For the first time in almost three years, Sports Minister, Sunday Dare is poised to make sweeping changes in sports. The minister recently spoke with ace broadcaster Mitchel Obi on Kennis 104.1 FM radio on Tuesday from Birmingham, venue of the 2022 Commonwealth Games where he divulged his mission for sports in Nigeria as he races toward the home stretch.
An elated Dare commended the podium performances of Tobi Amusa and Ese Brune at the World Athletic Championship in Eugene, Oregon and revealed plans to bestow National Awards of MFR on the duo as part of the rewards for their feat.
Dare also read the riot act on the impending Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, election deadline of September 30, 2022 insisting that the Federal Government is closely monitoring the NFF as directed by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Below is the full interview:
Honourable Minister, where are you?
I’m in Birmingham, I arrived here late evening on Sunday and early Monday was quite a day of glory for Nigeria for young athlete, Tobi Amusan, who had put in so many years of efforts, so many hours of training and competitions, who was undaunted even when she came fourth severally. She knew her day would come and she kept her eye at the tip of the spear, she never lost concentration and she just gave a stellar performance.
It was a golden Sunday. How was the preparation because they did not look like they were going to surprise us?
A lot of things happen off the radar with the athletes and ministry that you can’t keep everything out there in the public because of the distractions. It’s a chain. When you look at Tobi’s success, a lot goes to her but a lot of credit goes to her coach, her team mates, those who have supported her, to the ministry and quite a number of people have contributed to this but the person who has contributed more is Tobi who did not give up. Adidas has a wall where the athletes can go and write something, a day before the final and Tobi went there and wrote ‘incoming world champion’ ‘incoming record holder’. That was bold, inspiring, a measure of faith like a mustard seed and several hours later her prediction came to pass. It’s so inspiring. That is an athlete who knew within herself that she has done what is needed, she has done the right of passage and I’m now ready for the big glory. We are glad that she made it and made Nigeria proud and we are all proud of her.
Have you seen her or spoken to her and also Ese Brume who has been consistent all round?
Hours after the celebration, I spoke with Ese Brume who has excelled back to back from last World Championship in Doha, to the Olympics in Tokyo and now to world athletics. I spoke to Tobi as well and she was very grateful to God. We expect them in Birmingham in a few days and luckily the athletic track and field starts next week so they get to rest for a few days. When it comes to preparing the efforts it’s a lot of things; it’s the camping, the competitions they go to nationally, continentally and internationally, the training with their coaches, technical advisers and efforts being made back to back by the national trial. All of these come together to bring what we see and we believe that very strongly. You saw the performance of Ese Brume and other 100m women, some of them have never been to the world athletics championship before. They were 16th in ranking when they went for the world athletics and then they moved up to 12th and from there they moved to 4th which is a massive jump. Exceptionally brilliant performance! The young ones, in the last four to five years, have been steady, the federation has been working with them, most of it off the radar. For an athlete, whatever you put in, you need to have that candle spirit, you need them to have that spirit of going out there and doing your best.
We hope that there will be first gold at the Commonwealth just like Ese Brume got her first gold there too. What are your thoughts in terms of surpassing our efforts in the Commonwealth Games? The last time was not as sharp?
My position is very clear, the Bible says having done all that is necessary then stand assured. On a personal level, I think that all our athletes have logged in a lot of hours in their training, they’ve made sacrifices, they’ve gone through very rigorous training and competitions. On our parts as a ministry and the government, we’ve done our best. Like I said, a lot of people play a key role in all of these and having done all that, we stand in faith that barring any injuries, the athletes will fly our flags and they will compete and make us proud.
You have gone the extra mile for the drug testing, it is critical don’t you think so?
