Newly elected President of Nigeria Rugby Football Federation, Kelechi Mbagwu, has opened up on the future of Rugby in the country and states his board’s desire of taking the sport to the next level. The proprietor of Cowrie Rugby Football Club of Lagos speaks in this exclusive interview with Extra Time’s Editor, ANDREW EKEJIUBA, on the NRFF board’s plans to build a solid structure for Rugby development with its 8-point agenda, challenges and intention of producing an all-encompassing constitution for the sport in Nigeria. Excerpts:
What is the future of Rugby in Nigeria under you’re new board?
The future is bright! Frankly, we are in a new dawn for Rugby in Nigeria under my leadership.
As a kicker, we are commencing a pragmatic journey which is aimed at repositioning the sport in Africa’s most populated black nation, Nigeria. And our inputs will bring progress to the sport.
The new board of NRFF will aim at spreading the game of Rugby to every part of Nigeria like never before! And to actualize our dream, we have set up an 8-point agenda in this regard.
Can you share with Extra Time some of NRFF’s agenda for the development of Rugby in the country?
Thank you. We are actually going to administer the sport professionally because there is need to record all the activities of the board more transparently for stakeholders of Rugby to appreciate what we are going to do.
In the past, administrators of NRFF used players in the administration of the sport which does not look too good, but we want to introduce professionals who will come in and administer the sport more professionally.
Example, coaches, players and seasoned administrators will play their roles professionally with an aim of taking the sport to the next level.
We are also going to build a solid structure for Rugby development in Nigeria with our 8-point agenda.
Can you throw more light on your board’s plan to take Rugby to the next level?
We have plans to set up a decent office for NRFF and employ the services of seasoned administrators and credible consultants who will partner with us.
The new NRFF board is planning to have an accessible data base for Rugby clubs, administrators, coaches and players which will also be replicated and stored by the Nigeria Olympic Committee for future references.
On administration, we are going to invite corporate administrators to partner with us as we try to give the sport a sustainable sponsorship base. We need to also take Rugby to governments and even to some states in the country so that our modern growth expectations for the sport will be met.
Any plans to take the sport to schools just as we had in football in the early 1930s?
Yes! The new NRFF board is going to pursue vigorously schools Rugby development and there will be a sustainable programme designed by the board to enable school leavers continue to play Rugby in this regard.
The itry Rugby programme will be improved upon to help accelerate Rugby development in schools and we want to make sure that schools that play the game will have both boys and girls teams for both Rugby 7s and 15s competitions.
How is the new board going to checkmate fraudulent activities and corrupt practices among players, coaches, stakeholders and administrators of Rugby?
Accountability is going to be our watchword in the new NRFF board. We have commenced the activities already and drumming it into the ears of our players, coaches, administrators and other stakeholders that we are going to implement a zero tolerance for corrupt practices.
We need to have transparency in the administration of Rugby in Nigeria. For example, money from sponsors should be judiciously utilized and accounted for in the development of Rugby on yearly basis.
What are your other plans for Rugby development in Nigeria?
We need to re-train and educate our coaches on the latest techniques for the sport because Rugby is continuously evolving and our players and coaches need to be in tandem on these modern technicalities of Rugby.
The best way to actualize the aforementioned is for the coaches and instructors of Rugby to attend refresher courses. As I speak, Ntiense Williams is the only certified International Rugby coach in Nigeria which is not good enough.
We should encourage other coaches through the support of the NRFF board to aspire into such positions. It is not wrong for us to have more than 30 certified Rugby coaches in Nigeria because the country is densely populated with lots of Rugby enthusiasts everywhere.
Also, we need to intensify our efforts at sustaining our gains following the introduction of Rugby as a medal scoring event at the National Sports Festival.
Frankly, Rugby gained lots of popularity or growth in Nigeria following its introduction at the National Sports Festival and this brought the sport to limelight.
Therefore, the NRFF board will work towards seeing that every state in the country, including FCT are well represented at the National Sports Festival.
In the country, Rugby is not the sole property of any state or individual, but for every Nigerian, thus we must join hands together to help Rugby attain a super status among all other sports in Nigeria.
We also have plans to encourage our national teams to attend local and international competitions because this will expose our squads to big competitions that will help fast track the development of Rugby in Nigeria.
