Sports Ministry Counters Punch Editorial That Maligned President Buhari, Minister
Our attention was drawn to the editorial of your newspaper, The Punch of Tuesday, July 5, 2022, on Sports: Dare, Buhari’s Interference Unwarranted and wish to exercise our right to reply since the editorial write up represents the official position of your organisation.
It becomes even more important for us to seek to put the records straight and present a more accurate explanation of the issues around sports administration, governance and development given the one-sided nature of your editorial and the maligning of the characters of both the President and the Honourable Minister of Sports.
We believe that the opportunity to give our own side of the story in the spirit of fairness and objectivity will receive the same levels of exposure and prominence as your editorial.
Our reply will address three key areas picked out of the editorial.
1.’Dare, Buhari are messing around with sports – they are intrusive, coercive and meddlesome in sports administration.’
The Punch would go on to write about the self-imposed two-year ban on international basketball which was recently rescinded. The editorial cleverly refused to include in the write up that Nigerian Basketball got back on the international scene after the NBBF board in a 3-page letter apologised to Mr. President, the Honourable Minister, the Ministry and the nation about the embarrassment their crisis has caused the nation. NBBF went on to genuinely commit to initiate the processes of reconciliation in the basketball family and commenced the review of its statutes as outlined by the Federal Government through the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development based on the submission of the basketball stakeholders.
The editorial pretended that all was well and dandy in the basketball family and government acted simply out of ignorance. We know for sure the unending 5-years constitutional and leadership crisis. We know of about 7 attempts to broker a truce by the Ministry. We know about threats of boycotts by the male and female players, we know about the sponsored campaigns to defame and blackmail the Minister by each group competing for his endorsement. In all, Government realised that each camp had a different agenda from developing basketball. Nigeria’s sovereignty has been traded in the allegations of government interference.
Government had to act. And it did.
At the heart of the NBBF crises was the issue of the instrument that would be used to administer the game in Nigeria. For close to four years, the domestic league was in the doldrums and with the benefit of hindsight, the Government’s pronouncement, although not very popular, produced the right kind of actions and reactions.
The reference to an internal memo sent by the Sports Minister, Sunday Dare to Mr Amaju Pinnick, president of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) on June 17, 2022, also needs to be explained.
June 17, 2022, was over 100 days to September 30, 2022, the date of the expiration of the term of the present NFF Executive Committee. It was to allow for more than enough time for the electoral processes to be consummated. There have been precedents where the processes were concluded in far lesser time. That memo was a reminder to the one sent two months earlier.
It is noteworthy that in the wake of Nigeria’s failure to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the NFF Executive Committee met in the first week of April and promised to set machinery in place for its elective congress once all the court cases preventing it from doing so were out of the way.
With the news that the legal moves to withdraw those cases had been initiated, it was important to remind the NFF Executive Committee of its own decision.
Perhaps, it is also important to highlight the fact that majority of the NFF congressmen across the different geopolitical zones had been meeting and putting pressure on everyone, including the Sports Ministry and the NFF Executive Committee to call for their Annual General Assembly (AGA). These agitations can shut down the football ecosystem in Nigeria.
The question to ask is, what should a responsible supervisory ministry do in the light of all these?
The need to reform Nigerian football and improve its governance structure has become a critical matter for many years.
The 2010 NFF Statutes have been described as obsolete by almost every football stakeholder. Most people have called for its review after over a decade.
In 2018, the NFF congress approved the setting up of a reforms committee. That committee was made up of many NFF Executive Committee members and some Congress men and women.
It will be interesting to commission an investigation into what happened to that reform committee and its report.
As presently constituted, the NFF Congress has five members as listed in the editorial – the State FAs, league bodies (NPFL, NNL, NWFL and NLO), referees association, coaches’ association and players’ union, however only one of these members has 84% of voting rights, while the other seven share the remaining 16%.
Who will correct this imbalance in the representation at the NFF congress? Who will champion the calls for inclusiveness in the overriding interests of our football development?
Last year, President Muhammadu Buhari told the FIFA President Gianni Infantino when the latter paid him a visit in Abuja, that one of the legacies he would want to leave for Nigerian football is the improvement of its governance structure.
The Football Roadmap Committee set up by Mr President completed its assignment in Abuja last week and would be presenting the report to the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development any moment from now.
The editorial described the Minister’s call for a fairer, more inclusive and equitable representation of football stakeholders in the nation’s highest football decision making organ as being motivated by ‘hidden interests’ and a jamboree. Clearly, this is an unfair assessment of the Minister’s genuine ‘national interests’.
The editorial equally said the President and the Minister had no powers to interfere with the NFF election. Perhaps, Punch needs to read our constitution again. Nigeria is a sovereign nation. The Ministry is statutory and draws its powers from the constitution of the country. The NFF is not sovereignty. It is an entity created by government. The NFF is not a country. It draws its legitimacy from the government and must respect our laws and respect government officials with statutory powers of oversight.