Absolutely, when we came back from the Olympics, we had a couple of issues and very quietly we put in place the zero rule policy on drug testing that unless you have the OCT test (Out of Competition Test), three of them complete in record time, at least two clear weeks before any competitions, we are not going to get to run any risks. We had several awareness seminars with our athletes. We told them we are going to get Nigeria off the A category and we know what it takes so we moved from 27 tests last year to 157 tests and about a week ago we got a commendation from the Athletics Integrity Unit that is known for not compromising any standards and they said Nigeria has done excellently well moving from 27 to 157. We also make sure that any athletes that miss the test several weeks before the competition does not go there. It is a zero policy, it’s blind to any sentiments and there are so many reasons. Some people switch allegiance when it is just two weeks and it’s impossible to get it done. Some don’t fill the form as at when due and we can’t do anything about it. It’s a tedious and rigorous process but the zero policy on drug testing stands. We want Nigeria to get in the clear, we want respect for the athletes and like the President said,’I only want clean medals.’
Zero tolerance for protests too?
Absolutely! There are proccesses, we look at best practices everywhere. If you have any complaints, you go through the processes, you can report to your coach, he escalates it to higher authorities and when you do that, these issues are resolved. To just jump the processes and go out there, we’ve checked more than 15 to 16 countries who have athletes that go to competitions and we’ve seen what the processes are and we say no if we want to build a good governance structure around our sports and make it effective, this idea of not going through the process of resolution will not work for us and I think that our athletes are conformist and we are set to make sure that whatever the issues are, we will resolve them to the best of our interests, having a clear understanding of our limitations.
How does it feel to revoke your decision over the NBBF?
It’s part of the good governance, the codes of government were set and the guidelines were clear about the responsibilities of the ministry, we are ready to play our roles as the supervisory ministry and I’m glad that eventually the story is over, the federation understood what we were trying to do, it was not a question of interference but it was a question of insisting on the code of governance. We had apologies made to the president, to Nigeria and an undertaking was written that they would work with the ministry. This is the ministry’s approach which has to do with congress and constitution, listening and working on the constitution. We presented the facts to the president and he reversed the decision and about a week afterward we were in Kigali where we qualified for the next run and we just believe that lessons have been learnt on all sides and we hope that people will put the interest of the sports and the athletes ahead of any other interests. When politics slips into sports, there’s a big problem, we hope that going forward, each party will recognise the limits of its powers and that will help.
There was a presidential directive to facilitate the process to hold a Congress of the NFF by September 30th and we want to see stakeholders fashion out a new slate for themselves. There seems to be no actions taken to some of the advice you gave.
The federal government of Nigeria is bigger than any federation. They draw their legitimacy from the federal government, even FIFA draws it legitimacy from the Swiss government so that’s very clear. The federal government has the right to issue a directive or advisory, let’s be clear about that. The president has constitutional powers to speak to any sector, any organization that operates under the laws of Nigeria and enjoys the facilities and resources of our country. When it comes to interference and intervention, we are clear about it. Anybody that understands English and reads the letter that was written, it’s clear. The issue of domestication is settled forever, we’ve not had it for a while. When there is foot dragging about it, it’s my responsibility as the minister to present the facts before the president or to also take a decision based on the facts and that is what we have done. Secondly, there is an election that is coming up, we just giving them a gentle reminder to prepare for it. It’s out there in the public, the complaints and problems. It is just the same with the 2023 elections. It is several months away but you can see what is happening in the political circle. Just imagine if the election doesn’t hold so it is better to keep everyone on their toes. As the sports ministry we give reminders and having done that, we stand back and see what develops. The main body of the NFF is the congress and the congress is supreme. We as the ministry and the president has said please do the needful and stand back to see it down.
When will the Congress hold? Is September 30th sacrosanct?
I’m a bit limited in saying precisely when it will hold. The expectations are that the NFF leadership will rule out a timetable with expectation that there will be a final word on the withdrawal of the court case. So many processes are ongoing. When you look at it, the elections should actually be on September 21st because the last election was on September 20th. We are watching very closely the development. We’ve done what we need to do, we’ve given the gentle reminder and every government official has to report back to the Nigerian people which I also have to do. There is a responsibility, a corresponding responsibility to the privileges I enjoy and we enjoy as public servants. The ball is in the court of the congress and I believe the NFF leadership will do what is right. That’s my belief and expectation.