Aside the aforementioned, the new NRFF board has plans to support the Lagos Rugby League and even the Northern League in order to keep our players busy.
I learnt that the South East and South South have four prominent rugby clubs, but the board will see to the growth of the sport from those aforementioned regions because we need to carry them along in the new dispensation. It is from the six regions or platforms that we shall endeavor to raise our national team players.
Finally, it is worthy to note that ex-internationals or veterans of Rugby like Adebayo Adedayo, Ibi Obatonyibo and others have indicated their interest or willingness to help in the development of Rugby in Nigeria which is good.
What is your board’s plan to encourage women’s Rugby in the country?
We have great plans in this regard. Women’s Rugby will be encouraged and restored to limelight! I can assure all stakeholders that any Rugby tourney staged in Nigeria will always have the female aspect incorporated into it!
We need women’s Rugby to flourish in Nigeria and that is what we are going to do. Nigerian women are naturally gifted when it comes to playing Rugby, therefore the NRFF board will surely encourage them.
The election into the new NRFF board was fiercely fought, what are doing in order to reach out to those who may feel aggrieved to bring them back to the Rugby family and carry them along?
I want to correct an impression, the Rugby family in Nigeria is a strong inseparable family and will continue to remain so! We are doing our best to reach out to those who may feel that they may be ostracized by the new board following their past negative actions. In our next board meeting we will explore more avenues of reaching understanding and proper reconciliation.
Personally, I believe we all need to lift Rugby to the next level collectively and this new NRFF is never on any revenge mission. We are not going to witch-hunt anyone because for the board to achieve success we need the services of all true stakeholders of Rugby.
In business, one cannot achieve success alone, but will need the support or services of individuals to achieve the dream set out for the company. The same case applies to Rugby in Nigeria because officers of this new board were transparently elected into office in a free and fair election.
Aside the aforementioned, the new NRFF is on a rescue mission of entrenching the sport among Nigerians. Nothing stops Rugby from competing neck to neck with football when it comes to followership and administration. Therefore, we are here to build a solid structure for Rugby to thrive and for Nigerians to forever be grateful to us at the end of our tenure.
Finally, what is the new NRFF board going to do with respect to producing a credible constitution, since the past boards were unable to produce such?
I want to thank you for this question because the issue of constitution raised a lot of dust prior to our election where the immediate past board failed to actualize such dream, instead they sent to the world body and the Nigeria Olympic Committee a constitution that was never debated or endorsed by the board or even the congress of Nigerian Rugby. Such things are never done in this modern world of sports administration.
Before a constitution is made for a sport like Rugby, it has to pass due process so that inputs can be collectively made and endorsed by the board and the congress.
Any constitution that does not enjoy the support of the stakeholders of the sport is a mere aberration. A constitution is never a secret document that should be made by one or two persons and sent out secretly to the world body. I feel this is bad and not for the good of the development of Rugby.
However, the good news is that we are embarking on writing a constitution that will represent the aspiration of the Nigerian Rugby family in line with the constitution of the World Rugby.
The Minster of Youth and Sports, Barr. Solomon Dalung, has requested all Sports Federations to complete this exercise within three months of their inauguration and submit their constitutions to his office and their various internationally affiliated bodies.
He stated that future elections into various sporting boards will be in line with the guidelines from their constitutions and we going to do exactly that in order have a smooth transition from one board to another in future.
QUOTE 1: “Before a constitution is made for a sport like Rugby, it has to pass due process so that inputs can be collectively made and endorsed by the board and the congress. Any constitution that does not enjoy the support of the stakeholders of the sport is a mere aberration. A constitution is never a secret document that should be made by one or two persons and sent out secretly to the world body. I feel this is bad and not for the good of the development of Rugby. However, the good news is that we are embarking on writing a constitution that will represent the aspiration of the Nigerian Rugby family in line with the constitution of the World Rugby.”
QUOTE 2: “Aside the aforementioned, the new NRFF is on a rescue mission of entrenching the sport among Nigerians. Nothing stops Rugby from competing neck to neck with football when it comes to followership and administration. Therefore, we are here to build a solid structure for Rugby to thrive and for Nigerians to forever be grateful to us at the end of our tenure.”