By Nnamdi Okosieme
President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, declared football a national asset, which his administration is using to foster national unity and development.
President Buhari make the remark while receiving FIFA President, Gianni Infantino in Nigeria for the Aisha Buhari six-nation invitational football tournament taking place in Lagos.
The President also told the visiting FIFA president that since 2017 when his administration adopted football as a national asset, the sport is being accorded the highest level of attention possible by the government to enable rapid development of abundant talents in the country.
‘‘I have also approved the unveiling of a committee to draw up a 10 year football development master plan for the country.
‘‘I expect that the recommendations of this committee will accelerate the development of football. It is my hope that it will further improve the fortunes of the game internationally”, the President said.
On women’s football, the President stated that Nigeria has produced excellent role models to inspire the next generation of stars to take up the sport.
‘‘Our National women’s football team, the Super Falcons are a force to reckon with both on the continent and internationally. Some of our women footballers such as Asisat Oshoala, who only recently became the first African to win the women’s European Champions League with her club Barcelona.
‘‘Rasheedat Ajibade, Rita Chikwelu, Onome Ebi, who is the only African to have played in five FIFA Women’s World Cup Finals, Desire Oparanozie and before them Perpetual Nkwocha, Mercy Akide-Udoh, Nkiru Okosieme and Ann Chiejiene are globally recognized stars,’’ he said.
He urged Infantino to consider Nigeria top on FIRE’s plan for support and investment.
Commenting on the theme of the Wish a Buhari Football Tournament, which is “Playing for Good”, the Nigerian President said the tournament is happening at the right time.
‘‘This Women’s football competition is a novel idea here and I am sure it will be exciting in its execution for our women folk and lovers of football. It is also a confirmation of what we already know about our women,’’ he said.
He thanked FIFA for making the tournament, a ranking one, adding that he looks forward to more countries joining to participate in the future.
President Buhari, who described football as one of the greatest sources of unity in the country as well as in many parts of the world, said:
‘‘Our hearts beat as one anytime our teams are playing a football match. Our youth are always positively engaged when our national football teams are on assignment. Without any doubts here, football is a major tool of national unity’’.
The Nigerian leader commended the enormous work done by the organisation in the development of football, using it as a tool for positive social change and to drive global unity.
He pledged support for the latest FIFA initiative, the FIFA Connect programme which aims to drive football development at the grassroots using technology, assuring football body’s top echelon of Nigeria’s active participation in the programme .
Emphasising Nigeria’s huge pedigree in global and continental football, the President said the country has achieved successes in many international and continental competitions while maintaining close, cordial and mutually beneficial relationship with FIFA.
‘‘Nigeria is one of the few nations of the world that has participated in all FIFA competitions, at all the different levels for both men and women.
‘‘These have opened doors of opportunities for a lot of our young boys and girls, men and women to have rewarding careers in the game,’’ he said.
Also speaking at the occasion, the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, said Nigeria, as the leading black nation in the world, was central to all that FIFA is seeking to achieve in its football development plan.
‘‘We love football and we follow the game passionately,’’ he said.
Responding, Infantino renewed FIFA’s commitment to support the development of football in Nigeria, pledging to strengthen its partnership with the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).
‘‘Nigeria is a big football playing country. We need Nigeria to lead the football movement in the world, together with Africa as a continent,’’ he said.
The FIFA president thanked President Buhari for supporting the development of the game, appealing to him to help FIFA amplify the message of football as a uniting force.
‘‘When football is played there are no divisions in a nation or continent. Football brings people together and to do that we need important countries like Nigeria,’’ he said.