How sport can help human development in former Boko Haram territories


I recently watched an Al Jazeera documentary about the progress that is being made by women footballers in Rwanda, more than two decades after the ugly genocide that tore that country apart.
While football is not and can never be a panacea for righting the wrongs of the past and making amends for human rights abuses, it certainly has changed the way of life and given a breath of hope to the women who play it.
The women expressed joy at finding freedom of expression through sport. And the team work skills they have been able to acquire have brought renewed confidence in themselves as individuals. What about the local taboos that they were able to shed by just being able to have a kick around, something that was usually a preserve for boys? And one has to also look at the cumulative improved health of women in these Rwandan communities.
This is a key example of the power of sport in helping societies mend in its own little way.
It pointed me closer home to Nigeria where we seem to finally be emerging from the worst of the terror brought on by Boko Haram in the North East.
How can we help communities reclaim their lives and their humanity? While humanitarian aid, the rebuilding of schools and commerce, roads and social amenities are important, we must not overlook the impact that sport can make.
I believe that using sport as a deliberate tool for communal rebuilding can help return a joie de vivre to our country men and women who have seen the worst of human behaviour through the terror of the past five years.
What we need is a strategy to bring sport to these communities and ensure they can play again.
Nigeria is not in short supply of sports stars who are famous worldwide. They can become ambassadors that can help promote participation and an active lifestyle in these healing communities.
Active sports people like John Obi Mikel (who has won every title in European football) and Asisat Oshoala (a top female footballer and African champion) could become the faces of a campaign to take sport to the North East.
We don’t have to wait for David Beckham or Serena Williams to make a trip over before we recognise the impact sports stars can create, the Nigerian ministry of sport needs to start engaging the array of local stars that we can call upon to make little change happen in our own way.
I recall an interview I had with Mikel in 2014 when he talked about the pain of having his father kidnapped in light of the Chibok girls’ abduction, he is a ready ambassador for a campaign like this.
And with Oshoala being the most successful and easily recognisable female footballer in Africa at the moment, what better way to inspire young girls all over the country to a life in sport?
Some moments are made for each other, it’s time we began to use what we have to achieve what we aim for. Sport can bring change to societies, that’s what we should be doing in the North East of our country.

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