PH Real Madrid Academy
At the 81st AIPS Congress in Brussels, Belgium, in May 2018, Governor Nyesom Wike, who re
ceived the AIPS African Sports Power Award, showed off his plans to build a Real Madrid Football Academy in Port Harcourt. Later in the same month, AIPS President, Gianni Merlo, visited Nigeria on May 28, 2018, to witness the President of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), Ahmad Ahmad, laying the cornerstone of the project.
History was made when last week, Youth and Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, inaugurated the Academy in Port Harcourt. Dare acknowledged the institution’s standards and asserted that they would improve the development of national football. He recognised that the Academy represented a viable and long-term investment in human resources and capital development, as well as a huge income for the country.
“Our hope is that the Rivers Academy would produce renowned superstars that will toe the paths of the aforementioned legends. Hence, today’s event is a milestone for the actualisation of a new era. The Real Madrid Football Academy, Port Harcourt, which was founded in 2019 after Rivers State was given the franchise to operate by the Real Madrid Foundation, has been completed in a record time with the main objective to promote the values in football as a profession,” said Dare.
Wike explained that the reason for the creation of the Real Madrid Academy was to develop young talents with excellent football skills. “I have gone with leaders of the state to watch matches in Madrid. But one thing that has touched me is what can we do because we have a lot of talented young boys who have potentials but there is no way to actualise them”.
An interestingly bewildered Super Eagles’ Coach, Gernot Rohr, acknowledged that Real Madrid’s Port Harcourt Academy could rival the best football academies in the world. After a thorough tour of the soccer institution, Rohr was compelled to admire the project and its facilitator, Governor Wike.
He said, “The infrastructure is high level, it’s like in Europe and you can compare with one of the best academies in Europe as they have in Spain; Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia or in France in Paris (PSG) and Germany in Bayern Munich. I think they (Real Madrid Academy, Port Harcourt) are ready to start this programme with these wonderful structures and also with a good pitch. It will be very interesting to see what they can do.”
Similarly, Augustine Eguavoen, former Super Eagles player and coach, was impressed by the quality of the infrastructure. “I don’t think any other academy will beat this (in Nigeria) except maybe if you come in here and you have an interest and are passionate about what you want to achieve and when you see this, you want to better this. But for now, I don’t think anyone will be able to better it,” he stated.
Real Madrid has signed a technical support contract for the school with the Rivers State Government. In collaboration with the Spanish football club, the educational institution trains future stars between the ages of 5 and 17. The Spanish giant transferred the Rivers State franchise in 2019.
The Academy is an educational tool for the development of our younger generation through job and wealth creation. It divides its activities into sports, educational and cultural. This is in line with its philosophy of combining education and sports. The combination is unique to football academies around the world.
The facilities at the football training school are not only world-class but also feature architectural elegance that draws students to the best. The vision of uniting sports and academics echoes the saying “sports and education are inseparable” and is a prerequisite for the future of our youth and our nation.
In addition to outdoor facilities including soccer fields and well-built swimming pools, there are academic blocks to house classrooms, staff rooms, student residences, ICT classrooms, biology, physics and chemistry laboratories, restaurants, and other facilities. Furthermore, it has a football field, fitness centre, water treatment facilities, campground, and an accessible learning environment. Truly, it is a well-organised structure.
With rich football abilities, Nigeria continues to export footballers all over the world. So, Wike’s Academy offers another opportunity to create jobs and export talents to other countries. We congratulate the governor on his imagination, prescience and determination to building an academy consistent with the Federal Government’s development schedule for youths.
This institution will not only give birth to golden boys and girls but also bring prosperity and honour to our great country. What Wike has portended is awesome and tremendous. The Academy is a remarkable success capable of inspiring a new generation of proficient people.
Earlier, officials of the soccer college had stated that the school was tuition-free to all Rivers State indigenes, who would constitute 70 per cent of the students’ population, while 30 per cent would be open to trainee-footballers from other states across the country. This is plausible because it gives Rivers’ indigenes a sense of belonging. However, we hope that the admission procedure will be fair and open to all without room for politicisation and “man-know-man”. Again, how will the common person access the 70% admission quota for indigenes?
It is essential to make certain the continuity of this meritorious undertaking. This could be very critical to us, especially given the tendency of Nigerian leaders to abandon initiatives inherited from previous governments. It would be inappropriate for this worthy enterprise to close down upon His Excellency’s exit because too many resources have been invested in it.
Since sports remain one of the unifying elements in Nigeria, (especially football) through developing the Real Madrid Academy, Governor Wike is promoting national unity. In consequence of this Academy, Rivers people look forward to an exact replication of exceptional soccer gamers like Adokiye Amiesimaka, Richard Owubokiri, Taribo West, Finidi George, and Joseph Yobo including many other stars the Academy will subsequently produce.
