COMMENTARY:Peace and Progress through Sports in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria

By Governor Nyesom Ezenwo Wike (Brussels)
May I, on behalf of the Government and people of Rivers State express our gratitude to the President and Executive members of the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) for inviting me to this august forum and for giving me the privilege to speak briefly on the theme: “Peace and Progress through Sports in the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria.”
     As a person I love sports, I follow sports keenly, I also enjoy watching sports as a hobby. But, most importantly, I have long known the positive power of sports as a catalyst for social development.
     I was elected the Governor of Rivers State three years ago, and since then, we have remained focused on delivering on our development agenda. In doing so, the advancement of peace and security has been one of our priority areas of focus.     Our reason for this commitment is simple: no human society can progress without peace and no human society can be happy without development.
     As you may all be aware, the Niger Delta region refers to the geographical south of Nigeria that is located in the deltaic zone of the country.
     The area produces the oil wealth, which Nigeria depends for over 90 per cent of its foreign exchange earnings. Proceeds from oil resources also account for over 40 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product and over 70 per cent of total Government revenues. The Niger Delta area is thus, the main stay and engine that drives Nigeria’s economy and development.
     Yet, and quite paradoxically, these vast resources and revenues barely impact on the progress and well-being of the region and its over 40 million inhabitants, so much so that, the region today ranks as one of the most economically marginalized, deprived and discontented parts of the world.
     Besides, years and years of oil exploitation by the multinational companies have ravaged the Niger Delta environment and the people reduced to beggarly existence with the destruction of their primary occupations and means of livelihoods.
     This situation is what has presaged restiveness and turned the region into a hot bed of agitations and conflicts with serious challenges to peace and sustainable development.
   Under this circumstance, it is fitting to say that peace, security and progress are essential development goals in the Niger Delta, the achievement of which is critical to the region’s prosperity.
   But peace and progress cannot be achieved in a vacuum; neither can they just be wished. The path to sustainable peace and progress must be consciously created and cultivated, and the fact that sport is a powerful mechanism for achieving these goals has long been globally acknowledged.
   When analyzing the role sport plays in advancing peace and development, the factors that readily come to the foreground are many.
   What is most fundamental is the fact that sport has functions beyond its simplest form as a game to encompass a cost effective means for addressing a broad range of socio-economic challenges that impact on peace and human progress.
   Arguably, there is no social activity that can match the role sport plays in breaking down barriers, bringing people together across nations, promoting understanding, positively engaging the energy of youths and in mobilizing support for social causes.
   Therefore, event at the simplest level, sport not only improves the mental and physical health of participants; it also helps to inculcate such timeless values as honesty, hard work, obedience, respect, team work, discipline, and leadership in the youths.
   And as you know, these are all useful values for creating peaceful and progressive societies as well as for achieving national peace and basic development goals, including poverty reduction.
   In all cases, however the impact of sport on peace and development depends on how these objectives are prioritized and pursued by the State in partnership with stakeholders.
   It is evident that States in the Niger Delta region do recognize the special power of sport for promoting peace and development in the region.
   In addition to the policy framework, the Niger Delta States all have ministries or departments exclusively responsible for sports development.
  To this end, there is also no State in the Niger Delta without sport facilities, such as stadiums, sport fields, and recreational grounds located in the capital cities and other towns, including rural communities.
  These facilities are providing platforms for the training and staging of sports competitions from which we are developing the sporting talents of our youths and nurturing them for professional sporting careers.
  As a result of these efforts at  sports development, our country’s national sports teams are always dominated by sports men and women from the region, who are competing with the rest of the world and bringing laurels to Nigeria.
  Furthermore, apart from giving hope for a brighter future, unemployed youths are also getting increasingly engaged and empowered through the various sport platforms the region has provided.
  These engagements have successfully turned most of our youths away from violence and other anti-social behavior, and thereby enhancing peace and progress at different levels of society.
   Above all, government involvement in sports has resulted in the establishment and growth of the sports industry, which is contributing to economic growth, providing employment for the youths, reducing poverty and improving the socio-economic well being of the people.
 However, while we are making appreciable progress, the role sports play in advancing peace and progress in the Niger Delta is still a work in progress.
   There is still a lot to be done for us to fully tap from the unifying force of sports, which is critical to our collective vision for a Niger Delta region that is secure, peaceful and prosperous.
   The key challenge in this regard is the lack of private sector capital investments in sports development, which has rather affected the availability of sporting facilities and sponsorships for sport events.
  We would therefore welcome appropriate assistance from development partners, donor agencies and corporate organizations to develop the sports sector and enable the Niger Delta region to maximize and enjoy the health, educational, economic, social and cultural benefits that naturally flow from sports development.
  In Rivers State, our commitment to sports development has made the State become acclaimed as a Centre of sporting excellence.
   We have been in office for only three years, but the things we have done within this relatively short period to promote sports development clearly attest to our profound commitment to sports development.
 For instance, within this period, we have funded and hosted national, regional and international events in different range of sports including:
·        several international football friendly matches in Port Harcourt, the latest one is coming up on the 20th of May 2018 between the national teams of Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo;
·        the Governor Wike National Wrestling championship;
·        the African Wrestling Championship, where over 40 African countries participated; and
·         the Rivers State sports Initiative (under 17 athletes), which is directed at discovering talents at the grassroots for future development.
    Also, in recognition of the important role of the media in sports development, we sponsored the 51st Full Council meeting of the Sports Writers association of Nigerian in 2015, which was adjudged the best in the history of the 54 years old association.
  In addition to sponsoring the next Full Council meeting of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria, we have also agreed to sponsor 10 members of the SWAN to cover the 2018 FIFA World Cup tournament in Russia.
   Furthermore, we have gotten the approval and support of Real Madrid Football Club of Spain to build and run a world class Football Academy for Rivers State to harness, nurture and develop the abundant football talents of our youth and contribute to the growth of the beautiful game across the continent.
  In conclusion, I wish to reiterate our resolve to continue to tap the benefits of sport to advance social cohesion, peace and progress in Rivers State, the Niger Delta, and the, as well as across Africa.
   But, we cannot do it alone and achieve our targets for want of adequate resources.
 May I therefore use this opportunity to call on international donor organizations, sports charities, as well as the private sector to support our efforts with facilities, training and sponsorship.
   I thank you once again for the honour and for giving me your attention.
   May God bless you all.