By George Aluo
Goodluck! That was what President Muhammadu Buhari had in sports few months after he assumed office on May 29, 2015 in his “second missionary” journey as the nation’s number one citizen.
The nation won two major international trophies in basketball and soccer in less than six months of Buhari’s tenure. The first of the laurels came in August, courtesy of D’Tigers, Nigeria’s national male basketball team that won the Tunisia 2015 AfroBasket Championship, a tournament that Africa’s number one basketball nation, Angola had always won. D’Tigers shocked the continent when they dusted Angola in the final on August 30 to win the cup for the very first time and in the process secured a Rio 2016 Olympics qualification ticket.
As if the basketball feat was only a tip of the iceberg, the Golden Eaglets went to the Chile 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup, saw and conquered. The Emmanuel Amuneke tutored side defeated Mali by 2-0 to lift the trophy.
Before the Golden Eaglets’ Chile feat, Team Nigeria was in Congo for the African Olympics-The All Africa Games in Congo which ran from September 4-18. Nigeria did not do badly at the 11th All Africa Games where she finished second behind perennial winners Egypt. Given the level of the country’s poor preparation for the Congo games, many had thought it was going to be a flop for Nigeria. But the team succeeded against all odds to finish second. Many analysts considered that showing as good enough against the backdrop of the fact that Nigeria has never done better than that, safe for when we hosted and won at home in COJA 2003.
President Muhammadu Buhari had while congratulating the team for finishing second on the overall medals table expressed satisfaction and appreciation at the performance of the country at the continental event.
Buhari also urged the Nigerian athletes to improve on their performance even as he assured them that his administration would accord priority to sports, in addition to boosting the morale of the players and enhancing training for future challenges.
He reminded the sportsmen and women not to rest on their oars “because challenges grow bigger and more complex each day.”
Talk about according “priority to sports”….Has the President marched words with action in the last 365 days?
Well, for a government that didn’t promise anything when it comes to sports during its campaign, one would say the President has not done badly.
It would be noted that President Buhari released funds in good time for the All Africa Games. In what was a clear departure from the past when money was released for events a week or two to such events, the president had after meeting the leadership of the then National Sports Commission (NSC) which has since been scrapped, doled out money for the All Africa Games, as well as preparation for the Rio 2016 Olympics, three months before the Congo games, with the president warning that the N2.9bn he approved must be accounted for to the last kobo.
One decision of the President that has endeared him to sports lovers is the reward of the all conquering 1985 World Golden Eaglets. The Eaglets 30 years back had conquered the world in the maiden edition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup under President Buhari’s watch. Buhari, a military leader then had pledged to reward the players and their coaches handsomely, a promise he never fulfilled before being booted out of office, no thanks to the dark days of incessant military coups in the country.
The President who apparently has not forgotten his promise decided to “ do something” while receiving other victorious Nigerian athletes.
He announced that each member of the 1985 Nigeria U-17 team would smile to the bank with the sum of two million naira with Emmanuel Amuneke’s boys receiving a sum of 1.2 million for their triumph in Chile.
Players and handler of the 2015 Caf U-23 Championship got N500,000 each while N300,000 went to the assistant coaches and other officials.
While dishing out the rewards, President Buhari lamented the 2012 London Olympics’ poor outing, even as he pledged his government’s support in the upcoming Rio Olympic and urged the athletes to continue doing the nation proud in their various sports.
“It gladdens my heart to play host to our athletes who have made the nation proud at various international competitions,” said President Buhari.
“Nigerian athletes have defiled challenges and always demonstrated that the Nigerian spirit is indomitable. On behalf of all Nigerians, I wish to express my appreciation to our athletes and officials for their consistency, determination, willpower and commitment for success witnessed in recent times. I urge the managers of this sector [Sports] to keep up with the momentum. I wish to assure the federal government will not relent in its efforts to ensure our sports men and women continue to excel in international competitions. I’m particularly concerned about our participation at the forthcoming Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Our sour experience at the London 2012 Olympics where Nigerian athletes failed to make it to the podium. This administration wants a change in the way we do things. We must strive to do better in the way we manage our time, financial and physical resources to ensure success in the next Olympics. We must aim for optimal performance in all international competitions. I wish to remark that this day’s event is special to me because God granted me the privilege to fulfill my promise in 1985 to all the winners of the maiden edition of the Fifa U-17 World Championship.
“The reasons for the 30 years delay is well known. It is sad to note that a member of the team [Awa Ubare] is not here today. In line with our belief that the labour of our heroes past should never be in vain, we want to say thank you to our 1985 Golden Eaglets for the success.
