Sunday 16 September 2012

Combating Nigeria’s Militia through Football, not Firearms

Let’s be honest, Taribo West’s hair was daft. The stern face and died plats never mixed convincingly, but he may just have saved lives in providing an inspiration for young Nigerian footballers throughout the last two decades (well, maybe not while at Plymouth Argyle).
Global charitable giant World in Need (WIN), a Christian organisation set up in the 1990s to help alleviate poverty, has been working closely with the Universal Centre for Child Care Health and Youth Development (UCCCHYD) in Nigeria to ensure it is icons like Taribo West, and not firearms, that inspires young men in the country.
The two bodies have been working together for some time, with WIN supporting work with the marginalised Hausa River people in Lagos providing food. It has also been operating a school in Port Harcourt as well as running HIV AIDS awareness courses for street children in Lagos and operating a community book shop.
Southern Nigeria has hit the headlines frequently of late after a spate of kidnapping which saw demands for huge ransoms put upon government, companies and domestic or foreign families. It is thought that the practice has directly adversely affected the economy in the region creating a rising number of unemployed, unemployable and frustrated youths.
“Many youths are no longer interested in education, more of them are now taking to a life of crime in order to live the ‘big life’ they desire,” says World in Need’s operations manager Mark Aldrich.
“To arrest the situation, our organisation has developed a project that is aimed at reducing restiveness, militancy and related crimes among the youths in the area. The project is using football training as means for mentorship in positive competitiveness and discipline.”
The partnership between WIN and UCCCHYD is centred around the village of Rumuosi within a wider Ikwere community near the Port Harcourt City area.
Following a proposal by WIN, a parcel of land measuring 200m square was loaned to WIN by the community leaders of the village. The first bushes were uprooted by local youths and before long they were divided into two teams and convivially arguing over who got to be Kanu. The project has given a sense of purpose, camaraderie and, perhaps most importantly, an activity to vent pent up boredom and aggression in a productive manner for those involved.
However, it has been far from easy, as Aldrich explains. “The difficulties have occurred in teaching the ethos of teamwork and discipline needed to be a successful team, and curbing the natural enthusiasm the participants have for football,” he says.
“But, while gun culture is a very real problem, at least kidnapping is less of one as the coaches are from the area and so not associated with Western Oil Companies.”
And the partnership is now on a small but straightforward mission – attaining a steamroller. The lack of suitable land has lead to some frustration among players, coaches, and fans alike. It also increased the risk of injury although no-one expects an Emirates-like playing surface.
“Our training field does not have a smooth surface and is usually waterlogged whenever it rains,” says Aldrich. “Because this happens quite often, it leaves us without a venue to train on for several days a week especially during the rainy season which runs between April and September – this often proves a source of discouragement to the teams.” 
Aldrich and Nigerian WIN country director Tope Ajanaku are targeting £4,700 to landscape the ground to prevent waterlogging and a gold course mower to keep the playing surface in check.
Ultimately, it is hoped that the project can help prevent wider social issues around the use of guns, the rise in violent crime and unemployment long term. In the short-term, it may just be the kick around that saves a life.
Article originally appeared on

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