The Minister of Information and Culture Alhaji Lai Mohammed knew what awaited him when he dared last week to counter the rather illogical business strategy that has seen big Nigerian brands pour millions of dollars into sponsoring foreign football. How it makes sense for Nigerian businesses to take out millions of scarce dollars from our desperately sick economy to pump into foreign economies as the way to reach â€œeyeballsâ€ at home, can only be understood in a Nigerian or sub-Saharan African business school. That the eyeballs have lost their jobs or have had their salaries slashed, or have not been paid in months seems lost on them? â€œI know they are going to attack me on this but I am not made a minister to sustain the economy of other countries,â€ said Mohammed defiantly. Sure enough the attacks poured in. Left to me though, I thought the minister was too soft, he should have gone the way of the Chinese.
Let me bring you up to speed if you donâ€™t know what this is about. Last week the minister warned that government would move to change broadcast laws in order to discourage Nigerian brands from sponsoring foreign sports at the expense of the local industry. He lamented that a big beverage brand spent $7m dollars sponsoring foreign football clubs last year and vowed to make sure that going forward every $1 a company spends on sponsoring foreign football will attract 30% tax for the development of the Nigerian league.
When football clubs in China were blowing crazy sums on buying foreign football talents in the recent past, the government moved in to check the trend by imposing a 100% tax on those clubs. Meaning that if you buy a player for $100m, you also paid $100m for the development of the local game. That would have appealed to me more in this case.
Many Nigerian businesses are still clinging onto the habits of the oil boom days when they hardly had to think about building and sustaining industries that create all round societal value and wealth. Most are still hoping to simply milk the little that still trickles down from oil. The tourism industry, a potential multi-trillion naira industry, is flat out on its back despite the wonderful destinations this country boasts of, while we have all pumped our money into overseas tours. It is the same across virtually every sector, but it is in the sports industry where the damage is most telling, because of the massive influence sports has on societies.
Sports inspires nations like no other. Humans have found inspiration from sporting heroes since the ancient society. Not only are we enthralled by the spectacle, even when we are not sportsmen ourselves, we seek to ape such triumphs in our different disciplines. Sports also engender camaraderie in society. When we all gather in sporting arenas to cheer our teams and heroes, we feel a sense of kinship, of a united people, of one humanity. In addition, sports allow us to reach levels of self-discipline and physical exertion like no other.
For our young, and this is critical in Nigeria today, it has being scientifically proven that sports lead to better academic performance. Sports also enhance social competence, boost problem solving skills, lifts self-confidence and self-efficacy. One sport can engage millions of people in society across all ages â€“ from two years when you begin the quest for global dominance, to your dying days when sports is simply activity that is needed to prolong your days. For all the noise about secession and restructuring as well as political and religious divisions, football teams in Nigeria crisscross the country weekly to compete in peace. There are South East players in northern teams and northern players in Southern teams. It is the same across all sports.
So it is critical that we get sports right in this country. In thinking about our post-oil future, sports presents a wonderful opportunity to create thousands of new jobs and to engage people in healthy and productive ways. Sports can smoothen out our differences and help us pull together in one direction. Sports can be as wide ranging in its influence as checking our exploding population and even child marriages. If a young girl of 16 is chasing medals in state, national or international competitions, the last thing on her mind would be fooling around with boys and messing up her career by becoming a teen mum. Many young men will stop roaming our streets, drinking alcohol and smoking weed, because sports teach you discipline in every aspect â€“ your choice of foods, your practice, your sleep time, your habits etc. Sports clean up society.
Sports even influence the beauty of our towns and cities. In sports crazy societies regional planning provides for parks, community sports centers, and sports arenas where talents can be discovered, engaged and developed. Lagos, for instance, is our trophy city rendered ugly by the absence of a sports culture. A primary school in the USA has a sports facility that probably would rank better than some of our professional sports arenas. A top US college football team earns more yearly than Nigeriaâ€™s annual budget for youth and sports. These people are not stupid, they are the richest and most progressive country in the world. Indeed the five richest countries in the world finished in the top six places at the Rio Olympics.
Imagine a world without the Olympics or the football World Cup or other major sports tournaments. We would be a fractured world, a boring and unproductive world lacking in innovation. That is the nightmare Nigeria faces. We are country without a thriving sports industry, disunited, poor, unhealthy and lacking in innovation.
In truth there are many people running different sports in Nigeria today that have no business near sports management. An industry so important to nation building, can never, should never, be entrusted to political jobbers and narrow-minded businessmen. The fact is that brands demand and deserve value for their promotional spend and local sports have been so abysmally run that they are unpopular with audiences and sponsors. The solution though cannot be in sponsoring foreign sports. Apart from the billions that go into sponsorship and tourism, Nigerians pay over N20b for the rights to watch the English Premier League on TV. Thatâ€™s madness! Brands must realise that we live in an ecosystem and that their own businesses are at risk when they idly watch the industry killed by unfit administrators.
Sponsoring foreign sports is a suicidal business strategy. A bank that sponsors the English Premier League only promotes business for banks in the UK. A telecoms player that sponsors the EPL loses business to Vodafone and BT. A food company that sponsors the EPL loses business to food chains in the UK. Big brands must realise that they need to put money into sports and wake up this giant industry. They must call government to order and demand for the right people to run our sports. Once that is done, the athletes can grow in skill and stature and start to compete internationally for top prizes that they bring back home to our banks and other businesses. Foreign sponsors like Nike, Adidas, and the like would also start investing in our athletes and local sports stars, while TV networks around the world will begin to fish for Nigerian sports content and pay for them. We have seen this in our music, movie, and comedy industry and we can see it in our sports industry.
But this is not just something for the information minister to tackle alone. He needs to rally the federal executive council and form a caucus of ministers whose portfolios will benefit from a successful sports industry. Top on my list would be the ministers of youth and sports, health, labour, industry, aviation, tourism, education, finance, economic planning, internal affairs and agriculture. This group must fashion out a way forward that will benefit all â€“ government, fans and the brands. The country badly needs this.