Tijani  Umar though easy-going, is not afraid of battles as he has fought and survived many in his almost six years as President of the Nigeria Basketball Federation, Kunle Adewale  writes about his achievements and plans for the Rio Olympics

Taking Nigeria’s basketball to greater heights has always been his dream. “I hope to get Nigerian basketball to greater heights, and machineries are in place for funding for the various basketball teams. I hope that once the budget comes into place, more funds will be available for the federation to execute its programmes for basketball,” he said in May this year.

After the DStv All Stars Games in Abuja, Umar showed his delight in what he saw, saying it proves that the future of basketball in the country is bright. 

“Everything is evolutionary including moving forward, we are learning lessons, DStv had said they have seen an arena they love for the game of basketball, which is Abuja Sports Hall. They think the federation has justified the confidence in them.

“Tonight has been great, I have seen real basketball and I am proud that they are the best talents we have in the country. The selection of the players was appropriate and you could see that we got talents in Nigeria. Some of them, I’m seeing for the first time today but I felt completely proud of them.

“We have two teams that are humbly good, in terms of talents, skill and in term of execution. What is more important is that we have seen the skill challenge, slam and dunk and the three points shoot out tournament. I was a basketball player but I can tell you when we played, we never saw something like this. We did not have this kind of side attraction then and the crowd was happy. This is the whole essence of the sport and we would begin to hope that we can organise some of those things we see out of the shores of the country as people begin to invest the game,” Umar said.

The NBBF President also hailed the presence of who-is-who in Nigerian sports at the Sports Hall of the Abuja Stadium.

“I was a good thing that all the people that are responsible in making decision in term of sports in the country were presence – the Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, Chairman Committee on Sports in the House of Representatives, Godfrey Ali Gaiya, former Nigeria Olympic Committee Chairman members and President Nigeria Tennis Federation President, Sani Ndanusa. So it just is about telling them our needs, our ideas and ideals. That we know what to do but simply we can’t do it with jusy words, therefore, as DStv is there on one side, government should support us on the other side and we are here in the centre. With that, the future is very bright for basketball,” Umar said.

Nigeria’s basketball Captain to the 2012 Olympics in London, Olumide Oyedeji, also corroborated Umar’s view, just as he showered encomium on the NBF for putting up a good basketball show.

“Kudos to the players and also to DStv and to the basketball federation that put this together. I will say this is one of the most successful Basketball events ever. It was a very colourful event and the organisation was near perfect even up to the kits. It made the players to feel happy. The accommodation was fantastic and the players felt they are real stars,” Oyedeji said.

Asked on the chances of the country’s basketball team at winning a medal in next month’s Olympic Games Olympics in Rio, he noted that the Olympic Games was not all about winning.

“I want the media to be very positive about what we are doing. I am member of the NOC, vice President of the NOC. I want you to read about the Olympic creed. What the IOC says about Olympic is you take part. The essence of the Olympics is about taking part and not to win. The whole thing is showing your ability to display human spirit, that ability to make environment great, not necessary to triumph. So if you win, there is a medal around your neck that is icing on your cake.

“We have never had talents like these group of players that is representing the country in Rio. I am not a coach, I am only a manager and it’s going to be wrong for me to tell you that we are going to get a medal or not. If we pick it one, fine, but I believe they are going to play the best of basketball in Rio. I am sure of that. We have talents to do the unbelievable,” he said.

On the growing number of Nigerian athletes born in the United State of America forming the bulk of the national team, therefore making the federation to rely heavily on foreign-born players, Umar reacted thus: “Every country would always want the best team represented. The federation cannot deny a person born in the US, who has Nigerian citizenship legitimately by birth to play for Nigeria. We are looking for avenues where we can package these players both outside and then those here so that they have a clout and then they have that iconic status so that it rubs off on the game and on the league. We are trying to see how we can use DSTV, Supersports and others to try create this platform, it is a process because for a long time it has not been there,”

The NBBF President also condemned the National Sports Commission (NSC) for frustrating efforts of the federation to move the game of basketball forward, just as he accused NSC not supporting the sports.

“I am really angry to see the national team struggling to go for tournaments. Things are so bad that I am considering quitting. I have been the NBBF President since 2009, but I wish I were never the President of the federation because it seems we are not ready to move forward. I am really bitter that the Nigeria national team is struggling to go for tournaments. We can’t be struggling. Nobody wants to believe we don’t have money. In 2013, 2014 and this year, our federation got no single penny from government and this is frustrating,” Umar said.

Umar indeed reiterated the stance of the federation against the decision of some basketball stakeholders to float the Africa Basketball League (ABL), just as he agreed that it was a great idea but was wrongly executed.

“The ABL is a good idea but it was not started the right way. We have discussed with them and we have told them where they missed it and how they will get it right if they wish to. To be honest with you, the way ABL is right now, it is not going to work at all. They have overstretched their bound and need to retrace their steps. As far as we know, the ABL now is just a glorified league in Lagos. 

They are completely quarantined in Lagos. If they come back and do the right thing, we may then support the idea. FIBA Africa can only approve it based on our recommendations. It is always important to listen and do things the right way; otherwise it will be a still born baby just as the ABL is right now. We have gone forward without them, as you can see they are no longer in the league until they retrace their wrong foot steps,” he said.

A group of basketball stakeholders in Africa, led by Nigeria’s Col. Sam Ahmedu (rtd) recently floated the idea of an African basketball league, which was strongly opposed and resisted by the NBBF board, leading to the suspension of all the four Nigerian basketball clubs that had registered to participate in the ABL.

Umar, who described the ABL as a stillborn insisted that the NBBF would not approve it until the organisers do the right thing.