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Lifting the Nigerian youth: The Ejike Ugboaja Foundation approach

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Amadou Gallo Fall is an empire builder. Upon attaining success as student-athlete in far-away America he did what real greats are known for: He bent low to lift the Senegalese youths from the dust of defeat. His weapon is the Sports for Educational and Economic Development (SEED) project. Since 1998 when he established this basketball academy, hundreds of young persons have attained unassailable heights in education, playing basketball in America.

By contrast, it was frustration for Nigerian teenagers desirous of education, playing basketball in the West. All that dramatically changed the day Christopher Ejike Ugboaja was drafted “directly” into the American National Basketball Association, NBA, to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Fame and fortune beckoned but his heart remained in Nigeria. The talents wasting back home made him restless and he decided to do something.

Like Gallo Fall, Ugboaja understood challenge and response. The Nigerian youth, especially that vulnerable group called sportsmen, must be timely supported to achieve their envisaged dreams. What he did was to fund his own Ejike Ugboaja Foundation, a charity organisation committed to youth education through sports. That was in 2006, the very year the Cavaliers recruited him.

Born 1985 in Kaduna, Ugboaja grew up in poverty. Lea Primary School Tudun Wada gave him his initial education. Next, Government College Kaduna accepted him as a Junior Secondary School student. As an inward looking teen, his mind was settled for basketball, which he gave his best. He rose through the ranks by dint of hard work and good character to represent his fatherland in international basketball engagements. At sixteen, he played for Nigeria in the world cup; repeating the feat at eighteen and twenty-one. He also played in the 2012 Olympic and Commonwealth Games in Argentina.

Since inception, the Ejike Ugboaja Foundation has sponsored130 Nigerian youths to realise their dream of world-class education in America through sports. Its vehicle is the annual Basketball Summer Camp. By rotating its camp round the six geo-political regions, the organisation ensures that youths in every part of this great country are carried along. Apart from basketball, the foundation invests heavily in youths keen in playing American football.

It is telling that a disproportionate number of female athletes showed up at the 2018 camp that took place in the University of Lagos Sports Complex. By bringing in Mfon Udoka, former Women National Basket Association (WNBA), to mentor them, the organisation demonstrated its core value as giving equal opportunity to teen girls. In the words of Ugboaja, “The foundation is not gender biased even though the girl child continues to receive the highest attention in our programmes.”

The 2019 Ejike Ugboaja Foundation Basketball Summer Camp comes up from May 5th to 10th. Venue is the National Stadium, Lagos. Successful youths who excel in athletic abilities with good academic results will be offered scholarships to study in America while playing basketball and American football. Interested young persons should consult ejikefoundation.org.

Victims or victimisers

Ugboaja’s immense effort contrasts with the less than salutary contribution of the Nigerian state to youth development. Abuja disputes the just released figure by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), putting the Nigerian population at 201 million; young persons constitute the overwhelming majority. One is forgiven mistaking Abuja as Pater Remotus too remote as a father to appreciate its burgeoning progeny. The Federal Government’s incredulity must be weighed against the lofty achievement of certain non-state actors who correctly read the red light long ago and are doing something.

Special commendation goes to the Ejike Ugboaja Foundation, MTN Foundation, Aliko Dangote Foundation, Rotimi Amaechi Centre for Empowerment (RACE), The Albino Foundation, etc. Thousands of youths who could have completely missed out are given a second chance by these organisations to garner tertiary education and special skills. Yet, not minding the milestones recorded by these associations, the fate of our young persons remains abysmal.

In April 2019 alone, five Nigerian youths allegedly hatched a robbery in far-away Dubai. As their mug shots were flashed by satellite televisions there was not aself-respecting Nigerian who did not feel humiliated. In the US nine Nigerian youths were apprehended by the FBI for alleged wire fraud. And in South Africa, a Nigerian youth pumped two bullets into the head of another Nigerian killing him on the spot.

Back home in Choba, Rivers State, three youths were beheaded by rival cult members. Still in the same Rivers, stolen phones were openly exchanged for Tramadol at Hotel Presidential Junction in broad daylight. At the Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO), Imo State, three male undergraduates died while their female partner survived a Tramadol-induced sex orgy.

The above is also true of events last year. Nine youths were in June 2018 cut down in their prime following a renewed cult war in Yenagoa. The same number died within the same period in Cross River State when two cult groups clashed. In Abia State, desperation drove a teen mother into selling her baby. The gory tales of young Nigerians, whether at home or in the Diaspora, must prick the conscience of any fair-minded person.

The question must be asked: Are the youth victims or victimisers? In other words, how culpable are they in their own defeat? To answer this question we must look at what the statistics are saying. A 2018 United Nations, UN, report on illegal migration details that of the 37,000 Nigerians who tried crossing the desert to Europe in 2016, 68percent of them constituted of young graduates. The remaining 32percent was still young persons, some as young as fifteen. A June 2018 media report was not dissimilar: 186 youths fleeing poverty and violence in Nigeria were deported back. Of this number 99 were female below 25 years of age, 75 male and 12 children.

A forensic interpretation of the above shows that (1) The girl child is a sought-after “commodity” by criminal gangs involved in human trafficking (2) Wrong values, rather than poverty, are a strong factor in crimes associated with young persons, and (3) Crimes associated with young persons, like phone snatching, kidnapping and cultism, peaked with the advent of betting shops and sports gambling.

Steve Biko argues that to be a victimizer, one must be in a position of power. In other words, you can never victimise someone stronger than you. We now ask, how many offices in Abuja are manned by young persons? None. On the contrary, it is the adult, who calls the shot. Therefore, those who control the national and state budgets cannot escape the blame for what is happening to the youth today as they could do things differently to help this vulnerable group.

Solution must cover home and away. The South East governors should build Igbo markets or shopping centres in the Diaspora, especially in South Africa, as a way of helping young Igbos go legitimate. The Nigerian problem in South Africa is an Igbo problem. I was secretary to the Smart Okeugiri-led 2009 Presidential Panel constituted by Chief Baldwin Obasi, President of Ohaneze Ndigbo South Africa, to look into the Igbo problem. Our recommendations are contained in ‘Igbo Lives in South Africa,’ Google. You can also, see ‘Investing in Igbo Economy in the Diaspora.’

Many Igbos sell hard drugs in South Africa. But Yoruba boys, understandably not all, do not sell drugs. Their specialty is fraud and Pretoria is their headquarters. We wail when a Nigerian is killed by South Africans. But who cries when South African secondary school students are killed by lethal drugs sold them by Nigerians? Who suffers when South Africans take their own lives having been cleaned out by Nigerian fraudsters? Build Igbo/Nigerian markets in America, France, Dubai, Botswana, etc; as a necessary step in curbing crimes among our expatriate communities. China and India did same for their citizens who prospered.

As long as home solution is concerned, nothing short of national emergency will do. President Muhammadu Buhari truly means well for young Nigerians. He must now find a way to deal directly with them without passing through faceless consultants. Where are the billions he released as agricultural loans for young farmers? From January to December, one consultant to another and pillar to post; commercials bank managers and their consultants dissipated the fund.

One intellectual with practical understanding of causative effect is the Ijaw nationalist called Arc. Esoetok Ikpong Ikpong Etteh Snr. On the dangers of not training restive Niger Delta youths, he warned, “If we develop infrastructure without developing the youth, these youths will destroy the infrastructure we so cherished.”

The Ejike Ugboaja Foundation is developing the youth and saving us from a morbid destruction predicted by no less a thinker than the eminent Arc. Etteh Snr.

 

CHIGACHI EKE

Email: [email protected]

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