Nigeria’s basketball ban

On May 12, following the protracted crisis in the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF), the Federal Government announced Nigeria’s withdrawal from international basketball for two years, putting players, coaches, administrators and other stakeholders in limbo. According to the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the decision is to, among other things, enable the authorities to revamp the game in the country and lay the leadership tussle in the NBBF to rest once and for all. As a follow-up, on May 23, the government appointed a 10-man Interim Management Committee (IMC) to manage basketball in the country until the restoration of normalcy. The committee headed by Henry Nzekwu was inaugurated on June 4 by the Sports Minister, Mr. Sunday Dare, who urged it to “revamp basketball from the grassroots”. Its terms of reference were “to draw up programmes that will revamp basketball from the grassroots, attract corporate sponsors and revive the moribund domestic leagues for the development of the game within two years, and ensure the development of basketball facilities in the entire country, and any other thing that will facilitate the development of basketball in Nigeria.”

The leadership tussle in the NBBF dates back to 2017 when Musa Kida and Tijani Umar emerged as NBBF presidents following factional elections won at two venues on the same day.  As a matter of fact, for three years running, basketball league games stopped in the country following protracted litigation. The crisis did not however stop Nigeria’s female basketball team, D’Tigress, from winning the 2019 AfroBasket and retaining the title in 2021. Indeed, it also qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Kida’s faction, which had since taken over basketball management in the country until January this year when another election was held which retained him (Kida) in office, is recognised by International Basketball Federation (FIBA). The January election was in many ways a repeat of 2017: while Kida was elected in Benin City, Mark Igoche, who is reported to have done a lot of work in developing basketball at the grass roots through sponsorship of the annual Mark D championships for male and female players, was elected in Abuja. This evidently angered the Ministry of Youth and Sports, which had previously set up a committee to ensure a single poll following the laid down procedure.

Following the Federal Government’s evidently ill-advised move, D’Tigress will have no opportunity to showcase its talents at the Sydney 2022 World Cup. The team laboured hard to qualify for the tournament, but it is Mali, named by FIBA as Nigeria’s replacement, that will be at the global championship. The men’s team, D’Tigers, will also miss the 2023 World Cup qualifying series to be held in July. This means that Nigeria will also miss the 2024 Olympic Games. That is not all: when  the continental championship comes up next year, D’Tigers will have no opportunity to defend the AfroBasket title won three times in a row.

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To say the very least, the Federal Government’s ban on Nigeria’s international basketball participation is misdirected. It is a step that recalls the proverbial absurdity of ignoring leprosy while treating ringworm. It is ludicrous to shut Nigeria’s international sporting doors to long-suffering players and rob Nigeria’s basketball faithful of the pleasure of watching their teams participate in the exciting game simply because of the bickering among administrators. The ban becomes even more ludicrous when the fact is taken into consideration that the solution to the crisis is right under the government’s nose, but it prefers to chase shadows. We declare, without fear of contradiction, that since the Kida faction, for want of a better word, is the globally recognised basketball authority in Nigeria, it amounts to a complete waste of time and energy to be giving attention to other factions. In pitching its tent with FIBA, Nigeria undertook to abide by its rules and regulations, including non-interference in its internal affairs. It is therefore escapist, fraudulent and absurd to withdraw from that commitment just because of crisis within the NBBF.

In case the government needs reminding, sorting out administrative issues in basketball is FIBA’s business, not that of the Ministry of Sports. Indeed, even if all that the Kida-led administration has is a shanty, that shanty remains the headquarters of basketball in Nigeria unless and until Nigeria decides to withdraw from the association and, by implication, international basketball. Abiding by FIBA rules does not amount to a breach of Nigeria’s sovereignty; it is a demonstration of integrity. In any case, it is utterly befuddling that the Federal Government thinks that the “crisis” in the NBBF can be permanently laid to rest in two years. If the issues enabling the crisis persist, what guarantee is there that all will be well once the government lifts the ban in 2024? And is the government even thinking of the damage it will have done to the game in Nigeria by the end of its ban?

We endorse D’Tigress’ reaction to the ban. It said: “We would like to be given the opportunity to play for our country that we passionately love to represent in this upcoming FIBA Women’s World Cup competition. We have worked very hard to be three-times AfroBasket Champions, Olympians and now we are blessed with another opportunity to continue that representation for Nigeria. We want Nigerian basketball to continue to grow and succeed on every level; from the local leagues, grassroots and even on the international stage! We believe that all levels of Nigerian basketball can excel with the proper attention, togetherness, and organisation.” This position is unassailable.


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