Peace and progress through sports in the Niger Delta

by Chibuogwu Nnadiegbulam, AIPS Young Reporter, Nigeria

Brussels, May 9, 2018 – One of Nelson Mandela’s powerful quotes states: “Sports have the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, the power to unite people in a way that little else does.”

This quote reverberated inside the magnificent Le Plaza hotel theatre on Wednesday when the Governor of Rivers State, Nigeria, His Excellency Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, took to the stage to deliver his presentation on “Peace and Progress through Sports in the Niger Delta” on the final day of the 81st AIPS Congress in Brussels.

Wike, who is described by many in Nigeria as the “Sports Loving Governor” began his presentation by expressing his love for sports. Wike said: “I have long known the positive power of sports as a catalyst for social development.”

He added: “I was elected the governor of Rivers State three years ago and since then we have remained focused on delivering on our development agenda. In doing so the advancement of peace and security have been one of our priority areas. Our reason for this commitment is simple. No human society can progress without peace and no human society can be happy without development.”

Rivers State is one of the states in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, a region known for its oil wealth. The country depends on the Niger Delta for over 90 percent of its foreign exchange earnings while proceeds from oil resources account for over 40 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and over 70 percent of total government revenues.

For a region that drives the country’s economy, it is expected that its inhabitants should probably benefit the most but that is not the case. Instead the Niger Delta region has suffered years of exploitation and marginalisation, a situation that has led to restiveness, conflicts and everything else that threatens peace and progress.

The Governor said: “Under this circumstance it is fitting to say that peace and security and progress are essential development goals in the Niger Delta the achievement of which is critical to the region’s prosperity, but peace and progress cannot be achieved in a vacuum neither can they just be wished. The path to sustainable peace and progress must be consciously created and cultivated and the fact that sports is a powerful mechanism to achieving these goals have long been globally acknowledged.”

Youth Empowerment

Mandela did say that Sports “speaks to youth in a language they understand”, and Governor Wike also understands that youth engagement through sports is key to ensuring a peaceful society.

He said: “Arguably there is no social activity that can match the role sports plays in breaking down barriers bringing people together across nations, promoting understanding, positively engaging the energy of youths and mobilising support for social causes.

“Sports does not only improve the mental and physical health of participants it also helps to inculcate such standard values as honesty, hard work, obedience, respect, teamwork, discipline and leadership in the youths.

“Apart from giving hope for a brighter future, unemployed youths are also getting increasingly engaged, empowered through the various sports platforms the region has provided.”

Only last week, the Rivers State Development Initiative for U17, which is aimed at harnessing young and new talents in the state came to an end. Last year, the maiden edition of the Governor Wike Wrestling Championship was staged at the nicely renovated Alfred Diete Spiff Civic centre. The tournament was then followed by the Africa Wrestling Championship in 2018.

There is also the plan of building a Real Madrid Football Academy in the state with Governor Wike revealing that the foundation for the construction of the academy will be laid later this month.

Work in Progress

In all that has been achieved in the Niger Delta Region through sports, there is a challenge which Governor Wike pointed out.

He explained: “The key challenge in this regard is the lack of private sector capital investment in sports development which has rather affected the availability of sporting facilities and sponsorships of sports events we therefore welcome appropriate assistance from development partners donor agencies and corporate organisations to develop the sports sector and enable the Niger Delta region to maximize and enjoy the health, educational, economic, social and cultural benefits that naturally flow from sports development.”

AIPS Africa Power of Sports Award

Governor Wike was awarded the AIPS Africa Power of Sports Award after his presentation. This continental honour is the first of its kind and the governor was decorated by AIPS President, Gianni Merlo alongside AIPS Africa President, Mitchell Obi.

In February, an AIPS Africa delegation led by AIPS Africa President had paid him a visit at the Government House in Rivers State.

Rivers State will host the Russia 2018-bound Super Eagles on Nigeria as they take on DR Congo in a friendly on May 28

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