Sunday Dare: On a Mission to Destroy Nigerian Sports

Nigeria’s D’Tigress, three times back to back African basketball champions

By Fred EDOREH

Unable to apply necessary skills to resolve the political conflict in the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF), the Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, produced the lowest of thoughts by invoking the name of President Muhammadu Buhari to decree a ban of Nigerian basketball from international activities for two years. So much like burning the house to kill a rat.

What was the problem? Like in any organisation where politics obtains, there were two political camps in battle for the leadership of the NBBF.

Umar Tijani’s group were in power for eight years until it was time for another election in 2017 but the incomplete process of the NBBF constitution which should guide the election led to disagreements for which both parties held different elective congresses.

The Sports Ministry under Solomon Dalung recognised the Musa Kida group whose election it supervised in Abuja while Umar held a separate election in Kano.

The Federation of International Basketball Associations and the Nigeria Olympic Committee were engaged to resolve the dispute. FIBA said it would recognise none but in deference to the government it would work with the Kida group until a proper constitution was put in place in line with international statutes.

The process was reportedly finalised and the constitution, as amended, was adopted in 2020 at an extra-ordinary congress in Abuja.

Strangely, time for another election, the old issues came back, with the Sports Minister saying different things at the same time through various circulars and letters as he kept shifting the goal post, ostensibly to dictate the outcome of the election.

The cacophony led to another fresh crisis and the emergence of a third force which many identified as contrived by the ministry to take over the reins of NBBF to do it’s bidding.

The various camps traded on influence peddling as the ministry took a side while the FIBA insisted on the standard rules and regulations for its international member associations based on constitutional provisions.

Unable to manipulate FIBA and the stakeholders to achieve his design, Sunday Dare announced the ban of Nigerian basketball from the global stage.

In doing so, he completely disregarded the aspirations of thousands of Nigerian youths, locally and in the Diaspora, as well as coaches, referees and clubs who had set their eyes on club and country international careers and business opportunities in basketball.

These group had absolutely nothing to do with the politics of the game. It can only be said that, at a point, the players who had been owed backlog of entitlements protested to call attention to their plight. Their action was by right and certainly couldn’t be any reason to collapse the hopes and dreams of a generation of Nigerian basketballers.

Minister Dare sold a dummy to deceive the public, that the period of ban would be used to develop the game domestically before launching back into the international arena. How do you develop a sport locally without measuring both facilities, management, coaching education and technical competitiveness against international standards?

As it is, those young beautiful girls and hardworking boys who had dominated Africa and were growing into world reckoning have been left in the lurch, worst still, at a time D’Tigress had qualified and were looking forward to participating in the FIBA Women World Cup.

What happened was simple. The Minister lacked skills in dispute resolution and was fixated on inordinate interest. Even if we concede that Mr President authorised the ban, it would be that Minister Dare did not brief him with all honesty, for, the Buhari we know cannot subscribe to the killing of the career of young Nigerians.

But Dare is not done. For those who care to know, the NBBF was only to test the waters for his real agenda: the seizure or destabilisation of the Nigeria Football Federation.

So, last Friday, he again invoked the name of the President to order the NFF to expand its board to include some persons before conducting it’s election scheduled for September.

It is well known that, going by the FIFA Statutes and the NFF Constitution, the expansion of the board cannot be by Ministerial fiat, no matter how surreptitiously veiled in Presidential directive. The procedures and schedules for any amendment of the NFF constitution, like any other, are clearly laid down. This is a no brainer. Therefore Dare is simply cooking a crisis and rushing into a face off with FIFA.

Sadly, he is not acting in national interest but in obtuse show of power for personal fancy. He is merely re-echoing the political wishes of a group of Nigerian ex-internationals who have for years been craving and nudging ministers of sports enchanted by them, to help them rip open the NFF to enable them take over its administration.

This particular call was first made public by Segun Odegbami in a self-serving article titled: “Re-Setting the Button of Nigerian Football Administration” published in the Guardian Newspaper on April 24, 2021.

