A consummate scholar and strategist, Nigeria minister of Youth and Sports Development Sunday Dare has made impact in barely nine months in office.

Dare who clocked 54 on May 29, has settled down nicely going by the accolades that he’s receiving across board from athletes and stakeholders for putting his best foot forward.

Speaking exclusively with The Nation Newspapers, the former aide to APC national leader,Asiwaju Bola  Ahmed Tinubu,  has traced Nigeria’s sports problem back to the basis, saying Nigeria sports and youth development need new policies to drive it.

“I am more about policy orientation,” declared Dare in a frank conversation. “To make sports an industry such that sports in this country would be able to create jobs for the mass of our youths; would be able to generate revenue for government and bring value to our sports men and women, coaches, sports casters and all the others involved in the sporting industry.”

He also said of  his innate qualities and administrative style: “As a leader you must also be ready for crucial confrontations. That means you must be firm, you must be fair.”

Under his watch, the  ministry has come to the aid of ex-players whose health have failed and aged mothers of late heroes such as Rashidi Yekini, Samuel Okwaraji, Ali Jeje, Sunday Bada amongst others have benefited from his milk of kindness.

“We intend to celebrate our heroes of 1980 Africa Cup of Nations, and we intend the President to recognize them as our heroes. These are mentors for upcoming youths and for us it is important for our youths to see that those that served this country greatly 40 years ago are still being remembered and we hope to put that through.”

Dare speaks more on his foray and foresights in the ministry  in the interview with TAIWO ALIMI & SEGUN OGUNJIMI. Excerpts.

What do you think prepared you for the office of the sports minister of Nigeria?

Let me start by saying that if I was born 54 years ago and even if I had a crystal ball not myself or my parents would have known I would be a sports minister of a Ministry of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So I can only speak about the things that have made me Sunday Dare and also eventually made me someone to be considered, someone fitting to be appointed as youth and sports development minister. These compose of several things such as my background, my experiences, my academic training, my professional training and also my social connections and of course, also the political connections since we are in the political dispensation.

So when you look at it I am a product of the fact that I was born and live in the North. As a Yoruba man born of Yoruba parents and leaving in the North, I had a rare opportunity of mixing with Nigerians from other tribes, from other religions and other backgrounds. I ended up speaking English language by going to school and I ended up speaking Hausa language by the virtue of the fact that I was born in Plateau State and schooled in ABU (Ahmadu Bello University), Zaria. I had a lot of Hausa speaking friends. I could speak a bit of Mwaghavul, one of the dominant languages in Plateau State. Also I had a number of friends because we live side by side in a community where we have Christians and Muslims predominantly so most of my friends growing up even now are also Muslims.

Most of them are Hausa Muslim and some of them middle belters, I attended schools with them, I went to churches with them, we inter mingled and that introduced me to the essential lessons of being a Nigerian. So I could easily coexist. If you are able to speak two, three languages in this country you know what that means.

That followed me all through my career as a journalist. I worked mostly in the North, first in Plateau State as a middle belt Correspondent. Then I came to Abuja as a Bureau Chief and moved on to Lagos as an Editor but then I was always the one on special assignments to come to the North.

Myself, Bagauda Kaltho of blessed memory, Timothy Burnett, the Kaduna Bureau Chief, Babajide Kolade-Otitoju who was handling Kano flank for us, also Dapo Olorunyomi who was of course our Deputy Editor in Chief but who had lived in the North and spoke Hausa extensively and I can go on and on like that.

So it’s been interwoven, the educational background from Jos to Zaria back to Jos for my Masters (degree) and then back to Lagos and then outside the country. When it comes to professional experience of course as a journalist I have worked in newspapers and magazines and I moved on to Voice of America and Washington DC, the first known original Hausa speaker to head the Hausa service of the Voice of America and Washington DC for almost 9 years reaching a daily audience of over 45 million Hausa speakers across West Africa sub region. That also couldn’t have been possible without the experience I had.

During my journalism career I won two of the most prestigious world renowned journalism fellowship in the world; the New York University Visiting Scholar (NYU) and Harvard University Fellowship. I was about the fourth Nigerian to ever win the one year study fellowship in Harvard University, Boston.

The first Nigerian to ever win that was Chief Olusegun Osoba. So far about six or seven Nigerians have won it in 70 years. The other one I won was the Reuters Institute Journalism Fellowship at the Oxford University in the United Kingdom. It’s an academic fellowship that allows you to do an academic research in residence at the Oxford University in a specific area relevant to media and democracy in your country. You can look at corruption, you can look at participatory democracy and other various aspects and after your work you have to defend your research in academic setting. Those fellowships really made the difference.

