As we bend another circle in governance, the sports community can be assured of President Muhammadu Buhari’s passion and commitment to the stability and progress of Nigerian sports.
He demonstrated this early in his first tenure when he called up the 1985 class of the Golden Eaglets who won the first ever FIFA U-16 World Championships (now U-17 World Cup), to redeem the pledge he made to them as then head of state, but which was abandoned while he was out.
In January 2016, not only did he go 30 years back to keep his word, he also assembled and rewarded other athletes who made Nigeria proud before his return as president. These included the 2015 World Wrestling Championship team, D’Tigers who won the FIBA 2015 Male Afro-Basketball, 2015 FIBA Africa Under-16 Female Champions, medallists at the 2015 IPC Asian Open International Powerlifting Championships, the 2015 CAF Under-23 Cup of Nations champions and the victorious Golden Eaglets of the 2015 FIFA World Cup. Then he followed up with a series of Aso Rock receptions to reward, honour and inspire various national teams throughout the first term.
President Buhari dutifully encouraged our athletes bearing in mind that “nothing unites Nigerians more than (sports)” and that they carry “the passions, emotions and feelings of (our) over 180 million people.”
Perhaps the most profound demonstration of his commitment to the best interest of our sports was his intervention in the crisis that bogged the Nigeria Football Federation after the 2018 World Cup, when he stepped out as a true leader, distinguishing himself as a global citizen to reverse the impending ban on Nigeria by taking a definite stand on respect for FIFA statutes.
The intervention brought stability with unfettered the NFF to pursue its “vision of building a sustainable football culture” and the delivery of its “mandate of promoting sports in Nigeria as a key economic factor.”
A major objective of the NFF is to attain 100% self-financing on which it presently has achieved 60% from the 20% it was before the current board. This is aimed at freeing up funds for the government to service critical areas like education, health and infrastructure. A number of brands and organisations such as Aiteo Group, Coca-Cola, Zenith Bank, Nigeria Breweries, WAPIC, Bet9ja and others have come to play on this score.
The most critical intervention was Aiteo’s signing in 2016 of a five-year sponsorship worth USD8.2m (N2.9 billion) as Optimum Partner of the NFF. The partnership is enabling the NFF to pay the salaries of the Super Eagles coach and technical crew as well as those of all other national teams for the duration of the relationship, thus putting paid to the hitherto recurrent headache about payment of coaches’ salaries.
Interestingly, the sponsorship also covered the outstanding of salaries owed coaches even before the entry of both the Pinnick Amaju board and Aiteo.
Aiteo’s offer of N50m bonus per goal to the Super Eagles during the qualifiers and the 2018 World Cup proper was especially lifting for the team as it not only became the first team to qualify but so with a match to spare, a sharp departure from the past.
It has also through its sponsorship package revived the Aiteo Cup (formerly Challenge and FA Cup), bringing back the thickness and glamour of the competition, which provides a platform for thousands of youths across the country.
The company went further to bankroll both the NFF-Aiteo Football Awards as well as the CAF-Aiteo Awards as a platform for the inspiration of both elite and budding stars. This coming from another Nigerian company, after Glo, elicits a huge impression on the African and global community about the strength of our nation in world sports.
It’s founder, Benedict Peters, explained this aptly during the signing ceremony: “It is important for Nigerian companies to share their success. As Nigerian companies grow, I believe the benefits should be spread as widely as possible. Aiteo Group is as passionate about leadership as Nigerians are about football…to reach a shared goal of a more prosperous Nigeria, increasingly seeing global success and competing with global players.”
It is remarkable that Benedict Peters shares with President Buhari the passion for Nigerian sports as a uniting factor for the citizenry and has chosen therefore to act as a matter of responsibility and patriotism to our nation.
The sustenance of relationships like Aiteo’s is necessary for the advancement of our sports and it makes strategic sense in nation building for President Buhari to help sustain the continued commitment of such notable supporters. This can be done through simple official commendations, a thank you call, a Presidential Dinner and national honours.
This imperative is almost urgently so given the nature of the 2019 and 2020 sports calendar in which the Super Eagles will be at the Nations Cup, the Super Falcons will be at the Women’s World Cup, the Golden Eaglets will be at the U-17 World Cup, Team Nigeria will be heading to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games with several qualifiers to engage in before then, all requiring funds which we know the sports ministry budget cannot sufficiently meet in the face of other competing demands.
Indeed, there is so much deficit in our sports architecture for which the government needs to help in mobilising private sector investments. Many of our primary, secondary schools and communities are without sports facilities and equipment to raise our kids and even ensure active healthy life for adults, sports federations especially para-sports which enhance the integration of persons with disability into normal life and which provide us sure medals at the Summer Olympics are in dire needs, support for elite athletes development across all sports is lacking. All these we can resolve with deliberate incentives and presidential cultivation of such individuals and organisations who have demonstrated a passion to support sports.
As we say, people do more when they are appreciated and it all snowballs into the progress of the nation.