After the Buhari years of the locust, President Tinubu must build a vibrant Sports Industry

With sports, Tinubu has a panacea that cures all ailments he should not use for mere headaches as Buhari did for eight years.

After the Buhari years of the locust, President Tinubu must build a vibrant Sports Industry

Former president, Muhammadu Buhari promised Nigerians change in every sector; but the neophytes he appointed as Sports Ministers, Solomon Dalung and Sunday Dare, have left the sector worse than they met it. Olukayode Thomas writes that the new president, Bola Ahmed Tinubu must prioritize the creation of a vibrant Sports Industry in Nigeria over participation in games and championships.

Introduction: First it was the Pseudo Comrade

For this reporter, the appointment of Solomon Dalung, a man who described himself as a comrade and a revolutionary, was the breath of fresh air our declining sports industry needed when he was appointed by Buhari in 2015.

Dressed in a Fidel Castro-like beret and shirt, the type worn by my heroes such as Che Guevera, Hugo Chavez, Thomas Sankara and others, I cannot but conclude then that the man who will engineer the needed change in our sports has arrived.

When a former colleague at The Guardian, Emmanuel Onwubiko, wrote an article berating his dress sense, I quickly jumped in his defense.

But within weeks, reality dawned on Dalung fans, including this reporter, that dressing like Fidel does not make you a Castro. Unlike the Biblical Solomon, this Solomon turned out to be nothing but a pseudo-comrade and a wannabe revolutionary.

Starting from the mismanagement of the NFF crisis between Amaju Pinnick and his kinsman Chris Giwa, Dalung was taking one wrong step after the other.

The Rio 2016 Olympics further exposed his poor management skills. The athletes' kits arrived late, traveling arrangement was awful. He had issues with athletes and officials, especially the Men U-23 football team that won our only medal at the games.

Doing the routine without controversies was alien to Dalung. At every opportunity, he displayed a gross lack of knowledge about the sports industry.

Imagine a Sports Minister telling the President that he must not approve of Super Eagles' participation at the Russia 2018 because ‘Nigeria was “too hungry” to participate in the games which it might not win.’

Dalung did not know that the FIFA World Cup is an all-expense paid championship. “The cup that we (Nigeria) can win is the African Cup of Nations. There is nothing again that will take us to another man’s balcony in the name of the World Cup. We already have the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics.”

When the Super Eagles qualified and he wanted to profit from it by requesting for funds from the government, I remember asking the government to ignore him because FIFA had already paid us $2million for qualifying for the World Cup and for every match we played, FIFA will give us $3million.

Dalung made no effort to create a sports industry. Our football, either at the developmental or promotional level, remained comatose. Nigeria still remained the only country renowned worldwide for football without a decent football league.

No attempt was made to build a national league in the following sports: boxing, athletics, basketball, cycling, tennis, table tennis, and others.

These are sports that, if Dalung had invested in them, will solve many socio-economic problems at home and produce many global icons.

Thinking geometrically or planning ahead was alien to Dalung. When the Super Falcons protested over unpaid allowances after winning the Afcon, Dalung’s response was, “Don’t forget that nobody even knew the team (Super Falcons) will emerge victorious.’’

His response to athletes training was even more shocking “The disabled athletes have shown that all you need is a winning mentality and not too much preparation,” He said.

Dalung will probably go down as the only minister that set up a sports committee but did not implement the report. Under him, elections into national sports federations were war. Dalung’s only priority was participation in major games and championships.

Dalung’s mismanagement was not without international disgrace; $135,000 World Athletics money grew wings under his watch.

Experienced and highly educated Dare also fell short

In Acts of Apostles Chapter 4, the Bible recorded that when Peter and John were performing miracles, the Sadducees, Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, could do nothing because according to Verse 13,

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled, and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.”

But unlike Peter and John, Dare is learned. A graduate of Universities in Zaria, Jos, Massachusetts and Oxford, neither can one say he is ignorant as he has worked and walked with the best such as Dapo Olorunyomi, Bayo Onanuga, Tinubu, and other greats. But after four years as minister, Dare’s scorecard is a replica of Dalung’s record.

