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Mary Onyali: I Want to Provide More Than 1m Jobs For Nigerian Youths

 Mary Onyali, founder and coordinator of the “Let’s go, Girls” project is one of Nigeria’s foremost sports personalities. She is the first Nigerian to qualify for five consecutive Olympics, back to back. Presently, she is the Executive Director (Technical) of the Nigeria Sports Development Fund Inc (NSDFI). She spoke with Olajide Fashikun on Sports Development Fund, among other issues.

What is the Nigeria Sports Development Fund Inc (NSDFI) about? 

Remember in 1994 when Nigeria first qualified for World Cup, a committee was set up to raise private funds which were used to fund that project. General Oladipo Diya then ordered that committee headed by Chief (Dr) Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu to fund the preparation for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. That explained why Nigeria did so well in that Olympics.

That fund has grown in strength over the years. Now, some of us have been brought on board to add value to what they are doing. One of our projects is the Basic Olive Opportunity Sports Training (BOOST). Eleven former Nigerian sports brands are working on that.

We hope to recruit 16million Nigerians to support us with N200.00 yearly. You can join any brand of the icons which include Shaibu Amodu, myself, Nigeria’s Olympic individual gold medallist Chioma Ajunwa, Blessing Okagbare, the Sydney weightlifting silver medalist Ruth Ogbeifo-Balofin, late Sunday Bada, Funke Oshonaike, Nduka ‘The Duke’ Odizor,

All anyone who wants to join can just go to our website. Without being immodest, if Nigerians join and support us, in the next one year we shall produce more than one million jobs. In three years, we want to produce 3 million jobs self-sustained.

Sports is one industry that is far bigger than the oil industry. Go and check. This is a fact.

What is the Let’s go, Girls project about?

First, I can lay the fact that since 1954 to date, 85% of the medals that Nigeria has won in international championships have been by women. This is clear both in individual and team sports. You remember the era of the Grasshoppers Handball club of Owerri? First Bank Basketball club of Lagos, D’Tigress national basketball team etc.With this proven fact, we are also aware of the fact that most female athletes in Nigeria are bread winners of their various families. It is from this understanding that we brought up the idea of the “Let’s go, Girls” was thought about and we have taken our time to fixture what we need to do as a people and a nation.

It is our ambition to bring about one million girls into sports, support them and help them to be the very best they can be. They must have and combine education with sports.

We already have a pilot of this project in Offa in Kwara State and the output has been so great and encouraging. We want to mentor every girl, support their education and sports. In a couple of years to come, these girls we shall be bringing into sports will be better and more successful than we the initiators of the idea. We are embarking on girls’ empowerment through sport. We leverage the power of play to help girls build leadership and become better equipped to exercise their rights.

Sport is only our tool. Our end game is helping girls thrive as they face the most pressing issues of adolescence, including accessing sexual and reproductive health and rights, addressing gender-based violence and achieving economic empowerment.

Why and how did the NCWS come into your radar?

In Nigeria today, one institution that has the colour of womanhood is the National Council for Women Societies (NCWS). When we saw in a report in the media the intimidating credentials of the President, Dr. (Mrs.) Gloria Laraba Shoda as a former school proprietress, a women football club owner and former Rector of a higher institution, we had a firm faith in her team.

We approached her and we got the arms of a mother. A humble and well informed mother. We pursued our objectives and her faith in the project gave us a higher quality of confidence to work with the NCWS. National Council for Women Societies (NCWS) is our biggest bridge. Can we thank the President, Hajia Gloria Laraba Shoda. She has been a pillar from day one when we took this project to her.

Who and who are part of the project?

Let’s go, Girls! is a development programme which uses sports, life skills, education to transform the lives of young and adolescent girls from age four to 30.
Created by former Nigerian sports brands (Chief Mary Onyali, Funke Oshonaike, Chioma Ajunwa, Chief Ruth Ogbeifo-Balofin and Blessing Okagbare) and supported by Nigeria Sports Development Fund Inc (NSDFI), it is primarily designed for girls who are living in under-served communities.

Let’s go, Girls! is a programme divided into four modules focused on one of four key life skills: communication, health and hygiene, rights and financial literacy. We shall support the athletes from cradle to elite level, from primary to University level. To equip adolescent girls to exercise their rights through sport.

Our motto is: One win leads to another; by the entry into 2018, we hope to have attracted a minimum of 25,000 young and adolescent girls to be raised nationwide, supported to realise their leadership potential through sport.

To make her community a place free of violence and full of respect. She is among the girls who are participating in a programme that empowers girls through sport and by creating safe spaces for her expression and ability to support her family.

Part of how we want to deliver our project is by ensuring and alleviating poverty in the family, achieving social justice and accelerating progress on all of our national development goals.
Empowering women and girls with educational and economic opportunities. Securing their health and human rights is one of the best investments we can make for families, communities and the nation. Sports is the most veritable vehicle.

Will Let’s go, Girls! be a quality sport programme that will serve the needs of girls?

Ours is a major shift about changing girls’ lives through sport whether individual or team sports. If a deliberate programme is established to support the female athlete, they would be able to sustain the nation’s international leadership status in a more assured and respectable manner while she, as a person, gets empowered by the system she is operating.

With this project, we are actually making our families bigger, bolder and better. Consider the fact that with the NCWS behind us, we have all governor’s wives, wives of all local government chairmen, women leaders in communities and women in every sphere.

How do you intend to fund this project?

We are going to employ coaches, deploy them to communities in 10 different sports to search, find, develop, grow and help them mature very early in international sports brands. These girls have to combine sports and education.

To make this project work, every Nigerian is expected to once a year fund the project with N200.00 If half of the people of Nigeria put their N200.00 into the project, you can imagine the volume of new champions we shall produce in our country. Imagine the millions of jobs we can create to manage these projects nationwide and consider that we can deliver the biggest economy. It is possible.

Apart from this crowd funding, we are looking at using lottery to raise funds. We are eyeing September to activate this.

Three, we are also looking at exploring various international grants and opportunities.

Four, we are signing up about 5,000 people who will be our celebrities and put cash to the fund.

Let’s do it together. No one else will do it for us.

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