I came back and I have been in and out of politics. I served as Chief of Staff to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a momentous rise of six and half years; the most exciting in the  history of our country because for the first time we had a successful merger. What we have had in the past was political alliances from the days of Waziri Ibrahim. I have seen the way political alliances crumbled, they never succeeded in wrestling power from the current leaders. This time around led by Asiwaju Tinubu with the full support of President Muhammadu Buhari, these two great leaders of our country came together, pulled their lieutenants and foot soldiers together and formed a merger.

The two great people went to work and the merger muscle enough political strength and moved across the country to put forward a convincing political agenda for this country and succeeded for the first time ever from the days of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. What was not achievable politically, a government that has been in power for 16 years with all the resources, with all the paraphernalia of power was basically defeated and had to exit power. That is why we are here today.

That experience for me was great and I learnt a lot as Chief of Staff and media adviser of Asiwaju Tinubu and I had the opportunity to build a political network and eventually we (APC) won. I continue to do my work for Asiwaju and I got appointed as a Federal Executive Commissioner. The experience I picked up from that critical sector of our economy- telecommunications was vital.

Here we are today, Mr. President found me worthy to be first ministerial nominee and after the screening I was given a portfolio. I thank Mr. President for this opportunity. I know quite a number of Nigerians that are also qualified but for him to have decided to give me this responsibility; I am greatly humbled and I am also challenged to make sure that I make a success of it for the sake of our country and for the sake of the President who has trust in my abilities.

Like many Nigerian youths, which sport took your fancy while growing up?

Without being accused of being a football minister that I am clearly not. I would prefer to be labeled as a minister who was more interested in making sure that we formulate and drive new policies around sports development in our country and youth development. I am more about policy orientation. Football was my first love and that was because I grew up among boys too. It was just easy to get small balls and five of us gather and we have fun of our lives. Also I have a big brother now late Abraham Dare who was a great footballer, who loved football and was a walking encyclopedia for football. He knew the names of all commentators; Ernest Okonkwo and the rest. He knew the names of virtually all footballers. So football was my first love. I played football in secondary school. I was once a goalkeeper, but please don’t ask me how many goals I have conceded in games.

You have settled in nicely, how has it been so far as the minister of Youth of Spots Development?

Like I said it’s been a journey even though just nine months. It’s a journey that right from the onset has a destination in mind. For me that is important. Like they often say the destination determines the journey. There have been challenges which I expected and we are moving on. I have been guided by two principles that I have learnt overtime that as a leader you must be ready to hold crucial conversations so that you can be able to deal with the issues and chat a critical path to success. As a leader you must also be ready for crucial confrontations. That means you must be firm, you must be fair and those have been the principles which I have operated. By and large we have been able to refocus attention on the two critical mandate areas we are given as a ministry which include youth and sports development.

As regards the youth development we have tried to expand the frontiers of youth engagements. We have tried to move from mere youth empowerment to design programs that focus on youth investment. We have tried to deal with the very needs of our youths in the 21st century. We have seen that digital skills gap is major. The digital world offers massive opportunities for our youths. We have designed programs in that direction to make sure that our youths get the relevant digital skills they need to be competitive in the 21st century digital economy.

The program we designed for this is called DEEL. DEEL plugs into the other programs we have in this ministry. What DEEL has done is to deepen these programs, to build more vehicles to deliver these programs in a pragmatic way and also to infuse the strategic implementation partners from the private sector to partner with us because government alone cannot do it. So D stands for Digital Literacy and Skills Acquisition, E stands for Entrepreneurship and the second E stands for Employability and L stands for Leadership and Mentoring.

Under each of this sub set you have initiatives and projects. We know that since COVID- 19 started we have been able to train almost 7.000 people who have joined us online for the IBM Ministry of Youth and Sports Digital Skills Training in various segments. Also we have advance level, intermediate level and junior level. Most of them have ended up collecting their IBM badge because once you finish the training online you get an IBM badge which is universally accepted as certification in that particular area. We have also done six webinars. Webinars are like virtual lectures. We realized that some of our youths will need to take one or two lectures before they can now go and try to take the course online. So there is a lot happening.

We are looking for coding for employment to train a lot of youths in coding. We are looking at mobile device training; we are looking at making entrepreneurs of our youths. We have seen the Asia experience particularly Thailand that the best way to deal with youth unemployment and underemployment is to put them on the path of entrepreneurship. In a deliberate way we are building an end to end process into our youth investment and development. What is end to end? It is not enough to give our youth training and then leave them to go back to the job market. We are looking at training them with the relevant skills.

