Monday, August 16, 2021 3:39 pm
It has been two years since Chief Sunday Dare was appointed Minister of Sport and Youth Development by President Muhammadu Buhari. In this interview with ADEMOLA ADEGBAMIGBE and ABAYOMI OSOBA ( AYODELE EFUNLA snapped the photos), the Minister speaks on what makes his mission different. There are questions on his achievements in the areas of youth development (empowerment, leadership trainings, etc), sports as business, talent hunts, sports infrastructure and the Tokyo Olympics
It’s been two years since you became Minister. So how has the journey been? And how would you say you’ve been able to achieve all the set goals?
Thank you very much Independent Communications Network Limited (ICNL) and TheNEWS. That is a double-barrelled question. I think those two questions just basically wrap up everything. But let me say that it’s two years down the road and it’s been a helluva of a journey. First, I feel really privileged and honoured to have been counted worthy by Mr. President to be made one of the ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So upon being announced as the Minister of Youths and Sports Development, for me I just knew it was an assignment and I had to bring out my best for the country.
Interestingly, on the surface, it looked like “Oh Youths and Sports, let’s go and mark time there.” I think one of the most important ministries is that of Sports and Youths Development and it’s backed up by data. Sixty-five per cent of Nigeria’s population is that of the youngest generation- less than 25 years. You can do the map. So for any country that is serious, it must pay attention to that youth ministry. And whoever is the Minister has his job cut out.
You need to fight youth unemployment. You need to fight drug abuse etc. amongst the youths, which is prevalent. You need to provide opportunities for the youths, which is the major thing. It’s not just educational opportunities. Look at how the entertainment and creative industry is just growing in leaps and bounds. And then in a world where technology has become an enabler, what is the percentage of our youths having digital skills and knowledge? This is because there is a digital skills gap. Clearly.
So what I did was to just do a quick understudy, say what are the needs of the youths? And I realised that up scaling our youths was critical – digital skills training. And I realised that looking for a way to invest in their skills, you need to provide some form of direct funding from government. No country has ever been able to solve youth unemployment without turning these youths into entrepreneurs. So we needed to create access to credit or finance that is less cumbersome and supported by government, an interest rate that is single digit. I gave most of our youths an opportunity to use their hands and their skills to start up, become self-starters, wealth creators, employers of labour. Then they can also contribute to national development.
Now when you look at sports, you can’t even put a number on it. Apart from those that love football, a lot of people love other sports, some table tennis, some wrestling, some boxing. This country has always been a sports loving country. So you look at Youths and Sports. Two of the largest audiences that you can have. We love our sports. Over 150 million Nigerians love either football or table tennis or basketball. Youth – massive audience. So being left to cater for two of the largest audiences and I daresay these audiences are similar in their sensitivities. You don’t win a football match, the Minister is in trouble. An athlete is crying that I serve Nigeria and I was not compensated, the Minister is in trouble. They are going for a tournament, money isn’t sufficient, the Minister is in trouble. Of course, there is a flip side. You know when you win, the praise will go to the youth.
But also in the sports arena, we are focused on how to bring about a new sport revolution along the lines of business. Sports, in this country, is recreational. The welfare of our athletes suffers because only government invests in sports. We are bringing private money into sports development etc. So that has been the major focus and in two years we have unfolded several programmes that I am sure we can talk about later.
So it’s been two busy and rewarding years for me because we’ve been able to bring about some paradigm shifts both in youths and sports development. And for me, the most important thing is that I promised to put both Youths and Sports Development on an even keel, pay them equal attention and I can tell you, in two years, I think I have done that successfully, though not without its pains and stress. But there is some attention now to Youths development and Sports Development.
One of the causes of EndSARS was lack of engagement with the youths. You have enumerated many ways in which you have engaged the youths in the last two years. How successful are you in this regard?
