Former Lieutenant Governor of Nasarawa State and President of the Karate Federation of Nigeria (KFN). Silas Agara has said the insurgency in Nigeria has made northerners embrace karate and other martial arts such as judo, wrestling and boxing for self-defense. In an interview with Trust Sports, the former sports commissioner of Nasarawa also spoke about the revival of karate and what his board is doing to promote the sport in Nigeria.
YesAs president of the Nigerian Karate Federation, you have no objections. How did that happen?
Karate was not in the elite federation during my first term. Morale in the sport is at its lowest point. The board is completely messed up. There are no local or international competitions. This is a completely hopeless situation. So when I got on board, I had to start from scratch. I encourage and motivate athletes. Those who win medals in competitions can receive stipends. Some of them are employed by paramilitary organisations such as the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Force, the Federal Fire Service, and even the Nigerian Police. They become motivated because they can take care of their families. In addition, refresher courses are organized for coaches and other technical officers. I do this because the athlete cannot benefit without the ability. After everything was over, we started organizing national competitions. We also put them in international championships. The sport is fully revived, so there is no need to change the winning team when it comes to elections. Stakeholders are standing behind us so that the good work we started will continue.
Would you say you still enjoy stakeholder support?
The support we have received from coaches, referees, athletes and other members of the federation has been phenomenal. Karate is not as crisis prone as other federations due to our leadership style. You will agree with me that other sports federations in Nigeria are always facing a crisis from players, coaches and other technical officials. While we are not perfect, we strive to keep the crisis out of our own federation. We try to avoid all pitfalls that can lead to misunderstandings.
To what extent is the Karate Federation independent of government funding?
I don’t see any sports federation being completely autonomous in terms of funding. Even the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) still looks to the government for financial support, so karate is no exception. But if you want to run a federation on such an opportunity, you’re falling behind. So we have to look inward and see how we can get additional support from corporate organisations and some government agencies. We are getting the best from these institutions. We have been able to compete in international competitions. When such competitions are caught by the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports, they take full responsibility. We continue to have the support of the Minister of Sport, the Permanent Secretary and the Director of the Federation and Elite Athletes Department (FEAD). I really want to thank them for what they do. But it is necessary to say that, as far as we are concerned, we are not just sitting and waiting for the manna to fall from the sky.
How many games has the federation organized recently?
This year alone, we have organized two national championships. We also participated in an international competition. The first national championship we organised this year took place in Port Harcourt and we have just wrapped up another at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium in Abuja, sponsored by the Japanese government. We will have one in Minna. We are already working hard for the championship game in Minna. We have a calendar, or you can call it a schedule, and we’re trying to make sure we’re wisely executing what we’ve got.
How is Nigerian Karate rated in Africa and the rest of the world?
We are doing well. I can confidently tell you that Nigerian karate is one of the top 10 in Africa. This is because of the international championships and the level of exposure our athletes enjoy. There is no doubt that we are moving forward. Before that, we had nowhere to go even in Africa, but gradually we are becoming a force to be reckoned with. In the past, we hardly ever played in international championships, but today in Africa we did not represent Nigeria in international championships. You might also want to know that some of our athletes are in the top 10 in the world, not just in Africa.
How popular is karate in Nigeria?
Generally speaking, martial arts are not very popular among Nigerians due to cultural and religious restrictions. There is also a misconception that the sport of martial arts is for bullies or troublemakers. But the fact remains that martial arts like karate, boxing, taekwondo, judo or kung fu have a lot of discipline. You don’t attack people on the street just because you can. There are rules for participation, so we don’t take it for granted. Now, when you talk about the religious aspect, of course, from this part of the country (north) you know how we look at women who like sports like karate, boxing, kung fu, taekwondo, judo or wrestling. So martial arts is hindered by cultural and religious taboos.
So what is your federation doing to reposition Nigerians to karate?
Yes, we are working hard to educate Nigerians to change their minds about the sport of martial arts. Now, given the current level of insecurity in the country, we are starting to gain the necessary acceptance, especially in the north, because people have to defend themselves. Karate and other martial arts became popular in the north to fend off attacks by rapists and other social outlaws. Extracurricular activities in primary and secondary schools began to include karate. Students or students are encouraged to sign up for one or two martial arts sports. So, unlike what we’ve had before, it’s very encouraging. However, I still think we have to do more outreach to reach out to Nigerians about the need for them to embrace the sport of martial arts.
When you finish your tenure as president of the Karate Federation, how would you like to be remembered?
This is a difficult question. But let me say that some of us have close relationships with young people, so whenever I meet someone who says I’ve had a positive impact on his or her life, I feel motivated. Good to know that you add value to someone’s life.