•Stay away from controversies – Okpala advises
By Jacob Ajom
On August 21, President Muhammadu Buhari unveiled his new cabinet with Sunday Akin Dare as the new Minister of Youth and Sports Development. It is clear that Dare has a myriad of problems he has to grapple with. Sport involves people of all ages; but active sportsmen and women are mostly the youth, who constitute a majority of the population of Nigeria. The new minister should, therefore, know that he would be presiding over a ministry that deals with the needs of a volatile population, active and eager to achieve. Still packed with an energetic capacity to perform towards achieving their dreams, the youth have no room for failure.
That is why each time there is a development in the sports sector, many are affected, for good or bad. To avoid further downward slide of the country’s sporting fortunes, the new minister has to fix some of the existing issues he inherited from the calamitous four-year reign of Solomon Dalung.
One of the biggest challenges the new sports minister would face is that of disharmony in some key sports federations in the country. Since the infamous elections conducted by the last minister of sports, Barrister Solomon Dalung in June 2017, there has not been peace in some federations. One of the federations, the Nigerian Basketball Federation still parades two boards, two presidents and different programmes.
Although the Kida board, with the open support of the immediate past minister and the Nigeria Olympic Committee, seems to be having the upper hand with some breath-taking achievements on the international front, there has been no peace in the basketball family. As a sector that brings so much joy to millions of Nigerians, yet least catered for, the minister should, as a matter of urgency settle the rift between the two gladiators and hordes of their supporters.
There re also stories of disturbing divisions in Athletics Federation of Nigeria, Taekwondo federation, the Nigeria Paralympic Committee, among others. No meaningful growth can be recorded under such rancorous atmosphere.
The second, and perhaps more pressing is the attitude of civil servants to sports development. The traditional civil servant in Nigeria is noted for slow execution of programmes. The machinery of government revolves around a structure that is well entrenched in the traditions of due process.
One cannot overlook one step because one wants to achieve certain goals. To elicit empathy and commitment from this age-long machinery, everybody in the ministry has to be told and made to feel that he/she is part of the new movement. The minister must run an all-inclusive regime that would see everybody called to action. If he comes with the usual ‘I know it all’ attitude, he would be left alone to roast in his own juice when the chips are down. While it is acceptable to welcome external influences in the administration of sports from time to time, the minister must note that the internal machinery, which is usually very protective of its interests, is the fulcrum around which the ministry revolves. This would be key to his success or failure.
The new minister should look at sports from a very broad perspective, unlike the narrow view his predecessors had run the ministry. Successive ministers of sports in Nigeria had always focused on football to the detriment of other sports. Former Nigeria international, Sylvanus Okpala is of the view that the new minister should accord equal attention to every sport practiced in the country, the same way he would, for instance, accord football, athletics or basketball. “He must show equal commitment to every sport.
I know a sport like boxing used to be Nigeria’s gold mine. In the professional ranks, Nigeria has excelled with the likes of Hogan Bassey and Richard Ihetu a.k.a. Dick Tiger. Among others, Okpala said.
He urged the new minister to chart a new course for sports in the country by bringing peace to some troubled federations and avoid dabbling into issues he should not be party to.
“Above all, he must not fight the Nigeria Football Federation, like Dalung did. The new minister should note that the NFF, as an affiliate to FIFA is governed by FIFA Statutes.”
The new minister should seek advise from stakeholders when faced with certain situations as those close to him could give him the wrong advise for some selfish reasons.”
Looking back Okpala recalled, “The last minister dabbled into areas he lacked knowledge about. It is not the ministry that runs football. It is the NFF. And there are rules guiding all these things. If the game is played according to the rules there will be no friction. And there would be peace.”