It’s tragic that people are now mentioning Dare, a cerebral scholar, and Dalung, a man who attended night school, in the same breath.

Let facts speak. After four years, Dare left us without a functional league in any sports - just like Dalung.

He made a feeble attempt to revive the Principal Cup, but it was a poor replica of what Principal Cup was in the golden age of our sports.

Like Dalung before him, Dare swam in sports federations’ crisis throughout his tenure. From football to athletics, badminton, and others, sports federations knew no peace.

Twice he disregarded court orders during the AFN crisis, and he later installed a parallel AFN president, whom he later removed.

In Basketball, it was a dirty fight between him and Musa Kida. The biggest causality of their roforofo fight was the Team Nigeria women's basketball team that was denied the opportunity to participate in the FIBA World Cup, in Sydney, Australia. 

Shortly before the World Cup, Dare withdrew Nigeria from international Basketball for two years allegedly on the orders of Buhari.

The announcement was condemned worldwide, but he went a step further and inaugurated an Interim Management Committee (IMC) to run basketball. The moment FIBA said it had replaced Nigeria with Mali, Dare rescinded his decision and announced a return to international basketball. Posterity may never forgive Dare for this.

Under Dare, impunity became the order of the day. It is a good thing that he paid back the $135,000 World Athletics money, but he shielded the culprits.  

At the Tokyo Olympics, 10 Nigerian athletes were disqualified from participating in the games for missing mandatory out-of-competition tests. Dare did not sanction the inept officials that made our athletes lose the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The worst was the phone scandal at the same Tokyo Games. Samsung gave all participating athletes a phone, but our officials refused to give ten athletes their own sets.

They had to carry placards all over Tokyo - appealing to the international community and leadership of the IOC - to prevail on Team Nigeria before they got their phones. Dare shielded those responsible for the scandal.

Dare’s romance with athletes that have tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs strained the descriptive power of a single adjective, even those that have been banned for life. Calling Dare ‘Mr. Anything goes’ will be apt.

How Dare was hypnotized to believe he was doing an ‘Adopt-a-Talent initiative’ with world-class athletes like Blessing Okagbare, Tobi Amusan, Ese Brume, and others is still something I can’t fathom. These are athletes with huge support from shoe companies and management teams.

Isaac Akioye of blessed memory and Babatunde Fashola are examples of the success story of Adopt-a-Talent. Rough diamonds like Ruth Usoro and others were polished by Fashola and many of them became top athletes.

The adoption of Enoch Adegoke, who made the finals of Olympics men's following adoption by the Edo Deputy Governor made sense because he has the talent but global brands are not behind him. The adoption of Okagbare, a Nike athlete, who was already an Olympics medalist since 2008 or Amusan, an Adidas athlete, as a ‘talent’ means Confusion don Break Bone.

How about adopting a pitch, renovating a pitch, and all that? All over the world, nobody looks for money to maintain a stadium or pitch, they just create a sports economy and the stadium or pitch takes care of itself.

Without a vibrant sports economy, renovated stadia go back to where it was a few years after renovation. So, what do you do? You start looking for money or sponsors to renovate again. I don’t know why Dare, a scholar, did not see the obvious.

 Pot calling the kettle black, reminiscences of Riina vs. Bucessta

Apart from leaving our sports in terrible condition, Dalung and Dare also desecrated the office of the Sports Minister by openly accusing each other of corruption and ineptitude.

The dog fight between Dare and Dalung brought back the memory of the maxi trial of Cosa Nostra and the exchange between Capo di tutti Capi Salvatore "Toto the Beast" Riina and Tomasso Buscetta. In a courtroom confrontation, two amoral men were accusing each other of immorality.

After months of demanding a chance to refute Buscetta's charges face to face, Riina changed his mind.