He wrote then:

“Harrison Jalla has started to raise an issue I consider very important to the future of Nigerian football. Who will succeed Amaju Pinnick’s board in 2022? He points at the NFF statutes that brought in the current board and suggests that several issues in them need fixing…
Harrison Jalla, through his message, a ‘love letter’ written to the sports minister, drew our attention to a possible new future…”

Lamenting that ex-internationals had been out-politicked, he pointedly canvassed the Minister to disregard FIFA and proceed to dismantle the statutes of the NFF to enable them take over its leadership.

In the same article he gave us an idea of Jalla’s motives in these words:

“His most recent spat has been with the President of the NFF, Amaju Pinnick, who he pursued with petitions even up to FIFA in a futile effort to disqualify him from contesting for a seat on the FIFA Executive Council.”

Obviously instructive, and that has also informed the Minister’s new journey, perhaps to help the traducers of the NFF finish up on their ill schemes.

It is possible that the Minister may have mentioned his intention to Mr President or the Federal Executive Council but I am almost certain he shrewdly did so in vague terms, without giving the full picture of his orchestration.

It is all sheer interference and we have been here several times before. Recall how Solomon Dalung, in his pursuit to gift Chris Giwa and same Harrison Jalla’s group the NFF leadership, opened a case already dead at FIFA Appeal and CAS panels and used his ministerial influence to harass and severally destabilise the NFF, leaving even himself no peace for the whole of his tenure.

At a point they forcefully seized the NFF Secretariat and FIFA threatened sanctions until the Presidency intervened and assured that Nigerian football would responsibly run by FIFA Statutes.

Is it the same Presidency that Minister Dare is suggesting has ordered the undemocratic and unprecedurial expansion of the same NFF board?

It must also be noted that the NFF duly called a Congress in Lagos to enable stakeholders contribute to a new road map for Nigerian football administration, including the possible expansion of the board, but it was frustrated by a restraining injunction obtained by same persons who now want an expansion not only to include them but to provide them a free majority for electoral victory.

Drawing from the recently concluded political party congresses, we saw how even the President’s party respectably conducted it’s primaries with only ad-hoc delegates in respect of the extant Electoral Act that did not include statutory delegates. It would have been possible for the President to sign the amendment overnight to pursue his interest but he did not.

Politics will always be by established and regulated processes. Those who must pursue power, be they who, must be prepared to follow the routes, in this case, strive to be relevant from their local, district, state FAs clubs, coaches, referees or players bodies and vie up to reckoning at the national level. It does not matter that they played for the Super Eagles because the politics, management and administration of sports are different from the technicality of the game. If there are to be wild cards and exemptions, it is the constitution and the congress that will so determine, not this kind of Dare’s Presidential blackmail.

Dare must therefore control his penchant for disrupting the sanctity and smooth running of our sports federations just to please his fancy sports heroes.

Nigerians must now be told that the misfortune of the Super Eagles both at the Nations Cup and World Cup qualifiers was indeed caused by Minister Dare’s overbearing interference in the processes of the NFF.

For the avoidance of doubt, the NFF had worked with several local coaches and ex-internationals before opting for Gernot Rohr. When it was dissatisfied with Rohr it was public knowledge that they planned to engage Jose Peseiro to take the team to the Nations’ Cup and through the World Cup qualifiers, but Dare insisted on local coaches which led to the engagement of Austin Eguavoen. The rest is history.

It must also be known that even with his interference, the Minister has been terribly lacking in getting government to provide its counterpart funding for the Super Eagles and other national teams. Ghana which took the group ticket to Qatar was funded by the government with about $3m for the two legs against the Super Eagles. Dare sourced nothing for the team but the NFF managed through relations with sponsors.

Having sunk our basketball through his disruptive interests, Dare should be called to order now not do the same to our football. No one is fooled by the invocation of the Presidency to perpetuate wrongs. Enough should simply be enough otherwise, by the time Dare is through with his scheming for his friends and to satisfy his sense of power, Nigeria would have no sports left on the international stage.