By Kehinde Olaosebikan
On May 13, 2022, while in Abuja on a political expedition, I stopped at the office of the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Chief Sunday Dare, to brief him on some developments at home. As I was approaching the office, I saw him rushing out, descending the staircase to his office, briskly. Hurrying!
My thought was that he must be hastening to meet an appointment in the Villa with the President. But as he sighted me, he said: “Kenny, I am going to the stadium, join me there.”
He practically raced to his waiting official car and sped off to the stadium.
At the stadium, we met Mary Onyali-Omagbemi, who received us and commended the minister for coming to the training session promptly “as usual.” I wondered whether he had been attending their training. I was waiting for a good opportunity to confirm this.
We immediately entered the main bowl, where athletes from the 36 states of the federation and Abuja, together with their compatriots from the Diaspora, were training, competing for places to represent Nigeria at the just-concluded Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, United Kingdom.
I observed as the minister passed messages and instructions to Onyali, his special adviser (technical), from time to time. Fully alert, the former track queen would elegantly dash down to the field and return to the minister. The two of them were obviously fretful but clearly focused and steadfast in getting the best out of the hundreds that came for selections.
As the heats were going on, the National Convection Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), led by a former Senate President, David Mark, arrived at the stadium. The party was billed to use the stadium for its national convention a few days ahead. The minister took some minutes off to receive them.
But Mark, who was in company with the governors of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa, Benue State, Sam Ortom, immediate past governor of Imo State, Emeka Ihedioha, and Senator Philip Aduda, among others, was surprised to meet him on the field.
He said: “You are supposed to be in the office treating files.”
Dare replied: “The main job is here, sir.”
They all laughed. They were all impressed.
We returned to the training session. Sitting next to Onyali, I was able to get more on the extra efforts put in by the minister towards getting the best team for Nigeria and the best out of the athletes and coaches.
The minister, according to Onyali, instilled discipline in the team, ensuring that all the rules were obeyed to the letter, in terms of punctuality, kitting and conduct. She disclosed that the minister consistently displayed it in all his engagements with the team too.
She confirmed (my inquisition) that the minister made time to attend their training and always promptly. Onyali told me too that the minister had been a great source of motivation to the team, as he personally interacted with them, giving them confidence and expressing genuine love to them.
Dare profusely displayed this in my chance audience of the heats and final selection of the team to the most successful Commonwealth Games Nigeria ever attended since 1950. He got to the stadium ahead of the time for the commencement of the heats. Showing uncommon commitment and impartiality, he watched all the heats and final selection and ensured that only the best were chosen. The minister mingled with the team amiably with firm assurance that the President, his ministry and the entire country were fully behind them.
Onyali did not forget to inform me of all the efforts already made by the minister in getting the nation prepared for the Commonwealth and other international sporting engagements. She said the first thing the minister did was the unprecedented 300 per cent increase in rewards for medals won at all competitions, which she disclosed was a major motivation and attraction for athletes to compete for Nigeria.
She revealed that Dare strategically delivered the National Sports Festival and National Youth Games, amid COVID-19 complications, to boost Nigerian sports and chances at international tournaments.
On why there were many performing locals on the pitch struggling to be selected, Onyali said the Return to Grassroots Sports Development, National Principal’s Cup and talent hunt programmes of the ministry brought out so many great talents from towns and villages across the country.
And as we were leaving the stadium, Onyali asked me jokingly, as a friend of he minister, whether I had adopted a game or an athlete, in the spirit of the minister’s Adopt An Athlete initiative. I responded, I adopted table tennis and was planning to build a tennis academy in my village, Onipe. She said, “Thank you sir,” with so much respect and passion that made me feel that this just must be done.
Now watching and reading about the great exploits of the athletes to the Birmingham Games gives me real joy. That the hard work of Dare, Onyali and other officials of the ministry paid off with the best outing of Nigeria in the past 72 years is gladdening.
The Oyo State representative in the federal cabinet has successfully, through his effectiveness, efficiency, total dedication, creativity and doggedness changed Nigeria’s narrative from negatives to positives and from sadness to elation.
One is, however, not surprised that such a superlative achievement is being recorded by Dare, considering his background as a Grade A journalist and a product of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s college of leadership. Without any fear of contradiction, the two ministers that have stood out in this administration and are adding value are graduates of the college.
Today, Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, is one of the best ministers. He is the most terrific in terms of public communication among the ministers. His periodic interventions in defending, expatiating, projecting and promoting Buhari and his government are second to none.
Constantly exuding brilliance, intelligence and courage laced with panache, Fashola is clearly, Buhari’s Mr Fix it. Now, at a time when our image has gone down to its lowest ebb; when Nigerians have become sad and angry about their country; when young Nigerians don’t really feel comfortable identifying with Nigeria talk less of calling themselves Nigerians; when all of us are tired of Nigeria as alluded to by the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno; Dare, through effective leadership, dedication, patriotism and commitment has brought glory and joy to replace our sadness and angst. He has brought hope to our forlorn and despairs.
Fashola and Dare served as his Chief of Staff (CoS). Fashola was Tinubu’s CoS when he was governor of Lagos State. Sunday served Tinubu as CoS as a private citizen, indicating that whether in office and outside of it, Tinubu possesses a great knack to identify and assemble the best at all times.
A confirmation that the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) already has the best team on ground and ready to hit the ground running from May 29, 2023 as President, Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Buhari’s declaration that Dare organised and inspired Team Nigeria to the Commonwealth Games as his parting gift to Nigeria, confirms that the minister is the all round best.
It reminds me of the popular quote of Walt Whitman: “Keep your face always towards the sunshine, and the shadows will fall behind you”, as Dare has done in running the ministry in the last three years, leaving the shadows right behind him.
•Olaosebikan, CEO, Midas Communications, writes through: [email protected]