When President Muhammadu Buhari named Sunday Dare as Youths and Sports Minister six months ago, he was applauded for making the right choice.
The excitement generated by Dare’s appointment was hinged on his pedigree as an accomplished international journalist, administrative exposure and experience in public service.
Prior to Dare’s appointment, the belief was that sports was usually the last in the pecking order of merit.
Some ex-ministers had laid credence to this with seemingly poor performances and lack of vision that has kept Nigerian sports in the archives of past glory and youth development at a crossroads. Six months down the line, Dare is reinventing the wheels.
The long years of systemic destruction, failed dreams, poor planning, disillusionment and frustrations have left the terrain comatose and at a crossroads. Decaying infrastructure, poorly motivated athletes, disgruntled work force, poorly trained coaches, archaic policy and angrily resentful public make the assignment not only herculean, but one that needs ruffling of feathers.
Dare began his assignment by seeking to change the mindset of the workers and the wrong perception of the public that nothing can work in the sector. For someone from a technologically driven background, Dare had to change the mindset of the Ministry’s staff. Gradually, in the last six months, the work ethic has changed.
With a Permanent Secretary in Gabriel Aduda who is desirous of breaking away from old tradition, Dare has moved in leaps and bounds. He has restored confidence in the ministry as evidenced in the partnership with the private sector, agencies and international bodies. His first breakthrough was moving away from the narrow scope of being called ‘Football Minister’.
Under Dare, Youth and Sports Development have been given a new vista. He hit the ground running with his Adopt initiative which has seen corporate organisations, governors and individuals adopting athletes, signing MoUs and paying money directly into their accounts to prepare for the now postponed Tokyo Olympics. This is against the convention where Olympics-bound athletes never had funds to prepare.
The ripple effect is that it takes away the burden off the athletes, administrators and the coaches. This ensures transparency and accountability of funds. The Adopt initiative has also led to infrastructural developments with the rehabilitation of stadiums in Abuja, Kaduna Ibadan through partnerships.
This has restored faith in the sports scene. Sponsors, Individuals and others now feel comfortable investing in Sports with the belief that there is proper accountability and due process.
The Adopt A stadium initiative is also paying off with the MKO Abiola Stadium in Abuja to be renovated by Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Daura Township Stadium, Katsina by Chief Kensington Adebutu, Ahmadu Bello Stadium by Kaduna State Governor Malam Nasir El Rufai. The entire sports spectrum is being revived despite the paucity of funds.
Dare’s master plan is moving sports away from mere recreation to real business anchored on 4 triggers; infrastructure as catalyst for development, investment, incentives and policy. The inauguration of the steering committee of Sports Industry Group led by eminent personalities is an indication of a new dawn, hope and renewal in the sports sector by the organised private sector.
Unlike past Ministers who became pigeonholed as football Ministers, Dare is re-inventing the wheel by paying attention to other sports and youth development. This has seen him navigate round the country in search of talents, revival of the state Sports Festival, launching of a Youth policy document, Digital training and creation of employment opportunities.
His interventions are already yielding results with the discovery of the young swimmer nicknamed the Fish, the young girl boxing sensation Shekina, the tennis sisters Oiza and Nene Yakubu. No wonder he has earned himself the sobriquet “Talent Hunter, Reformist Minister among others.
The revival of the National Sports Festival, Youth Games, NUGA, back to school, Principal Cup, Headmaster Cup among others are geared towards enduring sports development. Welfare of athletes occupies a front burner in the Minister’s agenda with athletes getting their entitlements promptly.
Dare insists that without sports men, sports will be meaningless as they are the core of winning glory for our country. Hence, while active athletes are getting remunerated, forgotten heroes are also getting due recognition. Dare is working with top athletes like Mary Onyali, Daniel Igali, Daniel Amokachi, Joseph Yobo among others in rallying their colleagues to actualize his new vision.
Youths now enjoy a new deal under the DEEL PROGRAMME, an acronym for Education, Employment, Entrepreneurship and Engagement. Through this, youths are being trained to acquire Digital skills and become self-employed.
The Minister has gone into strategic partnership with at least 20 agencies to implement this action plan. More than 500,000 Youths are expected to benefit from the DY.NG (Digital Youth Nigeria initiative. Likewise, The Nigeria Youth Online, NOYA programme is expected to train youngsters in Digital skills, trading and internship. This would be done through the Youth Development centres across Nigeria. An agreement with the AFDB has been signed to actualize this mandate.
Other Development partners include Centre Bank, Bank of Industries, Ministry of Labour and Productivity, Nigeria Content Development Monitoring Board, Dangote Industries, Premier Lotto, 21st Century and partnership with over 50 Corporate Organizations on WEP initiative. Since the Ministry is limited by funds, Dare is thinking outside the box by partnering with the private sector, wealthy individuals, State Governments, Agencies and International organizations to actualize what he calls a huge, unfunded mandate.
Six months in the saddle, Dare appears to be on the right track of rewriting Nigerian Youth and Sports Development history.