By Patrick Omorodion
He is SAD but definitely not a sad man. Sunday Akin Dare is the new man in charge of the ministry of Youth and Sports Development. The euphoria that greeted his appointment last Wednesday by President Mohammadu Buhari was such that you will think that Nigeria won a major international honour.
No. It was just that Nigerians, including sportsmen and women, finally heaved a sigh of relief that the four years of mismanagement of the sports sector by boy scout-looking Barrister Solomon Dalung came to a conclusive end.
Before President Buhari announced his ministerial nominees, Dalung, said to be lobbying seriously to return as sports minister, boasted that nothing will stop his comeback. This left stakeholders in the sports sector, except of course those who benefitted from his mishandling of the sector, praying fervently that Buhari should not make the mistake of returning him because another four years of his stay will mean final nailing of sports in Nigeria.
So the arrival of SAD has brought a lot of relief. But the euphoria should end there because there is a lot of work to be done. The new sheriff must not only hit the ground running, he must do everything to avoid the mistakes of his immediate predecessor that portrayed Nigeria in bad light around the globe.
Thank God Mr Dare is not new in administration at a high level and must not allow himself to be hoodwinked by people he will meet at the Youth and Sports Ministry as well as those always hanging around its corridors, seeking one favour or the other, for selfish interest rather than interest of sports.
One major warning for the Oyo State-born administrator is that he must not see himself as a football minister. His first major pronouncement already is that the Moshood Abiola National Stadium would be privatised and the football pitch given priority attention because of football.
It is good to remind him that apart from the football pitch, the tartan tracks also requires serious attention for track and field events which have been our area of strength but losing grip of lately. Other facilities for other sports like wrestling, weightlifting, boxing, basketball, badminton and tennis, among others, need urgent attention too.
Currently, the African Games is going on in Morocco and other countries have started raking in gold medals whereas Nigeria is still lost on the medals table. This is because these countries are doing well in other sports. Nigeria’s Flying Eagles just qualified for the semi-final of the football event and the best they can get is a gold medal if they get to the final and win. But wrestling, weightlifting and cycling can rake in enough medals to shoot Nigeria up to the first three positions. Nigeria placed second at the last Games in Congo Brazzaville four years and anything less is not good enough. Especially with the array of talented athletes we have.
Immediately after the African Games, Dare should ensure that preparation for the biggest stage, the Olympic Games commences. He mustn’t wait till the last minute like Dalung did in 2016 and eventually told the world that athletes don’t need long training to win at the Olympics.
Dalung had said all they needed was “a winning mentality”. And Nigeria returned with only a bronze medal won by the football team which Dalung had abandoned until they were rescued by an American airline and a Japanese businessman. Again Dare must have a listening ear. He must consult and seek advice from the technocrats he will meet on ground. However, he must be able to differentiate between the bootlickers and sycophants who may not want to tell him the bitter truth. If Dare must do well, he should listen to the good, bad and ugly sides of our sports in order to be able to help fix the broken parts and fortify the good ones.
The ministry does not start and end with the staff. There are other individuals like federation members. He must endeavour to hold constant meetings with them because they wear sports shoes and know where it pinches most. He must identify the active federations and support them with government grants while also helping to awaken those still slumbering. However, the ministry must not dictate to them but try and be the regulatory organ it is supposed to be so that it doesn’t incur the wrath of the world governing bodies of the various sports.
This brings to mind the lingering crisis in some federations, especially the Nigeria Basketball Federation, NBBF. Yes, the senior women’s basketball team just won the continental crown for a consecutive time and the trophy was presented to him. He must be told that all is not well with the federation as the crisis has undermined the game at the local level with players idle for the better part of two years now. He must ensure that normalcy returns to the NBBF.
He should have heard of the international disgrace brought on the country when the sports ministry and the Athletics Federation of Nigeria, AFN couldn’t account for the $135,000 overpaid the AFN by the world body, the IAAF. Something must be done to fish out the ‘thieves’, penalise them and the money returned to the owner to save the country’s image.
Lastly, Honourable minister, if you are not aware, there is a rumour of a N200m hurriedly withdrawn from the ministry’s coffers shortly after President Buhari dissolved the last cabinet. You can ask for the papers from the officers in charge in the absence of a substantive minister.
The APC government of President Buhari is hinged on the fight against corruption and it must be seen to be fighting corruption in the real sense of it. You should stamp your authority and see that money meant for sports, which everyone knows is not even enough, is not misappropriated by those whose duty it is to use it wisely. Welcome on board SAD.