Achievements everywhere in the world are measured by some variables, but understandably, it must reflect on general development of humanity, to be adjudged to have leaved to its worth. Governance, in any given society, is all about service delivery, especially in line with the yearnings and aspirations of the governed. It’s about defining the feelings of the people, promoting the positive aspects and finding solutions to the negative ones.
For Kwara state Governor, Mallam AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, the narratives have totally changed from cut and paste to outright development, and the new found atmosphere is opening a new vista which is being appreciated by all. It’s no doubt, real re-awakening for sports development in the state under this government.
This administration no doubt, adding value to sports growth and development, thus, the sectoral plan and policy thrust of the administration emphasized Grassroots Sports Development and improvement of Sports Infrastructures in the state.
Tremendous achievements have been recorded within the two years of the reign of this administration. The development in sports spreads across all aspects, which includes infrastructural development, welfare of athletes, healthy and competitive atmosphere and above all, concrete plans to upgrade more facilities and building of new ones not only at the Kwara State Stadium Complex alone, but in all the 16 Local Government Areas, albeit to promote the culture of total participation from the grassroots.
First was the renovation and upgrading of the Baseball Park in Adewole, Ilorin, which has no doubt, added another dimension to the development of sports in the state.
The Park was originally commissioned on November 22nd, 1991, by the then number two man in Nigeria, Rear Admiral Augustus Aikhomu, and before the recent renovation and upgrading, which was coming 29 years after, the roof had given way, while the edifice itself had suffered absolute neglect.
As a follow up, government sponsored numerous Coaching Clinics and Little League Baseball and Softball Club competitions in virtually all the Local Governments in the state, including the Olufolake AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq Softball National Championship in October, 2019.
This is in addition to the numerous sponsorship of athletes for individual and team sports events in and around the country, including the National Youth Games and the National Sports Festival in Edo state, where the state returned with a total of 44 medals.
For the first time in many years, Kwara state government released fund for the open and closed camping of athletes and officials in preparation for the 20th edition of National Sports Festival in Edo state, and also got better deal in terms of finacing of the project, no wonder the state came 15th overall with 7 gold, 5 silver and 31 bronze medals.
Kwara state government, in line with its grassroots sports development policy donated sports equipment and kits to primary and secondary schools in the State, with a pledge to sustain the gesture intermittently.
Government also empowered Kwara Polytechnic to host the 20th edition of the Nigeria Polytechnic Games (NIPOGA). About 3,000 participants from 51 Polytechnics and Monotechnics, including 1,000 officials participated in the Games.
On renovation of facilities at the Kwara State Stadium Complex, completely renovated are the Twin Outdoor Basketball Courts and the Twin Outdoor Volleyball Courts. Renovation and modernization of the Olympic size Swimming Pool is also ongoing. The Twin Handball Courts has also been completed, with the construction of toilets, Changing Rooms, motorized Borehole and offices and floodlights, which all characterized the Handball Courts as the best in the country for now.
In addition to all these, construction of eight new glass-back squash courts are ongoing, with the plans to also renovate the existing two glass-back squash courts. Works will soon start on the construction of one-all Table Tennis Hall at the same Kwara State Stadium Complex. This is all in line with the realization that infrastructure forms solid foundation for genuine development of sports.
Kwara state Ministry of Sports and Youth Development remains the clearing house for all sports related issues in the state. The Ministry has three parastatals under it, which are the Kwara United Football Club, Kwara Football Academy and the Sports Council, which also has under it, all the pillars and structures of all the 28 Sporting Associations.
Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, in the 2019/2020 football season, raised the status of Kwara United Football Club, with the purchase of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) space of Delta Force, which ensured that the team campaigned in the top flight, instead of the Nigeria national League (NNL). The rise in status of the team opens it to business possibilities in and around the world. Government also sustains its financial and moral support to the team, which ensured effective running of the club. Kwara United is one of the very few teams in the top flight that did not owe its playing and non-playing staff both salaries and allowances, even during the Covid-19 shutdown. And this might not be unconnected with the performance of the team in the ongoing season.
The return of Kwara Football Academy to the Ministry of Sports has also given the institution the required attention, as the school, which combines the teachings of basics of football and education has continued to identify and groom players for both Nigeria and world footballing markets. All the outstanding salaries and allowances have also been cleared.
Kwara state government motivated the Academy to partner a Lithuania Club, Kauno Zagiris through Sportiqo Africa in packaging the talent discovery programme.The partnership will give Kwara players opportunities at world football market.
Kwara Football Academy KFA staged the biggest scouting program in Africa, and it featured teams that include Utility FC, KFA Green and Red teams, Crown FC, La Planet SA and Grace Sport. The Academy’s U-15 team participated in and won the 2020 and 2021 Ramat Cup International, in Kano state.
The State, through the Kwara Football Academy came victorious over Ukrainian Club side, FC Zoya over a disputed training compensation for one of the products of the Academy, Dennis BonaVenture (Club Brugge Belgium), which led to the award of over N37 Million into the coffers of Kwara State. Two players of the Kwara Football Academy, Ugbo Emmanuel and Kehinde Ayinde got transfer to Lithuanian Clubs.
The morale of the athletes and their officials was also boosted with the revival of the State Sports Festival, which was last held 15 years ago.
The festival made a tremendous impact across all the 16 Local Governments Areas, who all rolled out drums to celebrate not only sports, but their cultural heritage. The hoisting of the Torch of Unity, tour of all the 16 Local Government Areas and the endorsement of the festival by traditional rulers in the state added value to the multi-sports event held at the Kwara State Stadium Complex in January 2020.
