Silas Agara: Insurgency making northerners embrace Karate, other martial sports

Former Nasarawa State Deputy Governor and Nigeria Karate Federation (KFN) President Hon. Silas Agara said the insurgency in Nigeria is pushing northerners to adopt karate and other martial arts such as judo, wrestling and boxing for self-defense. In this interview with Trust Sports, the former Nasarawa State Sports Commissioner also spoke about the resurgence of karate and what its board is doing to spread the sport in Nigeria.

YYou have returned unopposed as President of the Karate Federation of Nigeria. How did this happen?

During my first term, karate was not one of the elite organizations. The morale in the sport was at rock bottom. The board was completely confused. There were no local or international competitions. It was a completely hopeless situation. So when I came on board, I had to start from scratch. I encouraged and motivated the athletes. Scholarships were awarded to those who won medals at tournaments. Some of them have been hired by paramilitary organizations such as the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps, the Federal Fire Service and even the Nigerian Police. They were motivated because they could take care of their families. Refresher courses were also organized for coaches and other technical officials. I did this because if the capacity isn’t there, there’s no way the athletes would benefit. Eventually we started organizing national competitions. We have also exposed them to international championships. The sport experienced a general revival, so there was no need to change a winning team when it came time for elections. The stakeholders stood firmly behind us to continue the good work we started.

Would you say you still enjoy stakeholder support?

The support we have received from the coaches, judges, athletes and other members of the federation has been amazing. Because of our management style, karate is not prone to crises like other associations. You will agree that other sports federations in Nigeria always face crises that can come from the players, coaches and other technical officials. Although we are not perfect, we tried to keep the crisis away from our own federation. We try to avoid any pitfalls that could lead to misunderstandings.

To what extent is the Karate Association independent of government funding?

I don’t see any sports association that is completely autonomous when it comes to funding. Even the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) is still running to the government to request financial support, so karate can be no exception. But if you want to rely on such opportunities to run an association, you will lag behind. Therefore, we need to look inward to see how we can get additional support from corporate organizations and some government agencies. We get the best we can from such agencies. We were able to take part in international competitions. And if such tournaments are recorded by the Federal Ministry for Youth and Sport, they assume full responsibility. We continue to enjoy the support of the Minister for Sport, the Secretary of State and the Director of the Federations and Elite Athletes Department (FEAD). I really want to appreciate them for what they do. But it is necessary to say that for our part we do not just sit and wait for the manna to fall from heaven for us.

How many tournaments has the association organized lately?

This year alone we were able to organize two national championships. We also took part in an international competition. The first national tournament we organized this year was in Port-Harcourt and we have just completed another tournament at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium in Abuja, sponsored by the Japanese government. And we will have one in Minna. We are already working towards the championship in Minna. We have a calendar, or you can call it a schedule, and we work to make sure we do what we have on it properly.

How is Nigerian Karate rated in Africa and the rest of the world?

We’re doing very well. I can tell you with confidence that Nigerian Karate is in the top 10 in Africa. This is due to international championships and the notoriety our athletes enjoy. Without a doubt we are moving forward. We haven’t even been to Africa before, but we’re slowly becoming a force to be reckoned with. In the past we hardly took part in international championships, but today there isn’t an international tournament in Africa where we wouldn’t represent Nigeria. It may also interest you that some of our athletes are in the top 10 in the world, not just in Africa.

How popular is karate in Nigeria?

In general, martial arts are not very popular among Nigerians due to cultural and religious restrictions. There is also this misconception that martial arts are for bullies or people who are annoying. The fact is, however, that martial arts such as karate, boxing, taekwondo, judo or kung fu require a lot of discipline. You don’t just attack people on the street just because you have the ability to do so. There are rules of engagement, so let’s not take that for granted. If you now come to the religious aspect, of course you know how we from this part of the country (North) view women who are interested in sports such as karate, boxing, kung fu, taekwondo, judo or wrestling. So martial arts are hampered by cultural and religious inhibitions.

So what is your association doing to reorient Nigerians to embrace karate?

Yes, we are trying to educate Nigerians to change their attitude towards martial arts. Now, with the current insecurity in the country, we are starting to get the necessary acceptance, especially in the north, because people have to defend themselves. The need to ward off attacks from rapists and other social abusers makes karate and other martial arts popular in the North. Elementary and secondary schools begin to include karate in their extracurricular activities. Students or high school students are encouraged to enroll in a martial arts class or two. So, unlike what we had before, it’s pretty encouraging. However, I still believe that we need to do more to educate Nigerians about the need to take up martial arts.

What would you like to be remembered for when you complete your tenure as President of the Karate Federation?

This is difficult. But let me say that some of us have a close relationship with young people, so I feel motivated when I meet someone who says I’ve made a positive impact on his or her life. It is gratifying to know that you have enriched someone’s life.

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