NIGERIA’s recent two-year unilateral withdrawal from international basketball competitions, which was endorsed by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (Retired), has again demonstrated the brash administrative culture of the Federal Government. Sports Minister Sunday Dare blamed the move on the sport’s long leadership crisis. Instead of appeasing the basketball faithful, however, it sparked outrage. Buhari should call it off quickly to save the sport and the aspirations of current and potential players.
In this particular case, the Buhari regime is throwing the baby out with the bathwater; a leadership crisis should not automatically justify withdrawal from the international arena. A statement from the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development said the ban had been approved “in order to focus the government’s efforts on revamping grassroots sport as well as national leagues, which have become moribund”. As an excuse, it’s weak and unreasonable.
It is extremely difficult to understand the withdrawal and it has serious consequences that will reverberate beyond the two years that the country has chosen to withdraw from world competitions.
Clearly, the withdrawal violates Article 9.7 of the FIBA Statutes, to which Nigeria is a signatory. It states: “Member national federations must manage their affairs independently and without any influence from third parties. In particular, they must ensure that their officials are elected or appointed through a democratic process for a four-year term. Government interference is at the heart of the problem.
To complicate a terrible decision, Dare inaugurated a 10-man interim management committee. By composition, committee members have been involved in the fight at one time or another before. This makes their task difficult.
At every turn, Nigeria misses the point that when it returns to the international stage after two years, there is no guarantee that the leadership struggle would have been resolved. In this case, the ban would have been futile.
The consequences of Buhari’s action are heavy. First, the Women’s National Team, D’Tigress, will miss the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2022 to be held in Australia in September. As three consecutive African Afrobasket champions, the Nigerians are the continent’s number one team but will automatically miss the World Cup. It’s a shame. D’Tigress will also miss the chance to equal Senegal’s record of winning four consecutive continental titles at the upcoming African Championship. The girls made so many personal sacrifices to accomplish all of this, but all of their hard work is now wasted. Truly, it will be difficult to regain the pedestal that Nigerian basketball has achieved in Africa and beyond after returning to the world stage.
Their male counterparts, the D’Tigers, who represented Africa at the last Tokyo Olympics, will lose momentum and world rankings after the great run they started a few years ago when many based players in the United States identified with the team to transform Nigeria. into a continental force. Discouraged, some of these players may boycott D’Tigers in the future.
By the way, the long leadership crisis preceded Dare, who took office in 2019. The ugly fight started five years ago when Musa Kida and Tijjani Umar started a bitter war for the presidency of the Nigerian Federation. of basketball. Kida prevailed in the ministry-supervised Abuja election. Umar held a parallel election in Kano but FIBA recognized Kida’s election.
Four years later, Kida wanted another term. An NBBF congress held in Abuja agreed that an elective congress would be held in Benin, Edo State. FIBA and the ministry approved it. Along the line, the ministry halted the elections, citing insecurity. At this point it became clear that the ministry had lost control of the NBBF.
To reconcile the aggrieved stakeholders, the ministry set up a ‘reconciliation committee’, but with the FIBA deadline at hand, ministry officials announced that the election would be postponed to Abuja. Seemingly sensing mischief, Kida and his group, with the backing of FIBA, decided to go ahead with elections in Benin on January 31 this year. Twenty-eight States were represented in Benin. Four of the seven elected were also present. The National Olympic Committee and FIBA were represented as observers. On the same day in Abuja, Mark Igoche emerged from a parallel election held with some current and former basketball players as ‘delegates’. Unsurprisingly, it was the elections in Benin that produced Kida who FIBA recognized.
Over time, Nigeria has jumped from crisis to crisis in various sports. In 1995, the late military dictator, Sani Abacha, withdrew the Super Eagles from the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations (soccer) in South Africa because the hosts were one of the nations that chastised Nigeria for running the Ogoni Nine. For this madness, Nigeria were banned from the 1996 and 1998 finals.
Rather than learning from this, Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, took a similar step after the 2010 FIFA World Cup hosted by South Africa, removing Nigeria from international competition for two years. After much outcry, Jonathan wisely rolled over.
The NBBF brawl is just one symptom of the deep ills plaguing the sport in Nigeria. The contradiction stems from the fact that in the West sport is professionally run, with the government only funding national teams. In Nigeria, sport is still amateur, where the government exercises primary control. In this way, sport in Nigeria will not reach its potential in terms of job creation, revenue for players, clubs and taxes for the government.
By beefing up professionalism, Nigeria is its own worst enemy. According to Forbes, each NBA franchise is worth $2.48 billion, giving a fair market value of the 30 American League franchises at $74.4 billion. To reach such a height, the government should hand over the management of sport to the private sector. This is global best practice and the only way to avoid the constant crises that plague the sport in Nigeria.
But first, Dare and Buhari would have to eat the humble pie and reverse each other so the basketball can breathe again.
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