Black Sea Saga: Let Peace Reign
Tensions between Moscow and Washington reached an all-time high, as a Russian fighter jet forced down a United States Air Force drone over the Black Sea last Tuesday after damaging the propeller of the American MQ-9 Reaper drone. The U.S. military confirmed.
The Reaper drone and two Russian Su-27 aircraft were flying over international waters over the Black Sea when one of the Russian jets intentionally flew in front of and dumped fuel on the unmanned drone several times. The aircraft then hit the propeller of the drone, prompting U.S. forces to bring the MQ-9 drone down. A statement from U.S. European Command said.
“Our MQ-9 aircraft was conducting routine operations in international airspace when it was intercepted and hit by a Russian aircraft, resulting in a crash and complete loss of the MQ-9,” Air Force General James Hecker, commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa, said in the statement.
Recall that in June 2021, the Russia – U.S. summit witnessed the first in-person meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin to ease the mounting tensions between Washington and Moscow. Even though both presidents expressed cautious optimism about the future trajectory of U.S. – Russia affairs, what followed was anything but positive.
In 2021, tensions between Moscow and Washington reached an all-time high, when Russia repeatedly accused the United States and NATO of providing military assistance to Ukraine and nudging the country closer to NATO and the European Union. As the conflict escalated, Washington and its allies expressed concerns regarding Russia’s nuclear arsenal and political ambitions. This pushed Western officials to impose sanctions on Russia and provide support to the Ukrainian military.
In light of this continuing support, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused NATO of waging a “proxy” war against Russia by supporting Ukraine. In its turn, Moscow continued to solidify its partnerships with key powers in the Middle East and to deepen its political and economic ties with China. This has created tensions that may lead to serious geopolitical rivalry between the great powers.
Last month, the U.S. military shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast after it traversed sensitive military sites across North America. But China insisted the flyover was an accident involving a civilian aircraft and threatened repercussions. It responded that it reserved the right to “take further actions” and criticised the U.S. for “an obvious overreaction and a serious violation of international practice.”
These developments are obvious threats to world peace. Gradually, the superpowers are getting involved in the Ukraine war with these attacks. We advise all parties to thread with caution to avert the escalation of the various provocative acts. Already, the Russian war with Ukraine is threatening the stability of the world economy and peace. With these attacks, there is a need for an urgent reassessment of global surveillance and security.
Violations of airspace by foreign unmanned reconnaissance balloons, drones, and other means are utterly unacceptable. Unfortunately, since the Chinese balloon incident, there have been numerous other occurrences involving flying objects, raising even more concern. The world powers must establish communication channels or maintain existing ones to properly handle these incidents in the interest of global peace.
In a world that is rapidly becoming a “global village”, security issues respect no national borders. The vulnerability of any one country may create a security “swamp” attracting multiple risks from outside. The insecurity of one country may build up and spill over to the region and beyond. Currently, no one can stay unscathed from external risks or achieve so-called “absolute security” on their own. Hence, nations must stick together.
Since the Russia – Ukraine war is at the heart of the conflicts, pressure should be brought to bear on both sides to end the hostilities, whose negative impact has been felt across the world. China, a major power and UN Security Council member allied with Russia need to persuade Putin to de-escalate. President Xi Jinping and the ruling Communist Party have to look beyond their ongoing rivalry with the U.S. and NATO and their preoccupation with China’s geostrategic calculations, especially unification with Taiwan and control of the South China Sea.
The war in Ukraine has to stop. This must not escalate into World War III. No one will be free from nuclear war. If hostilities intensify beyond Ukraine, its course and outcome will be unforeseeable. It is therefore essential that Putin be deprived of power. Mischief-making by Iran and North Korea is another matter; the two pariah states have been supplying Russia with weapons in furtherance of their permanent bellicosity against the U.S. and its allies. Deterring them will require stiffer sanctions against both.
Developing countries such as Nigeria’s and indeed the whole of Africa should avoid taking sides in the war. As the continent is heavily dependent on food and energy imports from Russia and Ukraine, the Norwegian-based Peace Research Institute in Oslo said war “has resulted in extreme price shocks and a disruption of the supply chains of various commodities across Africa, ranging from wheat and sunflower oil to crude oil.” The earlier this war ends, the better for the world.
The belligerents suffer the most: apart from the humanitarian displacement. The World Bank estimates that Ukraine will require $349 billion for reconstruction; the Foreign Policy Research Institute also forecasts Russia’s economy to contract by 15 per cent this year. Given the estimate and forecast, it is expedient that the senseless war ends.