You know, for EndSARS, there were remote and immediate causes. Some of the issues that were highlighted during the EndSARS were not new issues. But also understand that there was a trigger. The trigger for EndSARS was police brutality. We must not forget that. That is why I say these issues have been there. And government on its part has been trying in a multi-faceted ways to deal with this problem. For instance, the EndSARS gave us an opportunity to do an audit, which I carried out in my ministry. And when we audited youth programmes, youth initiatives and engagement on the part of government, nobody has been to challenge us that these things are fake. We found about 45 different youth programmes, and we listed them out, domiciled in several ministries, about 10 parastatals and agencies – agricultural programmes, digital skills training programme, empowerment. Bank of Industry was doing something. Central Bank of Nigeria was doing the Agric Loans, they were doing The Young Farmers with the Ministry of Agriculture. CBN has quite a number of loans. But it was very popular that the CBN Governor kept talking about it all the time.
So we rolled out those programmes. And then we decided to get ministries and agencies that were involved to give these programmes more visibility. Now, when you look at the government, in less than six years that has deliberately initiated over 40 youth-focused programmes. How can somebody come to the conclusion that the youths are not being engaged? So for me the question was, have we achieved the critical mass? It became a question of scaling. If I have a youth programme, and there are about 10 million youths that want to benefit, and we’ve only been able to reach 10, 000, then there is a problem of scaling.
On our part, what I found out as a Minister, was that even though these programs existed, there were two problems. One, there was a deficit of trust in government. The youths did not trust the government about these programs. Maybe they think if they apply they will not get it or it is not really true, it is just a publicity stunt. That’s one.
The second was that the youth were not looking for these opportunities and were not applying themselves to it.
We also on November 1st, barely three months after I became Minister, we rolled out an umbrella programme called DEEL. The first letter D standing for Digital Skills Acquisition, the target of saying we must upscale our youth through digital training to the tune of about 500, 000. The first E is for employability- how do we make our youth employable? And there are programmes under it. The second E is for entrepreneurs – how do we turn them into entrepreneurs? And that is where the NYIF comes in. The last one is Leadership and mentoring. Yes the youths are the leaders of tomorrow.
But if you don’t train them to be leaders today in smaller capacities and they grow through. And we have an agency under my ministry fully dedicated to leadership and training. But it is not even restricted to that. Once we threw out DEEL, our plan was to set up what we called Special Implementation Partners, SIP. That is, we are going to seek out both national, continental and international organizations that were youth-focused to be our Special Implementation Partners. And we have about 14 of them working with us in various areas.
We have to be specific, which of them?
Let me break it down. The Nigerian Youth Investment is for three years – N75 billion, N25 billion per year. And when it was approved in July, by then the supplementary budget had been passed. So practically, the only time we could start implementation was the 2021 budget year. But part of the prayers that went before Mr President in council was that it was important for us to source for funds from the Presidential Intervention Fund of the CBN to get this thing started immediately rather than wait. And the President agreed and directed that the CBN and the Ministry of Finance should find the half amount, which is N12.5 billion to get it started. Ordinarily, it ought to just start in January this year. And that was approved. And we started the unbundling process sometime in November with an approval in principle from the Central Bank to give us N12.5 billion, which would be with them. They would have to administer it because it is their money. They had taken up the risk. And the application process started. But we had to wait for all the applications to come in. We had to stop the application. We had about 4. 1 million applicants. We had to start reviewing. So, in January we got about 259 who got their applications through. We continued sifting through. Of course, we had some technical problems on the part of the bank that was helping us process it, which is the Nirsal Microfinance Bank.
As we speak, just two weeks ago, we did an audit. No fewer than 5255 Nigerian youths from about nine different sectors have been able to access the fund, some as low as 250, 000, which is the lowest you can get. Some as high as N3 million, because we kept it at the bar of N3 million. You know when we have our money, which is N25 billion, you can get as much as 50 million – between 250, 000 naira to 50 million.
We also trained under our digital skills training. We’ve trained in excess of 85, 000 Nigerian youths on different digital skills. During Covid-19, we partnered with IBM. They had a module online. We trained so many of them. Recently, Google My Business trained over 21, 000 Nigerian youths on how to manage their business, which is critical. That’s what kills small businesses, SMSEs and SMEs. Because you don’t know the basic accounting, you get money today. In fact, data shows that 62 per cent of SMEs started by the younger people do not survive. They disappear within one year because the capital they started with basically disappears. This is because if you don’t plan very well your own expenditure, your cost, outstrips your income.
I hope it is not going to be for party members alone.
