*Reps jab him over crisis in football
- Liken his action to promotion of corruption
By John Egbokhan
The euphoria that greeted the swearing-in of President Muhammadu Buhari as the fourth elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria since the return of unbroken democracy to the country in 1999 has long evaporated in the sports sector owing largely to poor performances on the turf on one hand and leadership crisis orchestrated by administrators on the other side, all combining to make for a year to quickly forget for Nigeria sports followers.
And in an Olympic year, where all eyes will be focused on the Summer Games in Rio, a review of how well Nigerian sports has fared in the first year anniversary of President Buhari may make for a gloomy reading.
Promises made, unkempt
During his inaugural speech on May 29, 2015 in front of an overly hopeful and enthusiastic fellow countrymen, President Buhari promised among other things to ensure that Nigerian youths maximise their God-given potentials.
Given that the youths in this part of the world are innately talented in sports and see engaging in any of the multi-sports activities as a vehicle to escape the excruciating poverty pervading the landscape, it seems that the President Buhari has failed to lift sports after 365 days in office.
And it seems that the man appointed by the President to oversee sports, Solomon Dalung is finding the job a little bit demanding and off his radar.
Since his appointment about six months ago, Dalung has administered over a sporting sector low on performance, lacking in visionary leadership and mired in deep-seated and uncalled for power tussle over positions that have long been ratified and accepted by the world governing bodies.
A case in point is the leadership crisis that has engulfed the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), which seemed a closed matter with the ratification of the poll that threw up the former Chairman of the Delta State Sports Commission, Amaju Pinnick as the elected President of the football ruling house and the subsequent throwing out of the case filed by the owner of
Giwa FC, Chris Giwa at the Court of Arbitration for Sports, only to be shockingly resurrected by Dalung.
At the first meeting called by the Minister to broker ‘peace’ in the NFF, a near fisticuffs almost emerged with both gladiators aiming punches at each other as others present at the gathering waded in and stopped what might have turned out to be a full-blown brawl, in the full glare of Dalung.
Remarkably and rather amazingly, rather than call both to order and reprimand them for the show of shame in front of cameras, the number one sports administrator in the country kept sealed lips on the issue and even had the audacity to call for another meeting for the following week.
Nigerians were unmistakably alarmed by the show of shame at the highest level of sports administration and rebuked the Sports Minister for seemingly orchestrating the NFF crisis. And the Minister’s action is inextricably linked to the failure of the Super Eagles to qualify for next year’s Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon, given that the leadership crisis seemed to cloud the concentration of the NFF leadership headed by Amaju Pinnick, who on one hand was battling for survival and on the other hand, attending to the needs of the Eagles.
Like the case of the married father of four, whose wife threatened to make the home front unbearable for him, Pinnick found himself between the Devil and the deep blue sea, unable to make a choice, and ultimately failed to superintend over the qualification of the Eagles for a second AFCON appearance. In a country where football rules, Buhari’s sports scorecard after one year in office seems unpleasant given the failure of the national soccer team to secure their passage to the 2017 AFCON. Dalung, the man who should be promoting peace and smooth sports administration is unfortunately promoting discord and controversies.
Despite the victory of the Eaglets at the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile followed by the qualification of the national U-23 side for the Rio Olympic Games, the failure of the Eagles to qualify for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations summarily took the sail off the winds of the victory parade of the Nigerian sports sector.
With all the challenges the Buhari government is facing , it could be safe to state that no serving minister has given the Buhar’s administration bad image than Dalung in the eyes of the youth who incidentally he is supposed to lead. The mandate of reviving Nigerian sports has seen him causing more troubles and making hair-splitting decisions that have left sports buffs hissing and cursing their tough luck of being saddled with a sports minister with little or no knowledge of the terrain he is handling.
In his assessment of the role Dalung has played in shaping Buhari’s sports report card one year on, Chairman of Akwa United, Paul Bassey said the Sports Minister has shown a limited knowledge of sports administration.
Bassey is one of the very few Nigerians who know football and understand its rules and statutes. He should know because he is also one man with many caps decorated by FIFA, CAF, NFF, in recognition of his knowledge of the game.
