Before and even when the present administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari took up the responsibility of steering the ship of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, hope was ignited with most Nigerians believing that salvation had finally come to a country with diverse political and ethno-religious inclinations.
The reason for much anticipation by many was not far-fetched. The promises, razzmatazz and indeed aura appeared different for one man whose interest in developing Nigerian sports since he took over has remained blurred.
With the stern promise of creating employment opportunities for youths, which of course he could achieve greatly with sports, as with a mere appropriation of less than N3 billion into the entire Nigerian sports sector, with over 20 different sporting federations saddled with organising various competitions for young Nigerian athletes, the very wide unemployment circle in the country could be shrivelled.
As it stands now, the caliber of people he drafted to oversee the defunct National Sports Commission, NSC, now merged with the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, has continued to receive knocks instead of applause.
Stakeholders, particularly in the sports sector, including Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomole, voiced their reservations loudly when former caretaker chairman of a local government in Plateau State, Solomon Dalung, was announced as Minister to Youths and Sports, followed by dissolution of NSC with tested sports professionals few weeks after the current administration took over.
Though Dalung has at different times declared that he had stint within the sporting environment as a hockey player and a member of presidential contingent to the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations in Mali, his way of handling issues have faced intense criticism.
The inability of most sporting federations to access funds in a bid to attend international championships which would sharpen Nigerian athletes is another major setback.
With unending crisis in sports federations coupled with turbulent Olympic qualification process, the immediate task before Dalung on whose shoulder all sporting activities rest, is to ensure that Nigeria picks tickets in many sporting events ahead of the 2016 Olympics, which will be hosted in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, from August 4. At the moment, expectations that the country will not face same no-medal embarrassment as was the case at the 2012 London Olympics are getting slimmer by the day.
Almost all the sports federations in the country struggled last year and most of the athletes in the various federations could not fulfil their dreams of participating in world events and Olympics qualifiers.
With barely two months to the kick-off of this year’s Olympics Games, team Nigeria are yet to proceed to camp. When he appeared before Senate Committee on Sports weeks back, Dalung attributed the poor preparations ahead of the world biggest sporting event to funds. He particularly accused former NSC leadership of misusing a whopping sum of N2.9 billion released by Buhari before he assumed office for the 2015 African Games and Olympics preparations, with a promise to bring to book those found culpable.
Football et al
For the records, only men’s football, weightlifting, wrestling, table tennis, basketball, canoeing and some file and track athletes will be on parade for Nigeria in Brazil.
Apart from men’s football and basketball that qualified earlier, other sports, including table tennis players had it rough en route to qualification with the likes of Segun Toriola and others using their personal monies to cater for themselves while on national duties.
At the peak of time, taekwondo athletes could not book an Olympic place apparently due to the crisis which engulfed Nigeria Taekwondo Federation, NTF. While the crisis began last December, no fewer than eight board members out of 12, in line with constitutional provision, asked their president to step aside due to lack of team play and outright non-performance. Days later, Minister Dalung reversed their decision without calling aggrieved parties to round table talks.
The outcome of unresolved crisis within the federation earned Nigeria no-qualification berth at Olympics.
As at the time of penning down this write up, embattled Dalung has neither summoned NTF board members to a meeting geared towards chatting a way forward nor allowed the decision of majority to prevail, even when he promised to do so earlier this year.
“After Nigeria taekwondo athletes couldn’t qualify for Olympics, no one has called us for meeting. Even the then President Ashiru has not taken steps to initiate talks with board members. Until our leaders in the ministry allow equity and those who know the game to carry out their functions, the right things will not be done,” new NTF president and two-time African champion Elizabeth Binga submitted.
Also, Nigeria Shooting Federation and Nigeria Basketball Federation, NBBF, have had their share of crises with no visible effort to curtail it. In fact, the Youth and Sports Minister allegedly met with a basketball group without the knowledge of NBBF board.
At the moment, the country’s football body has been consumed in brawl with two factions, Amaju Pinnick and Chris Giwa laying claim to the popular Glasshouse, the headquarters of Nigeria Football Federation, NFF.
On assumption to office, Dalung took some suspicious moves before he later called both factions to a round table meeting. His meeting with the warring factions triggered more reactions which led the Giwa group to resurrect their court case against Pinnick at a Jos High Court in March. Though House of Representatives members have waded into it, the end to Nigeria’s football impasse is yet to be seen.
When he appeared before House Committee on Sports which was directed to look into the trouble with Nigeria’s soccer, lawmakers accused Dalung of portraying some corrupt tendencies in trying to resolve NFF’s predicaments, even when President Buhari preaches against corruption.
In his response, the minister who explained efforts he had made to nip the crisis in the bud since he took over the reins of the ministry, told the legislators that several problems emanating from Nigeria’s sports especially, could only be curtailed if the National Assembly domesticated FIFA statutes as well as endorse establishment of Court of Arbitration for Sports, CAS.
He further hinted that at the interim, only out of court settlement or dialogue would yield expected result.
The big blow the lingering NFF crisis has dealt on Nigerian football, apart from winning FIFA U-17 World championship late last year, has been enormous. Nigeria’s biggest soccer brand, Super Eagles, until few days ago when they won their friendly matches against Mali and Luxembourg, have been wallowing in series of defeats.
For the second time running, the country’s senior men football team failed to pick Nations Cup ticket and were at the risk of losing out on 2018 World Cup. With their previous wobbling performances, sponsors that hitherto besiege Glasshouse have deserted the team and many have again warned that if nothing drastic was done, doomsday was inevitable.
Under the current administration, Nigeria known for its exploits in track and field is losing its glamour. Golden league competition, an internal way through which the Athletics Federation of Nigeria, AFN, accesses its athletes expected to be at Rio is facing extinction due to lack of funds.
The most recent Golden league outing in Abuja was a shadow of itself as would-be Olympic athletes based in Nigeria were left fuming. That was after one of Nigeria’s experienced athletic coach, Seigha Porbeni resigned.
“There is always the talk about early camping for Nigerian athletes after a major event, but our people always have this ‘bad habit’ of waiting for a few months before waking up from their slumber. That usual fire brigade attitude has not done us any favour in the past and I see disaster awaiting us in Rio Olympics,” Porbeni predicted.
Porbeni is the coordinator of coaches in Team Nigeria’s camp at the High Performance Centre, University of Port Harcourt. He and other coaches have been in the camp since November last year taking care of both the junior athletes who are preparing for the World Junior Championships holding in Poland in August, as well as senior athletes preparing for Rio Olympics.
Talking about why the athletic atmosphere has remained comatose vis-à-vis effort being made to punish those who might have misappropriated Olympics funds under the present government, the Sports Minister declared on his Twitter handle: “Rio preparation is poor because those who collected #2.9 billion meant for it are yet to account. So accusing me is either deceit or hypocrisy. We have done our best within the limits of time of stewardship we might not have meet the desire expectations of some but we are committed.
“It takes the grace of God to dismantle strong hold of a cabal that held sports captive in the name of professionalism the just shall triumph. If it’s now a crime to ask for account of #2.9billion, then is either that critics are either beneficiaries or paid agents of cover up.”
In all, with the manner Team Nigeria is going about preparations for the Rio Olympics, it is difficult to predict what the future holds for sports in Nigeria, particularly as the 2016 Olympics Games loom large. Whether the country would better her 2012 Olympics medal-less outing or not is what Nigerians are waiting to see.