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The Never-Ending Upheavals of the Nigerian Basketball Federation

The Never-Ending Upheavals of the Nigerian Basketball Federation

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Nigeria’s basketball woes deepen as D’Tigers struggle in the 2025 AfroBasket Qualifiers. Bottom of their group, the team’s performance highlights ongoing administrative issues within the Nigerian Basketball Federation. 

By Tuka Letura 

On the 21st of February 2024, the official X account of D’Tigers, Nigeria’s men’s senior basketball team put out a post stating that they were withdrawing from the 2025 AfroBasket Qualifiers in Tunisia due to lack of funds. 

The qualifiers were scheduled to begin on Friday, February 23, 2024, with D’Tigers placed in Group B. They were set to compete against Cape Verde, Uganda, and Libya for a spot at next year’s AfroBasket tournament. They did not arrive in Tunisia for the competition until a few hours before their first game. The roster had 12 players, Michael Okiki, Johnson Anaiye, Victor Ezeh, Kayisola Odufuwa, Michael Nuga, Tobi Ewuosho, Ibe Agu, Devine Eke, Bright Akhuetie, Abuchi Onyebuchi, Michael Daramola, and Emmanuel Omogbo but only nine had arrived before the first game. After arriving without any prior practice and barely any rest, they went on to lose all three games: 89-82 after overtime to Libya in the opener on Friday, 72-62 to Uganda the following day, and a 78-62 loss in the final game of the first phase to Cape Verde on Sunday.

This situation, as described by most Nigerians and fans of the side, was shameful, but Nigerian Basketball has always been plagued with several issues, with the most significant coming in 2017.

In April, a few weeks before its election in 2017, the Nigerian Basketball Federation (NBBF) led by President Tijjani Umar, at a press conference in Abuja, revealed that the Men’s Premier Basketball League, formerly known as the DSTV Premier Basketball League, would undergo a name change to the ‘Kwese Premier Basketball League’, following the formal signing of a sponsorship agreement. 

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Daniel Ochefu 2017

The deal, spanning from 2017 to 2021, amounted to $12 million, with $2.2 million allocated per season for NBBF events, including the league. This sponsorship surpassed the previous deal with DSTV, which was valued at $1.5 million for over four years. Additionally, exclusive broadcasting rights for the league were granted to the Kwese Sports Channel, beginning with the 2017 season. Umar also emphasised intentions to use a portion of the funds to elevate the women’s league.

A few weeks later in June, the NBBF held two separate board elections. One in Kano on the 12th and another in Abuja on the 13th. As a result, two Boards were established, leading to the emergence of two presidents: Mr Tijjani Umar and Mr Ahmadu Musa Kida.

In July, the international basketball governing body, FIBA, gave the NBBF a deadline to resolve the leadership conflict within the federation by November 30, 2017, which was further extended to February 28, 2018.

The letter outlined instructions for the NBBF to internally resolve the dispute by either conducting new elections or finding an amicable solution under the auspices of the National Olympic Committee before the deadline. Failure to comply with FIBA’s directives would potentially result in sanctions, including a suspension of NBBF’s membership with FIBA.

FIBA also announced its intention to appoint a task force if a satisfactory resolution was not reached, emphasising its commitment to ensuring the best interests of basketball in Nigeria.

Furthermore, FIBA stated it would exclusively communicate with individuals who held board positions as of June 13, 2017, before elections held that month, with Kida as NBBF President and Mr Babatunde Ogunade as Vice President, becoming the federation’s official correspondence.

FIBA noted that although this directive clarified communication channels between FIBA and its members and divisions, it should not be construed as FIBA’s endorsement of the management elected on June 13, 2017.

Throughout this process, FIBA continued to investigate allegations of state intervention and non-democratic practices within the NBBF.

In 2018, the NBBF resolved its leadership crisis after a court ruling stated that only the FIBA could determine the legitimate leadership. FIBA conducted a fact-finding mission and recognised the Kida-led NBBF, highlighting this during the National Olympic Committee’s elections. 

However, the issue of $2.2 million from the Kwese endorsement remained unresolved, affecting the local league’s development. In preparation for the 2021 elections, the NBBF drafted a constitution without a life presidency clause, which typically allows a person to hold the position for their entire life or an indefinite period. Despite opposition from Umar and his supporters, FIBA recognised the constitution, establishing it as the guiding document for all NBBF elections, bringing an end to all outstanding issues and setting the precedent for subsequent elections.

In May 2022, under Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, the president approved Nigeria’s immediate withdrawal from all international basketball competitions for two years, as announced by the Ministry of Youth and Sports.

A statement signed by Mohammed Manga, Director of Press & Public Relations read, “Following the unending crises that have plagued and nearly crippled basketball development in the country, President Muhammadu Buhari has today approved the immediate withdrawal of Nigeria from all International Basketball Competitions for a period of two years.”

As a result of the Nigerian government’s decision, the female basketball team, D’Tigress, was disqualified from participating in the 2022 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup.

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D’Tigress had earned their spot in the World Cup for  September 2022 in Sydney, Australia, by defeating France and Mali in Group B of the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup 2022 Qualifying Tournament held in Belgrade.

Six weeks later, the Nigerian government made a U-turn and lifted the ban. The NBBF had appealed to the government, prompting the decision to lift the ban on the teams participating in international competitions. The sports ministry stated that former Nigerian international players intervened in the matter, and Buhari approved the return to play, as announced by the ministry in a statement.

This back-and-forth drew reactions from Toronto Raptors president, Masai Ujiri, and Boston Celtics coach and former D’Tigers player LG Ime Udoka, both of Nigerian descent, who voiced their dissatisfaction with the management of Nigerian basketball. Udoka highlighted how issues he had faced during his playing days with the team were still present. 

The Nigerian Basketball Federation - NBBF - Afrocritik
Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF)

While D’Tigers have experienced notable achievements, such as the stunning upset in 2021 when Nigeria secured a historic 90-87 victory against Team USA in an exhibition match in Las Vegas – marking the first time Team USA had ever lost a basketball game to an African nation – the persistent issues surrounding the organisation and the team remain.

Last year, the team failed to qualify for the Paris 2024 Games after falling short at the pre-qualifiers for the Olympics. They also failed to qualify for the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Asia. The qualifiers for AfroBasket were meant to set things right and point the team in the right direction, but it has left a sour taste in the mouths of both players and management. 

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2025 Qualifiers in Tunisia

Bright Osagie Akhuetie, who featured in all three games, expressed his frustration with Nigeria’s performance, stating, “Coming out here without even practising… we have to structure and prepare as a team. Imagine if we stayed (together) for a month, we would’ve done better.” Akhuetie’s remarks shed light on the challenges faced by the team and the importance of adequate preparation for future competitions.

Frustration is mounting among the active players who represent the country. This frustration is also noticeable to those who haven’t joined the team yet, especially diaspora players of Nigerian descent, prompting them to pause and reconsider their decision.

The next round of AfroBasket qualifiers for Nigeria is scheduled for February 2025. Nigeria are currently bottom of their group in qualifying. 

Tuka Letura is an experienced sports writer with over five years of experience in the craft. He uses data and statistics to provide analysis and commentary. From regional to worldwide competitions, he has covered a wide range of sports-related events and topics. He is devoted to sharing his enthusiasm for sports with his audience and engaging them with interesting anecdotes and viewpoints.

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