The story is told of the proverbial agama lizard, which fell from an Iroko tree. It looked around and when no one applauded the feat, simply nodded its head in self-affirmation and praise for successfully landing on its belly from such great heights without an injury.

So were the exploits of Barrister Solomon Selcap Dalung, the immediate past Minister of Youth and Sports Development  from November 11, 2015 to May 28, 2019.

When he arrived at the Ministry on the day he was scheduled to assume office, some onlookers, including the so called ‘stakeholders’ already had a mindset about this ‘intruder’ who had come to lord it over them dressed in annoying Khaki and red beret.

Though people were of the opinion that he was not ‘one of them’ as he neither read Sports management nor Physical Education and therefore knew nothing about sports administration. Notwithstanding, Barrister Dalung, amidst heavy barrages of abuse, stiff opposition, monstrous criticism and total condemnation in everything he did quietly but steadily trudged on. How he peacefully slept at night with a heavyweight of insults from the public (mostly for no reason but his dressing) still beats students of cynical journalism.

One of the wonders of Nigeria’s sports history was the rehabilitation of the Swimming pool at the National Stadium which hitherto was a breeding pond for reptiles. That swimming pool had not been used in 20 years before the arrival of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration. Barrister Dalung studied the books and gave a deadline to the contractor. In less than a year, the pool was commissioned and is the only Federal Government owned swimming pool in Lagos till date. Before the renovation, swimmers had nowhere to train in Lagos except other private and state owned pools which denied users unhindered access for maximum benefit..

Under the Ministerial supervision of Barrister Dalung, the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development started and completed 3 Mini stadia in Dawakin Kudu, Kano State, Daura, Katsina State and Mabudi in Plateau State. I humbly ask, when last was a  mini Stadium or playground constructed by any administration? When the Minister came into office, there were several abandoned projects in the Sports Ministry as in other Ministries. The National Youth Games introduced by a former Minister in 2012 was abandoned until Dalung came into office in 2015. Worse still, was the National Sports Festival which last took place too in 2012.

With a budget of N9m, Barrister Dalung went cap in hand from one State to the other to appeal to State Governors, Community and Church leaders to donate to the revival of the National Youth Games which was eventually recorded enormous success. Over 250 young athletes were discovered in the 2016 and 2017 editions of the National Youth Games and over 300 in the 2018 edition. Ever since, the Youth Games has been sustained by the Ministry. That 17 of the young athletes discovered from it represented the country at the Youth Olympic Games in Argentina where they won 1 gold and 3 silver medals further confirms Barrister Dalung’s foresight and dogged leadership style. These 17 athletes now form the core of the new generation athletes emerging from almost all the sports.

Following the back and forward posture of Cross River State who got the rights to host the the National Sports Festival, the platform for discovering budding new athletes but was also abandoned since 2014. It wasn’t until Barrister Dalung appeared on the scene that the 6 year jinx was broken! The Ministry organized a successful 19th edition tagged “Abuja 2019” where business boomed at the Abuja National Stadium, now Moshood Abiola Stadium, for the 10-day period of the festival.

According to Barrister Dalung, following the successful hosting of the National Sports Festival, Sports contributed to the country’s Gross Domestic Product GDP during the period of the festival which lasted 10 days.

During the period, wealth was distributed. Over 500 athletes were made instant millionaires by their various States by virtue of the medals they won. Dalung is also of the strong opinion that the GDP report produced by the National Bureau of Statistics for the last quarter of 2018 then, would have discovered  a 0.2% or 0.3% steady growth as a contribution from sports from the National Sports Festival. The leadership of the Ministry of Youth and Sports from 2015-2019 can assert that they made a significant contributions to the economic growth of the country in 2018.

In 2017 came the real task or democratizing the 42 National Sports Federations  for efficiency, accountability and professionalism. In the past, government handpicked five nominees in each federation which result was always having wrong pegs in wrong holes. Dalung ensured that the real stakeholders were given a level playing field to contest for elective positions with Electoral Guidelines conducted by NOC and supervised the Ministry.

