Sunday Dare, facade of Nigeria football reforms by Fred Edoreh

The Trumpet

Egged on by the likes of Segun Odegbami, Harrison Jalla and a few retired functionaries of our sports who have been unable to get on to different life, the Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare, is riding roughshod to dismantle the structures of Nigerian football, from the statutes of the NFF to the composition of its Congress and, recently, the League Management Company.

His propagandists make it look altruistic and in the national interest, but those who have followed Nigeria football from 2010, at the least, will know that it is all a facade.

Dare’s sole objective, like some Ministers before him, is to rehab his disgruntled, self-entitled friends and associates in the leadership of our football organs and for the Sports Ministry to exercise day-to-day control of the operations of sports federations.

It is a trend in Nigerian sports administration, even though against international best practices. Sadly, it is the only pride and legacy Dare craves, to be seen as the Conquistador.

He experimented with the sacking of the boards of major sports federations and the setting up of Caretaker Committees to substitute their leadership in the prosecution of the last Olympic Games. We also saw all the afflictions brought upon the Nigeria Basketball Federation.

These antics are neither novel nor noble. Under Tammy Danagogo, we saw how the Ministry dragged the NFF elections with the Congress and Executive Committee, how, at Chida Hotel, they schemed to forcefully impose Chris Giwa as NFF President.

It was just like they did in removing Kojo Williams, Ibrahim Galadima, Sani Lulu and Aminu Maigari as NFA Chairmen or NFF Presidents.

In Solomon Dalung’s obsession to similarly substitute Amaju Pinnick with Giwa, he resurrected an old, settled conflict and shamelessly flaunted a non-existent Supreme Court order to support the takeover of the NFF Secretariat on two occasions. He similarly schemed to commit the leadership of the LMC to jail, to get them out of the way for his personal persons.

Dare’s present onslaught is also just about the same politics of securing leadership command for proxies. Nothing else.

The sordid part is the official lies about Supreme Court orders. For the records, just as it happened with Dalung, there is also presently no Supreme Court decision against the establishment of the LMC as they uncannily tried to make Nigerians believe last week.

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But, we know where this all is headed. Anyone who reads Odegbami’s April 2021 article titled: “Re-Setting the Button of Nigeria Sports Administration,” will discover the whole plot and the script.

the German Bundesliga, Spanish LaLiga, EPL, Ligue 1, Serie A, the American NBA, NFL, Formula 1, etc, are not exactly the same, but the success factors of any league are largely relative to their operating environment, the synergy with the government with regards to enabling infrastructure, and economic realities.

Everyone knows that the state governments which own most of Nigeria’s league clubs are not in it for business. The stadium facilities are hugely deficient. The know-how and competence of most of the club administrators are lacking in requisite professionalism for the delivery of the business of club ownership.

Beyond the drawbacks with the clubs, the league cannot thrive in the absence of an equally thriving broadcast industry with capable sports brand sponsorship private sector as partners.

We have seen that no indigenous broadcast company has shown a capacity for successful production and transmission of live matches at current global TV standards nor to afford to pay standard broadcast rights fees for the league and other sports properties.

Even when the LMC attempted to support and partner with the NTA, their output was horrible. It also experimentally left the broadcast right free of fee but none of the private and state radio and TVs could even provide coverage for even their own home clubs to make money for their organisations and their clubs through their home fans.

The consequence of all these has been the drift of our fans and brand sponsorship community to the foreign leagues with the flight of derivable sports revenue to the foreign leagues and clubs, against our domestic game.

A primary condition for development is political will and, seeing the scenario – the business contradiction in the corporate ownership, management philosophy and facilities of our clubs, the huge disparity between our league and the imported leagues – a serious Minister would have used the political capacity he now brazenly flaunts to engage the club owning state Governors to begin to aim at more business-like approach in our domestic clubs, rather than vain gloriously preening with power.

The deficiencies in the broadcast sector as well as in the clubs is mostly about capacity in funds, equipment, expertise and patronage to upgrade their operations

A serious Minister ought to have thought of supporting the football house to engage the Broadcasting Association of Nigeria to build a working relationship and possibly provide them government support through tax incentives, duty waivers, grants or loans on equipment.

Sunday Dare

Such is also required for the clubs. They need huge investments to upgrade not just their stadiums, facilities and equipment but also their personal, production, marketing and communication systems.

I feel too that the Minister of Trade, Industry and Investment should also have been concerned and involved in driving this process, seeing the present status of sports as a huge export product in the global economy.

The strategy in achieving these can be by establishing a Sports Development Fund with the mandate for the development and provision of sports facilities, nationwide, support for the clubs, sports education institutions and complementary sectors like the broadcast industry. After all, at the end of the day, the strengthening of the sports industry and supportive sectors to achieve a vibrant domestic league and the recovery of our fans from the foreign leagues will translate to nation-building with massive employment, business, enterprise and various wealth creation opportunities in construction and services, all contributing to GDP.

The LMC leadership had on a couple of occasions engaged the National Economic Council and the Securities and Exchange Commission to understand the imperative for concerted national action on these issues

The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, seemed to understand better as we saw in his proposal to upgrade the capacity of the NTA to respond to the imperative of promoting our national sports.

Lai also attempted to condition the corporate community and brands to first invest, promote and support the broadcast of domestic sports before investing in the promotion of foreign sports for marketing communications.

Somehow, we lost all that crucial conversation in which Dare’s political clout and influence at the Presidency were needed. It t seems, unfortunately, that his cleverness is only to the extent of invoking and intimidating sports federation leaderships with the name and office of the President, rather than owning and standing up for critical imperatives.

Interestingly, he started by setting up an Inter-Ministerial Committee with a view to creating sectorial synergy to drive sports development but, pitifully, he left that noble quest for the fancy (or infancy) of imposing his friends and associates in leadership positions.

In every corporate sense, ordering the NFF to sack its licenced competition management agency with immediate effect is not any good signal for existing and prospective businesses that may be interested in our sports. It was the same way the Minister summarily dismissed an existing $2.7m three-year kit deal between the Athletics Federation of Nigeria and PUMA ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Such jackboots actions do not create any confidence for partners, be they local or foreign, but this concern is even belated seeing that the Minister has seized every opportunity to de-market the NFF and other federations in the public place.

To be sure, I am aware of the brutality of power and its intoxication. I learnt from Chief MKO Abiola that if you are a man and the government says you are a woman, then you are a woman. That is perhaps Dare’s enchantment, but I hate it when people leave leprosy to treat eczema, leave substance for technicality, content for form and dwell in facades and make-believes as Dare is currently doing in Nigerian sports.

Minister Musa Mohammed set up the old League Board of club owners. It survived only through Chief Obaseki. Bolaji Abdullahi understood to regard the necessary administrative and management autonomy of sports federations and supported, not ordered, the NFF to set up the LMC which Dare is dismantling today.

The lesson is that such just ministerially occasioned policy inconsistencies and somersaults that have beleaguered our sports speak to the ephemeral nature of power. It also indicates that whatever Dare is “Frankenstein” doing today can also be dismantled by another minister in time.

The lesson from that, again, is that we are continuously failing to discern, focus and drive at true and sustainable solutions for our sports. We have remained enchanted and stuck with the pride of power and, perhaps out of laziness or infantile braggadocio, we dodge the real issues and merely continue to chest out in vain glory.

Fred Edoreh, a public affairs analyst, is a former chairman of Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (Lagos SWAN)

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