Nasarawa is one of the last States created some 27 years ago by then Head of State, General Sani Abacha, now of blessed memory.
It has thirteen Local Council Areas and eighteen Development Areas, making it one of the States with the fewest number of Council Areas in Nigeria.
Aside the vast mineral deposits, Nasarawa is one of the fastest-growing States in Nigeria in terms of sports and athletes’ development.
With an estimated five million population, the State’s teams and athletes have and continue to participate in some of the major sporting meets in the country and even beyond.
Her coaches and technical personnel are some of the most sought-after, both within and outside the shores of the country.
Since the return to democratic administration in 1999, the State has been led by three civilian Governors in the past(H.E. Abdullahi Adamu from 1999-2017; H.E. Aliyu Akwe Doma from 2007-2011; H.E. Umaru Tanko Al-Makura from 2011-2019), all of whom contributed their quota to the growth and development of sports.
The incumbent and 4th democratically-elected Governor, Engr. Abdullahi A. Sule(from 2019 till date), being a Tennis player, is enjoying his second term in office, and is renowned for his endless love and passion for sports, hence, his unalloyed support to the sector since assuming the exalted position.
There are over twenty-seven Sporting Associations being run through the State’s Ministry of Youth and Sports Development headed by a Commissioner, and each is faring well in their stead.
The most pronounced Association in the aforementioned list is the Football Association where the State floats two premier football clubs – Nasarawa United FC and Nasarawa Amazons FC, respectively.
Nasarawa United play in the country’s men’s elite league known as the Nigeria Premier Football League(even though they got relegated recently to the second tier, the Nigeria National League, NNL), while Nasarawa Amazons play in the Women’s Premier Football League.
Both teams have etched the name of the State in glory as far as football is concerned, with administrators of both teams, namely, Barr. Isaac Danladi(Chairman, Nasarawa United FC) and Hajiya Husseina Suleiman Nagogo(Chairperson, Nasarawa Amazons FC) both recognised as some of the best administrators of the game in Nigeria.
Nigeria’s Karate President, and former Deputy Governor of Nasarawa State, H.E. Silas Ali Agara, has equally written the State’s name in gold through his innovation and smarts initiatives.
In his relentless pursuit to make Nasarawa State the destination for sports development, the Governor, Engr. Abdullahi Sule, set up some workable machineries in motion even as he continues to involve critical stakeholders, both within and outside the country, and interfacing with those who matter in the industry to make the dream a reality.
Some strategic approaches have been applied in the industry to fast track the process of actualizing the project.
The Grassroots Talent Discovery Initiative, GTDI is aimed at tracking raw potentials from the nooks and crannies of the State through grassroots competitions and scouting programmes for further development and podium appearance.
Relatedly, the responsibility of the Government is to develop sports at both ends of the spectrum – at the lowest ebb of the society known as the grassroots, and at the professional level known as the high performance stage. This is in conformity with global best practice in Sports Management.
The Government ensures that there is adequate recruitment of main stakeholders known as personnel or athletes, coaches, etc; provide programmes that enable participants to excel, and prepare outstanding athletes for representation at championships or tournaments.
The Government is concerned with the total participation of the State, in sports, and creating the pathways that may assist those participants that have innate abilities(talents) and ambition to rise to the occasion, and the chances that are provided to the highest echelon of participants to participate in any stage.
Also, the Government supports the education of coaches by sponsoring or providing means to aid their participation in refresher courses to be at par, professionally and technically, with their counterparts around the globe.
The coach education system provides a nominal level of information that focuses on safety and ethical coaching practice, and affording them the expertise required to be recognised as leading coaches at whatever level.
Some of these coaches also engage in self-help measures like self-study, including buying print and video materials; working with mentor coaches, nominating themselves to coach lower or representative teams.
Another area of approach by the Government is the provision and improvement of infrastructural sports facilities.
All over the world, participation in sport relies on available matching environment, regardless of whether it’s competitive or for leisure. Quality of the playing surface and lighting and floodlighting play a great role.
Though Nasarawa State does not possess adequate financial muscles to construct mega sports infrastructures, it has, however, been able to provide modest sporting infrastructures to aid the discovery and development of budding and professional athletes.
The Lafia City Stadium along Jos Road, Lafia, which is undergoing massive renovation hosts facilities like a standard football field, a hockey pitch, basketball, handball and volleyball courts as well as athletic tracks.