He is also a member of the Technical and Development Committee of the NFF, a CAF General Co-ordinator and instructor on Club Licensing, member of CAF and FIFA Security, member of FIFA Media Committee, among others.
‘’I weep for Nigeria because we have people who know but are not consulted to resolve issues on our football. It is more annoying when you realise that these Nigerians are respected and called upon to settle scores in other countries that have similar challenges.
‘’We’ve not been lucky to have knowledgeable sports ministers. And this is the main reason we are always swimming in crises. And it is a pity that those that the Minister surrounds himself with have either not told him the truth or he has refused to listen to the voice of reason. Football laws and statutes are sacrosanct. They are not meant for ordinary courts and any minister who does not know that is ignorant”, added Bassey.
Away from football, basketball gave Nigeria something to cheer about when the men’s basketball team, D’ Tigers defeated power-house Angola in the final of the 2015 AfroBasket Championship in Rades, Tunisia on August 31.
The House of Representatives Committee on Sports last week chided the minister for insisting that the Amaju Pinnick board of the NFF should concede at least four seats to Chris Giwa, the man who is contesting leadership of the football house. Membership into NFF is through election and all the members won election. The House was therefore scandalised that Dalung was making a case for those who didn’t win election to be on board. Honourable Asabe Vilita, representing Gwoza/Chibok Federal Constituency told the minister that his position was tantamount to corruption with deputy chairman of the committee, Anayo Nnebe saying that the minister’s action was fueling crisis in football, maintaining that Dalung’s support for Giwa was wrong.
Something to cheer
D’Tigers triumphed 74-65 to win the Championship for the first time ever, in what was a rematch of the AfroBasket 2003 final, when the Angolans topped the Nigerians 86-65 in Alexandria, Egypt.
Oguchi was the star player, as Nigeria created history in Rades, on the outskirts of Tunis, Tunisia. The victory was enough to secure an automatic qualification for the 2016 Rio Olympics, leaving Angola along with those that finish third and fourth to battle for their Rio places in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
Their performance was the stuff legends were made out of, with the country rising in unison to hail the sports heroes of our time, for they performed what seemed impossible, despite limited financial support from the Ministry of Sports. But truth be told, this feat would have been a stillborn had the Tijani Umar-led Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) not reached out to Nigerian stars based and playing overseas.
It was by a distance the biggest sporting achievement in the country since Buhari became the President on May 29, 2015, dwarfing the Golden Eaglets cup-winning feat at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Chile in October and the Dream Team’s gold-wining feat at the 2015 Africa U-23 Championship in Dakar, Senegal late last year.
But regrettably and sadly too, the valiant and victorious D’Tigers side were not accorded the sort of treatment due to an African king as the Buhari administration took about five months to hand out a paltry N600,000 to each player
The reward package incensed not a few of the basketball players present at the January 21 reception ceremony at Aso Rock. It was simply unbelievable that the team could be so treated with such cash reward while their juniors, the Golden Eaglets were given N1.2 million each for winning a fifth FIFA U-17 World Cup title in Chile.
It showed the sports direction of President Buhari, who observers felt was not well briefed on the significance of D’Tigers’ AfroBasket triumph, raising questions again of the role played by the Sports Ministry under Dalung’s supervision. The Under 17 boys were rewarded more than men who are professionals based in the United. SAD.
The year just gone by
A retrospective reflection of the last one year of sports in Buhari’s administration shows that despite the limited achievements recorded by the likes of the D’Tigers, Golden Eaglets and the Dream Team, Nigeria had little to cheer about as the Eagles failed to qualify for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, poor funding continues to hamper preparations for the Rio Olympics in August and crisis crept into the sports sector, with the Minister of Sports seemingly orchestrating part of the leadership feud in the football and basketball families.
And unless he is called to order, Dalung may continue to portray the Buhari administration in bad light going by his controversial ways.
The minister had alleged that his former Director General Yakmut Alhassan could not account for the N2.9 Billion the President approved for the last All Africa Games and Rio Olympics preparations. This happening under an administration fighting corruption deserves to be probed otherwise it is another bad image for the Buhari administration.