This loan, the NYI fund is party blind. What qualifies you is that you are a youth to benefit. The first thing that qualifies you is that you are a Nigerian. The second thing that qualifies you is that you are within the youth band – 15 to 35. Then the third is that either you want to start a business – if you don’t have any business at all, you are not registered with CAC, the risk we can take is to give you N250, 000. I have seen stories of youths who started business with N15, 000. But then, if you registered a company we are able to evaluate, to say Okay this person has had some experience. You can get above N250, 000; N500, 000, N1.5 million. So it is party blind.
It is gratifying to read about how you have taken care of some sports veterans – Rashidi Yekini, Sunday Bada, Ali Jeje in Jos. Let us take you back a bit. How long did it take you to really analyse or do research on what and what you need to do in your ministry. And where did you get the models from?
You see. You must understand something. For me, I am proud that I chose the journalism profession. I don’t know about the new school. But I am sure that the new school must also have the same kind of ethics. For us that belong to the old school, you are taught to be an all-rounder. You must be ready to report medicine, political science, the economy, sports. Two, I was also a youth once. So I understood that rite of passage. Even in our time we also had a few challenges. It just didn’t come automatically. We had aspirations. We just felt the state was not doing what they should do for us. . And then, you know your educational background mixed with your experience and your professional career is important when you take on public office. I had to bring all of that to bear – my experience as a journalist who worked in Nigeria, who worked in the United States, studied in the UK with researches, travelled around the world, attended so many seminars, as somebody that also went to school to read different disciplines. And then thirdly, as a Nigerian who for a long time has been interested in the developmental indices of our country, be it politically, be it economically, be it socially, I had to bring to bear all of those experiences. And for me, that is the meeting point. You have an assignment, you are expected to deal with a particular sector, if you have a problem, you must understand what the problem is. If you have a challenge, you must understand what the challenge is.
And it reminds me of the story of the toolbox which I learnt 21 years ago at Harvard University. One of my professors said there is a story of the toolbox. And that everybody, as a leader, you have a toolbox. If you are lucky, the toolbox will have certain tools there. And your success will be determined by how you are able to use it.
We also thought of Work Experience Programme. Say you sit there and you apply for a job and they say you’re good but we can’t give you this job because you have zero experience. So we came up with what we called the Work Experience Programme, which is funded by the ministry. We place you on a three months retention with practical experience so that if you read Civil Engineering we place you in a Civil Engineering firm within your locality where for three months you are working there. We pay you a stipend of N20, 000. Of course, if you are lucky, they can retain you, they can give you extra money, free meal.
Talk about the sports veterans you followed up and assisted.
I think it is important for me. So I follow sports. As a journalist, I read widely. I read every story. But I have also seen that the bane of our sports has been a tribe of Nigerian sportsmen and women that have served this country so well. The moment they die, everybody walks away from them. Don’t forget that the totality of their service was made possible because of their families, their wives, their mothers and their friends. Before government comes up with its own, we are trying to come up with a Sports Development Trust Fund that will be different in structure than what was posited before under Chief Iwuanyanwu that would cater for the welfare of our national athletes, those that have served this country; that would also provide grants for them either for scholarships but grants also for our elites athletes, you know, for training, for coaching etc. So we started out by doing that.
For me that still continues at a personal level until we have the institutional support that would come through the NFF Foundation and through the policy we are able to get approved when it comes to the Sports Development Trust Fund. Once we have that Trust Fund, it is the best solution. Then it can run independently and people can get support. When you look at the athletes too, we came up with the Adopt an Athlete Initiative. It was my way to say the welfare of our athletes, especially with the Olympics in view, is paramount. As we speak almost 20 or 21 athletes have been funded. For the home base, they get about 10, 000 dollars. The money goes directly to them.
Now we want you to speak on infrastructural development in the area of sports is one of the pillars of your ministry…
Under the same Adopt initiative, we have Adopt a Sports Facility. And that is why you see the reforms in the sporting infrastructure. You see, for me, when you talk about sport development, they are three key things. I would call them the three Is – Infrastructure, Incentive, Investment. If you don’t take care of those, forget about sports development. You see, for me, it’s a paradigm shift.
