By Ayodele Philips.
The remark by Delta State Governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, on the performance of Youth and Sports Minister, Chief Sunday Dare, in the last three years as delivered in Asaba, Delta State capital on the night of July 7 2022 at the official unveiling of Delta 2022 National Sports Festival Mascot, may not have been exhaustive with regard to the feats that Dare has garnered so far in the saddle. But the remark still summed up Dare’s distinguished administration of youth and sports in Nigeria.
Okowa said: “Youth and Sports Minister, Chief Sunday Akin Dare, has brought high level commitment to sports development in Nigeria. Yet, he remains so humble in his approach. I am very much encouraged to work with him to see what best can be done for Nigeria. I notice the work he is doing and I am proud of him in this respect.”
The World Athletics Championships in Eugene, Oregon, United States proved to be the crowning glory for sports administration in Nigeria and remarkably under the leadership of Dare.
US-based Tobi Amusan won gold in the 100m hurdles event in 12.12 seconds, breaking the world record in the process. Her compatriot, Ese Brume, also leapt 7.2m in the long jump to win silver on an unforgettable night for Nigerians at home and around the world.
Both Amusan and Brume would soon after win gold medal again in their respective events at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in what turned out as Nigeria’s best performance ever in the quadrennial event with the country winning 12 gold, 9 silver and 14 bronze, totalling 35 medals and representing the highest at a single Commonwealth Games for the country’s contingent, in addition to finishing as the best ranked African country on the medals table after placing 7th.
Indeed, Dare did not leave any one in doubt of his capacity to excel after he took over mantle of leadership of the Ministry of Youth and Sports in August 2019. To say he hit the ground running would be putting it mildly. Perhaps, his background as journalist and administrative experience at the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) combined to help him settle down quickly into the onerous task of marshaling the country’s youth towards a sustainable future as well as revolutionising the sports sector. But he has navigated both terrains enviably.
In what was unprecedented, he established the Nigerian Youth Investment Fund to the tune of N75 billion and immediately earmarked over 30, 000 youths as beneficiaries. The Digital Skills Entrepreneurship Employability Leadership (DEEL) initiative was also introduced to train the youths in eleven different areas that include leadership, robotics and artificial intelligence, mobile device repairs, 60 Days App Challenge, Digital Youth Nigeria through the IBM Digital Nation Africa, Microsoft EMMI, Google Digital on-boarders CDS for youth corps members, tailoring and confectionery, with about 220, 000 beneficiaries both physically and virtually. The Work Experience Programme (WEP), a three-month paid internship, also saw over 4, 000 youths benefitting.
He also provided the aggregator website to help the youths on focused opportunities around programmes involving the government and private sector. Aside renovating five National Youth Development Centres across the country, a feat that did not precede his administration, Dare also signed Memorandum of Understanding bilaterally with Turkey, South Africa, Ethiopia, Ghana, Egypt, Qatar, Iran, Spain and UAE on youth development with concurrence on sports development. The first ever National Youth Conference that Dare staged in November 2021 in Abuja, where over 800 youths from 36 states and the Federal Capital gathered, in addition to over two million participating online, has remained talk-of-the-country for having handed the multitude of Nigerian youths opportunity to share developmental ideas on a common platform. The monthly stipend for members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) witnessed an increase from N18, 000 to N33, 000, drawing rapturous applause from the beneficiaries who unanimously confessed to having not had it so good in the scheme.
A clear cut policy always sets any revolution apart. Dare has demonstrated same for sports since 2019. The Nigerian Sports Industry Policy, which sought to draw inputs from Nigerian sports personalities at home and around the world, has attracted applause for the minister as he seeks to get all the relevant individuals ready to render service to the country. At the moment, the draft of this particular policy is with the Federal Ministry of Justice for vetting. His reclassification of sports as business, which has been approved by the Federal Executive Council, has attracted similar applause, as well as the widely-acclaimed 10-year Football Master Plan that seeks to return the country’s football to its glorious days, the final report of which a committee recently submitted to the sports minister.
A Private-Public Partnership that arose from the adopt-an-infrastructure policy has led to the renovation of Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja; National Stadium, Surulere; Liberty Stadium, Ibadan; and Daura Township Stadium, Daura. The adopt-an-athlete policy has also benefitted 45 male and female athletes as well as the national basketball teams, with over US$500, 000 raised from wealthy individuals and corporate bodies.
The ministry funded the process of securing scholarship for Ineh Oritsemeyiwa and Rosemary Chukwuma to study in the United States of America while the minister also donated personal funds to athletes and officials who participated at the 2019 African Youth Championships in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.
