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How long more can Nigerians wait?

By Patrick Omorodion

IT is less than 48 hours to the New Year, a year our political gladiators will intensify their campaigns, canvassing for votes from the masses to either return to power or, for those not yet occupying any position, climb to power.

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Ordinarily, the voters should ask their leaders to show them their score cards for the years they have governed, to know whether they deserve to return or shown the door. And this should be to those elected to serve and not necessarily those appointed like the ministers and others.

If Nigerian sports men and women are to make their decisions whether to return President Muhammadu Buhari to power based on the performance of his government in sports, majority will say a no-no because of the performance of the man he gave the responsibility to surpervise the sports sector.

President Buhari for the better part of over three and a half years, ignored the cry of Nigerians over the way his Youth and Sports Mnister, Barrister Solomon Dalung handled the sector which Nigerians believe unites us as a people more than any other sector.

Dalung’s three years plus in office has been toppsy turvy, prompting stakeholders to ask why novices are always brought to supervise the sports sector. The nearest most appointees have ever gotten to in sports was their involvement in primary or secondary schools Inter-House sports competitions.

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The Plateau-born lawyer and ex prison warder told an audience at the Transcorp Hilton hotel in Abuja during his first public appearance as the sports minister when he received the world conquering Golden Eaglets who won the 2015 U17 World Cup in Chile that he was nick-named “small pepper” because “of the way I tormented defenders during football matches”. That was the crendential he brought to sports.

After that first encounter, I attended another function when he hosted the committee of Directors of sports in Nigeria at the Abuja National Stadium, and there he labelled the sports ministry as “very corrupt”.

He told a story how he was short-changed of his ecstacode as a member of the Government delegation to the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations in Mali, capping it with a promise to rid the sector of corruption in line with President Buhari’s zero-tolerance policy on corruption.

From that moment, I knew Nigerian sports men and women as well as the administrators were in for a tough time. He came on board few weeks to the 2016 Rio Olympics but as a novice, instead of seeking advice from the then Director-General of the defunct National Sports Commission, Mallam Alhassan Yakmut, his focus was to sideline the DG and plot a way to get him out of the way.

As a result, preparations for the Olympic Games suffered. His excuse was that government had not released funds for that purpose and he never made any extra effort to source funds to implement the programme with the hope of reimbursing the creditors later.

Even cries from then DG that he left over N650m from the budget of the 2015 All Africa Games for the purpose of preparing athletes for the Olympics fell on deaf ears. Till date, even the government which claims it is fighting corruption didn’t find it necessary to investigate the claims of Malam Yakmut.

When the Amaju Pinnick-led Nigeria Football Federation, NFF went the extra mile to make arrangement for the Samson Siasia-tutored U-23 football team to train in the US, Dalung denied knowledge of the team and even alleged that the friedlies arranged for the team were a scam. When it became obvious Team Nigeria may not return from Rio with any medal, Dalung swallowed his pride and started rooting for the football team which eventually fetched Nigeria’s only medal at the Games, a bronze medal that was again tagged ‘Golden’.

Dalung caused so much rumpus in sports including exhuming the forgotten NFF leadership tussle between Pinnick and Chris Giwa, making the country a laughing stock before the world especially FIFA which stated clearly that it recongises only the Warri Congress of 2014 which brought Pinnick to power.

What won’t Dalung do? He dropped the name of the president during the CAF election of 2017, saying government wanted incumbent Issa Hayatou to return because “Cameroon is our neighbour”. Because Pinnick ignored him and followed his heart and that of many football stakeholders in Africa who believed Hayatou had overstayed his time and should go, Dalung never forgave him.

What of the Sports Federations elections which was characterised by crises rising from fraudulent removal of ‘stubborn’ candidates’ names to favour the ministry’s candidates? The whole exercise where punches were freely thrown and positions given to the highest bidders were described as a “total shame and disgrace to Nigerian sports”

The confusion brought to sports by Dalung are too numerous to mention here. Even the few achievements recorded in the outgoing year were not planned for but were as a result of the determined never-say-die spirit of the Nigerian athlete. Hence the question by Nigerians as we go into a new year, “How long can we wait to see Dalung’s exit”.

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