So we developed a Public/Private Partnership model which we were able to market successfully. Alhaji Aliko Dangote supported it. The main bowl of the National Stadium Abuja, not maintained properly for 15 years, that main bowl will soon be ready. The grass is coming back. They’ve done the engineering. People just see the green pitch. The underbelly of that green pitch is a technological architecture, the sprinklers, the pipes that would run and all of that. You have a nursery that you feed into. It’s a lot of work. Even me, I didn’t know. You just see a green field and you see the grass just growing. There is a lot that goes into it. We have the latest scoreboard. They just installed it. It’s beautiful. Now that’s major. That stadium will soon come back 100 per cent. It is one of the best stadiums we have in the world.
Then you come to National Stadium Surulere, which we all love. Nostalgic feelings. Right in the heart of Surulere, between the Island and the Mainland of Lagos. One of the best stadiums ever built, opened by Gen. Yakubu Gowon, left to rot away for 19 years. So I was determined I was going to change that.
Even before I got the money, I realised that it’s been abused, vandalised. It became a drinking joint, a pepper soup joint. It became where you have motels. It became a picnic ground. Everything was done there. So I decided to set up a task force, shut down the place. But that was the starting point. We needed to get somebody to help. So we presented it to Chief Adebutu Kensington. As we speak now, the main bowl of the National Stadium is coming back gradually. It is going to have a new scoreboard with VAR and all of that. It is going to have new tracks for athletics. It’s going to have a pitch, which is the heart and soul of every stadium. And there is no pitch that has suffered like the National Stadium Surulere. That is also coming back. Now, that is not the totality of the infrastructure.
Across the country, we’ve brought back more than four indoor sports arenas in different parts of the country. So the work on infrastructure is going on under the Adopt Initiatives.
It’s really gratifying to know that you’ve placed more emphasis on other sports, not only on football. But you’ve been able to change the paradigm. Kindly speak on that…
That’s an interesting question. I think my first week as a minister, the question that they asked me repeatedly, more than six times within my first week, was: “Are you going to be a football minister?” I said there must be something to this question. Even though I answered off the cuff to say I would not be a football minister, I realized that you better have a plan to make sure that beyond professing it, you act it. So I was deliberate, not to ignore football – because when you also look at the main bowl of the stadium you are doing now, it is football that really benefits from it largely – but to also focus on some other key sports. And it is first by making sure that you identify with those sports, you talk about those sports, you attend their programmes and their competitions, you also look at the talents that are there and you support them. And so, the Adopt an Athlete, for instance – when you look at it – was not really focused directly on footballers, it just focused on other sports. So that brought them gradually into the limelight.
Just last week I watched the Dr Odukoya Women’s Basketball Championship. Fantastic. I watched the finals at the Okoya Thomas Indoor Sports Hall at the Teslim Balogun Stadium. And I had so much excitement because I saw these young girls play basketball with so much professionalism. And they are amateurs but you see a bright future. So that’s one aspect. Just by making sure that I spread myself around, I give equal attention to at least 10 or 14 of those sports that we have. But also, we started a talent hunt programme, which was targeting young talents wherever you can find them. First, based on the principle that the gold is in the child. What does that mean? When somebody wins gold at age 24, that gold did not come about in two years. It was because when the person was eight, 10 years old, he was being trained in that particular sports. Some of the skills developed are through those 10, 15 years and you build on those skills. I keep saying the gold is in the child.
That has always been the story. Some of those participating at the Tokyo Olympics, their stories started when they were 10 years old, in primary school, secondary school.
It cannot be different for us. You can’t just assume that oh just bring them, brush them through. They will never win gold. They will never win any medal. So the first young talent that I found was a girl called Sekinat, in the backwaters of Lagos State, a nine-year-old girl. She boxes with so much agility and reflex. And we picked her up. We’ve been helping her with her kitting, helping her about the competition she has to do, paying her school fees. It’s a programme we are yet to fully develop into a template. But that would be done shortly. There is a boy called Nathaniel Adrian. He is called The Fish when he swims. And he said it. He said his dream is to go to the Olympics and represent this country in swimming.
