By Patrick Omorodion
It is natural that one must celebrate crossing over from an old year to a new one and thank God for making it possible. Not everybody who started the year with me, for example, made it to this brand new 2017, a year one hopes will have a silver lining after the crushing recession which left almost everything, including our dear sports, grounded.
I would not want to remind the sporting family in Nigeria of the harrowing experience the sector had in 2016 which came to an end yesterday but one thing which could be more bitter than bile is the statement credited to the now controversial Sports and Youth Development Minister, Barrister Solomon Dalung.
With just nine days to the end of a year most would want to forget in a hurry, Dalung arose from the Special Edition of his series of Town Hall Meeting dedicated to youths to say that his ministry operated on zero budgeting, that his ministry was yet to receive its 2016 budget. Nine days to year end? When will the money be released and what will it then be used for?
Nine days to the end of 2016, no money released for sports and yet Dalung said there were plans to send a supplementary budget to the National Assembly. That was about the same time the president submitted the 2017 Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly. The same time the country’s heroines, the Super Falcons were engaged in public protest to press for their owed allowances and bonuses by the NFF, in effect the Sports Ministry which supervises the football house and the Federal Government, which duty it is to release money for the NFF through the ministry.
While stating that his ministry operated zero budgeting for 2016, Dalung added that,”We are definitely going to take steps to ensure that things that bring disgrace to our national image are prevented. As a ministry, we will take careful look at events and ensure a proper planning in the future. We will take proper steps to address some of the things that happened.”
What were the things that happened that brought disgrace to the country? His denial of the football team heading for the 2016 Rio Olympics, their lack of fund which caused them to become stranded in the USA before an airline offered to fly them to Brazil on match day.
The worst embarrassment was caused again when the Super Falcons won the Africa Women’s Nations Cup in Cameroon and refused to vacate their hotel rooms to protest the non payment of their allowances.
In the heat of the protest, Dalung shocked the entire world when he said that the NFF and his ministry never thought the Falcons would win the competition and so were not prepared for it. If that was not the height of insensitivity from a top government official, I don’t know what else could be.
The haphazard way the entire Team Nigeria prepared for the Games and came back empty handed except for the bronze from the rejected team, the U-23 football team managed by Samson Siasia, who the minister embarrassed by asking his captain, John Mikel Obi to take over management of the team from.
Remember I said above that the minister said that he would take steps to avert the ugly incidents in sports in 2016. Also be reminded that the National Assembly has gone on break and is expected to begin work on the budget the president presented to it when it resumes on January 10, 2017.
That is why it is shocking that just two days to the end of 2016 on December 30, the minister, through his aide, Nneka Anibeze, said that because “some of the challenges of 2016 had to do with funding, sponsorship, transparency and accountability”, sports federations should “submit their programmes for 2017 within the first week of the year for proper planning”.
“All federations including the NFF should avail the Ministry of their programmes for the year to enable the government to plan and scrutinize for intervention appropriately. Failing to do so on time will mean forfeiting contingent arrangements for those programmes and federations should not fall back to blackmail the government,” Dalung said.
To prepare the 2016 budget, sports federations submitted their programmes, which included participation in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, yet no money was released to them for preparation. Payment of athletes allowances was epileptic and the athletes went and returned in batches unlike the usual practice of landing at the competition venue as one family in the national colours.
Dalung’s call for sports federations to submit their programmes to his office within this week we are in now is ridiculous. Ridiculous because these programmes are supposed to have been harmonised by the Sports Planning department of the Ministry and used to prepare the budget for sports which is then forwarded to the Budget office in the presidency.
If this has not been done, it means the sports budget is not ready and is not part of what President Buhari has submitted to the National Assembly which resumes in nine days time to start working on the 2017 budget.
So what has the ministry been doing all through 2016? No wonder officials of the Sports Ministry said Barrister hardly visits the Sports Ministry’s offices at the Abuja National Stadium now overtaken by weeds and snakes nor those holed up in the sprawling Federal secretariat in the same Abuja.
I don’t want to believe that no money was approved for sports in 2016. If it was approved and hadn’t be released as at December 21, 2016, when then will it be released? If it had been released, who collected it and for what purpose?
Departments in the Sports Ministry and sports federations have all been crying of lack of fund. What happened to the millions of Naira the National Assembly said it released for some federations, especially those who participated in the Olympics through the Sports Ministry. Only Dalung can answer this million Naira question. If he can’t answer it and has not prepared any budget yet for sports this year, then I dare ask, any hope for sports in 2017?