The newly elected president of Nigerian Cricket Federation (NCF) Professor Adams Ukwenya is a professor of surgery at Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, Zaria. In an interview with Akanimo Kufre, he shared his vision to expand the world’s 2nd most popular sports, Cricket.
The elitist’s team sports, Cricket, he said means ‘Honesty’ and it also needs emergency administrative surgery in order to deliver to Nigerians what nations equivalent in size have enjoyed from the bat and ball game.
How long have you been involved in cricket activities?
I have been involved in cricket for over 40 years. I started playing cricket in my first year in secondary school in Lagos, Kings College. It was always the tradition in Kings College that first year students are taught how to play cricket. Incidentally the school captain as at that time was the former President of Cricket federation, Mr Kwesi Sagoe. And I remember it was his responsibility to put me and the rest of the first year students through the game and since then I never left cricket. Some children will always lean towards sports from that first experience some will tend to love the game while some will go to other sports. A good number of us stayed with cricket game.
Why did you come into the cricket federation board as the President?
Well as a professional I am a very busy person but I have been aware of what was going on in cricket over the years, I joined the board because leadership of cricket game in this country needed help. You know at that time I started in Kaduna State, I joined the Crocodile Club probably in 1996. There were no competitions in the country, we were just going to the club to train and couldn’t go out to play. I was wandering what was happening to old national competitions we use to play and that was when I started to make inquiries. I found out that there was a lot wrong with the administration of the game and that was when I decided to lend hand in the administration at state level and zonal level. I started representing the North-West on the board in 2006 because I have lived in the North- West for a while. Then came a time I was nominated to vie for the position of vice president. I contested and won the position as a vice president and eventually I understand what the game needed. Again we had a surprise, we lost the election in 2013 and I was worried because we were moving in the right direction then, we were in the World Cricket League and progressing because we had put up the right structure. When we lost that election I almost gave up association of the game. so I felt the right thing to do was to go back to the drawing board and stand up to contest, eventually I did not. I said the only way to make my feelings known to people about the game is to contest, it doesn’t mean that we can turn everything around. There is a lot wrong with the game in the country but there is an opportunity and there is hope. With all the support of the stakeholders in Nigeria we can sit down and ask ourselves. What do we really want? Then it becomes easy to work towards what we want. So that is the question am pushing towards all my colleagues, what do we want out of cricket? Do we want to be a pedestrian cricket nation or we want to rub shoulders with the best? If we want to play with the best it means we have to make some sacrifices. Am therefore calling on all cricket stakeholders to looking at what we did over the years and look at what we need to do to bring ourselves to the top.
ICC has been sending funds for cricket development in parts of Nigeria, how well has these funds been dedicated to cricket progress in such regions?
Let me be honest with you that at the moment we are heavily indebted based on the facts and statistics we got at the board inaugural meeting in Abuja. It is a pressing problem that the board has to face. But let me be honest with you that we have already decided even during the campaign that for us to make strides in cricket we must bring the entire country into development. We cannot continue to kill ourselves and pretend that 5 or 6 state playing decent cricket in the country will take us anywhere. 5 states will equal what Ghana, Sierra Leone and other African countries have been giving us difficulties in recent times. What we need to do is what other large countries have been doing with their game. India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Australia, these countries have used their population to effect and produce more players by distributing the development of the game. They have produce a lot of world class players and this is why they are among the top cricket nations in the world. So one of the approach we are going to take is to find a way to get most of the States if not all to not just play but develop properly to produce quality players we can look forward to selecting for our national teams.
Our last outing in April 2017, WCL qualifiers in South Africa was woeful, winning 2 matches out of 5. What are your plans to improve on similar situations?