The mother does a wonderful job on this boy. We have)) the Yakubu sisters, 11 and 14. They play tennis like the Williams sisters. But their parents have been the ones funding them, sending them to whatever competition and the rest. We are ready to run with them. I said I would find the resources to support them. There is the Mustapha brothers. One of them is number one in the world of Table tennis. Ten years old. The brother, who is 13 years old is number 11 in the world. We didn’t develop them, but we found them and we have already adopted them. We are going to support them. There is Sultan. Sultan is a boxer. If you see Sultan, he has massive agility. And I think, for me, my job as Sports Minister, would not be complete until I bequeath to this country a solid template of talent hunt that would keep them, nurture them, develop them and unleash them onto the world. And in that template, the role of sporting federations is critical. We have sporting federations, 38 of them.
We would have to find a way to have the boxing federation, the wrestling federation, the table tennis federation to buy into our template of development as they take on this case. There must be something.
In the next two years or so, what is your dream for your ministry?
I have a dream, like Martin Luther King. I have two dreams but those two dreams are united. Primarily because it deals with the youth of this country. I want to see in two years a country that has been able to provide a large percentage of its youth with the relevant digital skills, even if it is just one so that they can better compete. I want to see most of our youths supported, becoming entrepreneurs. And through entrepreneurship, they become wealth creators, employers of labour. And you know, their skills and native minds are also put to work to develop solutions to our problems. Because you know that if you develop solutions, you can get some kind of funding.
Beyond that, I want to see the participation of our youth increasingly in governance. I want to see a rebirth of infrastructure. We need sporting infrastructure in this country. We see it in Wembley. Wembley has a history. Our Wembley, as I keep telling people, is Obafemi Awolowo in Ibadan. That’s our Wembley. When we come close to it, we would take Surulere, come close to it, we would take Abuja. So, we can create new Wembleys. Let me tell you. There is an economy around sporting infrastructure that we’ve not exploited. In Wembley, Game Day means that there is a match that will be played at 4pm. Economic activities and business starts as early as 8 o’clock in the morning. Before the kick-off of the game, people would have spent close to half a billion naira or dollars or pounds. What do they do? Somebody is drinking beer, somebody is selling souvenirs. As a youth, you can go and buy souvenirs. Buy them for three pounds, sell them for six pounds. By 1pm some people have made their money. There is a whole economy. So just imagine what would happen if National Stadium Surulere comes back to life.
Now on Gernot Rohr
Now, football. You see football is the king of all sports. And it is not different. Nigerians love football. And when it comes to football, it is about victories. And nations put the totality of their football success in the hands of a technical adviser. Because of the focus on grassroots sports, which is part of our mandate, the talent hunt programme, where we look for talents, is a flavour of our grassroots sport. And, you know a country that departs from grassroots sports development has lost it completely, that is not sports development. At the heart of sports, development is grassroots development
Look at the Principal’s Cup, most of our best football players came from the Principal’s Cup.
We also have Schools Sports. What we’ve done is, 25 years after Principal Cup was jettisoned, this year, we brought it back. Principal’s Cup, first time in 25 years! We have a miniature one that involved about 250 schools. Our target is to bring in 6,000 to 8,000 schools to compete. You can imagine when we have 6,000 schools to compete in football at the state level, the local government level and the zonal level and up to the finals, it engages us for a while.
The full one that we are going to do for the second year will last for six months.
What we’ve also done is to make sure that under Principal Cup, it’s not just football, we brought four more sports. We call it the National Principal Cup. We are also careful that, beyond the Principal’s Cup, we want to make sure that when we do that, we pick the talents, the young ones.
Look at them, Amokachi, Dosu Joseph, Henry Nwosu, they came through Principal’s Cup. So that is what birthed some of our best footballers, why should we depart from it?
Give a general appraisal of Nigeria’s performance in the Tokyo Olympics
Not wanting to add to the public distraction, I have deliberately waited until the end of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games before making any observations regarding the various reports on Nigeria’s participation in the quadrennial games.
This was out of respect for our athletes who had committed so much effort and made such considerable personal sacrifice in order to represent our nation as best as they could. Overall, we should be proud of Team Nigeria and the effort they made. The bottom line is that these games should always be about the athletes and the spirit of friendly competition and excellence the Olympics are meant to engender.
Sadly, some people seem not to have embraced either the good cause of our national athletic pursuits or the collegial and noble spirit that the Olympics promote.
