Monday Ozoya, the chairman of Manchester Bulls Football Club, spoke to PREMIUM TIMES about various issues concerning sports development and how Nigeria can profit from the untapped sports industry.
The UK-based coach, who is also the current Divisional Secretary for the U-12 Suffolk Leagues and District Leagues, shared plans to help unearth talents from Nigeria’s various Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps.
PT: Apart from coaching, can you tell us a bit about your football playing career?
Ozoya: Those days I played grassroots football with people like Nduka Ugbade in Surulere, what we called ‘jeun-jeun’ then.
I went to CMS Grammar School, and there was a big rivalry with other schools like St. Finbarr’s College, St. Gregory’s, Igbogbi College, Methodist Boys, and all those other big schools.
It was a good time, and we all witnessed the beginnings of ‘Greater Tomorrow’ at the national stadium then and we all saw the first set of lucky players like Nduka Ugbade and co who went to play the China ‘85 U-16 World Cup and brought back glory [for the country].
That was when a lot of parents in Nigeria realised it was a good thing to play football because some of us were tied with ropes on our legs not to play football then, but now they started pushing us out to play football. It was a good time in Nigerian football.
PT: Why have you remained an advocate for grassroots football development both in the UK and your home country, Nigeria
Ozoya: It is just passion… Because of my involvement in grassroots football at Swinton FC, I’ve been able to gain a lot of grassroots football knowledge and we’ve been able to replicate the same in Nigeria since 2013.
Swinton FC has also supported me to get kits to support grassroots development. We’ve also run tournaments in different states and we donate kits-boots, jerseys, and balls, to support grassroots football.
I also mentor a lot of coaches and young players whom I redirect to scouts who can guide their development in the game.
Presently we’ve just opened a charity shop in Lagos whereby you can pick up some of these kits at a very cheap price so that the money can go back to support tournaments or coaches’ development, just to raise funds to support the grassroots.
That’s where we are.
PT: As someone who played grassroots football in Nigeria and now as an administrator in the UK, what gaps can you identify and how can we get it right in Nigeria?
Ozoya: One of the biggest challenges we have is that we don’t have a roadmap for sports development, not to even talk about football. We need to have a SMART sports policy in Nigeria, something that is measurable and time-bound, and we must set goals.
That’s why it needs to be SMART. Then all the national governing bodies need to come up with those policies and domicile them within the sports they’re doing and implement those policies within their various sports.
What we have right now, you can’t place it here or there. In England, they only have about five goals; in France, they have about five to seven goals.
We know that the Nigerian environment differs from the European environment, but we can still streamline what we want to achieve in our sports,
PT: Team Nigeria was in the UK recently and did exceptionally well. How did that make you feel?
Ozoya: We performed very well. It makes all of us very proud and this is the best time to be a Nigerian, but if we want to be honest, did we have a proper structure in place that got the athletes to where they are? Most of them didn’t train locally.
They had to be trained outside, so as part of our future development for sports in Nigeria, some of those things we’re going outside to train our kids, we can have them locally, so we can have more of those talents.
With our population, we should dominate any sport we are into; that’s my belief.
PT: So how can Nigeria dominate in these sports?
Ozoya: If we have the right structure in place. In football, for instance, we should transfer as many players as possible out of Nigeria. If we develop the coaches very well, we will have the best players because currently, how many coaches do we develop annually?
How many pitches do we create annually? How much do we put into grassroots across the states? I know we have them across the states, local governments, and federal government, but the question is, are they really functioning?
Are they really working together? Do we really have a target for the year, that this is what we want to achieve?
During those years when we were growing up, we used to have the Principal’s Cup, Inter-Class Games, and Inter-School Sports, people played academicals and so on, and people moved to the clubs after the transition from primary to secondary school.
Today, do we really have that pathway in our country?
These are the areas we need to go back to. Those days, when we wanted to go to secondary school, we paid for sports equipment and stuff, then when you go to your school you see different sports that you can take part in, but today do we even have schools that have pitches and sports facilities?
Those days, you could even play cricket in some schools, but today, how many students have even seen a cricket bat?
There’s so much that can be done and getting a lot of professionals who have developed themselves as administrators and managers within the game need to be brought together, not just the ex-players.
The sports journalists, sports scientists…it’s a whole team, so all sports professionals need to be brought together to sit down and look at Nigerian sports and come up with a sports policy that is SMART, and then set a time frame of what we want to achieve in our sports.
We’ve got the resources and human capital; we can rule the world.
PT: Why do you think Nigeria needs more investment in the sports industry?
Ozoya: Nigeria must look at grassroots from the developmental aspect of the youths because with grassroots we’re going to be engaging them positively, that is one. Two, we’re going to improve the health of the Nigerian citizenry if we invest in sports and provide facilities and a kind of education on the importance of sports.
Also, it’s going to be like another point in Nigeria whereby we can raise the economy. If we have a proper sports structure in Nigeria, I bet the economic, health, and security benefits will be enormous, so that’s my message to our administrators and the people that have been managing our sports.
I will plead with them to reach out to lots of Nigerians who are professionals and who understand what needs to be done to support Nigeria to get to where we need to be and get them involved in moving sports forward.
A lot of Nigerians are out there who will want to support whatever they’re doing to move sports to that level. We can appeal to some of our professionals out there who are doing great to come back home.
Sports can give us more economic benefits than what we currently get from the entertainment industry because when you look at the volume, especially in football, for instance, how many footballs do we play in a day? So if we invest in a football factory that produces the football, how many jobs are we going to create? How much are we going to be making?
Then look at parents who are going jogging, or those playing basketball, volleyball, and other sports. If we manufacture this equipment in Nigeria, how much are we going to be selling, and how much will come in as tax to the government?
How many youths will be employed within the sports industry? Sports is a massive industry. So I’m still pleading with our administrators to see sports as another means to earn foreign currency to help our economy. We can no longer only rely on oil. We know it’s not sustainable, but the sports business will also help our economy.
The economic planners should also look at how they can harness the benefits of sports.
PT: Are there other ways, sports, particularly football, can be used to positively affect society?
Ozoya: Our Foundation is moving away from the normal development aspect which they know us for, to the humanitarian aspect. We are looking at how to get talent from some of the IDP camps in Nigeria, to represent Nigeria in about 10 years’ time at the Olympics or Commonwealth Games, because we know that there is a lot of talent. We’re looking at young players at the IDP camps to play in the Premiership. That’s the vision I’m having and what we want to work on for our humanitarian journey.
PT: Considering that we have several IDP camps scattered across the country, are there specific camps you’re targeting?
Ozoya: For now we will look more into the Northwest. Yes, we can provide food, shelter and accommodation, and other essentials, but we need to give them hope, and I don’t think we’re doing much for them in that aspect.
We can’t have kids-a generation that has no good education, skill, or sporting opportunities. So, I think we need to do more to support the IDP camps. That’s why we are looking at the humanitarian aspect, while we also continue with the developmental aspect which we started in 2013.
PT: Thanks for the audience
Ozoya: You are most welcome.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: Call Willie - +2348098788999