By Biodun Owoborode

Yesterday, as the national delegates of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were being accredited and were taking their turns to enter the venue of their National Convention/Presidential Primaries, I could not help but smile to myself. Here was the former ruling party holding such a historic event at The Velodrome of the Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja, a stadium that was built and damaged within their 16 years of holding power at the centre. That same Velodrome was sometimes only good enough to store hundreds of abandoned cooking gas cylinders during the last PDP administration. Today, the place is hosting an event as important  as the PDP Convention. How ironic!

Even if the PDP is unaware, I am sure that Nigerians know this would not have been possible without the leadership and commitment of President Muhammadu Buhari. In his wisdom, he appointed the erudite and strategic Chief Sunday Dare as the Minister of Youth and Sports Development in August 2019. That appointment is why the PDP sat pretty at the renovated Velodrome. He is also the reason the football pitch of the main bowl of the stadium is looking green, well-manicured with automatic sprinkler system and two new scoreboards. Those things did not happen by magic. Chief Dare worked with the private sector to make them happen. That is the ingenuity that PDP did not have.

As the Minister turns 56 years old on Sunday, 29 May 2022, I believe it is necessary that we take stock of his almost three short years in office and consider what he has done in that time.

Chief Dare has a great collection of firsts to make anyone envious. The National Youth Conference (NYC), which held last November, was the very first in Nigeria’s history and brought together more than 700 young people to discuss the issues that most affect them. It was indeed national in nature as more than 50,000 Youth indicated their willingness to participate and these cut across gender, status, tribe, and physical ability. And even before then was the launch of the Nigerian Youth Investment Fund (NYIF), which has seen more than 27,000 youth beneficiaries as at 26 May, 2022. These programmes never existed until Chief Dare became Minister.

In Nigeria, the office Chief Dare holds was hitherto considered to be nothing more than ‘Minister of Football.’ He came and has changed the game completely. Instead of sport dominating the attention of the Ministry, he has paid equal attention to Youth Development as he has to Sports Development. Despite having very limited budget, the man has squeezed water out of the proverbial rock. Working extremely closely with the private sector, his office has created many initiatives directed at improving the employability of the Nigerian Youth, through the Ministry’s flagship youth development programme – DEEL (Digital Skills, Entrepreneurship, Employability and Leadership). Some of these initiatives include the Work Experience Programme (WEP) with 2,505 beneficiaries, Digital Skills training with over 3,000 youth empowered with laptops, the 60-day App Challenge that saw another 4,430 youth trained and 10 winners empowered with 1 million naira each. He also worked with tech giant Google to train 37,264 youth entrepreneurs. The IBM/FMYSD Digital training also got 30,000 youth trained and 6,523 youth got robotics training from Bredhub, an educational institute. Overall, more than 240,000 Nigerian youth have been trained in varied sectors of digital skills, vocational skills and entrepreneurship.

Being a proactive public servant, Chief Dare had to bring the same private sector connections into funding sports. He was once quoted as saying, “The global practice is for the private sector to partner with the public sector in tapping into the business potential of the sports sector. The sector has economic potential to develop strategies and interventions in ensuring economic growth and prosperity, which in turn guarantees social and community development across all spheres”.

This mindset is what led him to seek the assistance of the Nigeria Economic Summit Group, amongst many other critical stakeholders, to pursue the evolution of a new National Sports Industry Policy to reposition sports as a business. This has got the blessing of the Federal Economic Council and billions have been allocated to building more sporting arenas in the National Development Plan. He was also the one who pushed the Adopt-an-Athlete initiative, which saw several Nigeria sportsmen and sportswomen sponsored by private organizations and individuals to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The Adopt-a-Pitch initiative is what delivered the football pitch of the aforementioned Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja, with funding by the Dangote Group and the rehabilitation of the football pitch of the National Stadium, Surulere, by Chief Kesington Adebutu.

Besides these monumental achievements, Chief Dare has demonstrated amazing maturity and steadfastness to sidestep the many trapdoors that befell many of his predecessors. His handling of the many crises around the election of officers into the various Sports Federations have been masterly and courageous. His refusal to key-tow to the many power brokers that have held the Ministry down for decades has seen more reputable and technical hands coming forward to participate in running our sports.

His carriage and eloquence have earned him visits from international partners and diplomats, while he has been invited to partake in high-powered meetings seeking to find lasting solutions to the problem of youth employment. His hard work has also won him awards nationally like the The New Telegraph Newspaper’s Most Innovative Minister, Blueprint Newspapers Sports Icon of the Decade, Global Excellence’ Sports Personality of the Year 2022, Leadership Newspapers Best Performing Minister, amongst over 45 other awards. This goldfish clearly has no place to hide.  

All these he has achieved in less than three years. Who knows what the future holds. As he celebrates his 56th birthday, I hope his energy and commitment will be rewarded with more responsibilities in the future. Nigeria has always needed the strength and ingenuity of people like Chief Sunday Dare, the Agbaakin of Ogbomosholand.

Long may we have him around in sound health

Arc Biodun Owoborode is the Special Assistant (Projects) to the Honourable Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Chief Sunday Dare

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