More money, more problems for Nigerian Basketball

Kudos for this must go to the hardworking NBBF President, Tijani Umar, who has quietly set about his job, and has succeeded where many others have failed.

To the casual observer, there has been a resurgence in basketball in Nigeria recently. The male national side – D’Tigers – won the FIBA Africa Championship for the first time ever in 2015. That memorable victory was sandwiched between back-to-back appearances at the Olympic Games in 2012 and 2016. They became number one in Africa and emerged 16th in the FIBA world rankings.

The women’s team – D’Tigress – has also performed reasonably well, qualifying for the 2012 London games. Things appear to be going smoothly – indeed, the only real concern has been money, that ever-present challenge of Nigerian sports.

That all changed with the entrance of Kwesé into the Nigerian basketball scene. The Kwesé network is Africa’s first truly converged media company with pan-African businesses in Pay TV, Free-to-Air TV, and Digital. Relative newcomers in the media scene, Kwese has put its money where its interest lies, stumping up a reported $12 million as an investment in the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF).

This deal is geared toward the national teams as well as the club sides, and is the single biggest sponsorship deal signed in Nigerian sports, above even anything football has been able to attract. Kudos for this must go to the hardworking NBBF President, Tijani Umar, who has quietly set about his job, and has succeeded where many others have failed. One would think that everyone would be pleased. However, more money has meant more problems. If anything, it has served as an accelerant to a messy turf war that has raged for well over two decades within the basketball community.

From campaign of calumny to rival leagues, sabotage to vile criticism. There is ego, power play and selfishness on the part of the supposed stakeholders, and all are complicit: from ex-internationals, to club owners, to administrators and even journalists. What is even harder to understand about this rift, which has been present since 1991, is that, even though the cast has obviously changed many times since then, the dichotomy persists. Umar, from all indices, is doing a good job, but is having to grapple with sabotage from the dissenting faction, which really is a distraction we could all do without.

It raises a number of questions; the first and most important being: if indeed they have the interest of the game and the game only, is it too much to ask that they sit together and iron out whatever differences they might have? If, however, the interest is a political one, then rather than gripe and sabotage, would it not simply be preferable to stay away and then push for a change at the end of the current leadership tenure? Why destroy the house you claim to love because you do not like the one who heads it? That is selfishness, the very opposite of love.

Whatever their grievance, it is imperative that it is resolved, else the angst of the past will hinder progress in the present. Kwesé is a brand of Econet Media Limited, the media arm of Econet, one of Africa’s leading Telecoms, Media & Technology groups. Kwesé themselves will be watching the developments closely, wondering to themselves whether Nigerian basketball, with its catfights and immaturity, is really worth such a sizable outlay. If the current situation persists, it would not be much of a stretch to see them pack up and pitch their tent elsewhere. It would be a huge shame indeed if NBBF were to lose this – the largest sponsorship deal in the history of Nigerian basketball – simply due to an inability to get their house in order.

It is hard enough for basketball to attract investment, being, like other sports in Nigeria, a distant second to football in terms of importance and regard. If they are to compete in any meaningful way, the NBBF and relevant stakeholders must do away with the endless ego trips and infighting.

Caught up in a maelstrom of personal, political and ridiculous name calling, these characters have gone to great lengths, seemingly intent on destroying the reputation of Nigerian basketball along with their own. The country’s passionate and dedicated fans deserve better. Talent alone is not enough for the country because the fish rots from the head.

The Umar-led NBBF would do well to try harder to hear the grievances of the dissenters, and try to pursue a lasting peace. They must do a better job of mending fences; within reason, of course. At this point, it is not really a matter of who is right or wrong, but of what is best for Nigerian basketball. The key to that, and to engendering sustainable development, is to keep your sponsor(s) happy. To achieve this, they will either row together in one direction, or sink together in discord.



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