Cricket is fondly referred to as the oldest sports in Nigeria dating as far back as 1904.
There is no gainsaying that the sport has endured its own fair share of ups and downs over the years.
Thankfully, the country lately has continued to get global attention for its efforts to revive the fortunes of cricket.
In a few days’ time, the prestigious International Cricket Council (ICC) Trophy will berth in Nigeria on the heels of the Commercial Strategy and Development workshop also facilitated by the world body to help boost Cricket in the country.
PREMIUM TIMES caught up with the Vice President of the Nigeria Cricket Federation, Uyi Akpata in Lagos. He sheds more light on what the present board of the NCF is doing to improve the fortunes of Cricket in Nigeria.
PT: It’s barely 18 months after taking the reins of control in the Nigeria Cricket Federation, how much of your goals and mission have been achieved or are things more difficult than you imagined?
Akpata: It has been an exciting journey, unlike some people that just think it is all about challenges, yes, we have seen those challenges, but we have turned them into opportunities.
In this past 18 months, we can boldly say we have achieved some of the targets we have set for ourselves to be achieved in four years and we have even surpassed some.
So, what we are doing now is taking a self-assessment and seeing how we can project and perform for the next two and a half years ahead and beyond. In my view, the potentials are huge, and we are poised to do much more.
PT: What has really changed since you came on board and is your biggest achievement as a federation in the past 18 months?
Akpata: There are quite a number? First, we are getting the female cricket more active, we have also qualified for the last stage of the U19s where we are having a tournament in March in Namibia. Ifwe win that, we are qualifying for the World Cup, which is the first.
We have improved very well on our world rankings at all levels. We have two of our players being invited by the elite clubs in South Africa to be part of their training programme taking place. Nigeria has also been recognised by the International Cricket Council (ICC) as one of the target countries to really grow the game, that is why the ICC has sent their marketing people to support us in this commercial strategy.
We plan to reach out to like 5,000 players at the grassroots each year but now we are reaching out to over 10,000 already and with this just concluded workshop, we are saying we can even reach out to 20-25,000 people each year.
We are positioned to try and take Cricket to the North-east, we are just waiting for the general elections to be conducted. We have a board that has a very robust governance structure which is a significant requirement needed by the ICC if they are to support the game in any way.
PT: Briefly, how have you been going about your drive to help improve the fortunes of cricket in Nigeria?
Akpata: We basically have five strategic pillars which we are using as a compass to guide us in what we do.
The first is growing the game, then improving our infrastructure, we also have our eyes on improving the playing conditions or improving the quality of our players and coaches, then continuous interaction with key stakeholders and then the governance structure.
PT: Can you tell us more about the historic ICC World Cup coming to Nigeria?
Akpata: That is really going to be exciting, even for us to be recognised as one of the destinations that the World Cup in cricket will be coming to is quite mind-boggling.
The World Cup itself will be physically on the ground in Abuja. They are coming on the 11th. There is a reception with sponsors and government officials on the 11th, some bit of our culture will be infused into the reception, it is like sports and culture together on display.
We are already working with the Federal Ministry of Arts and Culture, we are going to visit major sites in Abuja with the trophy before we now head to Lagos on February 12th.
On February 12th, we will be presenting the trophy to the Executive Governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode. The Lagos State government have been very supportive to us particularly in our developmental drive and in terms of infrastructure at the Tafawa Balewa Cricket Oval.
The next day 13th will be a lot of fanfare at the TBS as it will be for the general public including sports enthusiasts and the likes. They will have a glimpse of the trophy that will be on display for about eight hours.
The sponsors will also be around. Then we will have the national teams A and B face off in a 20 Overs Match. There would be a clinic session for over 500 Lagos kids, cultural troupes will also be there and much more. TBS will be a carnival-like atmosphere, I can guarantee you on the 13th.
PT: Thank you for your time.
Akpata: Thank you very much too.