The iconic Nelson Mandela once said that: “Sport has the power to change the world…it has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”
The Nigeria’s national team, the Super Eagles, is arguably the most unifying tool that offers Nigerians sense of common nationhood. Unlike political appointments, members of the national team are usually selected on merit rather than mundane considerations.
What’s more, besides being a unifying tool, sports have become a business concern that contributes to gross earnings of many countries. Globally, it has become a huge industry through which lots of youths have gotten fame and fortune. Thus, developing and investing in sports is one sure way of empowering the youths and other professionals (such as doctors, psychologists, physiotherapists, athlete managers etc) in the various sporting fields to become productively engaged.
In Nigeria, Lagos remains a veritable breeding ground for budding sporting talents. Most of the celebrated Nigerian sportsmen began their sporting tutelage from grass-root football tournaments in different part of the State, most notably Ajegunle and Agege. From struggling raw talents who used to on empty stomachs, no shoes and boots, many now have good story to tell. National soccer sensations like Odion Ighalo and three times African Women Footballer of the Year, Asisat Oshoala began their football career in Lagos. In fact since the early 1990s, Ajegunle area of Lagos has been churning out great football talents. Famous names such as Stephen Keshi, Samson Siasia, Taribo West, Victor Ikpeba, Sunday Oliseh, Obafemi Martins, Brown Ideye and Jonathan Akpoborie all started there.
After years of missing Stationary Stores of Lagos and decline in local league with attention of army of youth now on European leagues, it is encouraging that Lagos is resuscitating efforts at addressing societal disadvantage, marginalization, unemployment and other challenges which youths face today through sports development and support to private proprietors through creating of enabling environment.
This could be said to have informed the support of the State government for MFM FC. In keeping with the long history of the involvement of Christianity and association football, Mountain of Fire and Miracle has stepped out through MFM FC of Lagos to contribute to the future of Nigeria as a footballing nation. It could be recalled that several of England’s leading clubs, including Manchester City, Manchester United, Everton, and Southampton, were founded by churches.
Though owned and financed by the church, the Lagos State government recently hosted and rewarded members and coaching crew of MFM FC for their impressive showing in the Nigeria Professional Football League last season. This was to appreciate and honour the club for bringing Lagos State back to reckoning as it regards top flight football action. The Fidelis Ilechukwu led side, popularly called Olukoya Boys, came close to winning the title last season before eventually finishing second behind champions Plateau United. Congratulating the team for the feat, Governor Ambode particularly acknowledged the vision of MFM General Overseer, Dr. D.K. Olukoya, who founded the team 10 years ago, saying that the state government was proud to associate with his idea of meaningfully engaging the youths to contribute positively to the society.
What is more, in sync with his administration’s philosophy for sports development, Lagos is working on upgrading Agege stadium to make it ready for CAF champion’s league. Agege Township Stadium, the home ground of MFM F.C just like Onikan stadium in the time of old Stationary stores have been increasingly filling up every week to watch the new darling football club of Lagos origin. The upgrade of the sporting infrastructure is meant to create enabling environment for MFM FC and other sporting activities that the stadium usually host.
Without a doubt, the Lagos state government is living up to its plan to use tourism, hospitality, entertainment and arts as well as sports to inspire the youths to attain excellence. No doubt, we need to deploy sports as an instrument to build the economy of Lagos and also direct the energy of our younger ones to things that are very positive as exemplified by what is happening today. To keep the legacy of “from Football star’s rags-to-riches tale” going, some of the footballers are already giving back to the community with projects to nurture future talent. Akpoborie is helping to identify future football talents, while Ighalo is building an orphanage in the heart of the Ajegunle slum.
While nothing could be done to stop people from supporting and talking about foreign football leagues, we should be highlighting what we are doing with the Nigeria Professional League. Football fans should go out there to Agege Stadium to watch various soccer teams in the NPFL and talk about them, buy their jerseys, because such investment will flow back to the team and by extension, the community, such that soon we may develop our football league to the standard of such popular ones in the world.
So far, matches played at the Agege Stadium have been truly exciting, free of hooliganism with a level of fair officiating that gives some hope that morally upright officials still exist in this climate of perpetual struggle for economic survival. One tree definitely does not make a forest, but MFM FC have shown already that they can make a huge contribution to the fortunes of Nigerian football just as the signs are already in the air of Lagos State quest for using sport to achieve excellence.
Moreover, it was indeed the impressive record of the State in the production of numerous burgeoning soccer talents that informed the intention of the FC Barcelona of Spain of establishing its academy in Lagos. The academy will no doubt create a very good platform for sports development and empowerment in the state.
A recent political event in Liberia has really justified Mandela’s assertion that Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. George Weah, the only African footballer to have won FIFA World Player of the Year Award and the coveted Ballon D’Or in 1995 has just been sworn-in as elected President of the country. And, who knows, such might be replicated in Nigeria. Perhaps, in the nearest future