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Sports Development and 2023 Elections



By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

It was Orji Uzor Kalu, former Governor of Abia State and presently the Chief Whip of the Nigerian Senate, that at a time stated thus; a good businessman sees where others don’t see. What I see, you may not see. You cannot see because that is the secret of the business… the entire world is a big market waiting for anybody who knows the rules of the game.

The above thought came flooding recently not necessarily because Nigeria and Nigerians are at present witnessing politicians queue behind each other to declare/express interest in the nation’s 2023 presidency.

Rather, it stemmed from the fact that in the past two decades or thereabout, when democracy in the country, the nation has handled all its electioneering exercises from conventional societal and socio-economic contexts/considerations, principally anchored on regionalism, ethnicity, class/elite recruitment and gender.

There is a general but erroneous belief that these selected/mentioned aspects are the most relevant factors to be considered because they represent deep, persistent divisions in society. In making these decisions, we exude the confidence of rational people. We feel that we are both practical and pragmatic.

This practice has since graduated to what analysts now refer to as ‘politics of identity ‘or ‘politics of recognition’.

But in all these, no public office aspirants have ever brought into view sustainable sports development as his/her major selling point, objective or agenda. And Nigerians have not bothered to ask why the non-emphasis on sports development flourished even when it is evident that sporting activities, particularly the game of football/soccer presently creates in the country both local and international employment for our teeming youths, promotes tourism and entertainment, attracts direct foreign earnings/investments and unarguably qualifies as the most unifying factor in the country. In fact, there is this veiled belief that the only time Nigerians can agree with one another is when it comes to the issue of sports.

The facts are there and speak for it.

Aside from the zeal with which Nigerians unite to watch foreign clubs during European Premiere/La Liga leagues, the most recent example of how the game of soccer created peace and unity in the country was demonstrated by the harmonious reaction/celebration that trailed the sweet 34th minute belter, intelligently struck by Kelechi Iheanacho, which earned Nigeria a first-ever opening match win over Egypt at the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations.

This piece also observes with satisfaction how in 2003, the Hausas, Yorubas, Igbos, among other tribes, in praise/support of Enyimba Football Club of Aba, to the admiration of the watching world chanted; Nzogbu nzogbu, enyi  mba enyi. Nzogbu, Enyi mba enyi, Nzogbuo Nwoke, Enyi mba enyi, Nzogbuo nwanyi, Enyi mba enyi, Nzogbu, Enyi mba enyi, a popular Igbo assonance. This was in 2003 when the club, under Orji Uzor Kalu as the Abia State Governor, played USMA of Algeria in a crucial quarter-final of the Champions League.

More difficult to believe is the reality that we overlooked sports development but continued in the culture of choices such as economic planning and masses welfare, even when it is evident that past efforts/choices in that direction have not stopped the nation from going through the shooting pain of bad leadership or aided the country to enthrone true democracy in which the nation would be corruption free; the rule of law is obeyed to the later and impunity on the part of all top government officials, civil servants and every other person in either the civil service or the private sector is curbed.

Making it a crisis is a fact that those elected into public offices based on these considerations. In particular, their economic planning and development prowess has continued to go against the provisions of the constitutions as an attempt to disengage governance from public sector control of the economy has only played into the waiting hands of the profiteers of goods and services to the detriment of the Nigerian people.

Today, while the nation continues to lie prostrate and diminish socially and economically with grinding poverty and starvation driving more and more men into the ranks of the beggars, whose desperate struggle for bread renders insensible to all feelings of decency and self-respect, the privileged political few continue to flourish in obscene and splendour as they pillage and ravage the resources of our country at will.

So, using the above scenario as a dashboard to correct our leadership challenge which is gravitating towards becoming a culture, the question may be asked; as the nation, Nigeria races toward the 2023 general elections, how can we use the election as president a Nigerian with interest in sports development to build a nation that will be ‘militant’ enough to keep our citizens aroused to positive actions and moderate enough to this passion within convenient bounds? Do Nigerians have a choice in this matter? Can they really afford in the present circumstance to make such a decision?

Before tackling this question, this piece must underline the age-long saying that ‘to know the road ahead, we must ask those coming back’.

In light of this consideration, Nigeria and Nigerians must provide an answer(s) to the above questions and ask Orji Uzor Kalu how he was able to move Enyimba Football Club from grass to grace and use the club’s superlative performance to unite Nigerians.

To further underscore why this lesson is necessary; let’s cast a glance at an account by an Aba, Abia state-based public affairs analyst,

It reads in parts; Before 1999, Falcons and later Enyimba struggled to exist in the Amateur league. By a stroke of policy fate, they transited to the professional league and later the premiership.

The name Falcon or Enyimba did not mean anything.  The face of Enyimba changed as soon as Kalu mounted the saddle as the Chief Executive of Abia State, bringing massive support and overwhelming passion to bear on the administration of the club.

He influenced the pattern of buying the best players in the Nigerian league. Kalu offered irresistible welfare packages that saw the team displacing other 19 clubs to lift the coveted premiership trophy five times in six years.

Regardless of what others may say, this piece will, in my view, conveniently agree as well as conclude that ‘the entire world is truly a big market waiting for anybody who knows the rules of the game. Nigerians in the same vein must recognize that the world has become a ‘global village’, and international, multinational, transnational and supernatural factors are important elements of any national political system.

Therefore, come 2023, if we cannot elect as President someone who will deliver excellently in a sector that will positively affect other sectors, then, the consequence of such failure/failing will be that our political leaders will continue to fracture our nation’s geography into polarized idiosyncrasies and idiosyncrasies, all of which will lead to agitations of different sorts and capacities without any socioeconomic reward.

Above all, come 2023, we must use sport development to remove arms and other dangerous weapons from the hands/reach of our youths and create sustainable peace in the country. This is important.

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), a Lagos-based Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). He could be reached via

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