The rancour and confusion some people seem intent on sowing are terribly out of place given the impressive performance of our team and good spirit with which they performed. The Tokyo 2020 Olympics are now over, which means we can begin to honestly and objectively assess what was accomplished as well as what we must do to improve performance for future contests.
Nigeria received some silver and bronze medals in the Olympics. Apart from Covid-19 that, according to some analysts, gulped one year and which prevented thorough practice, what other factors will you say affected Nigerian athletes?
Nigeria succeeded with two medals – a silver in wrestling won by Blessing Oborodudu and a bronze in long jump won by Ese Brume. Their performances were inspiring for they affirmed we can and should compete at the highest levels across the full range of sports events. Yes, we had wished and worked for more medals. But we must also put things in perspective. The medal outcome at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics stands as Nigeria’s best result in the last 13 years.
Moreover, the athletes of Team Nigeria did their nation proud. Many of them reached the finals of their respective sports and, competing with all they had, were in contention for medals until the final moment. Anyone who saw their efforts would have nothing but the utmost respect for them, their coaches and all the technical staff that made Tokyo possible.
I thank President Muhammadu Buhari for his unrelenting support for Sports and Youth development and indeed for the opportunity to serve and lead our participation at these games. Team Nigeria placed 74th position on the final Olympic medal table among 205 participating countries, despite our small contingent to the games. We were 8th among 52 African countries that participated. Team Nigeria excelled in many areas that engender hope for greater success in the future.
Nigeria had five Olympic finalists in 100 meters Hurdles Women, Short Put, Long jump, Wrestling and 100 meters men. Team Nigeria broke the 13-year-old jinx of no medal in Long jump and 25 years of no finalist in the men’s 100 meters and secured a medal in wrestling for the very first time. Overall, our performance was good and more importantly it is headed in the right direction.
How will the country prevent a (future) recurrence of the disqualifications of some Nigerian athletes in the Olympics this year?
While the general trends and overall performance was positive, I must mention two unfortunate incidents that occurred.
First is the mishap resulting in 10 Team Nigeria athletes being ruled ineligible to compete for missing their mandatory Out of Competition Test, OTC. When notice of this ruling got to me, I immediately mobilized my team and the AFN leadership to see how the situation could be salvaged. We mounted a vigorous appeal process with the Athletics Integrity Unit, AIU and had the team members complete the tests. However, timing became the critical issue . Despite our energetic appeal, the deciding committee made its announcement which gave no latitude to our team members for what was only an inadvertent lapse.
The adverse decision was painful to accept. We had prepared carefully and eagerly for the Olympics with the expectation that each person, federation, coach and athlete would also complete the necessary preparations required of them. As Minister, I ensured that all necessary approvals were done so that all required tests and exams could be timely completed. For me, this unfortunate incident is most painful because these athletes had prepared long and hard and also in view of the challenging circumstances due to COVID-19.
As the Minister, I must bear some institutional responsibility for this lapse. I also had to depend and expect that each person in the long and often technical chain will perform his/her role expeditiously and with precision. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, someone failed in his/her responsibility and as Minister, I bear the responsibility and brunt of the criticism. But that is not enough. I must move to ensure that Nigeria never experiences another such moment. I have ordered a full investigation that will not only uncover what happened but will also, recommend a process where such lapses can never occur in the future and initiate leveraging compliance monitoring technology to guardrail this.
I have personally apologized to the affected athletes. Here and now, I personally apologize to all Nigerians for this ineligibility episode. The AFN has also taken responsibility and apologized to the athletes and to Nigerians.
Already, a new Medical and Anti-Doping Commission has been set up to establish a foolproof system of testing and ensure Nigeria exits the A Categorization by WADA.
Also, Blessing Okagbare remains one of our best athletes who has served Nigeria well. We emphasize with her. Nigeria will monitor closely developments around her temporary suspension and appeal.
Also, talk about the competition wears controversy…
The second issue had to do with the apparel provided for the team. The Ministry’s responsibility and that of the 38 National Sporting Federations, NSFs of kitting are well spelt out. The production of general wears for Team Nigeria is always the responsibility of the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development. Procurement for the Competition Wear is the responsibility of the respective federations because of the fact that each sport requires specialized outfits. Boxing, Wrestling, Athletics and each of the federations need different gears. The Ministry provides budgetary support to the federations.
