A new agenda for excellence in sports in Nigeria, By Sadiq A. Abdullahi

Barr. Solomon Dalong at the Ministerial screening

Solomon Dalong, minister of youth and sports, needs a sustainable and vibrant sport structure if youths and sports will be the vehicle for social change, national unity and peace.

As Nigeria’s 31st sports minister and the first under the All Progressives Congress, Minister Dalong has a seasoned sports technocrat in Alhassan Yakmut to use to begin a bold and comprehensive reform of the sports sector.

In 2012, the presidency organized a Presidential Sports Sector Retreat whose aim was to discuss why other nations excel in sports at international competitions and we do not. About 500 individuals representing all the six geo-political zones including the Diaspora attended that retreat.

In 2013, I was invited again to meet with the then sports minister, Bolaji Abdullahi, to discuss the outcome of the retreat and to come up with an action plan. The participants at the retreat were asked three fundamental questions:

(1) What do you consider to be the key issues impeding sports development in Nigeria? Sixty-eight percent of the participants said that “poor sports management and administration” is the biggest issue facing the sports sector. Thirty percent said “inadequate funding, while two percent said poor sports policies.

(2) What is the biggest broken point in Nigeria’s talent development pipeline? Forty percent said that building talent pool, 35% said identifying and monitoring elite talent, and 24% training said elite talent for success.

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(3) How many sports should Nigeria prioritize for sporting success? Forty-one percent of the participants said 7-10 sports, while 39% said 4-6 sports.

Although, Mr. Dalong is determined to tackle corruption head on, the challenge of bringing together all the stakeholders in the sports sector will be daunting. Corruption is broadly defined in the sector which includes financial recklessness, misappropriation and diversion of funds, and abuse of office, coaches and athletes, etc.

The need to revamp the sports sector is overwhelming considering the collective abuse from the preceding years. And Youths and Sports can actually define the “change” Nigeria seeks as this moment in her nationhood.

After his swearing in, Mr. Dalong made it clear he believes, “Nigeria can be great in sports if there was cooperation and dedication…and if we collectively reject corruption, purge ourselves, re-dedicate ourselves and work toward making this country very great.”

Furthermore, he added, “If we dedicate ourselves selflessly, we will reap the benefits of our sweat.”

In order to achieve these lofty aspirations and goals, Mr. Dalong must first revisit what stakeholders such as Adokiye Amiesimaka and Segun Odegbami and others suggested at the Presidential Sports Sector Retreat:

(1) Enact an Act of the National Assembly to establish the National Sport Commission (NSC)

(2) Amend the National Institute for Sports Act

(3) Have national federations, including NFF to be accountable and transparent,

(4) Allow federal government to encourage and facilitate memberships into the executive committees in international organizations,

(5) Provide performance benchmarks and standards for national federations and ministry staff

(6) Make the budget public

(7) Seek Diaspora participation

The realities on the ground require bold decision making process. Mr. Dalong and his selfless and dedicated administrative team and the presidents of all national sport federations must model effective leadership and good governance.

The lingering but tractable issues and problems undermining social change and excellence in sports can become the catalyst needed to change from within and thus recommit to rebuilding the sports sector.

Some of the issues and problems are simple and others are more complex. We need an enabling legislation, to begin with. As a seasoned lawyer, Mr. Dalong knows the necessity of legal, statutory, and constitutional provisions that are critical in any change effort.

The new culture will need to be guided by values and principles such as tolerance, cooperation, collaboration, dedication, passion, hard work, fairness, equality, and justice to achieve policy cohesion and national unity, peace and integration.

In line with the above recommendations, I discuss critical areas of urgent need to be addressed as foundational framework.

National Sports Policy: The participants at the Presidential retreat do not believe that the 2009 National Sports Policy (NSP) is a concern. In light of the new vision for the sports sector, as evidenced by the recent pronouncements, the NSP should be reviewed and revised to be consistent with the Ministry of Youth and Sports’ goals and objective. A synergy is needed to marry both ministry as one.

National Sports Commission: In 1995, the late Babasola Rhodes was appointed the Chairman of the National Sports Commission. The Commission failed woefully in discharging its duties. There was lack of dedication, commitment, and clarity of purpose and direction. The new Commission should be structured to be inclusive and organizational structures clearly defined.

National Sport Federations and State Associations: The new National Sports Commission should have as one of its functions, the oversight checks and balances power over national sport federations, whose primary role is to identify and nurture talented athletes. Similarly, the Commission should play a role in conducting elections into various offices in the sport federations.

School Sports: Schools sports will be the defining moments for APC and for Mr. Dalong. Grassroots sport development remains the foundation of sports excellence. Primary and secondary public education, as the responsibility of local and state governments, the federal government should devise a strategy for meaningful partnership. Significant change will occur if we begin early in schools. We must harness new ideas and technology to make the new government’s reform efforts through schools and social programs.

Athletes Welfare and Development: The national sport federation continues to fail the nation not the sports ministry. Individuals within the various national sport federations have become extremely wealthy to the detriment of their federations. This has to change.

Research and Development: The new thinking and approach should be based on science and technology as well as human capacity. The structure is in place. It must be harnessed.

Sports and Peace: if we can harness the potential in youth sports, we will achieve unity, peace, and prosperity in the nation. Mr. Dalong knows too well that Nigeria as a nation is in search of a national identify and direction. Together we can achieve this goal through a well organized strategic planning module.

Mr. Dalong sports policy and vision to reform the sports sector must be based on highly qualified, skillful, and dispositional individuals who are to collaborate and to work in partnership with others. He must implore local and state governments, educational institutions and other agencies including many experts in the Diaspora. If we must reclaim our past glory, we must be selfless and committed in our overall approach.

Sadiq Abdullahi played tennis for the country and is now a Professor at the Department of Teaching and Learning at the Florida International University in Miami-Dade.

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