As Nigerians Vote Again, ’Morrow…
Tomorrow, March 18, Nigerians of voting age would again file out to cast their votes for governors and
House of Assembly members of the various states in the country. Those who deeply understand the dynamics of political power have since projected that the gubernatorial election may be much more tougher than the presidential poll of February 25 because, as they say, every politics is local.
Expectedly, new governors will be elected for 28 of Nigeria’s 36 states and lawmakers will also be elected for 993 Houses of Assembly seats in the 36 states of the federation. Governorship elections will not hold this time in Anambra, Bayelsa, Edo, Ekiti, Imo, Kogi, Osun, and Ondo, as polls to the offices of governors of the states are held off-cycle and not part of the general election.
Since the February 25 election was conducted, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has come under fire from election observers – both national and international, Chatham House, the United States, political parties, as well as political commentators who observed that the conduct of the ballot fell short, especially with the inability of INEC to transmit results from polling units to the results viewing (IReV) portal.
It is alleged that there was a deliberate attempt or outright refusal to upload and transmit the election results to the INEC server after declarations at the polling units as stipulated by the 2022 Electoral Act, among numerous other electoral malfeasances. But this is even as some people, particularly those whose candidates won, believe the results were a true reflection of the people’s wish, considering the victory of some new political parties in the strongholds of the ruling party across the country.
Customarily, the country will be shut down tomorrow as politicians of various parties take on one another in what promises to be “tough battles” in the respective states. Many believe that Saturday’s poll would be different because unlike in the past when the contest was usually a two-horse race, the battle would be among three or more dominant parties depending on the state.
While the stakes are high, we urge INEC to use the opportunity of the March 18 governorship elections to redeem its image, by correcting all observed loopholes in the February 25 election. This time around, we call for the sustenance and advancement of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) because its use has been seen to reduce the level of rigging by curtailing overvoting. Results should be uploaded directly from the polling units to the IRev portal for real time viewing.
Besides the glitches in the BVAS, the late arrival of voting materials to polling units was a major hiccup that characterised the last presidential election. Hence, INEC must ensure that voting materials arrive at the polling units on time and clear “all obstacles” that might hinder the free and fair conduct of the governorship election. This is one of the ways the electoral umpire can prove to the world that it has learned from its mistakes.
Of immediate concern to the commission should be how the identified challenges could be addressed ahead of the concluding phase of the general election involving the largest number of constituencies. Issues of logistics, election technology, the behaviour of some election personnel at different levels, and the attitude of some party agents and supporters must not be ignored.
Some Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) in the last presidential poll should be investigated for their alleged partisanship and connivance with politicians to sabotage and derail the due process. Similarly, INEC should investigate its staff accused of involvement in election fraud, especially electoral officers at the councils, supervisory presiding officers, and dubious ad-hoc staff, while all those involved in malpractice should be arrested, prosecuted, and punished adequately, to serve as a deterrent to others.
One of the issues that give most Nigerians real cause for concern as the nation picks its way through the delicate democratic pathway is the perceived complicity of security operatives in allegations of manipulating the elections to achieve pre-conceived results. It is a fact that the integrity of any election can be determined by the security situation at any given time as the electorate goes about choosing their leaders freely without let or hindrance.
We demand improved performances from the various security operatives participating in tomorrow’s governorship and State Assembly election. Many of them had put up shabby performances during the February 25 presidential poll. They aided and abetted some thugs to snatch ballot boxes. Though we commend some for showing professionalism, Nigerians request remarkable improvement.
Security agents who should participate in the conduct of elections must be professionals who are willing to discharge their duties without minding whose ox is gored. If Nigeria has to grow and this democracy has to survive, we must, as a nation, take a stand on what to do about the involvement of security agencies in elections. This is pertinent because their role, positive or negative, can make all the difference.
Political parties and their candidates should speak to their agents and supporters to see the elections as a contest and not war. They should refrain from acts of violence that may mar the exercise or compromise the security of our personnel, observers, the media, and service providers. The directive to State Commands by the Inspector-General of Police to handle all cases of electoral offences expeditiously is indeed heart-warming.
In Rivers State, the journey has been good so far. No one envisages any terrible or apocalyptic situation in terms of the election. However, we must all be vigilant. Every eligible person should vote. We must comply with the rules and let each one exercise their franchise. No one should exhibit lawlessness. Political bigwigs and their gladiators must call their lieutenants to order. Anyone itching to undermine the process in the state should please think again.
Reinventing The Commonwealth
Monday, March 13, 2023, was Commonwealth Day!
