BusinessDay

Besty Obaseki Women Football Tourney: Raising social consciousness on vices

Recently, Benin City, the Edo State capital, wore an unusual atmosphere with the glowing shades of red and white, which propelled the strength of will of many to lend their voices and take a stance against drug abuse.

Tagged, ‘Say No to Drugs,’ the 10-day football contest, which was conceived to be a vehicle to drive messages through sports for social change, was graced by many sports enthusiasts, 13 female football teams, Nigeria’s women football industry and, to a large extent, the sporting community.

The tournament, a pre-season women’s football championship to sharpen and prepare teams for the Nigeria women’s league, is a brainchild of Betsy Obaseki, the wife of the Edo State Governor. The competition had its maiden launch in 2021 and human trafficking was made the centre of interest.

These two vices namely human trafficking, irregular migration and drug abuse have over time taken a toll on Nigerian youths. While the former has seemingly taken a back seat because of the timely intervention from key stakeholders which has saved many from venturing through the dangerous paths to foreign countries and corrected the wrong perception earlier regarded by the global communities about Edo State. The latter is gradually pervading the younger generation.

Second in its series, the Betsy Obaseki Women Football Tournament (BOWFT), according to pundits, was well-timed amid pervasiveness of substance abuse among Nigeria’s teeming young population and its ability to trigger mental illness as well as its attendant adverse effect on the nation’s productive capacity.

Prior to commencement of the competition, the wife of Edo State Governor who was the facilitator of the event, said the second edition of the yearly tournament was focused on driving the government’s campaign against drug abuse after recording notable results from the first edition that was targeted at addressing human trafficking.

“Every year, we adopt a theme for the tournament and this year is to fight against drug abuse. It was borne out of the desire to check social vices among the girl-child in the state.

“We are working to bring back the glory of Edo people as we are known for sports, entrepreneurship, culture and entertainment. This administration is out to re-enact the glory of the state, especially in sports. As we try to re-enact sports in the state, we are targeting our young girls and creating a way for them to make good money in sports.

“Edo State used to be the epicenter of human trafficking and illegal migration. The first edition of the competition achieved its goal of further complementing the government’s efforts at tackling the menace,” Obaseki said.

Reminiscing on how the annual tournament was initiated, she said: “Faced with trafficking of about 60 percent of our girls, we decided to do something to save the situation. We housed and trained the returnees in different areas, ensuring that they are equipped with requisite skills to live fulfilled lives. We looked at other areas to support the girls and this gave birth to this tournament.

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“The tournament has created the opportunity for our young girls to develop skills and career for themselves in football. We are focusing this year on drug abuse as it has become a menace in our society, state and country at large. We are encouraging our girls to choose a career path in football.”

Reassuring on the sustainability of the football match, she said the tournament is not government-funded but a private sector-funded project, and “we have private sponsors to ensure that the game continues after the Obaseki-led administration. We have a board of trustees of about nine Edo sons and daughters.”

During a seminar session, which was part of activities lined up for the tournament, Governor Godwin Obaseki noted that drug abuse and consumption of other harmful substances have reached a crisis level and called for collaborative efforts among key stakeholders to address the menace.

The governor noted that, in the course of the state’s monthly review of crime incidents, his administration has identified drug abuse as the second most pressing issues of concern aside kidnapping which, according to him, is enhanced by drug abuse.

He said sport is a very effective tool for social mobilisation and youth engagement, and it presents a veritable platform to wage war against drug abuse.

According to him, the problems of drug abuse present itself in various forms with immense impacts on the sport industry and to the larger society, hence it is very important and imperative for collective action to tackle this menace for the betterment of the society.

“Drug abuse, if we must be honest, has reached a crisis level in our society. The extent to which youths consume drugs and other harmful substances has reached an alarming heights and almost becoming a pandemic.

“A study conducted by the Ahmadu Bello University and Bayero State University in Kano State in collaboration with international experts has shown that there is upto 40 and 20 percent prevalence of drug abuse among students and youths, respectively.

“The adverse effects of drug abuse has robbed many youths of their lives, condemning them to a life dependent on drugs. This limit their ability to function properly in our society and deprived the society the much needed human capital to drive economic growth.

“We are therefore taking advantage of the presence of the chairman, chief executive officer of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) to seek more support to tackle drug abuse in Edo State and in Nigeria,” Obaseki said.

Delivering a speech, titled ‘Combating Drug Trafficking and Providing Care for Victims of Drug Abuse’, Mohammed Marwa, chairman, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), said the focus on the girl child and young women was strategic in the effort to curbing the rising trend of drug abuse among Nigerians.

Marwa, represented by Otunba Lanre, special adviser to the NDLEA chairman, explained that the startling revelations from the 2018 National survey on drug use and health were a wake-up call for Nigeria, especially the findings that 14.3million Nigerians, mostly youths, abuse drugs.

“From the National Drug Use and Health Survey, one of four drug users is female.There is more profound evidence on social media where users upload videos of themselves, a significant number of whom are young girls, abusing various types of drugs including cannabis and methamphetamine,” Marwa pointed out.

He further said the agency’s surveillance show that majority of club goers, who are young women, regularly come in contact and use drugs, adding that those involved in anti-social activities like prostitution or commercial sex work use stimulant drug as tools for their occupation.

“Hence, it is important we disabuse young women’s mind of the foolish notion that drug use is normal and make them realise that the use of illicit drugs is dangerous and their abuse destructive to their future.

“Given the severity of the situation, it was clear that we needed to move away from old ways of tackling drug issues and adopt new measures that are effective and will deliver lasting gains. It was recognised that the situation called for social action. To this end, NDLEA threw open its doors to everyone, groups and organisations willing to contribute to the fight against the scourge of illicit drugs,” Marwa said.

The NDLEA boss, therefore, commended Betsy Obaseki for committing the intervention mechanism to the fight against drug abuse, saying that it is a “momentous development and I am certain her excellency will not rest on her oars going forward.

“Once again, our sincere appreciation go to the first lady of Edo State for making drug abuse the fulcrum of the Betsy Obaseki Women Football Tournament(BOWFT). We note with satisfaction the effectiveness of BOWFT in fighting human trafficking in the state. We are also delighted by the recognition from FIFA for BOWFT as a social intervention tool,” he added.

It was a competition of all sorts as participating teams across the country locked horns while their eyes were fixated on the different cash prize awards of N5m, N2.5m, N1.5m for the winner, first runner ups, second runner ups, respectively, as well as other consolation prizes.

Among the football clubs, including Edo Queens, Delta Queens, FC Robo Queens, Nassarawa Amazons, Confluence Queens, Royal Queens, Heartland Queens and Naija Ratels; the Lagos-based team, FC Robo Queens, was crowned as champions after beating the host Edo Queens 1-0, to bring down the curtain of the contest.