The Ibrahim Galadima 10-year masterplan for football was submitted to you recently. are you going to forward that document to the congress to take a look or you will push it upstairs? Which direction next?
Don’t forget that the directive came from upstairs. I’ve taken the directive and it is on it’s way to upstairs then we are going to have a formal presentation to the president who will then commission the paper. There may be a presentation of a memo by myself at the council so that they can get the full weight of the federal mandate because football is king in Africa and it is important that we master the development of football.
We may be looking for an executive bill for domestication of Nigerian football. Does that look like a possibility before the home stretch?
Absolutely! We talk about sports diplomacy and this is when it starts. Look at the performance of Ese Brume and Tobi, only one win and they have put Nigeria on the world map, that is massive. That is sports diplomacy and countries don’t joke with athletics, track and field. Imagine if it’s football that is king in our country and we are very passionate about it and everything that pertains to it. Whatever we need to do to change the fundamentals of football development, the president is committed to it and we are working with all the relevant agencies and the ministry and stakeholders. Whatever is necessary so we must pass down the gauntlet and get things done the right way. When you don’t have a plan, it becomes chaotic but even if you divert from the plan, you can still go back to it. It’s just like building a house and you don’t have an architectural plan, it will fall. We want to get past that. We want a plan that is definite and this is a 10-year plan. It has short term, medium term and long term plans. I’ve had the opportunity to look through the submission and it’s amazing. Some of it is really bold but then we leave that to the president and the white paper that will come, when it comes, then we can begin to see the development of our football in the trajectory and direction of what we did.
The women seem to be saving your tenure in terms of results. Is there something you have specifically for the women?
Absolutely! We have respect for the women. There were years when the men carried us. In sports, just like in life, nothing is 100 percent. There are seasons. The Falcons have done well, very domineering. They earned a World Cup ticket and it’s the culmination of their efforts and we take that. I will take the World Cup ticket as something that is pricey and I want to thank them for the services for the country and I’ve spoken to some people in the NFF including the president and the Falcons will be strengthened. We will have younger players.
Some say the coach does not understand Nigerian football
I have spoken to the NFF president afterwards and I know that they will receive some technical reports and we are going to see how to rebuild the team. We are going to start early. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt because they understand the game. I get to know what is needed. The World Cup is big and Nigeria must continue to dominate.
Your tenure won a world championship, and I know you are thinking of the rewards for some of the athletes that have been outstanding in recent times ….
We are going to combine all of it. I’m already preparing the funds for Ese Brume and Tobi. I’ve sent the request letter to the president to give them national awards for them. Upgrade for Ese Brume and others. We are going to celebrate them.
Will the stadium in Ogbomoso have one of the names?
There is no stadium there for now. But the national stadium in Surulere, we are doing rework because we don’t have the resources that we need. You can imagine that after 19 years the federal government could not muscle the resources, the private sector couldn’t, the ministry couldn’t so after 19 years, if we have someone giving us the money then we must appreciate them no matter the level of work that is being done. The pitch was completely destroyed but it’s coming back, the tracks are coming back. The digital board was destroyed but we installed a new one. If it was easy why didn’t we have someone fix it over the years? If we have someone fixing it why don’t we wait and let this happen. We hope that once that is done, we’ll find something in the national stadium, Surulere to name after Tobi. Infrastructure is key and we are doing our best working on PPP model to see what we can do.
I hope the work being done is lasting because people were not thrilled about the quality of the grass in the Moshood Abiola Stadium in Abuja
We’ve got the best grass for Moshood Abiola which is the same one that is used at Qatar. We were careful about that. The excitement that came with the pitch is that it comes with a time template and we had four national teams wanting to play their repeatedly. We had Kano Pillars playing there, the pitch was subjected to seven to eight weeks of constant use against the advice of the consultants and we’ve dealt with that. We’ve sent the consultants away and brought a new one and that is what we’ve seen. The quality of that pitch is not in doubt, we just need to keep maintaining it well. We have the practice pitch and that is where practice is supposed to be done not on the national pitch. We’ve taken care of all of that.