Between Dare and Dalung: Beyond the Olympics Politics

Solomon Dalung, Sunday Dare: former and incumbent Minister of Sports

By Abiodun Adeniyi

Minister Sunday Dare was lately in the eye of the storm, obviously for the Olympics Games in Tokyo, Japan. He had assumed duties as a Minister on the back of an illustrious journalism career, a media entrepreneur, broadcaster, author, public relations manager, and as a public administrator. These trades are service oriented genres, sometimes intangible, but certainly productive in the smoothening of social processes and procedures. They are often empowering enough to hone managerial skills, provide multi-levelled perspectives and a knowledge of social nuances good enough to exemplify a bearer.

Dare carried on with that background, adding a scintillating locution, a panache and candour, first tested by the October 2020 EndSARS protests, were as Youth Minister, he was supposed to be the charge. He largely took charge, did his bit, until the novel protests petered out, just like that; or perhaps, until another day. A second attention to him was with the just concluded Olympics Games in Tokyo, Japan, where he wass again the charge of a usually turbulent course, often combustive, for the disparate tempers of partisans, the hope the ministry represents, and the right focus on youths as persons of the future. How do we contextualize the darts towards him, during the games, and now after? How did he fare at the Olympics?

One critic that especially caught my attention was his immediate predecessor, Mr. Solomon Selcap Dalung. He was angry that the minister dissolved Federations ahead of the games, and that preparations were not coterminous with responsibilities. He volunteered these in live television interviews, which eventually got cross and multiple postings. I wished, however, that this former minister who once “spended” all the money given the ministry very well had learnt something about grace and charity. I wish he also heard of Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, an erudite scholar, diplomat per excellence and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, who could easily pass for Nigeria’s own Henry Kissinger, Warren Christopher, or Madeleine Albright, for his feats at the ministry even though he was in charge for just about two years.

Though Akinyemi is retired, he has been a keen watcher of global events, consistent with his callings as a Professor emeritus of International Relations. With that background, he passes for an authority on global affairs and could as well be a first-rate consultant for successive foreign affairs ministers and governments. With his broadened understanding, he could similarly rip apart some policy directions, if to exemplify his depth and penetrating appreciation of transnational occurrences. He could also do more, including disparaging think-tanks that came after him to prove that his expertise cannot be surpassed. Akinyemi is, however, urbane, epistemic and charitable. Not once has he been asked to comment on his successors performances. On every occasion, he has been circumspect, if at all responding to the questioners, arguing that he has done his part, and the onus is on his successors to do theirs. Reviewing their activities could, therefore, be petty, primitive, and uncultured. And even when such reviews are very necessary, he’ll rather allow others to do it for him. That’s the Prof.

Dalung is not a professor, anyway and may not act professorial, but there are loosely three ways to learning. One, through formal education. Two, personal experiences, and there, the experiences of others. One of these routes should have served Dalung to understand that a public attack on his successor in office is not just infantile, but ludicrous, liminal and heedless. And what is more? Dalung is supposed to be in the same political party as his predecessor. He and Minister Dare, his successor, are believers in the President Mohammadu Buhari school of thought. Even if these do not make him avoid a public spat with the ministry, how about considering assumptions he is still bitter that he was dropped from the cabinet? And should his bitterness be directed at a man who knows nothing about why he was sacked, despite his high hopes of returning? Ministerial positions are highly respected offices where past and present holders are supposed to be exceptional, whether in their public and private lives. Our man, Dalung, dropped the ball here. He was simply uncharitable, discourteous, and coarse. It should never be a template.

That said, how did Dare perform at the Olympics? Having only been in office for about two years, should he take the blame for failures of some past leaders like Dalung? Records in the public space shows that Nigeria got a bronze medal in long jump, 25 years after Chioma Ajunwa won gold in Atlanta 1996, and that Nigeria won a silver medal for wrestling, first Olympic medal ever in the sport’s history; aside a 21-year-old Enoch Adegoke who became only the third Nigeria to get to the Finals of the 100 Meters Men event. There is also the record of Nigeria bagging two medals, a silver and a bronze, placing her 68 out of the two hundred and five countries at the Tokyo Olympics and fourth in Africa, besides Nigerian Olympians making record final finals at the Olympics. How about the Nigerian Olympians setting several new personal best records in Athletics, or reaching the final of shot-put for the first time in her history, and performing better when compared with London 2012 Olympics with zero medal and the Rio 2016 Olympics with one bronze medal?

Are these being examined, or should we assume some politics are simply playing out? It was naturally worrisome seeing a sportsman who rather chose to manually wash his jersey, instead of using the washing machine, if for the sensational effect, but also salutary to read from the other side. Check: “Firstly, for kits or sports equipment for Team Nigeria, there are two categories: these are the General Wears and the Competition Wears. The General Wears category is the responsibility of the Ministry. The kitting of Team Nigeria for various National, Continental and International sporting events has always been the responsibility of the Ministry and this was no different for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. For the records, Team Nigeria was properly kitted for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, with the Ministry buying a 9-item bag of kits for each of our athletes and officials. The second category of kits is the Competition Wears. This category is the specific competition kits which are peculiar to each sport and provided by individual Sports Federation.”

And also, we have been told that the Ministry provides financial support to each Sports Federation as required, and it is the responsibility of each National Sports Federation to provide these Competition Wears to their team athletes and officials, and for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, each of the Sports Federations bought the Competition Wears for their respective teams, in relation to their specific needs. The AFN got enough specific wears from AFA Sports directly for their athletes at the Games, while the Ministry leveraged on the Local Content Policy of the Federal Government in looking inwards to engaging an indigenous company, AFA Sports, to produce the general kits.

It was equally interesting to hear the Minister on the controversial Puma deal. He said: “We are optimistic. Many people don’t know the truth. It was expected that Puma would end that contract. Why not? The kits provided by Puma is a subject of litigation. But people will soon know the truth. Those who bought the kits are running from pillar to post and from one media to another to tarnish my name and make me look like the bad guy. Is their concern really about the progress of Team Nigeria? Or they are afraid of what is going to happen when this massive case of fraud unravels? I have no regrets at all. Yes, the Puma kits were available before we went with our Made-in-Nigeria kits, which are equally beautiful and durable and also good for our economy.

“The Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo unveiled the kits, so you think he would take part in that process if the kits were no good? It is common knowledge that the former AFN president, Engineer Ibrahim Shehu Gusau is desperate to extricate himself from a contract that he controversially signed the AFN into, which has now placed him in a position of trying to blackmail Team Nigeria into wearing the kits. Ibrahim Gusau has conveniently neglected to tell Nigerians that he and Sunday Adeleye signed a non-disclosure agreement with Puma, which details are unknown to the Ministry and board members of the AFN. Nobody will blackmail Team Nigeria into wearing those kits, they can raise all the dusts they want, but the dust will eventually settle and then they will dance to the music.”

The issues, might after all not be about sports alone, but the politics of it. For the latter, Dare has been salutary. For the former, time will tell.

*Adeniyi is a Professor of Mass Communications