By John Joshua- Akanji
When President Mohamadu Buhari named the erudite, cosmopolitan, versatile, energetic, youthful, suave and Ivy league educated Sunday Dare as Youths and Sports Development 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. Some ex-Ministers had laid credence to this with seemingly poor performance, lack of vision that has kept Nigerian sports in the archives of past glory and Youth Development at a crossroad.
Six months down the line, Dare is reinventing the wheels.
Decaying infrastructure, poorly motivated athletes, disgruntled work force, poorly trained coaches, archaic policy and angrily resentful youths made Dare’s assignment not only herculean, but one that needs ruffling of feathers.
Dare began his assignment from within by seeking to change the mindset of the workers and the wrong perception of the public that nothing can work in the sector.
Dare was obviously angered by the poor realities he met on assumption of office.
For someone from a technological driven background, Dare had to change the mindset of the Ministry staff.
Gradually,in the last six months, the work ethics has changed. With a Permanent Secretary in Gabriel Aduda who is desirous of breaking away from the old tradition, Dare has moved in leaps and bounds. He has restored confidence as evidenced with overwhelming support from the private sector, corporate organizations, individuals, agencies and international bodies.
His first breakthrough was moving away from the pigeonhole of being called Football Minister. Under his watch, Youth and Sports Development in general is being given a new vista.
He hit the ground running with his Adopt a Talent initiative which has seen corporate organisations, Governors, individuals adopting athletes by paying money directly into their account to prepare them for the now postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympics. This is against the convention where Olympics -bound athelets never had funds to prepare. The ripple effect is that it takes away the burden from the athletes, administrators and the coaches. This ensures transparency and accountability of the funds.
This has restored faith in the sports scene.
Sponsors ,Individuals and others now feel comfortable investing in Sports in the believe 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, and the 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 four triggers: infrastructure as catalyst for development, investment, incentives and policy. The inauguration of the steering committee of Sports Industry Group led by eminent personalilies 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 rapt 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; and 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 Games, 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 and women, sports will be meaningless as they are the core of winning glory for our country. Hence, while active athletes are getting renumerated, 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 Program, 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) program 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: the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), 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 re-writing Nigerian Youth and Sports Development history.
John Joshua-Akanji is Senior Special Assistant, Media to Youth and Sports Development Minister.