IF THERE is a time that government needs to pay due attention to using sports to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDGs), the time is now, more than ever before.
The country is at its lowest in terms of crime and criminality. Unemployment is at its lowest ebb. There is a need more than ever before to introduce a series of projects to reorient the youths to refocus on challenges of future development.
This is because, across the land, the youths have become cannon fodders in the hands of criminal gangs and some politicians, who use them to wreak havoc in communities, particularly in the South East now fast deteriorating.
They are organised and constituted into cult groups to fight opponents and to do this successfully; they avail themselves of drugs and in time they become addicts.
In the absence of good jobs, the youths join criminal gangs — bandits and terrorists; among them too; with drug use and abuse drugs becoming a common phenomenon since they easily resort to practicing cultism, currently, a licence under which they carry out mindless criminal activities.
The question then is, can their fortunes be reversed? Is there a possibility of reversing the growing trend, given the extent they have gone? The ransoms that some of them rake in from such illicit ventures are earned in double digits.
Those of them practicing bank frauds and other forms of extortions, including the kidnapping and offences bordering on obtaining by false pretense, otherwise known as 419 appear to be making a kill would not be willing to abandon such an illegal but lucrative enterprise.
Added to the growing crimes are the series of political agitations in virtually all parts of the country most of which have been manifesting as ethnic protests with those seeking self-determination like the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPoB), and their militant wings?
Against this unwholesome background, it is widely believed by experts that it could be possible to have a reversal of the trend to ensure sanity in the system.
The current government in Anambra under Prof. Chukwuma Soludo notes that it is possible to reclaim the space currently occupied by the criminal gangs.
According to him, there is a better way to agitate over the continued detention of Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the IPOB, whose arrest and detention incensed the IPOB agitation.
He believes that IPOB, which imposed a now regular Monday Sit-at-Home, are now holding the economy of the zone down negatively impacting badly on Anambra State.
According to him, the state loses as much as 19 million to such actions as it has been stifling free enterprise. The business community, who should earn money to settle their taxes, that government can earn use as resources to meet its expectation to the citizenry are not forthcoming.
A writer, Maxim Uzoatu believes that sports, as a mass engaging enterprise can also be exploited too to engage the youth.
“This is a venture that came in handy immediately after the Biafra/Nigeria civil war, 1967 to 1970,” he says.
“Sports facilitated the fast re-integration of war-weary youths of Biafra into mainstream Nigeria in a record time.”
The government of Anthony Ukpabi Asika, the administrator of the defunct East Central State, used sports to re-integrate the region into the rest of Nigeria.
Under the broad principles of `No Victor no Vanquished’ declared by General Yakubu Gowon, the then Head of State, there was the launch of the three principles of Reconciliation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction; sports was extensively used in the region to re-awaken the energies that could have been wasted.
Ukpabi Asika had appointed a great sports administrator like the German-trained Coach Jerry Enyeazu, who reorganised Sports within the region, formed a soccer team like the Enugu Rangers International Football Club, the Handball teams like the Kangaroos and the Grasshoppers Handball clubs of East Central State.
Other sports were organised in line with the visions that he and some members of his team witnessed in Germany. The East Central State then comprised the present-day five South-East States – Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo.
It was from the ruins of the war that Enyeazu and his colleagues drew the youths that were absorbed in the various sporting codes and eventually formed the bulk of the team of sportsmen and women who represented the state at the First National Sports Festival that was held in 1975, where the sporting prowess of the region manifested.
Before, the festival, the exploits of the Rangers were legendary, reaching into foreign arenas too.
The railway grounds that the colonial masters developed were the veritable grounds on which these teams were built.
This no doubt helped the youths of the 1970s to physically, and psychologically re-integrate into Nigeria.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) in a bid to promote the pride of the place of sports in human capital development has pronounced it the right of every child to have access to a place to practice sports either for recreation or professional enterprise.
The position of sports has also been endorsed by the UN. It has been elevated as an index of development.
Sports make the world a healthier and less dangerous place says a UN report.
On Sept. 17, 2003, in a report he presented to the UN, a former Sec.-Gen, Kofi Annan noted that the world would be a healthier and less dangerous place if nations invested more seriously in their citizens’ rights to participate in sports.
“The aim of the United Nations (UN) activities in involving sport is not the creation of new sporting champions and the development of sport but rather the use of sport in broader development and peace-building activities.’’
Launched at UN Headquarters in New York, the report says team sports embrace core values such as cooperation, social interaction, fair play, sharing and respect. Participation in sports and other physical activities also has public health benefits too.
The report, which was entitled “Sports as a Tool for Development and Peace: Toward Achieving the Millennium Development Goals,” states that the UN has only scratched the surface of possibilities for integrating physical activity, recreation and sports activities into development programming.
Among its recommendations, the report urges countries to incorporate sport and physical activity into their development policies and to provide resources for initiatives that maximise participation and access to sport for all.
On May 11, 2011, the UN under UN SG Ban ki-Moon again stressed. “Sport is a vital tool for peacebuilding and development,” and called for its inclusion in peacebuilding and peacekeeping initiatives, emphasising the tremendous capacity for games to educate, create positive role models and reach out to the poorest and most troubled areas in the world.
“Sport has become a world language, a common denominator that breaks down all the walls, all the barriers,” emphasised Ban ki-Moon, during the 2nd International Forum on Sport, Peace and Development in Geneva.
`It is a worldwide industry whose practices can have widespread impact. Most of all, it is a powerful tool for progress and for development,” he said, urging governments to integrate sports into development assistance programmes and national development projects.
A resolution at the end of the forum recommended that the UN include access to sports and physical education as an indicator in its human development indexes, and called for common evaluation tools to monitor the impact of sport on social and economic development.
Other recommendations include a request that governments increase their support for the development of quality physical education and sports for all, and an encouragement to international sports federations to organise sports events in developing and emerging economies to contribute to the building of a legacy of sustainable development.
Nigeria’s UN Deputy SG, Ms Amina Mohammed at a recent celebration of UN Physical Education, Peace and Sport, examines how sport can help advance human rights and sustainable development by addressing the climate emergency.
According to her, sports is a powerful platform to unite and inspire people across the world, serving as an effective catalyst for promoting respect, equality, diversity, and inclusion.
“Sport also provides a platform for tackling some of the gravest global threats to people and planet, like climate change, which is right now wreaking havoc in all countries, with the greatest impacts on the poor and the vulnerable,” she said.
It is therefore important to re-emphasise that there are immense opportunities in the use of sports to positively reach the MDG goals.