Former Deputy Governor of Nasarawa State and President of the Karate Federation of Nigeria (KFN), Hon. Silas Agara, said the insurgency in Nigeria is prompting northerners to take up karate and other martial sports like judo, wrestling and boxing to defend themselves. In this interview with Sports Trust, the former Nasarawa State Sports Commissioner also spoke about the resurgence of karate and what his board is doing to spread the sport in Nigeria.
Yesou were re-elected unopposed as President of the Karate Federation of Nigeria. How did it happen?
During my first mandate, karate was not part of the elite federations. Morale in the sport was at an all-time low. The council was in disarray. There were no local or international competitions. It was a totally hopeless situation. Therefore, when I came on board, I had to start from scratch. I encouraged and motivated the athletes. Stipends were given to those who won medals at tournaments. Some of them have been employed by paramilitary organizations like the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps, the Federal Fire Service and even the Nigerian Police. They became motivated because they could take care of their family. In addition, refresher courses were organized for coaches and other technical officials. I did it because if the ability isn’t there, there’s no way for athletes to take advantage of it. After all, we started to organize national competitions. We have also exhibited them at international championships. There was a general revival in the sport, so when it came time for elections there was no need to change a winning team. Stakeholders have been solidly behind us to continue the good work we have started.
Would you say you still have stakeholder support?
The support we receive from coaches, referees, athletes and other members of the federation has been incredible. Karate is not crisis prone like other federations because of our leadership style. You will agree with me that other sports federations in Nigeria are still facing crises which can emanate from players, coaches and other technical officials. Although we are not perfect, we have tried to keep the crisis away from our own federation. We try to avoid all pitfalls that could lead to misunderstandings.
How independent is the Karate Federation from government funding?
I don’t see any sports federation that is completely autonomous in terms of funding. Even the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) is always running to the government for financial support, so karate cannot be an exception. But if you want to count on these kinds of opportunities to lead a federation, you will be left behind. Therefore, we need to look inward to see how we can get additional support from corporations and some government agencies. We get the best we can from these agencies. We were able to attend international competitions. And when such tournaments are captured by the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports, they take full responsibility. We continued to benefit from the support of the Minister of Sport, the Permanent Secretary and the Director of the Federations and Elite Athletes Service (FEAD). I really want to thank them for what they do. But it is necessary to say that on our side we are not just sitting around waiting for manna to fall from heaven for us.
How many tournaments has the federation organized lately?
This year alone, we were able to organize two national championships. We also participated in an international competition. The first national tournament we organized this year was in Port-Harcourt and we have just concluded another one at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium in Abuja, sponsored by the Japanese government. And we will have one in Minna. Already, we are working towards the championship in Minna. We have a schedule or you can call it a schedule and we try to execute wisely what we have on it.
What is the rating of Nigerian karate in Africa and the rest of the world?
We are doing very good. I can tell you with confidence that Nigerian karate is among the top 10 in Africa. This is due to the international championships and the level of visibility that our athletes enjoy. Without a doubt, we are moving forward. Before now we weren’t even anywhere in Africa but little by little we are becoming a force to be reckoned with. In the past, we hardly attended international championships but today there is no international tournament in Africa where we are not there to represent Nigeria. It may also interest you to know that some of our athletes are among the top 10 in the world, not just in Africa.
How popular is the game of karate in Nigeria?
In general, martial sports are not very popular among Nigerians due to cultural and religious limitations. There is also this misconception that martial sports are for bullies or troublesome people. But the fact remains that there is a lot of discipline attached to martial arts such as Karate, boxing, taekwondo, judo or Kung-fu. You don’t attack people on the street just because you have the ability. There are rules of engagement so we don’t take that for granted. Now when you come to the religious aspect, of course, of this part of the country (North), you know how we look at women who play sports like karate, boxing, kung fu, taekwondo, judo or wrestling. Martial arts are therefore hampered by cultural and religious inhibitions.
So what is your federation doing to reorient Nigerians to embrace karate?
Yes, we are trying to educate Nigerians to change their perception of martial sports. Now, with the current level of insecurity in the country, we are starting to have the necessary acceptability especially in the North because people have to defend themselves. The need to fend off attacks from rapists and other social miscreants made karate and other martial sports popular in the North. Primary and secondary schools are beginning to incorporate karate into their extracurricular activities. Students or pupils are encouraged to register for one or two martial sports. So it’s quite encouraging unlike what we had before. However, I still believe that we need to do more advocacy to make Nigerians aware of the need for them to embrace martial sports.
What would you like to be remembered for when you complete your term as President of the Karate Federation?
It’s difficult. But let me say that some of us have close relationships with young people, so I feel motivated every time I meet someone who says I’ve had a positive impact on their life. It’s satisfying to know that you’ve added value to someone’s life.