Despite the debilitating effects of Covid-19, the Dare administration still staged the National Youth Games in Ilorin in 2021 to national applause, having also hosted the 2019 edition at the same venue. Edo 2020 National Sports Festival that suffered postponement due to Covid-19 was also successfully staged in 2021, thanks to Dare’s doggedness in mobilising the various stakeholders for the event. Grassroots sports also received adequate attention with the rejuvenated return of National Principals Cup and Talent Hunt Programme that operate across the country. The Principals Cup particularly was in the cooler for 25 years before the Dare administration revived the once popular annual talent hunting event in 2021, even adding athletics and table tennis to the hitherto mainly football competition to give the youth wide participation. He also revived the One Service One Medal Games for the Armed Forces in an obvious move that aims to ensure sports buzz all over the country. The Sports Hall of Fame has also been resuscitated, leading to honouring 60 sports heroes and heroines to mark Nigeria’s 60th independence anniversary in 2020. Plans are in pipeline to revive long distance races in Nigeria. Perhaps, Dare has weighed in his childhood background in the plateau area of the country as he seeks to spare no effort in bringing back to life the moribund distance races on the Pankshin and Mambila mountains. In the midst of this, the sports ministry is also working in consonance with the National Assembly for the return of the National Sports Commission.
Dare initiated and has sustained the Athletes Welfare Scheme commendably, with past athletes benefitting as never before. Families of late heroes Rashidi Yekini, Sam Okwaraji, Ali Jeje and Sunday Bada have benefitted from this scheme that is personally supervised by the minister for good effect. Ailing ex-athletes like Kadiri Ikhana, Sunday Eboigbe, Jerry Okorodudu, Ikem Akaraiwe and Funke Oshonaike have also enjoyed medical support from the ministry. An N11 million relief package was coordinated by the minister to ease athletes’ stress during Covid-19 and over 220 of the affected athletes benefitted from the largesse.
There are also self-sustenance measures being put in place for the various sporting associations under the sports ministry. Specifically, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) is on its way to 85 per cent self-funding, apparently on account of the huge funding that the federation draws from the ministry’s annual budget. A marked improvement has been recorded in handball and wrestling, signifying a fast-paced return to old glory for handball and consistence for wrestling which won a silver medal for Nigeria at the Tokyo Olympics.
Remuneration of athletes for medals won also rose to 300 per cent, itself unprecedented, and it brought commensurate results out of the athletes. The Tigress won Afro Basketball title for three consecutive times, while four gold and three silver were won at the World Junior Athletics Championships; one silver and one bronze won at the Tokyo Olympic Games, the first of such feat in 13 years; and four gold, one silver and seven bronze at the Paralympic Games that followed. There are WAFU B U-20 and U-17 football gold won recently to add up to the medals haul.
Dare’s recent tour of Portugal’s “Football City” in Lisbon is a veritable demonstration of his quest to leave an enduring legacy for sports in Nigeria, which sets him apart from his predecessors. As he said while being hosted at the gigantic facility: “My vision for the resuscitation of current sports facilities in Nigeria is to lay a solid foundation for what will be a continuous step by step transformation of sports infrastructure in Nigeria.”
It is pertinent to state that for the first time since independence in 1960, the Federal Government approved N148 billion for youth (N60 billion) and sports (N88 billion) for the 2021-2025 National Development Plan. It also has to be stated that it is due to Dare’s tireless pursuit of excellence for the two key sectors he superintends.
Dare’s remarkable three-year tenure as youth and sports minister has not been without challenges, chief of which is inadequate funding. However, through his rigorous efforts, this has not posed a serious threat to progress in many instances.
Nigeria’s failure to qualify for the Qatar 2022 World Cup without doubt proved a setback for his administration, especially as it has been 17 years since the Super Eagles failed to qualify for the 2006 World Cup hosted by Germany. However, the non-qualification for Qatar owed more to ill-luck than Dare’s failure to offer the team the necessary support.
The recent withdrawal of Nigeria from international basketball also represents what has been regarded as avoidable challenge, considering the foreseen immediate cost of the withdrawal. But the fact that the crisis in the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF), which sparked the withdrawal, has been resolved also indicates that the unity required to achieve a common purpose for Nigerian basketball has been achieved. Likewise, the downturn in the performance of Super Falcons at the recent 2022 Women Africa Cup of Nations proved a bad patch for women football in the country after the Falcons slipped to unprecedented fourth place in the competition they have dominated since inception in 1998. But the lessons learnt therefrom would serve in the development and promotion of women football in Nigeria going forward.
Without a shred of doubt, however, Dare has overall earned for himself in the past three years an enviable spot in the history of sports administration in Nigeria.
Ayodele Philips, a social commentator lives and works in Lagos