Definitely there are lots of factors that have negatively affected the performance of our players on the field of play. Some of these factors included the process of selecting the players, our planning and preparation for tournament, and technical issues. These are the immediate problems that affected our performance but I can also tell you that there have been fundamental problems with our game in the country over a hundred years we have played the game that continue to work against us. For instance we develop our boys to play cricket on concrete wicket, when we go out on competition we play on what we call grass wicket or tuff wicket (delivery and batting area of cricket oval). The boys get use to concrete that they learn batting habits that cannot survive on grass cricket. So we have to tell ourselves what we have done that is detrimental to our growth as a cricket playing nation. It is therefore important that we at least start to put these facilities in place even if it is one at a time. Even if it is one that our national team players can start playing on, at least it will be a start. We know it cost much to put up this kind of facility on ground, that is where the sacrifice has to come in. It also cost money to maintain, we have to do the hard work to maintain these facilities. All over the world it is private individuals and corporations that help to build these facilities. It is not always government. Yes sometimes government has its but you can’t leave it to government who has so many sports to deliver to the people. And there will only pick those that mater to the people. For a very long time cricket hasn’t been in the heart of Nigerians, now it is our duty to show that we can play. If we start doing well in the sport am sure Nigerians will love the game. But what we need is a start, we need the support everyone can give for us to put these facilities so that our boys can get use to them and improve play. So the problems of the team are both short term and long term. So we are approaching it from these perspectives. We have to put a long term development plan and we must attempt addressing the immediate problems that make us go downhill in terms of quality of our performance on the field of play.
Cricket is the second most popular sports in the world, but unlike football which is first, Nigeria doesn’t have a local league to choose their players from. What do we expect from your administration and the proposed Montage league?
The most important league in Nigeria is the one organized and sponsored in Lagos, the CCC League. It accommodates most of the players that has represented this country at the senior level and we have to commend the people and the government of Lagos State for ensuring the survival of that state league. The last board should have explained to Nigerians why national competition at senior level has not taken place since 2014, three years can you imagine, three years of no national competition so how would we have select the best players. So this was another immediate factor that affected the team. Now Montage we are told, but I don’t have full fact of the contract and MoU (as at interview time) between Montage and Nigerian Cricket Federation. I think in the next couple of weeks I hope to get the information on this because the lack of transparency that characterised the last administration of cricket in this short while made it even difficult for people who were on the board to have full knowledge of what was going on. But it is in our best interest that Montage has taken interest in cricket, they are helping us to build a facility (oval) and also promised to sponsor a league competition. This is just one of the competitions that we need because I heard it is a ‘20 overs’, T20, competition that Montage promised to sponsor. We need more that 20 overs, we need 50 overs competition. That is the standard competition of course, 20 overs is more entertaining and this is crowd pulling. Yes we look at that and we believe if we get the Montage competition through this will be perfect. But we need to get the pitches on the ground before we can get that competition through, because people can’t field poor pitches, it will not be appealing to viewers and fans to see what we call competition on poor pitches. You can’t play good cricket on poor grounds. We need to put these pitches on ground and am sure Montage competition will come through. And we are also looking forward to see all our companies coming to help us because there are so many competitions to look at. There is 50 0vers, there are U17, which provides the background for the selection of U19 national team. You know cricket players need to be developed at a young age and by age of 17 to 19 you are already seeing the talent in them. And the best of them you can start trusting to go into senior national team. So the age group competitions are very important. So we are looking forward to seeing other companies join Montage to back cricket. I can tell you, I can promise as an individual and on behalf of the board which I am the President that we will judiciously utilize all the facilities provided unto us, we will be very transparent about it, that I can promise any company who comes forward to support the game. And we will use whatever resources provided to us to the interest of the game and to the glory of the country.
What is your personal target for cricket in Nigeria?
