Exactly 37 days in office, the Minister of Youths and Sports Development, Mr Sunday Akin Dare has met twice with the leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation currently under investigation by anti-corruption agencies.
After meeting with his predecessor, Solomon Dalung, precisely on September 5, 2019, Dare has continued his consultations with key stakeholders in the sporting sector.
The minister of sports has met with the leadership of the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF), the Badminton Federation of Nigeria (BFN), and the Weightlifting Federation of Nigeria.
In the separate meetings Dare commended the federations on their impressive performances in international competitions particularly the outing in the 2019 All Africa Games and qualifications for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
For many stakeholders, the minister’s parley with sports federations is a step in the right direction because of the urgent need to restore peace and sanity in most of the federations.
However, one meeting that has continued to generate concern among stakeholders is the one with the leadership of the Nigeria Football Federation.
On the very day Dare was sworn in as minister of sports on August 21, he reported in his office in Abuja and among the stakeholders who welcomed him were the embattled chiefs of the NFF, Amaju Pinnick, Shehu Dikko and other NFF officials.
The presence of the NFF men at the Federal Secretariat to welcome the minister didn’t generate as much ado as when he received the trio of Pinnick, Dikko and former international Chikelue Iloenyosi in his office in a closed door meeting.
Considering that they are currently facing corruption charges running into billions of naira, the speed with which the NFF chiefs rushed to meet with the new sports minister has set tongues wagging.
Even as Nigerians were still dissecting the minister’s meeting with Pinnick and Dikko, the second took place early this week, September 20 to be precise. This time, it was with the entire board of the NFF.
As if he was hit hard by thoughts of millions of Nigerians, Dare promised not to interfere in the ongoing investigations being carried out by the anti-corruption agencies against the leadership of the NFF.
Instead, he admonished the NFF Exco to try and put their house in order. He reiterated that the perception of corruption and unseriousness is hurting the sport.
“The perception is that the NFF is corrupt. The perception is that of unseriousness. This perception is hurting the sport. “We need to reset the perception, the charge of corruption and other negative things can be turned around by embracing transparency.”
In as much as the minister has made it clear that he is not going to interfere in the investigation of the NFF chieftains, recent signs that Pinnick and Dikko are ready to grab at any available straw to save their necks have made some Nigerians to question why the minister is fraternizing with men of ‘questionable integrity’.
Furthermore, most Nigerians have expressed shock and condemned the sports minister who joined the NFF to endorse the deal with Italian giants, Roma and also co-signed the press statement issued by the NFF after the meeting of September 20.
Consequently, some football stakeholders who spoke to Trust Sports expressed worry that the incumbent may be treading a dangerous path just like his predecessor who got himself in NFF’s deadly traps.
A former NFF presidential candidate, Hon. Lumumba Dah Adeh said it is not wrong for the minister to meet with sports federations including the NFF officials who are presently under investigation.
He, however, said the minister must be careful not to be involved in unnecessary controversies.
“I have heard some people complain that the minister is over fraternizing with Pinnick and co but I have a different opinion.
“As the supervisory ministry, the minister must relate with everyone in the sports sector. However, he must not be involved in anything that will drag him into unnecessary controversy.
“Of course these people are under investigation so he must know the extent to which he will relate with them. Once he is not ready to be compromised, I do not see any problem,” he said.
However, in a chat with some sports journalists in Abuja, they all advised the minister to avoid going to bed with the NFF top guns, if he is desirous of returning sanity to football.
The Vice Chairman, Sports Writers Association of Nigeria, FCT chapter, Tolu Oguntimehin said “I think the minister needs to be careful especially with all the corruption issues surrounding NFF but he also must be able to bring sanity to our football and other sports.
“The NFF matter is a delicate issue and we know the kind of people who are running our football. So he needs to be careful when they come to him bearing gifts,” he said.
In the same vein, Wale Ayeni said the minister must not interfere with the investigations being conducted by the anti-corruption agencies.
“The Minister should allow the anti-corruption agencies investigate the corruption allegations involving the top officials of the NFF and if found guilty they should be brought to book.
“He should also make sure that he doesn’t bow to the antics of the NFF. They are desperate people and can do anything to survive.
“The minister should deal with them in line with best global practices to ensure the development of football in Nigeria without fear or favour.
“He should also keep them on their toes and seek advices from relevant stakeholders on how best to oversee football development in Nigeria,” he advised.
In the same vein, another Abuja-based sports journalist, Nwodoh Uche, urged the minister to learn from his predecessor, Solomon Dalung.
“I think the minister should limit his involvement with the NFF, stick with the job of protecting the players which the NFF has failed to do. He should look at other federations and give them equal attention.
“Football administrators have cost us so many problems including the NFF board and it will be wise to take a cue from what happened to the former minister of sports when he wanted sanctity to be restored.
“I know he has good intentions but the NFF is bad news that no one should be associated with right now until they are they are certified to be clean,” she said.
On his part, a former Director of Sports in Katsina State, Aliyu Kofa-soro, said the minister must resist the temptation to become another minister of football.
He also said the minister should not allow himself to be used by anyone who is desperate to evade justice.
“There is nobody who is not aware of what is happening in the Nigeria Football Federation. Apart from their cases with EFCC and SPIP, these NFF officials are currently under investigation by the ICPC.
“The minister must be careful in relating with the NFF. If he is caught napping, all his good intentions for sports in the country would be rubbished.
“He must resist the temptation to be another minister of football. So many sports are practised in Nigeria and football is just one of them.
is for all sports not only football. Those of us who are genuine stakeholders
will always give him the support he needs to succeed,” he said.
By David Ngobua and Olusola Jide, Daily Trust