By Hannu Afere

History was made a few Sundays ago when Nigerian-born UFC martial artist Israel Adesanya became the undisputed Middle weight champion of the world.

In the Marvel Stadium Melbourne with 57,000 people watching, Adesanya crushed the champion Robert Whittaker in only two rounds to become the new champion and solidify his dominance in the UFC. A journey he only began about 18 months ago.

His performance and 18-0 unbeaten record has silenced a lot of detractors and has had a lot of the MMA fans on the internet (who disliked him because of his unapologetic Nigerian-ness and smack-talking) beginning to love him.

The ‘Style Bender’ as he is fondly called, migrated with his parents from to New Zealand when he was only 11 years old. This was in the early naughties, when insecurity in Nigeria was not as wide-spread as it is now.

He was back in the country earlier this year after spending 16 years outside but has said that even though he was born a Nigerian, he doesn’t see himself being hosted in Nigeria for a fight because… wait for it, the corruption is crazy. While it could be a brilliant national opportunity by way of tourism and additional revenue generation, the UFC would probably have to pay/bribe a million government officials including area boys and stadium louts just to have a semblance of order.

My advice as a fight fan and from one Nigerian to the other, would be obvious: for him to not to bother coming here until the government gets its act together, at least, and until his safety and that of the 180 million citizens in the country can be guaranteed.

But as can be deduced from his statements below, Izzy is smart. And wealthy enough to do what he likes. The Sports Daily say he has already earned $1,208,500 from the UFC and took home $430,000 from his victory over Kelvin Gastelum in April. Details are yet to come in from his last fight, but it is safe to say it would be more. So he does not need the kind of peanuts the Nigerian government might want to offer him.

He cited the bureaucratic red tapes as a major hindrance and was quoted as saying:

“I want to see a new Nigeria, where everybody lives happily without fear of insecurity… I want a situation whereby the entire country is free from the issue of kidnapping, Boko Haram and killing for ritual purposes. I want to see a more united Nigeria, a country that will shut down whenever I am fighting inside the ring.

“I am actually looking forward to seeing the sports spirit exhibited by the Philippines in my country Nigeria. Whenever that Filipino boxer, Manny Pacquiao, is fighting, the entire country is shut down. His people put aside every other thing to support him. That is the spirit I want Nigerians to follow.

“The Boko Haram, kidnappers and those involved in ritual killings should cease-fire and embrace the spirit of sports. That is the way to go, and I believe we will build a more united Nigeria. My duty is to put smiles on the faces of my people anytime I fight inside the ring.”

His burning desire for better governance is unmistakable in all the interviews he grants. He has, tattooed on his chest, a map of Africa; speaks fluent Yoruba, and is unafraid to reflect his culture in his art both online and offline. He does what I like to call “protest fighting”. Fighting, quite literally, and protesting.

But Izzy is not the only Nigerian-born international star who doesn’t want to have anything to do with this Nigerian government. There is Kamaru Usman, Efe Ajagba, Divine Oduduru and co. The Chelsea duo of Tammy Abraham and Tomori Fikayo have recently picked England ahead of Nigeria much to the consternation of sport fans in the country.

But what do you expect from youngsters who are at the peak of their careers and are being courted by a country so clueless, they couldn’t find their arses in the dark even if they were handed a light bulb?

To round this off, I’d say while the current brain drain and general exodus of able bodied youths in this country, in sports, is an immensely complicated problem, there are two things that cannot be over emphasized:

1) The ministry of sports must begin to be held accountable for all the funding it receives from the federal government and the entire system from the grassroots up must begin to be more closely supervised.

2) The federal government must ensure that it doesn’t just focus on football in the country– there are hundreds of other sports for the youth to excel in. More of them should be made to look as attractive as the round leather game for this would go a long way in keeping more kids off the streets, boosting tourism, generating revenue, and would be good generally speaking for the nation’s PR and our collective unity.

The question however, like the elephant in the room, is whether the federal government and the current administration even cares about these things. You don’t need to be a seer to know it does not.

Hannu Afere (c) 2019