We had our first meeting (post inaugural) and we tried to discuss some of these targets. There are 3 areas. One is to make sure the national team start playing well, this will mean selecting the best players available to us as a country, both within Nigeria and outside the country, the pattern we noticed in the last four years is that some of the players were disagreeing with the board and her leadership therefore going on self exile from the team. Those of them that are still good players would be called to fight for shirts. And we will make sure selections for national team is transparent and only the best player available to us represents us. When we say best players we mean those that are ready to fight for their fatherland in the field of play, those who are ready to fight to win. Those are the best players and we will make sure that camping is done with more detail and priority given to this. Second is that we are looking also at the facility development. We have to go outside the box to raise the funds for these facilities. Because the funds everybody is expecting is the so called International Cricket Council,(ICC) Backing. Actually by the time you look at it in full board context represents maybe 20 to 30% of what we actually need to put the game on proper footing. Everybody thinks that the dollars coming from ICC is big money and therefore something to go after. It has become personal issues for a lot of people. Meanwhile this money is not sufficient for the development of the game in the country. So what we want to do is to look for more external source of funds to see that the facilities are put in place. And we are going to appeal to Nigerians, to companies, to governments to help us with this. To put these facilities on the ground, we are not asking for money, we are saying please help us build the facilities, cricket oval and practice nets. If you don’t want to give us money please help us build, that is what Montage is doing. We need a proper cricket pitch in almost every State. So we are just trying to put one and how many years has it taken for us to put one on the ground, 3 years and is no way near completion. So this is an emergency we need to attend to as quickly as we can. We are looking forward to see that at least 2 to 3 pitches are ready in two years. This is the big tasking. How will we do it, we are praying we are hopeful and we will keep going round looking for help to see how we will get it done. Third on our plan is to get all states to get at least to be able to provide a team to play age grade competition. Let us start from the basics, we will introduce or reintroduce the game because nearly all parts of the country played cricket up to the time of Independence (1960). Gradually there was a decline. In fact my wife showed me some beautiful pictures which she got from the internet, a picture in Katsina State probably government college there was cricket team in their kaftans (traditional dress for northern Nigerians). I also have the opportunity of seeing a picture of Late Sadauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello trying his hands on a cricket bat. Just to tell people that this game is not just a Southern game it was played all over the country. I had a senior colleague, a medical doctor who once works in Taraba State he had his cricket equipment and said the game existed in Taraba in the 60s. So the point is that we had this game well planned out before we got Independence and the development was all over the country. But neglect, poor management and lack of vision over the years probably led to collapse of the game in most states. So what we are trying to do now is to get on with the basic in states that are not playing and hope that within a year or two we can be able to bring an U 15 team to regional competitions because we are expecting that Nigerian Cricket Federation, NCF, alone can’t develop the game all over the country that is a lie, everyone has a role, the States should be able to put some structures on the ground. We are going to tell them how to do that. The zones have to put some structure on the ground. We will tell them how to do this, then the national federation will be taking key aspect of the game, we will select those competitions that are relevant to us but a lot of jobs have to be done at the State and Zonal level. NCF is to provide an enabling environment for those States to start their programmes and move forward. We will provide the idea, but there will have to do their duty as well.
Cricket players are called ‘Gentlemen’ due to their culture of intolerance for corruption, how can the game assist Nigeria’s current anti-corruption war?
Now it is unfortunate that corruption allegation is coming up in the past 3 or 4 years administration of cricket. It is very unfortunate because Cricket in English means ‘Honesty’. It is a front runner as a sport in pursuit of honesty, transparency, fairness and integrity in sports. We are supposed to educate the whole world on these issues, ICC as a body and all players of cricket are expected to uphold these virtues. But like I said the pursuit of dollars from ICC has become an issue, in fact some of us started wondering when a lot of people suddenly started having interest in the game we thought it was for the right reason not knowing there heard that there is some dollars in cricket. But let me tell you something I have a little background in anticorruption which made some stakeholder support my elections. I am one person who will stand to say no to corruption this is why in my professional establishment I was appointed anticorruption officer for the teaching hospital. I was the one that set up the anticorruption code for the Teaching Hospital and the reason they made me in charge of the unit as at that time. I can make it very clear that my leadership will have zero tolerance for corruption. I had told cricket stakeholders in my first meeting that any act against me I will forgive but I cannot protect any stakeholder of cricket in this country from any criminal act. So if anybody has committed a crime, that will be out of my hand and the board too cannot help. We are not the president of the country. Any cricket stakeholder who wants to know how cricket money is expended can always call and they will be given inside information. If anything are done that are unusual we will explain but by God’s grace we will stick to the rules of managing the funds that are available to the federation. I promise to the best of my ability. Our annual general meetings shall be regular for every opinion to be relevant and eschew marginalisation bitter with.