The quantity of competition wears given to each athlete is the decision of the particular federation. No complaints came to my notice until the Tik Tok Video posted by one of the athletes went viral. We Immediately stepped in to manage the situation. The Federation involved has been directed to provide a detailed explanation about the kit.
Team Nigeria was properly kitted for the games with a 9-item backpack using a local manufacturer in harmony with President Buhari’s policy on local content.
Before any federation which is a component of Team Nigeria however wears any brand, it must refer to the Ministry and the NOC for clearance and approval. The Ministry and NOC must be fully aware of the contract details by the Federation to protect the rights and freedoms of the athletes and ensure Nigeria’s interests are protected. In this situation, the Ministry wishes to state that the contractual arrangement between AFN and Puma prior to the Olympic Games has generated a lot of controversy between the former President of the Federation and the former Board members. I will not want to go into too many details on this issue because it is sub judice. Suffice it to say that the Ministry was not part of the agreement. The Tik Tok video on the issue was an attempt to create a media frenzy to embarrass Nigeria.
Following from the above, the issue relating to the competition wears vis a vis the alleged arrangement with Puma is most unfortunate. I have demanded a proper investigation into this matter. Such an inquiry will unearth the truth about how some people tried to sabotage Nigeria’s participation and undermine the country and our Olympic athletes.
On assumption of office as Minister of Youth and Sports 2 years ago, I began a gradual reformation of the National Sports Federations, NSFs. For years, a few of these federations were very badly run. These reforms will take time. There already is and will be stiff resistance from some quarters, which is what we are witnessing now. But we are resolute to establish better sport’s management, a legacy President Muhammadu Buhari is desirous of bequeathing to our sports development.
What is your Ministry’s plan to make future performance better?
There is much to hope for the future. In Tokyo, most of our athletes were young and debutants – first time Olympians. They gave their all. If only we can support them in a sustained manner, they will give us future Olympic medals and raise high the flag of Nigeria at all venues of international sports competitions. We have started building a new generation of Young Nigerian athletes who will benefit immensely from the Nigerian Sports Industry Policy which will be placed before the Federal Executive Council for approval shortly. This policy will unleash the economic potential of our sports sector following President Buhari’s reclassification of sports as a business, away from recreation. This will be the foundation for sustained sector growth and maximization of our human resources.
The Tokyo 2020 Olympics experience will move and challenge me to push our sports to a higher level and seek a better condition for all our athletes.
Team Nigeria went to Tokyo 2020 and competed against the best in the world. Two Olympics medals and a statistical performance that has a place in the history of our Olympic participation despite being one of our smallest contingents. We can perform even much better if we alI hold onto the lessons learnt. I remain grateful to all the athletes that so represented Nigeria well.
Apart from Covid 19 what other factors affected Nigerians.
One of the sectors heavily impacted by the Covid 19 pandemic is Sports. The pandemic saw to the shutting down of sports facilities and activities. Athletes training and competitions for almost 8 months was near zero. The loss of revenue added to the rustiness of the athletes. It was a year of struggle for the sports value chain. It was a global experience by all athletes but different countries reacted differently. On our part, out of an abundance of caution sports Centre’s and sporting activities came under lock and key for a little too long. When things opened up we rushed our athletes through many training regimes and competition circles. We needed them tuned up and we needed them to meet the qualifications standards for the Olympics. No doubt this has an effect on performances. No one though is able
To measure the exact impact of such. Our athletes posted fantastic PBs and brilliant performances despite all this on the way to Tokyo.
Again it’s the Olympics where the best of the best compete. Nigeria made it. Qualification. Participation and Winning are 3 key pillars of the Olympic spirit. Nigeria had it all. Did we achieve the highest performance expected no. Unfortunately the unexpected affected the expected. The ruling of 10’ of our athletes as ineligible by the Integrity unit was a dampener. We regret this development. Other little issues that found it’s way into social media became distractions. These were housekeeping matters that could have been discussed. Unfortunately, some people were more interested in causing disaffection and undermining the Nigerian Olympic interest. Again. We did all
We could to settle things down and get our athletes focused. Again the performances we posted beyond the 2 medals are noteworthy. We thank God for the 2 medals and the future is bright. Half of our contingent have never been to the Olympics big stage.