Delightful D’Tigers, African Basketball champions

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OSunday night this week, in Tunis, Tunisia, Nigeria’s national basketball team, D’Tigers, defeated the Angolan national team, to become African champions for the first time. With the victory, our boys automatically qualified to represent Africa at the Rio Olympics next year. It was sweet revenge for Nigeria, after previous losses to the Angolans the dominant African basketball team for the best past of the last decade or so.

I sat glued to the television set with heart in mouth, but in the long run, our boys didn’t look like they were going to lose. Apart from the earlier part of the first quarter, Nigeria was actually in control till the very end! The victory was also soothing balm for disappointment in the wake of Nigeria’s disastrous outing at the World Athletics Championships which ended in in Beijing, China, without a single Nigerian medal.

KINGS OF AFRICA: Nigeria’s men’s national basketball team D’Tigers emerged African champions, Sunday night after beating Angola 74-65 in the final of the 2015 Afrobasket championship in Tunisia.

 

The traditional sprint events that often saw up to two or three Nigerian athletes right up with the best, didn’t serve us anything. Even the normally impressive Blessing Okagbare couldn’t carry Nigeria’s burden on her shoulders this time around; she failed in the 100 metres and didn’t even bother to show up for the 200 metres. That just summed up the Nigerian situation at the championship!

Basketball & something to cheer

So the basketball team gave us a lot to cheer and told important tales that should be highlighted. Most if not all of the team, was recruited from Nigerians born in the United States, thus underlining the diaspora’s increasing importance to Nigerian development.

It was heartwarming to watch them sing the Nigerian national anthem with gusto and incredibly, even their white American coach, joined in singing our anthem! I felt deep emotions as I watched these guys: Ogwuchi, the Al-Amin brothers, Olumide, Lawal, give their all to lift us all and our country, with valour and underlining once again, the possibilities available if we do right, by our very lovely country!

Those young men fought for the flag and their personal and patriotic honour on the Tunisian court and that collective effort did not know religion or ethnicity; they were Nigerian athletes doing their best to earn victory which placed us all on top of the African continent. Whoever had watched, would not have lost the scene where the team carried the chairman of the Nigerian Basketball Association, Tijani TJ, aloft after their victory.

I was very happy for TJ. When he was elected a couple of years ago, he told me that he would work on a systematic project to build a formidable team for Nigeria, by tapping into the local and diaspora talent to knock the Angolans off their perch. Sunday’s victory vindicated TJ’s vision. He had been a remarkable player and one of the best in his years at ABU and had been posted to do his national service at the Kwara state sports council where we met and became friends in the 1980s.

TJ was one of the best of his generation along the likes of Same Ahmedu and Scot Nnaji, who have also remained in the game in one capacity or the other and they have shown what vision and its dogged pursuit can do for national development.

Primary &Secondary school games

Although we are now forced to use resources from the diaspora, TJ and his colleagues were products of a period in Nigeria, when there was a systematic programme of national sports development that has unfortunately eroded. TJ was a star of the NUGA Games that we hardly ever hear anything about today.

Education provided a platform for the development of our youth and that contained a strong component of sports. Primary schools games prepared children for active secondary schools sports in public schools that had incredibly rich and a variety of sports servings. It was from secondary schools that athletes like Mopude Oshikoya, Bruce Ijirigho, Charlton Ehizuelen, Hameed Adio, Awalu Aliyu, Olapade Adeniken, Chidi Imoh, Mary Onyali, etc., were discovered and many then earned scholarships that allowed them to get some of the best education abroad, especially in America. The late Chief Isaac Akioye was a sports administrator of genius, who laid up an incredible process of discovery, nurture and development of sports, including even the creation of a National Institute of Sports, in some of the most outstanding years of our sporting lives in Nigeria, especially from the 1970s. It was the collapse of that deliberate national process which has led us to the sporting cul-de-sac that we deal with today.

Sports are no longer central to the educational system and most public schools have lost their elaborate sports infrastructure. A place like GSS Ilorin, had sports infrastructure that will be the envy of any modern institution. But today, that collapsed and a succession of irresponsible administrations allocated all the land for residential development thus making mockery of the meaning of education as a process for an all-round development of the individual: mental and physical. This ruinous process is the same all over our country.

This is the reason that our athletes supply system dried up and we now recruit our stars from abroad. Primary and secondary games are gone; there is no more NUGA; NIPOGA; COEGA; Nursing/Midwifery Schools sports; or Armed Forces and paramilitary sports. But we MUST rebuild those processes for our future’s sake. The median age of Nigeria is about 17 and these young people must do sports to enhance patriotism and to build a healthy future. The victory of D’Tigers points the way!

 

 

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