Today, we are reaping the dividends of a free, fair and transparent elections into the boards of the National Federations.  The Minister also ensured that  ‘sit tight’ syndrome was discarded with all Federations directed to come up with their Constitutions which will serve as a reference for future elections.

Consequently, Nigeria emerged African Champions in 9 sports including Women’s Football, Men’s Basketball, Women’s Basketball, Volleyball, Badminton, Cricket, Wrestling, Para powerlifting and Taekwondo. Under Barrister Dalung’s administration, Nigeria became the first African country to qualify for the quarter finals of the  FIBA Women’s World Cup in Spain in 2018 in 100 years. The D’Tigress who emerged African Champions in Mali then moved their ranking from 32nd to 8th in the world. In 100years, Nigeria also qualified for the ICC World World Cup. The U-20 Nigerian Cricket team  defeated know African Cricket playing nations to emerge African Champions and also book a ticket for World Cup in 2020.

In football, the Super Falcons won the 8th and 9th editions of the African Women’s Football Championship AWCON in 2016 and 2018, maintaining their dominance as African Champions nine times. The Super Falcons also qualified for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup ongoing in France. In 2018, the Super Eagles historically picked a ticket for the World Cup with a match to spare and also became the first African country to qualify for the FIFA World Cup in Russia. They also qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt having failed to qualify since 2012.

The Ministry ensured that intervention funds were sought and released to Nigeria Football Federation for the Super Eagles qualifiers for Russia 2018. While receiving the players in Aso Rock, Captain of Super Eagles, Mikel Obi attested to the fact that this is the first in contemporary football history that Super Eagles will be leaving for the World Cup without any problems. Dalung also met a crises of the Samson Siasia tutored U-23 team. They were owed camp allowances and match bonuses during 2016 Olympics qualifiers for Rio while Siasia hadn’t been paid for about 5 months. Barrister Dalung ensured that the Ministry paid the players directly through their bank accounts to avoid tempering with allowances of players as has been the practice in the past.

In the same vein, Barrister Dalung ensured that all athletes were financially rewarded for creditably representing the country. For the first time, athletes got all their camp allowances in camp while $5000, $3000 and $2000 respectively were given to athletes who won Gold, Silver and Bronze during the Olympics and Commonwealth Games. Under his watch, Nigeria became World Champions in Scrabble in 2015 and won it back to back in 2017. Nigeria holds an unchallenged World record in Para Powerlifting as Nigeria’s women wrestlers are two time African Champions of the African Wrestling Championship held last in Hammamet. The list of victories as a result of the democratization of the National Sports Federations are numerous but summarily, Nigeria won over 1,500 medals between 2015-2019, a record of none in Nigeria’s sports history.

In the Youth sector, the Minister inherited pockets of crises with over 6 youth presidents clamoring for the leadership of the National Youth Council.

Same crisis bedeviled the  Scout Association of Nigeria which even led to their ban and isolation by the World Scout body.

When he came onboard, there were various Scouting associations fighting for the soul of the association in Nigeria. To God’s glory, he brought them all under one umbrella and today, there is peace in the Scout Association of Nigeria with just one leadership.

Same is also applicable to the Nigeria Youth Council. Only on May 24, 2019, National Youth Policy was reviewed  and launched in Akure Ondo State which hitherto was unattended to since 2012. Similarly, the National Youth Parliament also was abandoned for 2 years was revived. The 4th Session was inaugurated on the terminal date of Dalung’s appointment as Minister on May 28, 2019.

Over 1,500 youths were trained in various states in different vocational skills and youth empowerment programs with each youth given a start-up capital despite the Ministry’s poor budgetary allocations for the programs. In partnership with ECOWAS,  20 youths were also trained in different vocational skills in Benin Republic, Cote D’IVoire, Burkina Faso, Rwanda and were also supported with start up capital.

These are a few of the modest achievements of Barrister Dalung as Minister of Youth and Sports from November 2015- May 2019. If you don’t agree that Barrister Solomon Selcap Dalung did his best with the meagre budgetary allocations to the Ministry, then one will need to look beyond rationality and normal parameters to determine the situation to suit his/her objectives.

By Nneka Ikem Anibeze (SA Media to the Immediate past Minister of Youth and Sports)

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