2. ‘Stakeholders should tell Buhari and Dare that the NFF is not a federal department and calls for the amendment of its statutes is political interference.’
In the Minister’s memo to the NFF, he wrote that, “the amended statutes should reflect the national yearnings, aspirations and peculiarities of Nigeria as a sovereign nation while aligning with the principles and objectives of football as set by the world soccer governing body, FIFA.
The reality is that many people forget that before any international sports federation, there must first be a nation.
Every member of FIFA is expected to domesticate the football laws in accordance with the laws of its land. No member of FIFA operates in space, they do not exist in isolation. There must be some physical jurisdiction. FIFA is bound by Swiss Law; the Confederation of African Football (CAF) operate within the confines of Egyptian laws because its headquarters is in Cairo. So, the Honourable Sports Minister is within his rights to demand same from the NFF.
Remember that most of those seeking offices in international federations seek government endorsements and approval before they are allowed to contest such positions.
When funds are made available to these federations to enable them to prepare Nigerian teams for international competitions, it is classified as intervention, but once government seeks for its interests to be respected it becomes interference.
The NFF board receives billions of money appropriated to NFA and spend as NFF, but turn around to say “interference” when they owe their existence and recognition to government and because government rightly decides to direct them to do something about illegal aspect of their status, they still don’t want to obey the laws of the land. Rather, they have chosen the path of attacking the Minister, the supervising Ministry and Mr. President.
3. ‘President Buhari is treating Sports with levity.’
It is obvious that someone has not been following the progress made by this administration in the area of sports development in the last couple of years. Talk about selective reporting. Rather than a comprehensive and objective review, the Punch editorial focused on its perceived negatives in order to suit a clear agenda. Well, there is the other side.
Within three years of his appointment as Sports Minister, Sunday Dare initiated the reclassification of Sports as business and not mere recreation, the formulation of the National Sports Industry Policy (NSIP) which has reached an advanced stage where the policy will be presented to the Federal Executive Council for approval.
For the first time Nigeria will now have a 10-year football master plan a brainchild of both Mr. President and the Minister which the NFF tried to sabotage. Mr. President had boldly informed FIFA President Infantino when he visited that he had ordered a 10- year football master plan to be drawn up as a commitment to the development of football. That report will soon be submitted to Mr. President.
The other triggers for sports development are infrastructure, investment, incentives and a policy to drive all these. The Minister of Youth and Sports has had his hands on all the triggers with the full support of Mr. President.
On infrastructure, we are witnessing the rehabilitation of hitherto abandoned sports facilities and edifices across the nation. The Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja is back to life after close to a decade of neglect. The National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, after nearly 19 years of abandonment has been revived.
The Obafemi Awolowo Stadium formerly Liberty Stadium, Ibadan, Africa’s first and best is being rehabilitated in sections after decades of abandonment, the Daura Township Stadium, Daura now has a befitting football pitch for the use of over 35 youth football clubs, the Ahmadu Bello stadium has enjoyed a massive facelift through the partnership between the Minister of Sports and Governor El-Rufai even as the plan to handover the ABS to the Kaduna State Government is about to be finalized.
All of the above are products of Public-Private Partnership (PPP) arrangements and collaborations of the Minister under the Adopt Initiative.
The Adopt-an-Athlete initiative saw close to 30 of Nigerian athletes receive between $10,000 and $20,000 each and directly to support their training and preparations. In total, about half a million dollars was raised by the Ministry under the leadership of Mr. Dare for our athletes.
Winning bonuses for our athletes from the Olympics and Paralympics were increased by 300 per cent with each gold medallist earning $15,000 (fifteen thousand dollars). This has never happened before.
The Adopt initiatives are some of the programmes now in place through Sports Minister Sunday Dare and the present administration’s drive to ensure a solid foundation for sports development in the country. It is hugely surprising that some of these laudable projects were not captured in the editorial, rather it called for Sunday Dare’s sack.
Finally, it was a bit cheeky that The Punch in its pettiness and ultra unobjectivity asked that the Sports Minister be blamed for the loss of the D’Tigers, the men’s national basketball team to Cape Verde in their opening game of the second round at the FIBA World Cup qualifiers in Kigali, Rwanda last week.
A laughable logic. Anyone with the understanding of sports will know the dynamics of winning and losing. The loss was a close one. The same margin of loss when we played the same team last year.
Well, the team bounced back from that loss, walked over Mali and defeated Uganda to qualify for the next round of the FIBA World Cup qualifiers that will take place in August, then let us praise Sunday Dare for that.
Media Office of the Honourable Minister of Youth and Sports Development