN THE POLICY DIALOGUE IN ABUJA!

At the risk of repeating myself, let me delve, once again, on the subject of  of the status of sports in Nigeria as the country begins the start of a new political chapter.  

I was in Abuja during the week, as a participant in the policy dialogue with the theme: Implementing Change – From Vision To Reality. 

The event is organised by the incoming government of Muhammadu Buhari to reinforce its vision and mission, and ensure that it hits the ground running with progammes that will start to impact the lives of all Nigerians almost immediately. 

Expectations are very high amongst Nigerians with their psyche battered by the poor performance of the last government. The way things are in the country presents a truly unique opportunity to make changes that could transform Nigeria massively and positively for the first time since the new democratic experiment started in 1999.

The elements could never have better prepared the incoming government to take the drastic decisions that would have once been thought impossible or even politically suicidal. 

Now, several of those hard choices appear to be the only option left as response to the present bleak state of affairs in virtually all sectors of the country. 

At the dialogue, listening to the various speakers, I could almost cut through the enthusiasm and hope that pervaded the venue – Nigeria, from May 29, will be heading away fromdesolation in a new direction. 

The road will be rough and tough but championed by a man who will lead by example, a  man of undeniable courage, character, integrity and a clear mission, Nigerians are presented a blank canvas upon which they can start to paint a genuinely new and different Nigeria! 

My section of the dialogue discussed exploring sports, tourism and the creative industry for job creation. The task of engaging and providing employment for the 60% youth population in the country is truly a daunting challenge.  

The lead speaker was Dele Momodu, the publisher of Ovation International. He presented a brilliant paper, navigating cleverly through the dark past of the various parts of the entertainment sector, of which sport is an integral part, into the daylight of a bright future.  He challenged the Buhari government to be different and take the hard but essential bold steps that would elevate the sector to the level of absorbing the millions of young Nigerians drawn to the world of entertainment.   

The sector must be taken more seriously. The new government must appoint the right persons to drive the new vision, provide the right environment and legislation to open up the huge potentials of the sector and make it a major contributor to the social, political and economic wellbeing of the country. This sector of artists in music, film, drama, culture, the media and sports can re-brand the country internationally like no other.  Unlike similar previous efforts (panels and committees) that I had been a part of through the years, this one was a very interesting mix of professionals across the spectrum of  entertainment all in one room – Mo Abudu, Obinna Ekezie,  Jimmy Jatt, and Wangy Mba-Uzokwu.  

Tucked away in a small meeting room inside the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, venue of the dialogue, far away from the klieg lights and the media, before a small audience of stakeholders within the APC political party, speaker after speaker first lamented the poor past, the relegation of the sector, resultant neglect, decayed infrastructure (or lack of it), and all the several ills the plagued the sector in the past, before projecting the prospects of a very bright future firmly anchored to the trust in the personality of the president-elect, whose courage, integrity and determination to do right, no matter whose ox is gored, provides the fuel for hope!  

One thing has always been clear to me – all the governments we have had in Nigeria since the 1980s have not ‘neglected’ the entertainment sector because they thought it was unimportant. For example, no past government failed to ‘sing’ the common and popular refrain that sport (or football in particular) is the most unifying factor in Nigeria during international competitions. The problem has always been that they never seemed to know what to do to make it unify the people beyond the brief moments of competition and victory.    

They have never considered the fact that in 2004 even the United Nations realized and immediately adopted sport as an invaluable tool to drive and achieve the Millennium Development Goals objective of eradicating hunger, disease, poverty, unemployment and illiteracy in the world by 2015! There have been other global efforts since then, including the FIFA 2010 legacy project for the World Cup that made education for all in South Africa it's goal. 
 
The greatest set back of the sports sector is the appointment of those that know little or nothing about the sector, that are not products of the sector, that do not have the history, the vision and sensibilities of the sector to head it! This time the entertainment sector, particularly sport, deserves a new kind of attention. 

One thing I found interesting in this policy dialogue is that everyone that participated in the programme willingly and gladly paid their way, paid for their accommodation and upkeep, and did so in the new spirit that now pervades the fibre of the incoming government. 

Sport has assumed the dimension of a tool and catalyst for massive physical infrastructural development, to inculcate and promote physical activity for healthy living, for character building and leadership training, as a powerful and effective tool for national orientation and citizenship, for development and promotion of the tourism industry, for promoting the education of children in challenging environments through enrolment and retention in schools, and for employment generation opportunities in the vast landscape of the sports business. 

This should interest the incoming government because it offers answers to several of the challenges that confron them, particularly as regards how to tackle the problem with 60% of the country’s population made up of youths below 35 years of age who are restless, distracted, unemployed, agitated and anxious to be a part of the promise of a new dawn, an emerging great country with the right leaderships at every level in all sectors to drive the process!   
 

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