One way nations have succeeded in engaging the energies of the youths positively and keeping them away from social vices is through sports. Apart from keeping them busy all year round, youths manifest their potentials just as sporting activities provide legitimate means of livelihood for them.
This is why from the time he won election in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari, who was military Head of State when Nigeria launched itself into the global football arena following the winning of the FIFA U-17 tournament in China by the Golden Eaglets team latched in on sports as a means of keeping Nigerian youths busy as well as achieve a change in the narrative about Nigeria as one of the most corrupt nations.
The decision reflected in his inaugural speech when he pledged readiness, zeal and tenacity of purpose to re-address and reposition every vital sector/aspect of the nation and this included sports development. President Buhari also charged the Ministry of Sports to work out modalities for actualising the agenda and entrusted the responsibility on the shoulders of the Minister of Sports, Mr. Solomon Dalung.
Working on the sports development template of the President, Dalung has proved that it is possible for Nigeria to regain its lost glory in sports. He has opened up the space for sports which over the years was dominated by football. In the process, new generations of young Nigerians, who will excel and do Nigeria proud in international competitions have been raised.
Dalung also believes that “sports can move Nigeria out of recession, provides employment, stands out as foreign exchange earner and can help build tourism base. If money is invested in sports it will take many youths off the streets and serves as a unifying factor’’.
A list of sports development package, which has characterised Dalung’s tenure as Sports Minister include the revival of a long time moribund secondary schools and university games for talent hunt. Same is being planned for primary schools. So far the efforts by the Ministry is yielding results going by the laurels won by athletes from May 2015 when the current administration came into office .
Records show that since 2015, Nigeria has won the FIFA Under-17 male football championship, Bronze medals in world wrestling championship, gold in Afro-Basketball championship, Silver in Africa Under-16 female championship, gold and silver medals in IPC Asia open International power lifting championship, gold medal in World English Language Scrabble championship, gold medal in CAF Under-23 Cup of Nations Championship, Silver in Cruiser weight at the World Boxing Championship, Gold medal and the FIFA Under-17 male football championship.
One of the decisions that has brought sports back in the hearts and minds of Nigerians is a handsome cash reward system that has made sports a major attraction for Nigerian youths. It will also be recalled that President Buhari in January of 2016 gave cash rewards of N2 million to each member of the Golden Eaglets team who won the 1985 FIFA Under-17 male football championship. Other athletes who won laurels in sporting engagements in 2015 also received cash rewards.
The winning streak continued on August 27 when Nigeria’s female basketball team, D’Tigress lifted the 2017 FIBA Women Afrobasket trophy for 2017. Nigeria last won the title in 2005. Achieving the feat is a sign that the best is yet to come in sports. As a mark of appreciation and in his characteristic manner, President Buhari at a Federal Executive Council meeting which held on August 30 rewarded the respective players with one million Naira. The President assured the team, its managers and the Nigeria Basketball Federation of his support and that of the Federal Government in order to ensure that the team excels in the world basketball ball championship scheduled to hold in Spain.
The application and manifestation of the change mantra of the Buhari administration and the doggedness of Dalung has infected and affected the national senior football team, the Super Eagles. The way and manner the team dominated the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon at the world cup qualifying match that ended 4-0 in favor of the Super Eagles on first day of September shows that the team is now a new improved national squad. Nigerians were shocked by the performance of team which embarrassed the nation recently when it lost a home match to the South African national side at the same venue. The victory which has been described as a Salah gift to the President is another pointer that Nigeria will regain its lost glory in football.
Apart from cash rewards, the Ministry has also promoted sports by increasing the revenue base of respective sports federations, made appreciable improvements in the local professional football league, secured the hosting right of African beach soccer tournament, appointed a new technical adviser to overhaul and build a new Super Eagles team .
It is important to note that through the efforts of the Ministry, a U.S based Nigerian athlete finished sixth in rowing event at the Olympics. This marked the first time a Nigerian featured in the event. It is also on record that the present administration ensured the election of NFF President Amaju Pinnick into the CAF executive Committee. A lot of other sports policy changes have been made since Dalung became Minister.
With the measures, policies and programmes lined up by the Buhari administration to reposition sports sector, it is obvious that the Federal Government is determined to take sports to another level that will place Nigeria among the best sporting nations globally.