"I don't want to talk to this gentleman. He is immoral. He is a degenerate because he has had three wives and many mistresses, which was not the way for a man of honor to behave. In our part of the world, we live a life of moral correctness."

Buscetta, replied, "This man is the architect of my relatives' deaths. Where is your morality? From what pulpit does this gentleman speak? Where does he find the courage to talk to me about morality with women when he was the author of the end of my dear ones when he killed 36 people close to me, including my two sons, and so many innocent people?"

Just as it sounds abnormal that Riina and Busceetta could be talking about morality, it equally sounded odd that Dalung and Dare could be accusing each other of incompetence and corruption in the media. It was a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Dare fired the first bullet on the official Facebook page of the Sports Ministry in response to women basketball players' demand for allowances. He said, “These are allowances that are owed since 2017 when I was not even the minister.”

Dalung swiftly denied it, saying: “In 2017, there were no issues. The issues we are talking about are a result of their participation in the 2018 FIBA World Cup. The federation presented a memo of about N1.5 billion covering their preparation and participation. The President approved N1 billion.

“The funds were out in August 2019, and I wasn’t the minister then. So passing the buck of the blame to me is not the best way. The best way is for the ministry to come out clean and apologies.”

Dalung also told Dare to take responsibility for the “shame” it brought to Nigeria at the Tokyo Olympics.

Dare replied through proxies, one was Amaju Pinnick who berated Dalung for blaming his successor over the alleged N1b diversion of funds.

 “I think that is very pathetic. You do not de-market or disparage a system or government that gave you an extraordinary opportunity to be a Minister. You can’t come on air and be criticizing your successor daily, saying things that are not meant to be said. It is morally wrong, it is unethical.”

Dalung took his war with Dare to another level when he inaugurated a parallel board of AFN led by Ibrahim Gusau, in Birnin Kebbi as Dare was inaugurating another board led by Tony Okowa in Abuja.

Tinubu and Sports Economy

After eight years of the locust, the new government can use sports to solve several socio-economic problems by appointing a minister who not only understands the industry but will prioritize building a vibrant sports industry in Nigeria over participation in games and championships.

Education, entertainment, and sports are the most important tools for getting our youth out of poverty. Of the three, sports is the most amenable because of their easy access.

States with a robust economy, whose citizens are passionate about sports have used sports for decades to achieve youth empowerment and engagement, combat crime, prevent substance abuse and other anti-social behaviours, raise icons, leave a legacy, generate revenue, and boost industries like tourism.

Under Tinubu, Nigeria must emulate America, Asia, Latin America, and European countries who want to succeed at the FIFA World Cup, Olympic Games, and other Games and others championships. But beyond winning medals and trophies, they use Sports to cure many economic and social ills. 

Imagine America without Basketball, American Football, Soccer, Boxing, Tennis, Ice Hockey, and other sports that have turned many youths from less privileged backgrounds into global icons.

Tinubu also needs top sports managers that will engineer a seamless marriage between sports and education from the primary to tertiary level. The United States of America is the most successful sports country in the world today because of the strong marriage between education and sports from primary to tertiary level.

The top five Olympic games medals winning universities in the United States are the University of South California (309 medals) Stanford University (307 medals) University of California Los Angeles (254 medals) University of California (207 medals) and the University of Michigan (144 medals.) have won more medals than the whole of Africa.

With sports, Tinubu has a panacea that cures all ailments and that should not be used for mere headaches as Buhari did for eight years.  

PULL QUOTE: But within weeks, reality dawned on Dalung fans, including this reporter, that dressing like Fidel does not make you a Castro. Unlike the Biblical Solomon, this Solomon unturned out to be nothing but a pseudo-comrade and a wannabe revolutionary

PULL QUOTE: but after four years as minister Dare’s scorecard is a replica of Dalung that attended night school. It’s a tragedy that people are mentioning Dare, a thoroughbred cerebral scholar, and Dalung in the same breath.

With sports, Tinubu has a panacea that cures all ailments he should not use for mere headaches as Buhari did for eight years