The sports ministry should rally all the contending forces and ensures the ban is reversed, writes Ayoola Ajanaku

As the race to Nigeria’s presidency in 2023 continues to gather steam and momentum, it has become the biggest topic on the front burner of our dear nation with a rain of presidential candidates purchasing Expression of Interest (EoI) and nomination forms. This development has overshadowed a key decision that was taken by the President Muhammadu Buhari to ban Nigeria’s participation from international basketball for two years by fiat due to the constant bickering by different factions of Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF).

To shed light on this unsavory situation that’s a huge drawback to Nigeria’s soft power in the comity of nations, potential of budding basketballs in Nigeria and the diaspora one must proffer a helicopter view on the scheme of affairs. It’s not news any longer that the pervasive squabble in the basketball federation started from the era of the Tijani Umar (a Perm Sec in the State House) -led board and the incumbent Musa Kida-led committee that’s also neck deep in a tussle with the Mark Odaudu-led faction that emerged from an election that held in Abuja earlier. The cause celebre of this wrangling falls on no other entity than on the feet of the Minister of Sports, Youth and Sports Development (MYSSD), Sunday Dare who superintends over the hoops game in Nigeria. The meat of this submission hovers around his inability to bring the contending forces to a roundtable and this has led to a monumental disaster of imaginable proportions.

It’s a given that divergent and centrifugal forces must dispute over issues. What is germane is the timely resolution of such fallouts to foster development. Rather reverse is the case, as the Tower of Babel scenario was allowed to spillover and land Nigeria into dire straits that we find ourselves currently. On the most recent FIBA Global rankings Nigeria is on the 16th position and without any gainsaying the prospects of Nigeria in the horizon can see our team win the FIBA World Basketball Championship, if all the requisite inputs are put in place. The head honcho at Nigeria’s Sports Ministry has not managed the situation at NBBF well to avoid this abyss that all and sundry find themselves. He has the mandate to manage oversight functions on Nigeria’s sports ecosystem and advise the President and the Federal Executive Council (FEC) to this effect. Alas, all that emanates from the precincts of the Ministry are tales that are heart wrenching and unimaginable. The President listens to the counsel of the Minister – It is pertinent to ask that does anyone throw away his or her wards because they are at each other’s neck? The answer is no with the employment of avenues to resolve amicably with locomotion to the left, right and centre to see that things augur well.

Where does one start from about the milestones of Nigeria basketball in the international sphere and beyond? One of the biggest sporting exports to the National Basketball Association (NBA) is Hakeem ‘The Dream’ Olajuwon who broke boundaries in the NCAA before the icing on cream with a stellar career in the world’s number one basketball league. In addition to these the exploits of Toronto Raptors czar, Masai Ujiri to win an NBA title in 2019 are milestones that are unquantifiable in the realm of soft power and diplomacy. One does not need to go far with the display of Boston Celtics manager, Ime Udoka who’s also a former international who has represented Nigeria and he has led his team to the Eastern Conference finals. The hottest sensation in the NBA is also a Nigerian born player, the Milwaukee Bucks forward, Giannis Antetokounmpo who won an NBA title earlier. In the US, the first question that props up when you identify as a Nigeria are the exploits of Nigerian basketballers. Go to some parts of Houston, it looks like a suburb in Lagos, Nigeria, as our players in the diaspora are chasing dreams in the hoops circuit. Our talents litter the United States, Europe, Middle East and beyond with their eyes on their home country of origin that moulded their frame for this sport that has put them in the limelight. It’s pertinent to raise the fact that basketball is one of the few sports that works hand-in-hand with education and provides a veritable window to marry sports and schooling at the same time. The Nigeria body build fits the posture for the basketball game according to talent scouts looking for the next big thing to emerge in professional terms, as they excel in shining colours home and abroad. The scouts who head hunted Hakeem Olajuwon from the Nigeria Sports Festival in the 80’s a handball player. He metamorphosed into one of the greatest players in history to grace the NBA.

It is apt to inform the quarter of the Minister that it will take a miracle of immense proportions to revive the hoops game from this disaster. The buck stops at his table and when the chips are down he would be responsible. The perception of the game is at an all-time low and it will take a yeoman’s job to market NBBF assets to brands and partners. This author was part of an SPV that projected and leverage Nigerian basketball to the OPS and it yielded massive results with initiatives from the University Games, WAUG, NBBF League and the national teams. It took a lot of backbreaking work that entailed sweats and tears. From the defunct VMobile, to DSTV then Kwese as title sponsors of the league till date where sponsors have withdrawn thanks to the intractable fighting at the federation. Who wants to be involved with a fighting house that cannot put its affairs in order?

Furthermore, it has been a harvest of disrepute on Nigeria under the dispensation of the Minister of Sports from the protest of Nigeria athletes at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in Japan, the squabble over PUMA kits by the Athletics Federation of Nigeria, the back and forth over payment of Nigeria female basketball winning Afrobasket team in Cameroun that resulted in a backlash via calls in the social media space, the sack and subsequent failure of Nigeria’s qualification to the football mundial in Qatar 2022. The straw that has broken the camel’s back is the suspension of Nigeria basketball from international competitions for two years.

The onus falls on the Minister to rally the contending forces to mend fences and take Nigeria basketball to the zenith. This game is a means of empowerment and window to escape the throes of poverty for hordes of Nigeria youth. The hiatus will create a massive dent on their hopes and aspirations. A word is enough for the wise, as it’s a no brainer to employ spin doctors to counter this narrative that means well for the entirety of Nigeria. Ego-tripping tendencies will not help any of the parties therein and they would be able to hold their heads high in the public sphere.

  Ajanaku is a Communications Specialist based in Lagos

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