Held every year on the second Monday of March, the day was an opportunity to celebrate the Commonwealth and its shared values of democracy, equality, and peace for all of its people. The Commonwealth of Nations, a voluntary association of 56 countries, extends over six continents and includes the world’s biggest, smallest, richest, and poorest countries. With a total population of 2.4 billion, it gives a unified voice to about a third of the world’s population.
This year’s theme is “Forging a sustainable and peaceful common future”. The theme combines the active commitment of member states to support the promotion of peace, prosperity and sustainability, especially through climate action, to secure a better future for young people and improve the lives of all Commonwealth citizens. Although many Commonwealth nations were formerly in the British Empire, their association in the organisation is free and voluntary with each country recognised as an equal member.
To commemorate the day, Nigeria’s Federal Government had called on the Education Ministry at the subnational level to encourage their pupils and students to mark the Day for the promotion of tolerance, respect, understanding, and moderation which are necessary values for peace, prosperity, and democracy. The Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, briefed newsmen in Abuja on activities lined up for the commemoration of the 2023 Commonwealth Day.
He said Nigeria would always continue to maximise the dividends of being part of the supportive community of 56 member nations across Africa, Asia, America, the Caribbean, Europe, and the Pacific. However, we are hoping that the commemoration was not only a Federal Government affair. And that his ministry requested the management of the respective state Education Ministry nationwide to equally put in place programmes in all their educational institutions to observe the Day.
Regrettably, the Commonwealth as currently constituted is not a particularly effective organisation. Membership carries few economic benefits. The lack of consistent comparative data on trade costs, and the wide variations in the extent to which Commonwealth countries trade with fellow members, make it very difficult to prove the existence of this ‘advantage’. Furthermore, its record in enforcing adherence to human rights and democracy is far from impressive.
In 2013, the organisation adopted a charter full of laudable aspirations about justice, democracy and human rights. As such, membership signals to the broader international community that countries share those aspirations. Yet, the Commonwealth took no action when in January 2021, long-serving Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, clung to power after a deeply flawed electoral process. Similarly, Paul Kagame of Rwanda hosted the heads of government meeting despite repeated signs that he is intolerant of opposition.
Other repressive regimes have found the Commonwealth a useful mechanism for ‘reputation laundering’. In 2013, President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka hosted the Commonwealth summit. At the time, his government stood accused of presiding over war crimes in the country’s bloody civil war. In hosting the heads of government meeting, he hoped that the Commonwealth’s benign image would distract attention from the accusations.
It had been suggested that Brexit would deepen economic ties with Commonwealth members in Africa. But a recent trade summit between the United Kingdom and African countries produced very little. This, plus the pandemic, has taken the shine off some earlier predictions of a boom in UK-African trade. Meanwhile, the secretariat itself and its development arm have seen their budgets slashed in recent years. Donors have withdrawn or withheld funding in some very public displays of no-confidence in the leadership of the current secretary-general, Patricia Scotland.
However, something is endearing about the Commonwealth, whose biennial Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) took place in Kigali, Rwanda. Despite its history as the baby of a long-dead empire, and the very many challenges that it has faced over the years, it continues to thrive. In achieving this feat, a key feature has been its constant reinvention. The latest of this is the admission of Gabon and Togo, two Francophone countries with no historical ties to Britain, into the organisation in 2022.
The Commonwealth has scored tremendous successes traversing the realms of education, capacity building, development, economics, bilateral and multilateral trade, legal education, cultural and sporting links plus human rights and the rule of law. Noteworthy is how the body promptly suspended Nigeria following the summary execution of the human rights activist, the Ogoni-born, Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his colleagues, under the military junta of late General Sani Abacha in 1995.
Notwithstanding, the Commonwealth still has so much more to do, and its future relevance will depend on how it manages to navigate the key issues of this century. One of these is the leadership of the organisation. Since its inception in 1949, the position has been held by the head of the British Monarchy. In 2018, Prince Charles was designated as the successor to Queen Elizabeth II, who had held the position since 1952. But as it expands membership beyond the original “British Empire”, the body must decide if its historical origin and tradition outweigh the precepts of democracy, equity, and equality in choosing its leadership.
Beyond the challenges, there are opportunities. Following Brexit, Britain has been reactivating alliances and partnerships across the world under its “Global Britain” strategy. It seeks to fill the gigantic gap that Brexit has opened up, and Commonwealth members come into play here. Hence, the organisation must re-ignite its presence in global and diplomatic affairs. One way to play this role effectively is by mediating Britain’s renewed interest and engagements with the less endowed member states so that the benefits are mutual. It must not allow the Commonwealth to be used as cannon fodder to benefit only its major economies.
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