The unerring efficiency with which we repeat mistakes of the past makes Nigeria the perfect location for a latter day Nostradamus to emerge.
One of Wole Soyinka’s most entertaining characters has to be Jerobam, the lead character of his plays, The Trials of Brother Jero and Jero’s Metamorphosis. It is easy to see why the conman enjoys some success as a prophet: his two pronged strategy is aligned with the audience he deceives.
First, he never leaves his customers, as he calls them, satisfied. Though he is not an economist, Jero uses the theory of diminishing marginal utility to full effect. Of course, you don’t need Paul Krugman to tell you that a fully satisfied customer is unlikely to consume more of the product (or service) being sold at that time. The second strategy is his ability to make risk free prediction. He demonstrates how a prediction that a convert will live to eighty years cannot backfire. If the convert makes it to eighty, Jero is a hero; if he doesn’t, his bones cannot ask for a refund.
Earlier in the year, I took my patriotism a step too far by betting with a South African colleague that Nigeria would win more medals at London Olympics. Of course, we ended without a medal while South Africa was in 23rd place with six medals; 3 Gold, 2 Silver and 1 Bronze. This was a roaring response to their performance in Beijing four years earlier where the country won a solitary silver medal, ending up in 70th place. After my last mistake, and the lessons afterwards, I can safely say the bet of 2012 will not be repeated.
This morning, the South African Sports Confederation and Olympics (SASCOC) requested R400 million (about N8 billion) to prepare for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. This is a 300% increase on the amount used to prepare for the 2012 games, a statement of intent from Africa’s dominant country. According to Tubby Reddy, SASOC’s chief executive, the increased funding will ensure better talent identification and increase the support given to athletes, by establishing a training centre in Europe for South African athletes.
In Nigeria, the National Sports Commission just presented a budget of N9.23 billion for 2013, with N7.3 billion devoted to salaries and overheads. This suggests that the plan for the 2016 has not begun. There is no way Nigeria can reverse the rot in sports if we are still discussing when our peers are already putting dollars to their plans. Maryam Usman, who narrowly missed a medal in London is just 21 years old; I’m hopeful she is on a special training plan to give her platform to win a Gold medal in Brazil, but we will not discover and nurture medalists with the direction the Sports Ministry budget is going.
There is no indication that specific plans to ensure we improve on our rock bottom performance in London have been budgeted for.
After the Olympics, the Sports Minister made the right noises, vowing to move away from the last minute plans that plagued previous campaigns. In his contribution to the FGN’s Sure and Steady Report, the Minister of Sports announced the ministry developed a national sports policy to guide the management and administration of sports in Nigeria. However, the provisional budget released recently does not suggest anything different from business as usual should be expected. It looks like the classic public sector planning error, when aspirations are disconnected with spending. The Sports Ministry has signaled its medium term goal is to develop our competitiveness in five sports, measured by our performance at the 2016 Olympics. It was disappointing to see the 2013 budget follow the trend of previous budgets.
While there is a need for private sector support to develop sports, the government must abandon lip service and chart the policy direction in the short term.
In 2015, a Smart Alec will gain thousands of converts by predicting Nigeria will end up without a single medal at the 2016 Olympics. The unerring efficiency with which we repeat mistakes of the past makes Nigeria the perfect location for a latter day Nostradamus to emerge. As my grandfather said “a fool and his money are soon parted.” Yes, in 2016, I won’t be taking any bets on my country at the Olympics.
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