Sports and the NDDC Question

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Enefiok Udo-Obong

In this season of staycation caused by an unwelcomed virus, people are closer to the news more than ever.

So it is no surprise that as the story over the past week, the audit and probe of the activities of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) floods our news streams, conversations have built up amongst Nigerians.

Despite the gravity of issues involved, we as a people, have adopted a general slackness, rhathymia, jovial and unserious attitude in addressing these issues that affect our development. We generally shoot for risibility rather than let the cupidity of some of our leaders dampen our spirits. This can be seen in the numerous jokes and memes posted all over the internet on different social media platforms.

But we know that the dream of creating a truly inclusive, egalitarian democracy hinges on how the people believe that fairness and justice is addressed in the society not just how a lady’s detractors increasingly rely on ‘ad hominem’ attacks to blunt her influence or how a syncopal episode is triggered by a series of questions on accountability of funds.

However for sports lovers, (fans, managers, athletes, business people and pundits alike) all the concern seem to be that in all the expenditure or utilisation of funds in the region there were no sporting infrastructure of note developed or built despite the huge resources earmarked for development of the region and the amount of money being revealed at the hearings. This has been debated passionately and the discussions of these stakeholders were not always polite or courteous. In fact, they were always inappropriately calibrated in tone of arguments: In one instance, they are too deferential; in another, too bellicose.

And the conversation comes with a special conviction central to their passion: an adamantine, unshakable conviction that what needs to be done is to build sporting infrastructure with the funds of the NDDC.

Their arguments are valid. In a region hurt by environmental issues, insecurity, unemployment, poor educational level, poverty of its people, lack of infrastructure, poor healthcare and youth restlessness(Militancy). And to a great extent sports can help in all these.

Insecurity and militancy are easily minimized by sporting engagements. When the youth have where to exert their excess energies, fighting communities would not be common. Participation in sports can keep numerous young men and women busy. Sports training can take you 4 to 6 hours daily and improve your sleep time to 8 or 9 hours. You would then have so little time left for any vice.

In addition to sports participation, it is believed that watching sporting activities also reduces crime. A study in the Journal of Sports Economicsin 2018 found evidence of “consistent decreases in crime during games”. As part of its efforts to support the implementation of the Doha Declaration, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has launched a global youth crime prevention initiative that builds on the power of sports as a tool for peace. The initiative aims to promote sports and related activities to prevent crime and to effectively build resilience of at-risk youth.

Hosting sporting event leads to complementary development too. Roads, hotels, hospitals and other infrastructure are some necessities to be in place before a hosting right is granted. This compels government at different levels to ensure some development within a certain time takes place.

Jobs and other economic activities are increased because of sports. Food vendors, clothing manufacturers, construction workers, doctors, hoteliers, etc. are all needed when sporting events are held regularly increasing number of employed people. But the sporting activity in itself is a big money spinner with sports being more professional and sportsmen earning huge amounts of money. As a matter of fact, Sports acts as a quick means to escape poverty. There are numerous stories littered in our country and beyond on how sports changed the social and financial status of individuals.

Poor education is also one problem that is solved by sports. One constant in sports is travel and this brings about an informal education in teaching one about different people, places and cultures. In fact the level of enlightenment one gets as a result of these sports interaction cannot be quantified justifiably with words. Formal education is also easily achievable when sports is encouraged as many schools home and abroad have scholarships for talented sportsmen and women. They know that these people would bring pride and prestige to their schools and so design programs for them where they can harness their talent as well as get a sound education.

Despite the merits of these arguments in support of expenditure on sports project by the NDDC, we have to remember that what is good is not always right, and what is right is not always good. In this case we have to look at the laws and the functions of the NDDC as prescribed by the Act that set it up. Niger-Delta Development Commission (Establishment etc.) Act of 2000 states clearly in part 2 section 7, as its function that the commission shall conceive, plan and implement, in accordance with set rules and regulations, projects and programmes for the sustainable development of tie Niger-Delta area in the field of transportation including roads, jetties and waterways, health, education, employment, industrialization, agriculture and fisheries, housing and urban development, water supply, electricity and telecommunications; Sports is conspicuously left out. Though people will argue that projects in sports could fall under education and perhaps employment but seeing that the act stipulates a structure with eleven directorates namely: Administration and Human Resources; Community and Rural Development; Utilities Infrastructural Development and Waterways; Environmental Protection and Control; Finance and Supply; Agriculture and Fisheries; Planning, Research, Statistics and Management Information System; Legal Services; Education, Health and Social Services; Commercial and Industrial Development, and Projects Monitoring and Supervision. None for sports.

While one can postulate that the Directorate of Education, Health and Social services can oversee projects in Sports, it would be a long shot to hope that the director would be a sports person or a professional who will see his or her interest in sports more important than that of education, health or social services.

So if sports were to get a priority in the NDDC funds, it would need its own directorate and that, I think will bring us to a huge inflection point and I believe that means that we change the rules by amending the act. This in itself, knowing our interests, is an Augean task. The last time the senate sent a bill to amend the NDDC Act was in 2017 and the recommended amendments were more political than developmental.

So for now, while the problems of the region lingers on and the funds earmarked for its development runs into trillions of Naira, we can enjoy the drama and spectacle that the hearings in the national assembly will bring because at least for now, there is no sport to enjoy there.