The Lafia City Hall, now rechristened Lafia Sports Arena, sitting along Shendam road, which has been praised by notable international sports icons like Nigerian-American professional basketball player, Jordan Nwora, is home to all indoor sport events like Karate, basketball, volleyball, Taekwondo, Gymnastics, Kung-Fu, Judo, Boxing, Weightlifting, Wrestling, Table Tennis, Tennis, to mention but a few.
The Lafia Golf Course situated along Makurdi Road, is one of the few Golf Courses in the country that meet safety and standard specifications.
The Lafia Square can host multiple sports events both at day and night periods, notably basketball, Motor Sports, Tennis, Skating, and lots more.
The male and female football teams, Nasarawa United and Nasarawa Amazons, have their separate Club Houses(soon-to-be commissioned), affixed with state-of-the-art facilities, to provide ambience, comfort and convenience to the athletes for optimum performance.
Contracts have been awarded to construct new sports facilities across the State while some existing ones are being given facelift to meet safety and standard requirements.
The contract for the general overhaul of the Sports Academy, Akwanga, has been awarded and work has since commenced on one of the only few Sports Academies in West Africa, and only known in Nigeria.
The facility has birthed the likes of Montreal Impact of Canada player, Ibrahim Sunusi who once reigned as joint-top highest goalscorer in the Nigeria domestic elite football league
The Keffi Township Stadium will soon undergo massive renovation to return it to its glory days.
Minor sports facilities in Government-owned Institutions are being upgraded to meet best standards, notably at the State University, Keffi, among others.
To have personnel who will use the facilities, Government funds the recruitment of talented athletes and competent coaches who can represent the State and win laurels at championships and tournaments.
These personnel are under the payroll of the Government to boost their performance and improve the image of their funder, the Government.
In addition, the Government, through the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, organizes grassroots sporting activities and also sponsors regional and national sporting events.
Government places high premium on this aspect because it is both the primary task for sports bodies and major aspect of sports development effort.
Organization of sporting events provides such benefits as enjoyment, assisting Government to gain publicity and promotion, provides opportunities for sponsorship, upskilling all persons involved in the planning and conduct of the event, providing an impetus for the Government to make improvements to facilities and equipment as well as raising the performance standards of her athletes and clubs/teams.
The Government’s policies and programmes create a setting for volunteerism.
The sport industry depends largely on the work input of volunteers who coach and officiate at competitions or tournaments, and work on management committees of clubs.
The platform created encourages sports to flourish and offers opportunity to reward people to continue to provide voluntary service(s).
Furthermore, the Government uses sports to strengthen ties and create symbiotic relationships between the Government and the society, especially the youth, to curb crimes and create jobs and empowerment programmes.
This approach has seen crime levels drastically reduced while healthy and more contributive youth are being nurtured on a daily basis, adding to the peace and harmonious co-existence the State continues to enjoy.
In the area of knowledge management or human resource development, the Government ensures this area is accorded utmost importance because it knows that for an organisation to be successful, it must capture knowledge from its experts and distribute same to others in its own jurisdiction.
So, the experts whose talents are needed are the leading coaches, administrators, curators, referees, and media.
These personnel step down their knowledge to those at the lower cadre in the form of ‘training-the-trainers’ strategy.
To lessen the financial burden and over dependence on the Government, the Government ensures that affiliated Associations and or Agencies develop other sufficient income streams to cover the normal operational costs.
By this, some Associations are able to derive very significant funds through sponsorship and sheer number of participants.
This measure or approach has helped to sustain such Associations and their athletes.
The formation of partnerships with other sports and organisations to develop sports in the State is another major approach taken by the Government.
Healthy Government’s partnerships with relevant stakeholders, including manufacturers, media, security, administrators, experts in marketing, branding and advertising, have seen the development of sporting facilities, procurement of kits and equipment and provision of scholarship, coaching and competition opportunities and constant image reportage for athletes and coaches and Government’s policies and programmes.
The Government is not relenting on this front as it cannot, alone, adequately fund and run sports.
The Athlete Reward System seeks to acknowledge and appreciate the results, performance, competence and skills of the athlete to boost his or her morale for better performance, going forward, and to serve as a wake-up invitation to other indolent athletes.
This creates a healthy competition among the athletes’ community for optimum performance.
In conclusion, with continuity, determination, dedication, commitment, consistency, and support, the project of turning Nasarawa State into a global sports hub is an achievable dream in the nearest future.
Eche Amos Is The Head Of Public Relations At The Nasarawa State Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, Lafia.