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Arewa Sports Festival to come soon- Gombe

At the last Arewa Consultative Forum’s Peace and Unity Conference in Kaduna, you were elected chairman of the sub-committee on sports, youths and social development.…

At the last Arewa Consultative Forum’s Peace and Unity Conference in Kaduna, you were elected chairman of the sub-committee on sports, youths and social development. What are the aims and objectives of this committee?

The committee was constituted alongside other sub committees by the Agenda Setting Committee which was constituted by the planning and organizing committee of the Arewa Consultative Forum’s Peace and Unity Conference that took place in December 2011 in Kaduna. Basically, this committee was set up among other committees to come up with strategic plan of action towards the development of sports, youth, and social development in the region. That is the main purpose but there are other sub-derivatives that are expected to be part of that major strategic initiative that would engender development of sports, youth and social development in the region. And those things have to do with social issues such as youth empowerment and even values that we feel are either non-existing or were existing but the youths of the region are non-commitant to them. This in a nutshell is the main focus of this important committee.

What is the composition of the committee and has it made any progress in its assignment?

As at the time the committee was constituted, we were only two. Actually it was an election not an appointment as such and I was elected chairman and one other person was elected as a member of the committee. The first thing I did was to form a very strong committee made up of people who have antecedent and background in sports and youth development. I co-opted about 22 other people. I got a very competent secretary. He is the Head of the sports desk at NTA Kaduna and he is doing very well. Out of these 22, we have five other people who are in the diaspora but of northern extraction. Two are based in South Africa, one in Korea, one in the USA, one in London, then there is another one in Dubai. They are really into sports. One of the two in South Africa even has a football academy in South Africa. So the committee met several times and we have now presented our preliminary report and the final report is almost completed. Just yesterday in Kaduna we were trying to put finishing touches to the final report.

How does the committee intend to carry out the arduous task of reviving sporting activities in the north?

We have been able to identify specific areas of interest into which we would want to channel more energy. We have realized that out of the over 70,000 Nigerian sports men that are all over the world, 90% of them are footballers. We have less than 300 of them that are from the north. So we feel that our sports men and women especially, footballers should be given opportunities. And in giving them these opportunities you need to focus on the younger ones. And that is why we have even recommended for the setting up of Arewa Youth Soccer tournament which is going to kick off very soon and it will be strictly for U-17.

Next, we are looking at athletics because we definitely have very strong young men and women who are very good in long distance races, sprints as well as track and field events. We are therefore planning to float the Arewa Track and field classics which would focus on U-17 boys and girls in some selected events. This is not excluding the long distance races.

In addition, the north is blessed with talented basketball players. We are hoping to start with the younger ones. If you look at the history of Niger Porters, KADA Stars, Kano Pillars, Benue Braves, these are formidable clubs which we would like to use as platform to raise young talents in the sport.

Furthermore, we are going to give priority attention to the game of hockey. The strength of the north in the sport is incontestable. The best hockey players in Nigeria are from the North. We have Yobe, FCT, Niger and one or two other states we are going to encourage in terms of championships and talents hunting.

The list may appear endless as we are equally planning big for sports like volleyball, horse racing, polo and some of the traditional sports like langa, dembe and abura which are fully entrenched in the north.

But how soon are we going to have flurry of sporting activities in the region?

Although we are waiting for the Agenda Setting committee to set up the implementation committee, already we have asked for a special waiver to be able to start. If we have to seek for sponsorship or states to host our events, we need to give them enough time to prepare. Searching for sponsors also requires time. Our aim is to achieve our set targets between now and 2016. Consequently, time is not on our side and we have to hit the ground running. This is why we are seeking for waiver from the Agenda setting committee for us to move on.

Has the committee mapped out competitions that would help revive sporting activities in the region?

Yes, apart from the proposed Arewa Youth Football Championship, we are looking at having the Arewa Sports Festival which is going to be an annual event. We hope to be rotating it. By so doing facilities, can be improved in the various states.  States like Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Bauchi and Taraba are states that are competent to host most of the programmes we have lined up.

To what extent will the engagement of the youths in sporting activities help in curbing social vices and incidence of insecurity in the north?

Let me tell you, the conference unanimously agreed that insecurity is caused by lack of gainful employment and who are the vulnerable group?, they are the youths. Sports is undertaken by the youths so definitely that underlines the importance of this committee. If you look in between Kano and Kaduna every afternoon, between four and six pm, you have more than 2500 football pitches where young men are kicking the ball or doing one form of sport or the other.  Part of the plan is to use sports to positively engage the youths such that they would hardly have time to think about some of the evil acts. It is said idle hands are the devils workshop. We believe that in the end, even if social vices are not eliminated, it would be reduced to the barest minimum.

It appears so much has been paid on the youths but are there any plans for retired sports men and women from the region?

Sometime ago, when I organized a programme in Kano and brought together former footballers all over the country, I was shocked to hear of Yakubu Bauchi who is now late. He was the first goalkeeper from the north to keep for Nigeria. There are people like him who are still living. This committee intends to have what would be called sports veterans forum of the Arewa Consultative Forum. We are going to have the veterans forum to bring them together and tap from their experiences. We hope to even tap from their frustrations because it is a known fact that some of them have not been celebrated. Even the most recent ones like Moses Kpakor, Tijani Babangida, Dan Amokachie, Garba Lawal, Dahiru Sadi and a host of others are out there. And in the end, we would set up the ACF sports fund to help the families of those ex-athletes who need assistance. This would encourage the young ones to actively participate in sports.

From what you have revealed, there is no doubt that the committee is keen on delivering on its assignment but what are you doing in the area of sponsorship?

The committee is first looking within the confines of the Arewa Consultative Forum itself. From the trustees, to members of the Executive committee, there are members who have enormous good will. Some of them are members of boards of blue chips companies which we know and we can use their good will to really push for sponsorship. Secondly the Arewa Consultative Forum is working hand in hand with the Northern Governors Forum which is another source of sponsorship. Then we are talking about the north which constitutes 47 percent of Nigerian population. You and I know that population is always attractive to promotion and marketing of goods and services. Companies which are targeting the north as a region due to its numerical strength would not hesitate to sponsor our events to promote their goods and services. All we need do is to remain prudent and transparent. As I talk to you, we have started receiving proposals from those who want to sponsor some of these events.  It is all about proper packing, transparency and the ability to come up with strategic initiatives that would make our prospective sponsors have the necessary mileage. We have no doubt that with support from ACF, we would not fail to deliver.

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