Unemployment, a state of being willing and able to work but unable to find a job is at a prevailing wage rate. This is a challenge for successive governments in Nigeria to tackle.
It is not the government’s responsibility to create jobs, but to ensure an enabling business environment for businesses, organizations and entrepreneurship to thrive, which will create employment opportunities for able and willing youths. Nigeria has a very youthful population, with over 70 per cent of its population within the ages of 45 years and below. Nigeria is Africa’s most populated country, with unemployment projected to rise up to 40 per cent by the end of 2021 according to Professor Doyin Salami, chairman of the Presidential Economic Advisory Council (PEAC). If this projection becomes a reality, the government and experts will remain worried and concerned about the impact of unemployment. Youth unemployment has several multiplier effects, especially insecurity, social vices like drug abuse, crime, cultism, cybercrime and armed robbery. It also has the potential of leading to depression and worst-case scenario, poverty. The government’s efforts at diversifying the economy towards agriculture and other critical sectors have not yielded much result. As such, sports present an opportunity that can be harnessed to tackle youth unemployment in Nigeria.
Sports, especially football and athletics have gained prominence over the years in Nigeria. Notable names like Jay-Jay Okocha, Kanu Nwankwo, Chioma Ajunwa, Blessing Okagbare, Asisat Oshoala have graced and represented Nigeria at local and international sporting events. Sports have earned them a global reputation and become a source of livelihood and sustenance for them. Nigeria’s huge population presents a good opportunity for investment in the country. Investment and development in sport have not received the needed attention from the government at all levels. Nigeria has performed so well in youth football, particularly U17, U20 and Olympics men’s football teams. Other traditional sports like basketball, table tennis, boxing, wrestling, long jump, badminton, shot put, discus, martial arts and a few others can be properly explored. The Nigerian professional football league has assisted in the export of young Nigerian talents to other parts of Africa, Asia, America and Europe especially. Football scouting networks in Nigeria have improved greatly with Roma, Barcelona and Real Madrid building their academies in Lagos and Rivers state, with the sole purpose of tapping into the huge sporting potential of Nigerian youths. Grassroots sports have gained very little support from the government, with most support coming from private individuals, prominent Nigerians, corporate and civil organizations.
Sports administration and planning have been poor and plagued by high levels of corruption. Bribery, incompetence, favouritism, poor management have characterized its success and expansion. The stadiums and sports facilities in all parts of the country haven’t been well equipped and maintained to world-class standards. The few existing sport facilities in major cities like Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano and Enugu are all a shadow of themselves. There is a need to redirect investment in sports facilities, restructure and remodel sports in Nigeria. The ministry of youths and sport must draw the government’s attention to the huge exciting potential in sports. Funding must be a necessary condition for this to be a reality. The ministry of sports and youth must engage stakeholders in this sector to chart a sustainable solution in improving sports at the federal, state and local levels. Other viable sporting events like golf, cycling, cricket and rugby need huge attention as Nigeria boasts huge human resources to excel in these areas.
There is a need for the government to build some universities of sports to improve the theoretical and practical aspects of several sports events. This will engage a huge number of youths to acquire training, knowledge and expertise in sport. This will increase employment opportunities and drive private sector participation in sports education. Efforts must be geared to seek foreign support and investment in sports, privatize government-owned football clubs and facilities for better management and administration, as inadequate funding and sponsorship remain a concern. Media broadcast, television rights and sponsorship from corporate organizations to improve media coverage, attention and awareness from Nigerians. Government must lead efforts to ensure the right environment and support is given to boost this sector. There is a need for private sector collaboration and involvement in the running of sports in Nigeria. Efforts must be channeled to get rid of corruption and nepotism in sports management and administration. Sports have the huge capacity to employ, engage, empower and equip millions of youths, if the government can capitalize on the opportunities and make a genuine concern to lift youths out of unemployment, poverty and promote patriotism becoming ambassadors in sports.
Alikor Victor is a development & health economist