I was a guest recently at an event organized by the Nigeria Private University Games Association. (NPUGA). I was thrilled by the massive turnout of youths, mostly within the age bracket of 18-26. They were filled with life and exuded so much energy. I marveled at their excitement with what they were doing and concluded that perhaps the government could do a lot to channel the energies of our youths into positives through the instrument of sports.
The event was the Nigeria Private University Games, a biennial event that brings together students from private universities in Nigeria to compete in various sporting competitions. According to information from its website, NPUGA was set up by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Registrars (CVCR) of the Nigeria Private Universities in January in 2003 as an avenue to create a forum for interaction, friendship and relationship among the Private Universities, to encourage the development of Sports and Sporting facilities in all private Universities in Nigeria, and to discover talents who could be prepared for National and International Sports events.
I was more than excited to be a part of such gathering given the nobility of the idea behind its establishment and the impact it would have on the lives of a burgeoning population of young people. In an article published in Bloomberg in 2016, it was estimated that the population of Nigeria had reached a record 187 million people. And wait for this. “Almost half of that population are people under 30 years of age.” What this implies is that the government must as a matter of urgency explore ways it can keep that critical population positively engaged.
This is where I find the Nigeria Private University Games Association (NPUGA) games noble. At this year’s event, which was held at the Nile University Abuja, I gathered that over 2000 students from 23 private universities converged at the Nile University campus for the 7th edition of the NPUGA games.
These young people were engaged in such sporting events like Athletics, Badminton, Basketball, Chess, Football, Scrabble, Swimming, Table Tennis, Tennis, and Volleyball. Two things readily come to mind. One is the fact that these youths have been positively engaged, and two some of them could through this medium discover their talents in any of the sporting events. And of course, we have had such cases in Nigeria. Take the case of former Nigerian international footballer, Seyi Olofinjana, who once plied his trade in the English premier league with Stoke City football club and a couple of others. Interesting to note that Seyi Olofinjana, at the time was an Engineering student of the Ladoke Akintola University of Science and Technology, when he participated at the Nigerian University Games (NUGA). It was from there he was spotted, and the rest is history. This is just one example that I know. I believe there might be many others that went unnoticed.
However, it must be agreed that events such as NPUGA should be supported by the government and even the big players in the private sector. I also gathered that this year’s edition was sponsored by the Turkish Nizamiye Hospital, Nigerian Tulip International Colleges (NTIC) and Yaliam Press Limited. And I could not but come to the conclusion that more could be done by the relevant authorities if we are desirous of addressing the twin issues of youth restiveness and unemployment.
In an interview with Major General IBM Haruna (rtd) sometime in 2013, he advocated for the government to use sports to curb youth restiveness. Hear him “the government has been implored to implement the Vision 2020 report with the aim of generating employment for the youth thereby reducing youth restiveness in the country. Nigeria’s Ministries for Youth Development and that of Sports should ensure that the recommendations of Vision 2020 are followed to the letter for the socio-economic benefit of the country. The people also have to understand that sport is one of the biggest tools for social and economic empowerment. It brings all sorts of people together, and it should be supported squarely. If you develop it, the most youthful energy that will be spent towards crime will be channeled in a friendly atmosphere to sports and other viable ventures.”
I could not agree less with him. He also stated that “the government must pay more attention to sports where the youth would earn a living, become role models to others as is the case with many past sporting heroes in Nigeria. They can then graduate to be coaches and Sports Ambassadors throughout their lives. That would be great for them and the country at large.” I could not agree less with him because the economic and social benefits of sports are enormous especially for a developing country like Nigeria.
This is a clarion call for active involvement in sporting events in Nigeria by the government and the big players in the private sector. This is not to say the government hasn’t been involved, but to charge the government and private sector players to do more. The NPUGA games for this year didn’t have any government sponsorship nor did any of the big players in the industry. It could be that the organizers of the event didn’t reach out to these agencies or organizations, or their requests were turned down. If not reaching out to the relevant government agencies particularly the ministry of youths and sports, then the organizers need to re-jig their strategy. For instance, the youth and sports development ministry could make available sporting facilities and create some buzz around the event by granting access to stadiums and what have you.
If it was as a result of the big players in the private sector turning down the request for sponsorships, then a lot of sensitization has to be done, because, in truth, no business would want to identify with an unknown brand regardless of whatever it represents. I used the word unknown here because it is possible, some of them might have never heard of a phrase such as NPUGA. Nonetheless, a lot has to be done collectively if we take cognizance of the bigger picture.
Particular mention is due to the Nile University for availing its facilities to host over 2000 students. I also commend the Nigerian Tulip International Colleges (NTIC), and the Nizamiye Hospital for sponsoring the 7th edition of NPUGA games. It is hoped that the next edition would witness increased participation regarding the number schools and as well as the involvement of the relevant government agencies and the big players in the private sector. We must as a matter of urgency, get it right so that our youths can become productive members of the society for continued growth and sustainable development.
Ocheja writes from Abuja