By Olanrewaju Akojede, NAN
With the swearing-in of cabinet ministers for the “Next Level Agenda” of President Muhammadu Buhari on Aug. 21, 2019 came the appointment of the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, as the chosen one saddled with the mandate.
Before Dare’s appointment, many sports enthusiasts are skeptical of who the next sports minister will be, given the experience of past sports administrations which had been labeled as “under-performance’’.
However, one year down the lane, sports in Nigeria are not only gradually taking the right shape, but, a show of exponential success story of a hard worker with the right thinking cap.
The euphoria surrounding the inauguration of a multiple award winning journalist, Dare, was a huge task to uplift the standard of what he met on ground which should be met with the right strategy.
With heavy expectation on his shoulder, Dare at inauguration, rather than being disillusioned with the myriads of problems in the sports circle, he immediately rolled up his sleeves to tackle them headlong to bringing back sports glory.
This is because to Nigerians, especially youths, sports are an eternal covenant for engagement and a centre-piece of convergence.
The first impediment could have been what the sports ministry got in the fiscal budget in comparison to other ministries for the 2020 fiscal year: Transport got N560 billion. Humanitarian was Budget N420 billion; but for the Ministry of Youths and Sports Development comes a meagre budgetary allocation of N1.4 billion. But this to Dare is an avenue to get it right.
Dare with such a little resource surprisingly got the accolade as one of the three outstanding ministers in President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet having been listed as one of the best performers.
In an interim scorecard released by Transparency Watch, Dare came third in raking behind the minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Farouq and the minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi.
The trio was ranked best-performing ministers in the first year of President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term.
The report by the Transparency Watch organisation’s President, Maxwell Gowon, on Aug. 23, said the ministers were graded based on organisational strength, the performance of the agencies under their purview, the impact on the lives of the people as well as transparency and accountability.
In getting it right, Dare’s first assignment was to seek for the support of sports-loving Nigerians; those that are ready to put shoulders to the wheel to join his team to rescue sports from its near-comatose state.
There youthful minister embarked on the onerous process of getting sports working again and for Nigeria to be restored to its rightful place in the ranks of nations.
Taking the bull by the horn, Dare immediately provided a template for sports facilities to be functioning and to steam up activities. To do this, the revival of the decaying stadiums across Nigeria is a priority.
Just a week after assumption of office, while others are still studying reports, Dare was already on tour to the length and breadth of Nigeria to understudy and have a first-hand situation report of the dilapidated and abandoned national stadia.
Dare in no less than a week had already visited, five stadia: Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna, National Stadium (Now MKO Abiola Stadium), Abuja, Liberty Stadium, (Obafemi Awolowo), National Stadium, Surulere and Katsina Township Stadium.
The minister noted that there was a lot of goodwill in the wake of the revival in sports if the stadia come back to life.
Speaking during his inspection tour to MKO Abiola Stadium, Dare said that not only would his ministry look into a way of rehabilitating the long-neglected facility, but would also look for innovative ways to generate funds to maintain it.
From there, the minister had noticed the real problem of the edifice which is maintenance; hence there was a need to quickly fix it along the purpose of rehabilitating it.
Also, while in Lagos, Dare set the tone for the National Stadium’s re-engagement when he said there was now the political will to resuscitate it, a clear message for all.
“All actions must be for the revival efforts and sweeping measures to activate the facilities in order to stimulate sports development,” he said.
Dare at the end, settled for a more far-reaching solution to fixing of the derelict facilities, through Public Private Partnerships (PPP). He then sorted to reach out to the Money-bag sports enthusiasts for intervention which eventually paid off.
Under his Adopt-a-Pitch Initiative, Dare was able to get corporate organisations and individuals such as Dangote Industries to adopt the main pitch of the Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja, as well as Sir Kesington Adebutu who adopted the main pitch of the Daura Township Stadium.
He also inaugurated a cross-sectoral taskforce which was mandated to return the National Stadium, Surulere to its original master plan.
Another understanding of Dare is the task ahead for the postponed 2020 Olympic year which he noted that early preparation would suffice to end Nigeria’s past inglorious participation in the world event.
The minister at “Adopt an Athlete Campaign’’, declared that Nigeria would not only start preparation for the event early but would be definite on the number of sports the country will participate in; those sports that would give the country comparative advantage.
By September 2019, a year to the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics, he had already signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Mayor of Kisarazu City, Yoshikuni Watanabe in Japan to camp Nigerian athletes in the city where, he noted, the development tallies with the new direction of early preparation for tournaments.
“I’m glad that this morning we are able to follow up on initiatives of previous Ministers and Ambassadors who have acted rightly on behalf of this country,’’ he added.
Dare in furtherance of preparation for the summer Olympics, inaugurated a 12-member committee to ensure Team Nigeria gets adequate preparation to participate in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
He gave the committee the mandate to ensure a hitch-free participation at the Games, and also saddled them with the responsibility of ensuring adequate preparation for Team Nigeria at the Olympics and Paralympic Games.
The committee later came out with recommendations which were accented to. And to consolidate the chances of athletes and teams at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Dare prioritized 11 sports and six para-sports for Nigeria to focus on.
The Ministerial Advisory Committee on Tokyo 2020 Games (MACT), also recommended an early start to pre-Games camping towards ensuring maximum success.
The MACT, chaired by the ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Olusola Adesola, proposed 120 days of camping as it agreed to fast-track the process of securing the services of highly skilled technical personnel to complement local coaches.
