Celebrating an exiting Minister of Sports!

As far as I can recall, it has never happened quite like this in Nigeria’s sports history. I mean, for stakeholders (not all of them though, admittedly) to come together at the end of the tenure of a Sports minister and fete him for doing well. I should know, having been in the corridors of Nigerian sports as an athlete, an administrator, and as a major stakeholder in various aspects since the early 1970s to date. Man don tay for dis game o.

I have had interactions with every Sports Minister since Paulinus Amadike in 1980. He personally handed over the keys of 22 flats that were gifted the members of the 1980 African Cup of Nations winning national football team to the footballers. I was one of them.

Through the decades since then, my line of work and assignments have never strayed away from hard-core sports, providing the opportunity of seeing, from close quarters, the going and coming of ministers in a flurry. I have become an unofficial authority, the ‘Northern Star’ in the constellation, on the subject of Sports Ministers. I can testify that It is Chief Sunday Dare that finally came, and in three ‘long’ years and a half, shattered the record in longevity and established what some stakeholders believe warrants a befitting exeat from sports.

That’s probably why I was invited to be a part of the celebration and to deliver an impartial forensic scorecard.

As an athlete, a football club manager and owner, an athletes’ representative and manager, team manager of the national football team, a sports entrepreneur, a sports educationist, sports media practitioner, sports consultant, and sports ambassador, I can testify that at no time during this period of my sojourn in the ‘planet’ of sports, has it happened that a celebration of any sort is organised by stakeholders at the end of the tenure of a sports minister to honour and appreciate him, until now. Not even when some of the Ministers did well and left some bright spots in our checkered sports story. Anthony Ikhazaboh, Emeka Omeruah, Alex Akinyele, all had relatively great stints, with some silverware to show for their time on the hot seat. Unfortunately, their exits were marked by silence, torrents of criticism or the chorus of ‘good-riddance’

Success in sports, even at Ministerial level, has always been measured not by the impact of programmes initiated, but by the success of national teams and individual athletes on the tracks, courts or fields. Ministers always tie their successes to the aprons of athletes and teams that perform well during their tenure, even when they have little to do with such performances. That’s why, to date, Nigeria’s most successful era in sports, counted in medals and trophies, is between 1994 and 1998. Yet, ironically, that same period is littered with the planting of the seeds of deep-rooted corruption in Nigerian sports, and the shameful, catastrophic neglect and destruction of our national sports infrastructure, institutions and facilities. So, the barometer to measure success has never been scientific. it has always been the optical illusion of development.

This time, in some quarters, the feeling is different. Sunday Dare is credited directly with innovative and creative development. There are tangibles to see, touch, measure, count and even project into the future. There are definite plans and programmes backed by laws to sustain them.

That’s why, I am happy to associate with the era of a man whose background was in the media and in government, but who came into sports and is leaving with a chest full of programmes and projects that will endure long after him.

He has dared to undertake the expensive and almost impossible task of rehabilitating and renovating Nigeria’s sports infrastructure using funds raised from sources outside government. Even in the last days of his stay in office he managed to do the once-seemingly impossible – get the bill of the National Sports Commission to be signed into Law by the President. For that alone he has won my vote as the most productive sports minister in 3 decades of Nigerian sports.

Beyond that, he managed politically to move sports from the third tier of government to the first; to take sports from the realm of recreation to the sphere of business; to design a 10-year master-plan for football; to embark on a revival of the National Institute of Sports; and to support selected elite athletes with grants for their training and preparation for major competitions.

Without question, even though the yields have not all matured and manifested, Sunday Dare, did well as a sports minister, and any effort by any group to appreciate him was most deserving, in my humble opinion.

By the time the man is leaving sports his metamorphosis from first- class journalist to first-class sports administrator is complete. He now talks sports with authority. He has been quick to learn the ropes and somehow, to manouevre the minefields for three and half years.

Sunday Dare may be departing the sports ‘hall’ but he is leaving behind some solid footprints. Many of the projects he embarked upon may be uncompleted, but there is enough in the anticipated harvests to earn him all the accolades being showered on him by a cross section of stakeholders in sports, many of whom attended the send-forth event in Abuja, a private, well-organised and well-attended ceremony last Tuesday, on a night blessed with heavenly showers of rain.

His records at the port of departure clearly show a pass mark in innovation, thinking outside-the-box, and concrete projects and good foundations for proper sports development going forward in Nigeria.

His intervention in the Nation’s professional football league has saved domestic Nigerian football, bringing it out of the horror of its worst state in living memory. There are now new faces and a new vision that are already yielding fruits of success through a revamped and reborn National Professional Football League.

Chief Sunday Dare, Officer of the Federal Republic, OFR, has done well for Nigerian sports. Some of us thank him and wish him well always.

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