SENATOR ABDUL NINGI is the President of the Nigeria Hockey Federation (NHF) in this interview with journalists in Abuja at the ongoing National Hockey Super League at the Abuja National Stadium, he pointed out how successive governments in Nigeria have neglected the game of Hockey. He also highlighted the progress made in spite of this abandonment. CHRIS SULEIMAN was there for AUTHENTIC News Daily. Excerpt
With the recent development in the game, especially with the feat achieved in the continent by the Defending Champion of this Super League going to Zambia to represent Nigeria and come back with a bronze meday. Are you saying Hockey is regaining its lost glory?
I am very happy that you are picking up the history of the game and I like the narration that you put across as the recent history of the game. This is a game that was a household name in the 60s, 70s and 80s and one of the basic problems that has been associated with this game is that, there is a complete and I say complete, lack of Federal Government interest for this game. For the last two and half years since we are on board, this game has been run only by members of its association or its federation. We have been unable to tap from any sponsorship of any means that is because they don’t see this game has been viable, they don’t see this game has what its takes. Basically, a lot of Nigerians don’t have the history of what this game was in Nigeria in the 60s, 70s and 80s. I like the aspect that you said the Niger State team took a bronze medal in African Competition and that was a statement for us. That inspite of lack of government attention to this game, inspite of the neglect of this game by succeeding governments and inspite of the challenges that states faces we can still run a tournament in this country and we can still participate in an international tournament. What that say is that, there are passionate Hockey lovers across this country people that every given time when invited they would come and put in their widow’s might in making sure that this game is at the level that it is. This is not the level we are anticipating this game to be, in the last two years, we are almost 10th in Africa, but today and I can comfortably say we are fifth in the male category and fourth in the female category. That means we are a powerhouse as far as game of hockey is concern in Africa.
Now, every time we run a competition of this nature we cannot, we have stopped deceiving ourselves that somewhere somehow we will have a government assistant, because, in the last couple of years we have to borrow money on behalf of the government to take two teams for Olympic qualifiers in South Africa we spent close to N19.8million borrowed to the government, as I am speaking to you, not one kobo has been returned and that signals and what defines that to us is that this sports administration in this country are not interested in this game, but for us, we are giving back what this game has given us. You could see across board where we sat, that is a Professor, this is an Honourable member from the House and an NOC member we know ourselves through this game except for me and him that were school mate since 1973. So a lot of people that you see around here actually know themselves through this game and are occupying many many International and national positions. My grouse is that succeeding governments sports administration has not learnt anything everything is this country have to be in football. If we can get one percent and of course all the association one percent from what government gives to football I am telling you we would have been champions in Africa. But even without that, with the calibre of boys you’ve seen and girls and the determination of our sports Hockey lovers I am sure we will reach that marks. I have stopped lamenting of not, is not the issue of adequate, there is no there is no government commitment to this game at all.
The Nigeria Hockey National team have an engagement in Ghana for an International duel, are you confidence the tournament would give the Federation a good team for the challenege ahead?
I would tell you if you see the calibre of players and you understand modern Hockey as it is, we have what it takes to go to Ghana in September God’s willing, to make an impact. I am not going to say we are going to win the tournament. What I am telling you by the grace of God we are going to be better than our position that we have in South Africa. Like I told you in South Africa the men came fifth and the girls came fourth. This time around I see us winning the medal table I don’t know what is going to be. But that is our desire that is our goal. We are taking one step at a time until such a time when business concern in this country have acknowledged the tremendous impact this game has within the youth category. We have youth, we’ve taken youth off-streets in almost all the state. Most of the state of the federation play Hockey at secondary school leve, up till University level and at State level. This are basically like you said, the flagship, the best out of the best the only team that is missing is of course Benue State. The state government was unable to pay any kobo for its teams to just travel from Markudi to this. Place, which is unfortunate after going through rigorous qualifier. The female team has made it courtesy of the member representing Benue, Professor Erdy Agbo but he could not bring two teams on his head, so you acknowledge that as a matter of fact one of the serious handicap we are facing now is lack of awareness, but we are happy we have been getting this kind interface with the press, the press is here and they have taken us beyond our expectation I congratulate you in appreciating what are putting and we need you more than ever before. We need Nigeria people to acknowledge that even without government, we can reach this height.
What is the succession plan to replace aging players for the future of the game?
You see if you have been going except probably you are attending major tournaments like this one. But if you have gone to the league one there we have entirely new set of players and the university games and the Polytechnic games we have in our compendium younger players who could also stand their own anywhere in this country. And when we are taking the team to South Africa we only pick two three old players most of the players were actually young, infact the girls none of them have played for this country before, but we pick them and they have made this country proud. And it is important, a lot of this players, yes for National competition they can play, but relatively speaking even the Lagos team are having quite a number of young players. You see the boy that scored that fantastic goal is a young player, we’ve seen the kind of grooming. We need old players at any given time to be able to impact on the young players, otherwise, there would be a kind of gap between them. But in the course of this tournament, we are having some series of competition we are also opening the door for our veteran players which is sponsor by the Federation of Hockey and then NOC.
Bauchi are not here, I heard they have been relegated. You are from Bauchi, what is happening to the game in Bauchi once hotbed of Hockey?
Well you know, there was a communication gap, the Secretariat sent a request for registration. This is the chairman of the Bauchi State Hockey Association they didn’t contact him he supposed after been contacted he supposed to reach out to him. But unfortunate, I am from Bauchi, Ahmed is from Bauchi to say okay. If the proble was finance we would have taking care of it. I was so dumbfounded that they didn’t go to Port Harcourt I was around, they didn’t even let him know, talkless of me that stay in Abuja far from Bauchi. Its a very serious communication problem, but going forward we will sort that out