NigeriaDecides2023: How Nigeria’s presidential candidates plan to develop sports

A review of the policy documents of the major candidates in Saturday’s presidential election appears to have one thing in common: a definite lack of understanding of sports as a significant economic index.

The UNDP, in a 2012 paper, stated that “Engaging youth in the community development initiatives is a promising way of providing them opportunities in meaningful ways. They can be very valuable resources to help close the gaps by lending support to developmentally appropriate activities and challenges. Their involvement also strengthens student-centred learning.”

While sports in Nigeria may read football, Nigeria is blessed with talents in many other sports. But sports and athletes’ development are dysfunctional topics that are not adequately catered for in the manifestos of the candidates.

The history of Nigeria cannot be complete without the highs brought to the country by athletes. From the Olympics to African Nations Cup tournaments and others, Nigerian athletes have held their own around the world and, arguably, brought more positive vibes to the country than any politician.

A UN 2030 Agenda, adopted in 2015, states that “sport is an important enabler of sustainable development” and values “the growing contribution of sport to the realisation of development and peace in its promotion of tolerance and respect…”

Super Eagles of Nigeria
Super Eagles of Nigeria

Nigeria’s population, according to Statista, currently stands “at around 216.7 million”. The demography shows that almost half of that population is between 15 and 34 years – the sports cycle age. The population under the age of 19 is the catchment area for most sports disciplines and is a talent pool that almost all political parties have not considered in order to positively affect the country’s GDP. None of the parties or candidates has developed and notarised a sports policy for deployment in the event of success at the polls.

Yemi Kale, the former Statistician-General of the Federation, revealed in 2020 that sports accounted for only 0.005 per cent of the country’s GDP. Compared to figures from Europe and the Americas, this is extremely low. Speaking at the 26th Nigerian Economic Summit pre-summit webinar titled “Re-categorisation of Sports as a Business Sector of the Economy,” Mr Kale said “the global value of sports is around $500 billion. However, the sector accounts for only 0.005 per cent of Nigeria’s GDP,” which is grossly insufficient.

In comparison, a study by the European Commission revealed that “the share of sport-related Gross Domestic Product (GDP) within the EU is 2.12 per cent and amounts to €279.7 billion. Furthermore, the share of sport-related employment amounts to 2.72 per cent of total EU employment, equivalent to 5,666,195 persons.”

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The Sports Pledges

The Labour Party’s 72-page manifesto mentions sports five times. If elected president, Peter Obi and his running mate, Yusuf Datti, propose a “Marshall plan-type programme on education that incorporates compulsory technical and vocational skills, sports, entrepreneurship, programming, and digital skills from the primary to the secondary level.”

This sounds good but hazy. What exactly is a Marshall plan? The Marshall Plan, named after former US Secretary of State George Marshall, sought and received funds to rebuild the ruins of Western Europe after World War II. Despite its altruistic intentions, the plan’s primary goal was to prevent the spread of communism. As a result, if the Marshall Plan is to be applied to the Nigerian situation, it assumes the sector is in ruins, which we may all agree on.

Labour Party Presidential Candidate, Peter Obi [PHOTO: TW @PeterObi]
Labour Party Presidential Candidate, Peter Obi [PHOTO: TW @PeterObi]

The Labour Party manifesto continues: “We will facilitate both public and private sector investments to reactivate and reposition our sports sector to become globally competitive. The sports ministry shall be strengthened to attract investments through blended financial mechanisms towards developing sporting talents, revamping sporting facilities and recreation centres across the nation.”

The party also seeks to transfer some of the responsibility for sports development to state governments.

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“We will work with state governments to introduce state leagues in key sports, such as football and basketball, to enhance the growth and professionalisation of grassroots sports. This would create thousands of jobs for the youth.”

The LP document is not too dissimilar to the APC manifesto. Sports is mentioned 14 times in the 80-page APC document.

A breakdown of the APC Manifesto declares the intention of a Bola Tinubu-led government to “Provide the opportunities for youths to realise, harness, and develop their full potentials and to facilitate the emergence of a new generation of citizens committed to the sustenance of good governance and service to the people and the country.”

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APC presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
APC presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

“We will unleash the potential and talent of our youth in different sports through a dynamic training and funding approach that will upgrade the standard of our sports development. The return of school sports and grassroots sports will be made the cornerstone of our sports development policy.”

Going back to the drawing board is an often-mentioned cliche in Nigeria, but the drawings have always never scaled and transferred to reality.

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The APC is also clear in its proposal to see sports run as a business. Its manifesto states, “Towards achieving a coordinated sports development program, we will create an enabling environment for sports to thrive as a business. The New National Sports Industry Policy, (NISP) will be fully implemented. Incentives will be provided to attract private-sector investments and participation in sports infrastructural development.

“Sports development in all its facets will be made a priority item under a Tinubu government with an increase in funding. A Sports Code of Governance will also be developed to ensure compliance with set goals and objectives. Modern sporting infrastructure will be developed in each of the six geopolitical zones of the country to elevate our sporting standards.”

It also intends to “establish world-class sports academies and training institutes and ensure that Nigeria occupies a place of pride in global sports and athletics.

“Schools and communities will also be mandated to create playgrounds/sports centres with needed equipment to develop skills.”

PDP’s Atiku Abubakar and Ifeanyi Okowa dedicated two pages in their manifesto to sports, mentioned 10 times. They highlighted the challenges and what they intend to do.

“In Nigeria, the sports sector is faced with a series of challenges, including inadequate harnessing of opportunities present in sports, inadequate attention to minority sports, under-funding, and politicisation of sports and poor management.”

“The revamp will be addressed by the improvement of “sporting facilities in all the states of the country; diversify into the promotion of minority sports to give Nigeria a better chance of winning international laurels, encourage the sport sector as a job and wealth creation platform; promote sport as a mechanism for national unity and foreign policy, and partner with the private sector to open sports academies for persons with disabilities that will operate across the regions.”

FILE PHOTO: Atiku Abubakar, PDP presidential candidate
FILE PHOTO: Atiku Abubakar, PDP presidential candidate

The sports sector is no different from other underdeveloped areas of the Nigerian economy, in need of strategic solutions. Wise countries recognise what it can bring, particularly emancipation from poverty and self-worth for those who have been trapped outside the economic breaking point.

The manifesto of Rabiu Kwankwaso’s NNPP has no mention of sports. The closest it went was addressing entertainment. It pledges to support and ensure the growth of Nigeria’s entertainment industry as a major national image launderer, job creator, national unifier, cultural promoter, and contributor of forex inflows.

Despite Nigeria’s huge population and talent, its politicians have no understanding of how to milk the cow. The English Premier League paid $650 million in taxes in 2022 while the Nigerian government is still spoon-feeding the league and all other sports in the sector. Music, entertainment, and sports remain skill-laden environments in which talent can be exposed and uplifted without the need for a mentor or assumed godfather. There is more meritocracy involved, which is not always fair but is more so than in other sectors. Sports assumes that if you are better than the average, you will be found – this cannot be said for all sectors of the economy and unfortunately, politicians, at all levels

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