President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday appointed Mr Sunday Dare as the new Minister of Sports for Youths and Development to replace Barrister Solomon Dalung, in a move that came as a surprise to many sports-loving Nigerians.
An astute communications man with a rich background as an outstanding and awards winning multimedia journalist, not many people could have predicted that this soft-spoken former general editor of The News was the man earmarked for this challenging post by the Commander-in-Chief.
There is that initial tinge of disappointment in many a sports pundit that the President yet again did not appoint a minister with established working experience in sports in general.
However, there seem to be rays of hope that the expertise in public policy designing and implementation of this 2009 Voice of America Meritorious Honor Award winner could be crucial as his administration seek to reshape the decadent nature of Nigeria sports in general, and football in particular.
So what does every football fan expect of the 35th Sports Minister in Nigeria sports history?
Mr Dare needs primarily to keep up the success streak of his predecessor.
True, Barr. Dalung was not Nigeria’s favourite sports minister but a few weeks after assuming office, the Golden Eaglets won their fifth title at the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup hosted by Chile, where Victor Osimhen banged in 10 goals and Kelechi Nwakali was named the tournament’s Best Player.
Under the former minister, the Super Falcons’ achieved Africa Women Cup of Nations back-to-back wins in Cameroon in 2016 and Ghana in 2018.
The ex-prison official also must be applauded for his role – whatever it is – in supporting the Super Eagles to become the first African country to qualify for Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup with a game in hand.
However, for each forward step taken under the infamous Barrister, it appears two steps were taken backwards. Pitfalls which the new boss in charge would be smart to avoid like Ebola-infected bush meat.
The Public image of the new Minister should not be taken lightly.
Fans have suffered enough embarrassment and cannot bear another four years of a comedian being in charge of the running of our sports. Nigeria football does not need another individual at its very top who is arrogant, boastful and with a dress sense that could mildly be regarded as weird.
NFF Presidency crisis
The NFF presidency tussle has to be taken out of the courts and settled in-house. FIFA is in support of the Amaju Pinnick-led administration. The President and Vice President are clearly also in support. Nigerians as well can bear their beautiful imperfections. But some forces backed by the former minister seemed hell-bent on sacking them out of the Glass House, with that ignoble action nearly earning the nation a FIFA suspension. Mr Dare can put a good foot forward by quickly calming that particular storm.
Administrative issues continue to bedevil our participation in international tournaments.
Events and games were poorly prepared for. The welfare of players took the backseat. Bonuses were either delayed or slashed.
The last administration’s handling of the country’s 2016 Rio Olympics campaign – which would probably go down in history as Nigeria’s worst at any global event – still leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
Samson Siasia’s U-23 side to Rio may have creditably returned with a bronze medal but while yet in the US before the trip to Brazil, the team barely had kits to train with, had no welfare packages and almost missed their first game of the Olympics, arriving just a few hours to kick off.
Sadly, no lesson was learnt and three years later, at the Africa Cup of Nations, Egypt 2019, the Super Eagles boycotted a couple of trainings – with the threat to skip the tournament proper – due to mismanagement of funds.
Again, the Presidency had to step in to remedy the ugly situation. It would be awesome if this terrible trend could end.
IAAF $135,000 funds
Recently, the Minister’s handling of the IAAF wrongful transaction has left much to be desired. It was brought to public knowledge that the International Athletics Associations Federation erroneously sent a sum of $135,000 to the AFN. But instead of returning the said funds, every public official from the Minister to the messenger has been trading blames.
The age-long problems have still not been sufficiently addressed.
Many of Nigeria’s sporting facilities are yet in a state of rot and decline. Grassroots sports have been neglected and paid lip service to. No one from the top overly seemed concerned about the development of the game right from the grassroots. Even the country’s annual schoolboys’ competition, the Manuwa/ Adebajo Cup, has long stopped and age-group competitions are now left in the hands of traders and traffickers.
The Nigeria Premier Football League paints a picture of a set-up that lacks direction and vision, mirroring the state of the nation’s football administrators.
There is yet no regulation for the countless ‘football academies’ that litter almost every corner of the nation’s major cities.
Serious attention has to be focused on other sports such as weightlifting, athletics, table tennis, para-athletics, etc. Paucity of funds, poor preparations ahead of major tournaments, lack of support for national teams, lack of provision of training gears and equipment, and non-renovation of facilities were most evident under the past administration and left unattended to.
The task on ground is daunting and in fairness, it may require more than four years to fix.
If you look beyond his odd red beret and khaki uniform, Dalung did his best for a rookie minister. It’s actually soothing that the days of the ‘United States of Nigeria’ is over. But it in essence place so much expectations on the shoulders of Mr Sunday Dare. As a modern-day technocrat and with excellence seemingly following him everywhere he works, it is hoped that he can leave a legacy that would speak for him after his present seat has long been vacated.