President Buhari’s “N2m token of appreciation” to the Golden Eaglets is one not a few people hailed. A member of the squad Jonathan Akpoborie tweeted after the gesture:
“It is not every time you remember someone after 30 years. I want to thank Mr. President. Even if it is #2.00 that was given to us, bringing us together alone was priceless.”
Captain of the 1985 Eaglets, Nduka Ugbade on his part stated: “Honestly speaking, I m short of words. The President’s move was unexpected. “I m surprised that the President can remember after 30 years that we have not been honoured and he decided to do this. “It’s quiet unbelievable. This will greatly help most of the guys that played for the team, but are not doing well (at the moment).’’
If President Buhari impressed stakeholders before the Congo games and for rewarding Nigerian teams, he disappointed many when he named Solomon Dalung the new sports minister when he formed his cabinet after a long wait by Nigerians.
Who is Dalung? Where is he coming from? Another outsider being foisted on sports…that was the feeling in sports circle when Dalung emerged sports minister. Many had tipped Raji Fashola or Heineken Lokpobiri to be in sports, since the duo could pass for “insiders in sports”, but it was not to be as the Khaki cum beret wearing Comrade from Jos, Plateau State got the job.
As if that was not enough disappointment, the National Sports Commission (NSC) was eventually scrapped when Buhari reeled out his new ministries.
Under the present dispensation, sports is back to the era when it did not stand alone. What we now have is a Federal Ministry of Sports and Youth Development. The minister in charge today has other things outside sports to supervise. Which is better- sports under the ministry of Sports and Youth Development and sports under the NSC? Stakeholders believe the NSC option is better. The chairman of the commission, before the present set up, enjoyed a position in cabinet as a minister. The commission also had a DG who is always a sports technocrat from within the commission. Renowned sports experts like Dr Amos Adamu and Dr. Patrick Ekeji had occupied that position.
Stakeholders are also not happy that an “outsider” was named sports minister. Dalung since coming on board has shown that he is not on a familiar terrain.
The minister has not helped matters with some of the moves he has so far made. Rather than see how to implement the several recommendations made over the years on how to move sports forward in the country, the minister recently set up a sports reform committee whose mandate is to advise government on how sports can be private sector driven.
“What would Dalung’s committee be recommending that has not been put down by several other committees before now? We did an extensive job after the London 2012 Olympics in a presidential retreat convened by President Jonathan. Dalung should have dusted those recommendations and several other white papers on Nigerian sports.” Those were the words of Prof. Ken Anugweje of the University of Port Harcourt who is a sports expert and a member of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria.
Dalung has also not impressed many with his handling of the crisis rocking Nigeria football. In fact, stakeholders believe he is the architect of the present bickering in our football. Dalung had in the name of a peace parley he convened between Pinnick Amaju and Chris Giwa, stoked fresh crisis in Nigerian football. Since after that “peace parley” where Amaju and Giwa went for each others jugular, Nigerian football has known no peace. Dalung has tacitly endorsed Giwa’s move to return to the regular court, a situation that has seen the country being threatened again by FIFA ban.
The distractions has not helped Nigerian football as the Super Eagles for the second consecutive time failed to qualify for the African Cup of Nations which ordinarily should be Nigeria’s birth right, given the nation’s soccer pedigree.
Many also believe Dalung has not done well in the area of ensuring that there is accountability and transparency in Nigerian sports, a situation that has seen the private sector shying away from investing in Nigerian sports.
The sports ministry has not been able to account for the N2.9bn released by the President before the Congo All Africa Games, a development which Dalung blamed on NSC’s former DG, Alhassan Yakmut. Yakmut has since said he briefed the minister fully on how the money was spent and how much was left in the coffers of the ministry.
While the EFCC continues its probe, Nigeria’s participation at the Olympics may suffer a big setback. President Buhari has in line with his zero tolerance to corruption made it clear that the sports ministry will not get a kobo for the Olympics until it accounts to the last dime how the N2.9 bn he released was spent.
On the whole, Nigeria in the last one year has not fared badly in sports, but the country could have done a lot better with good administrators in charge. The bane of the country’s sports has been that of administration, failure to maintain her sports facilities and the none involvement of the private sector. Unlike in the developed world, sports is not yet big business in the country. And for all these to change, those running the show must look at the bigger picture and not just being interested in who occupies the NFF Glass House. Government must create the enabling environment for the private sector to get involved and for this to happen, there must be less scandal stories around the sector. Those in charge must be transparent and make accountability and the welfare of the nation’s athletes a top priority.
President Buhari in line with his CHANGE agenda, must beam his searchlight more on sports and ensure that the era of “monkey dey work and baboon dey chop,” as they say in local parlance ends in the sector.