The festival was more or less a celebration of the new found sports development identity for the state, as the Governor and his Deputy were always present at the stadium throughout the duration of the festival, to watch displays of sports excellence.
The support and presence of the Governor and his Deputy at most of the venues during the festival was seen as an assurance TO the athletes, of a new dawn in sports development in the state. This is because, they not only see what is needed to be done to uplift sports through infrastructural development, they interacted with the athletes and through this, they knew the general feelings of the youth.
Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq says the re-introduction of the State Sports Festival was to demonstrate to the people at the grassroots that his administration is determined to bring youth to the limelight and ensure that their bountiful sports talents are identified and nurtured to stardom.
He said that the re-introduction of KWASFEST, which was last held 15 years ago, represented a progressive transition from decadence to reasonable, responsive and responsible governance that would offer the entire citizens opportunities to be engaged meaningfully.
He added that apart from the festival, the state government is also taking various steps and initiating numerous schemes to mould youths in the right image via the Ministry of Sports and Youth Development, to ensure that the instrumentality of sports magic is deployed to better the lives of the people.
Asides the Mini-Bowl that was converted to the Main-Bowl in 2011, all other facilities at the Kwara State Stadium Complex, a Complex constructed in 1977, and which has the conglomerate of sports facilities for 28 sports in one location is receiving serious attention. The Complex, which also houses the Kwara Football Academy, has almost abandoned 90-room Hostel, Indoor Sports Hall, Medical Centre, Dining Hall, Olympic size Swimming Pool and a cricket pitch. One of the Hostels, Block B has been fully renovated, and plans are on to renovate the two others.
Plans are also in top gear to upgrade the Kwara State Sports Council to Kwara State Sports Commission, as the Amendment Bill is being debated at the Kwara State House of Assembly. With the Commission, more attention and support will be paid to sports development, as more money will flow into the system not from government alone, but from the private sector too.
Kwara state is a state so endowed with talented youths, and the introduction of Sports Commission will ensure that talented and willing youth are not just doing sports for fun but getting meaningful return from it for self sustenance, and the advancement of the aspirations of their state and country.
The Sports Commission will bring about great opportunities for the youth of the state in terms of job creation and also serve as a relief to the state government. It will give appropriate policy, a policy that will move sports forward and monitor the management by checkmating their excesses and guide them on the right path for the good of sports and the state.
Kwara state government also assisted in reshaping the development of football in the state and Nigeria with the completion of the Kwara State Football House, now named after the pioneer Chairman of the State FA, Alhaji Usman Mustapha.
After two years in office, Mallam AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq has no doubt re-awakened the sports development potentials of the state. Much have been accomplished, and more still needs to be attended to, for Kwara to fully realize if potentials in the sector.
The bid to alleviate the status of the Sports Council to Sports Commission is a welcomed development, but needs to be fully operational in line with the adopted sports culture of the state, which is grassroots sports development.
The impact of the proposed Sports Commission needS to be felt in all the 16 Local Government Areas with functional offices and Development Centres, as well as the opening of Zonal Offices for sports development as it used to be.
More attention needs to be paid to the employment of coaches and Organising Secretaries for all sports events, provision of operational vehicles, and above all, encouragement of additional funding windows, especially from the private sectors, apart from what the state government can shoulder.
Apart from Kwara United that is projecting the image of the state, there are other privately owned clubs in the state, at various levels of the league, which the government needs to support financially, by way of occasional grants and support, as their existence is also providing employment opportunities for the citizens of the state, and assisting, security-wise.
And for Kwara Football Academy, the youth development institution has gone through various forms of managerial class and placement, and is presently under the supervision of the Ministry of Sports and Youth Development. The Ministry runs the Academy through an Administrator, who is a Civil Servant, a staff of the Kwara State Sports Council.
First, the Academy needs to be re-positioned to fulfill the aspirations of its founding fathers, beginning with the renovation of the dilapidated facilities, the provision of up-to-date equipment, while the staffers, who are mostly on contract, needs to be absorbed into the Civil Service system, to give room for more effectiveness and coordination.
The school needs a seasoned and well connected Football Agents, that can maintain and expand the already existing (if any) relationship with major players in the world football market, so as to reduce the burden on government.
Kwara state has an interesting and rewarding sports development history, and its location, (gateway from the South to the North), availability of facilities and highly conscious and resourceful administrators and stakeholders, which the government can leverage on in making the required positive impact.
There are also some youth and sports development associations in the state, who are contributing immensely to the growth of the state through sports. They include the Youth Sports Federation of Nigeria (YSFON), which has operational network in all the 16 Local Government Areas of the state, the Nigeria School Sports Federation (NSSF), which is under a Department at the Ministry of Education and Human Capital Development and others. They also need government support in terms of grants, and the formulation of policies that will encourage the private sector to support their programmes.
Kwara has not fully realized its potentials in sports, but with consultations and good investment, some of the potentials will be unlocked very soon.
Countries, in any part of the world, as well as states and counties have different reasons investing in sports development. Some are for tourism, while others are for other patterns of businesses. The heterogeneous nature of Nigeria as nation relies on such unifying activity for peaceful co-existence in the midst of constant ethnic, religious and regional tension.
For Kwara state, it has to be the empowerment and encouragement of youths, to lift their parents above poverty level, and government needs to make that a priority. It is also one of the best tools in checking security.
Kwara state is no doubt, one of the strongest states in the development of sports in Nigeria, and tribute must be paid to the sports journalists, who operate under the banner, Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN). SWAN, despite its numerous challenges, has continued to project the image of the state through their various medium.
Apart from projecting the image of the state in sports, the body is also a critical stakeholder in sports development.