Working with them to develop entrepreneur ideas and then providing access to credits, grants, loans that would make them self-starter entrepreneurs and they can be wealth creators and also employs others. That is what Thailand did. We are committed to President Buhari’s vision of lifting a 100 million Nigerians out of poverty. The mass of these people are youths. Once you lift the youth out of employment you have lifted that youth out of poverty and that will have a multiplier effect. We have the President’s support and mandate to go ahead and come and do what is necessary. The President each time I see him and after I greet him the next thing he tells me is; ‘are you keeping the youths busy? Make sure you keep them busy.’ I will say we are keeping them busy.

The second mandate area is sport and for us we think that we need to put value on our sports development. The key focus for us is to develop a business model around our sports. To make sports an industry such that sports in this country would be able to create jobs for the mass of our youths. Sports in this country would be able to generate revenue for government and bring value to our sports men and women and the coaches’ sportscasters and all the others involved in the sporting industry.

We are committed to take sports off the column of recreation and place sports where it belongs in the column of economic activity able to generate two to three percent GDP for this country. We are committed and we are on the path of delivering a national sports industry policy; the first of its kind that would focus on the 3i’s and p. You need policy to drive that.

By 3i’s, I mean infrastructural development of sports facilities across the country, investment both from public and private sector. Then you talk about incentives that will be built in within that policy. Government must give incentives to investors so that if I invest in sport such as invest in stadium, in a team I know that there are benefits that will come to me just like you get in other industries. There is so much to do but we have set sail with clear markers, with clear pillars on what we want to achieve. We can only achieve much within the resources that we have within the time that we have to deliver. But at least we have set our path clearly and we intend to follow through on the path that we have set before us.

What’s the idea behind the grand plan to host the Green Eagles Class of 1980?

Forty years ago was the height of our football glory in this country when we won the Africa Cup of Nations on our own soil in Surulere, Lagos. That was a landmark achievement in the sporting history of this country. In line with global practice we think that we should celebrate that squad because Nigeria from that time on, we have seen ascendancy in our football development and exploits across the world from the Junior World Cup to the Olympics team and to the FIFA Senior World Cup.

When we looked around too from the great team that played we have almost 70 percent of them still alive. So we think we need to celebrate them. It could have been done around March 27 this year if not for the lockdown as a result of COVID-19.  Now that we are restarting and the committee will get to work again. We intend to celebrate them and we intend the President to recognize them as our heroes. These are mentors for upcoming youths and for us it is important for our youths to see that those that served this country greatly 40 years ago are still being remembered and we hope to put that through.

You have also most recently touched the lives of families of late sporting heroes like Rashidi Yekini and Sam Okwaraji, why are you doing this?

It is also in line with that principle that it became necessary to try and see how we can recognize, immortalize and support, even if in a token way, our late heroes. The idea is to create a culture within the sports ecosystem of this country, a culture in which those that represent this country and wear our national colours are not easily forgotten but are remembered. Even when they are dead we still want to remember them to show our appreciation as a country and if they are alive we want to recognize them and make sure that we offer them the little we have.

Rashidi Yekini’s eighth-year remembrance for us was a trigger. It was meant to sign post our policy direction. The ministry is trying to see a way by working through the instrumentality of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF). We can institute welfare or grant particularly concerning football. But on a larger scale I have talked about the need to have an athlete welfare fund or sports development fund which is independent and then we can have donations from public and private sector to be privately managed  so that active and non-active sportsmen and women can benefit from it.

There will be criteria put in place for them to be able to apply and be considered and processed accordingly. That has to be driven by policy and we are working on that. We also felt we should do something in the interim.

So, Rashidi Yekini’s eighth- year remembrance gave us an opportunity as a ministry and as a government to start to show the stuff this government is made of and the commitment to change the sporting narrative of this country. So we reached out to Rashidi Yekini’s mum who I have followed since October last year, barely two months when I became the minister. I found out that Yekini’s mother was not getting any support and we responded the way we could pending when we have the policy that will drive that.

We did not stop there; we also reached out to the mum of Sam Okwaraji. We reached out to Ali Jeje’s mother who was the first captain of the Flying Eagles and Sunday Bada’s mum. Right now we are going to reach out to the family of Mudasiru Lawal and others. Recently I heard about the predicament of Sunday Eboigbe and I sent one of my staff to his house immediately in Benin. They met with him and he was given some financial support and we also saw that he needed medical assistance. So I got in touch with the deputy governor of Edo State and we got in touch with the medical director of the University of Benin Teaching Hospital to give him a comprehensive medical evaluation and checkup.