The listed 11 sports for the Olympics and five sports for the Paralympics that were prioritized for the qualifying pathway are: Athletics, Rowing, Para-Athletics, Badminton, Table Tennis, Para-Canoeing, Basketball, Taekwondo, Para-Power lifting, Boxing, Weightlifting, Para-Rowing, Canoeing, Wrestling, Para-Table Tennis and Gymnastics.
Another laudable initiative is to boost the morale of the Nigerian athletes by paying the outstanding allowances of athletes who represented Nigeria in international and continental competitions in the last three years; this is unprecedented in the history of sports in Nigeria.
He revealed that the coaches who accompanied the team to 2017 World Championships in London were still owed part of their allowances, while others that participated in the African Championships in Asaba in 2018 were underpaid in spite of the N39 million intervention from the ministry.
The Acting Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) President, Olamide George, however, eulogised the minister for his intervention in the federation.
In a bid to save Nigeria from embarrassment, Dare had to seek for funds to settle Nigeria’s debt to the World Athletics formerly International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), a debt that was almost a watershed.
In 2017, the World Athletics had mistakenly remitted 150,000 dollars to AFN, instead of 15,000 dollars being its financial obligation to all member federations. Upon the discovery of the error, it requested a refund of 135, 000 dollars, which has since not been accounted for.
The former Minister, Solomon Dalung, played an ostrich with the scandal till he left office by paying part of the money, leaving the balance unpaid.
This situation angered World Athletics and later it issued a threat to impose a ban on Nigeria from all its organised competitions if the money was not refunded within the stipulated time.
Not minding the brickbats between the sports ministry and AFN, Dare took the bull by the horn to settle the debt, albeit, he also effected a change in the leadership of AFN by removing its President, Ibrahim Gusau, who has hefty weight of corruption hanging on his neck.
By Dec. 9, 2019, the World Athletics confirmed the receipt of the missing money from Nigeria. A spokesperson for the organisation confirmed the receipt of the 65,000 dollars which remained.
Dare exhibited another humane gesture when he provided funds for injured D’Tigress player, Nkem Akaraiwe’s treatment who was expected to proceed for surgery in Dubai.
She had sustained an injury to her Anterior Cruciate Ligament while representing the country at the Beach Games in Cape Verde and had difficulty in raising funds for the needed surgery until the minister intervened.
The 15,000 dollars intervention by the ministry is in addition to the 10,000 dollars earlier received from Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa.
Also, the ministry picked up the hospital bills of another U.S.-bound basketball player, Ikhana, Okorodudu, including his flight ticket.
The Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) President, Musa Kida, however, thanked the minister and said that the gesture was timely to boost the athletes’ confidence and assurance that the Federal Government was responsive to the plight of its athletes.
He added that the gesture would spur other athletes to strive for glory while representing the country.
“We are really grateful and elated that finally Nkem can go for the surgery, recover on time and get back to the court,’’ he said.
Other beneficiaries of his “Athletes Welfare Scheme’’ are the likes of the late Rashidi Yekini, Sam Okwaraji, Ali Jeje Ibrahim, Sunday Bada, Sunday Eboigbe and a host others.
To stamp his assertiveness in improving sports among women, Dare announced the ministry’s readiness to partner with the federation for women’s football.
He said this was in line with his quest for inclusiveness in sports while speaking on the sidelines of the finals of Nigeria Women Premier League (NWPL) between Rivers Angels and Confluence Queens at the Agege Stadium.
Other Dare’s laudable projects include: Talent Hunt Programme meant for the discovery of new talents, Grassroots Sports Development through the revival of the Principal’s Cup, Head Masters Cup and Local Government Cup.
The rest are the restoration of the moribund long distance races such as the Pankshin and Mambila Plateau, and with meagre funds available many athletes got palliatives from the sports ministry and financial support to mothers of late players.
Now, the Federal Government has bought into the view of changing sports from recreation to being a business through the efforts of the minister.
The resuscitation of the Hall Of Fame was brought, including the launch of a pocket-sized version of the Nigeria Youth Policy with an approval for the N75 billion for Nigeria Youth Investment Fund (NYIF).
On the efforts aimed at youth development, the ministry launched a digital training for youth in collaboration with Africa Development Bank (AFDB), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), IBM Computers, Google, and Microsoft.
The programme was created with an “App Challenge’’ to help youths develop business models to businesses that rely on digital technology for their operations.
Furthermore, Dare facilitated a football tournament in Oyo State with reviving the SD Unity Cup 2020 and following advocacy visits, governors of about seven states have indicated interest in organising Unity Cup tournaments in football, basketball, volleyball and other sports.
The ministry provided of scholarship for 25 young athletes discovered in National Youth Ggames Ilorin, and they are presently schooling in Abuja.
Dare’s giant strides in sports revival is visible as some of the athletes are already praising his efforts.
Nigeria’s gold medalist in Wrestling, Oduayo Adekuoroye, is full of thanks to the minister, describing him as the New Messiah in Sports.
However, with the ray of light shown in the sports circle, it is evident that sports in Nigeria will have a new lease of life and will be ready to cheer if such precedents as the sports minister had set will be a lasting legacy.
As Dare’s well-scripted options for sports development is already yielding positive results which are evident in his first anniversary in the saddle, there are more grounds to be covered as Nigerians wish him a memorable time in office.