Based on recommendation from them we are going to give him a one year treatment, to get physiotherapy and any other treatment that he needs. We are going to make sure we take care of them. What we have done is just to sign post what should normally be the norm. We are looking at a sport welfare policy that will have the component of health insurance, have the component of grant for active athletes and have a component of probably soft fund single digit loan for retired athletes who wants to go into one business or another.

For now we are using the NFF as a template. The NFF would be meeting with the ministry to know if they have welfare policy or foundation and we can develop something that works. When we do that we can now elevate that to a level of government that will be used for virtually all federations and all athletes can benefit.

How many others are on this exclusive list that your ministry intends to touch or reach out to?

For football and ex-Internationals, the NFF and the ministry have agreed that they will pull up a number of others and once they pull that up they work with the ministry to reach out to them in the same token way but to also see how we can put them on the minimum wage of N30, 000.

You have cut across as a fatherly figure to Nigerian athletes going by recent COVID-19 palliatives, are you satisfied with the effect?

One of the greatest impacts of the COVID- 19 pandemic has been the loss of income on the part of our athlete. Recall that at the door step of National Sports Festival, the pandemic hit this country and we had to shut down. That’s loss of revenue; even some athletes had come in from outside of the country. They would have made prize money from winning. They would have also garnered points. The home based athletes would have also made money, all of that was lost. After the Sports Festival if it had held they would have gone on to the Olympics, international exposure and they would have also made good money. All of that revenue is gone. Some of these athletes have been calling me for financial assistance. The ministry like other ministries and governments did not budget for COVID- 19 pandemic.

I know said what do we do? Just like South African did I said lets have an athlete relief fund, it’s a palliative fund, it’s an intervention relieve fund for a short period, it is a privilege not a right. So I leverage on my friendship with a few people. We had two people who responded quickly and gave N11 million. We made sure they deposited the money at the Central Bank of Nigeria and the CBN moved that money into the ministry’s project account also domicile with the CBN for the sake of transparency and accountability. I then set up a committee headed by the Permanent Secretary with two of my top directors and one or two of my aids.

I asked the committee to do certain things concerning the fund which they did and also drew a list of beneficiaries that are made up of three batches and I approved. First it was impossible to get everyone on that list, Then we said let’s give N50, 000 which captured 220 athletes. That was what we did. The ministry had a plan and we followed through on our plan. All the money sent into athletes’ personal account. Right now almost all of them have gotten their money except for those who have problems with their banks which is being sorted out.

What is your relationship with the Nigeria Football Federation?

Let me say the relationship I have with the NFF is a relationship that places the interest of sports development on the front burner. And so long as the efforts, the activities and the actions that are taken fall in tandem with this vision that relationship survives. A collision will occur when there is a deviation from that vision.

Let me explain. The NFF was set up just like other football federations with clear mandate: football development at various levels cascading, youth development, manages our national teams, present them as the best to attain their best at competitions: continental and international levels. Then, assemble the best sports administrators, experts and professionals at the technical department etc.

What my message has been is that we need to examine where we are. Do we have a weak technical department? We need to overhaul and deal with it. Do we have a weak support staff in the secretariat? We need to look at that critically and deal with it. We need to go back to the school system of identifying football stars like in the days of Henry Nwosu, Segun Odegbami and the rest. The ministry is doing something as regards that through the return of Principal’s Cup and others. The moment we leave our grassroots talent hunt, sports development is doomed.  That has been my relationship.

I am not for pulling down the house, I am looking at a restructure, a re-orientation, looking at insisting on certain standards that is good enough not for me but for this country. Among other important things, set standards that we are expecting at the NFF. We are emphasizing the need to bring local-home based players into the national team, not just depend on foreign players all the time.

What kind of man is Sunday Dare?

Sunday Dare is a Nigerian who is first and foremost a Nigerian at heart but one with the global world view. Sunday Dare is the one that is driven by the passion about what he believes in. He is a consummate team player but one who is determined to excel in whatever assignment he is given.

Sunday Dare is a combination of so many other things but I am defined in my career path and now as a public servant by the principle of service, the principle of commitment, the principle of loyalty and the principle of making sure that you build a team and develop others around you. Because I have been developed I have come thus far. So to whom much is given, much is required.

What does style means to you?

Look, I love my old school sokoto and buba. It is simplicity, especially the white one. I also love the Hausa caftan and the cap which I basically grew up with living in the north. On the casuals, I love my jean and polo shirts and snickers

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