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My mandate in Ministry of Sports – Commissioner

Governor Nasir El-Rufai gave Professor KABIRU MATO marching orders to identify skills amongst young people, develop them to an economic enterprise and make sports an…

Governor Nasir El-Rufai gave Professor KABIRU MATO marching orders to identify skills amongst young people, develop them to an economic enterprise and make sports an instrument of peace in Kaduna state.

In this interview, the Commissioner of Sports Development explained what he is doing to achieve this mandate.


Last week, you dissolved the leadership of 26 sports associations across the state. Why did you take this drastic action?

It was not a drastic action against the associations. The associations, like any other associations, have leadership time limit that is tenured. Every association is supposed to elect officials for a period and the moment that period elapses, what is expected is to call for another congress and conduct a fresh election or reaffirm the continuation of the old leadership. So, the leaderships of these associations have completed their tenure and they have not been able to go for election to elect new leadership or to affirm the continuation of the old leadership because of the Covid-19 pandemic. So, we thought it’s important now that things are beginning to get back to normal or at least what we refer to as the new normal, for these associations to now hold their congresses and elect leaders. We invited the coaches of the various sporting associations and we had an exhaustive meeting with them. We also met with the chairmen of the various associations and presented them the necessity of having a new leadership otherwise, the associations stand the risk of going comatose.


From what you are saying, the dissolution of the associations’ leadership had nothing to do with fraud or incompetence but the need to respect term limits.

There are some of the leaders of the associations that are really active and forthcoming and there are some that are not as active and as forthcoming like others but it is mandatory that at intervals you need to change these leadership, so that they are re-configured and re-engineered to carry out their respective assignments. It wasn’t a dissolution per se arising from any problem from these associations or from the ministry, no. But it is simply a fulfillment of a task and responsibility, that after the expiration of the leadership of any particular association, it is expected that congresses are held and new leaders are thereby elected. So, that is exactly what happened, we did not just dissolve them because something wrong has gone with any of these associations. We believe that it was time for them to move on. The ministry has the responsibility to ensure that the democratic tenets for the formation of sporting associations are upheld. So, we took the right decision. The second reason is of course, we are planning for the future.


Sporting activities, like most aspects of our lives, were affected by Covid-19. Now that things are gradually returning to normal, what is your ministry doing to put sports back on track?

We just defended our year 2021 budget and given the fact that sporting activities are among the worst affected sectors of our national life in the last six or seven months, arising from the corona virus pandemic. Now that we are moving into the post corona era, we have to make strategic plans that will ensure an effective utilization of 2021. Let me give you an example, there are two critical sporting events that would have taken place this year; the National Sport Festival was billed to have taken place in Benin earlier in the year but because of the corona pandemic, it was postponed and it is not likely that it is going to happen in 2020. So, it’s something that we need to plan for 2021. We have the National Youth Games also, which is an annual event for very young boys and girls, for identification of talents and skills. It is supposed to take place in 2020 but obviously it is likely going to happen much early in 2021. So, the decision to dissolve these associations, apart from the fact that they are overdue, was also to have a new leadership so that we will have this semblance of vibrancy that is required for effective utilization of the year 2021.


You also promised that the ministry will release guidelines regarding how the elections will take place. Are the guidelines ready?

Yes, the guidelines are ready. I’ve asked the Director of Sports to get them ready and immediately make them available. After our approvals, we are going to get the associations so that we will have a time frame because we are not going to let things stay forever. We dissolved them just last week after the meeting, we hope by this week, when the guidelines are ready, then the next one or two weeks, all the associations will hold their congresses and conduct their elections under the strict supervision and watch of the ministry’s officials. I have had instances where several coaches will come and tell you that they are the alpha and omegas of their associations, that they can determine who will be the chairman of the association or not. This is an abnormality. The coaches, ideally, are supposed to be employees of particular associations and they should have tenures and be put on salary or allowances. But we are facing a situation where some of the coaches arrogate to themselves this almighty status of deciding who should be the president, who should be the chairman, or the vice chairman of these associations. But we want to reverse that and I think that is one of the reasons for the decadence of sports in Kaduna state. In the past, as we all know, Kaduna was a goldmine where everybody came to scout for stars.


Kaduna state used to be a sporting hub but in the last 10 to 20 years, things have not really been what they used to be. What are your plans to revive sports in Kaduna state?

Well, you see, I will squarely blame the laxity on the policy framework of previous administrations. A lot of stars that we had or that have emerged from Kaduna, if you look at it very critically, you will realize that they just emerged by the grace of God and not through any deliberate action of government, by providing the enabling environment to become national and international stars that they are. In the last 20 years like you just said, the policy framework has not been very consistent in the sense that sport has not been given the primacy of place it is supposed to enjoy. This is the reason why the governor chose to take away ‘’youth’’, take away ‘’culture’’ and retained it as ‘’Ministry of Sports Development.’’ The intention is that, it should be the third leg of a tripod whereby you have education, you have business innovation and technology and then you have sports as avenues of skills building, skills acquisition, skills searching etc.

So, this is responsible, in my view, for the obvious failure that we have witnessed as far as emergence of very competent and capable sports men and women in Kaduna state is concerned. Now, I have a very tall mandate from the governor, who has directed that we have to reinvigorate sports in the state. And how do we do it? We must do it by going back to the grassroots. Now, the advantage of this is that, the young men and women are going to grow up with that zeal, they are going to grow up with that ambition, with that desire to achieve. And that is precisely why the governor instructed us to go back and reactivate the school sports.

School sports, if you remember, used to be one of those avenues where young boys and girls were identified at an early age and given necessary support and training to actualize their God-given talents and ambitions. We have started that in 2020; we had a successful Kaduna schools sports festival. The governor also asked us to encourage and advance the cause of community sporting activities. He also directed that we must provide neighbourhood sporting facilities in the various communities within Kaduna State. In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has not really given us the latitude to be able to implement that very well. But as I speak with you, we have identified certain flashpoints within Kaduna metropolis and what we intend to do is to leverage more on the capacities of the private sector for us to be able to achieve this. But before we could do that, it is incumbent that government will have to show, by sheer example, that this is ideally what we expect to have.

So, at the moment, we have asked for approval to commence procurement for the establishment of two neighbourhood sporting centers, one in Kawo and another one either in Narayi or Sabon Tasha. We are expecting to get the concurrence of the governor, the approval and the go ahead, so that before the end of the year, we will have one or two. Now, looking forward to 2021, we will be able to use this sporting facilities that government is putting in place, to go to donors, private sector, development partners and show them that it is very important that they must not wait until there is violence before they bring in relief materials. What is required is for them to help us and invest in those areas that will reduce the tendencies that will allow these crises to happen.

We know that there are many young boys and girls that, if you take them to the classroom, for no matter how long, they may not be interested but if you put them in the athletics track, you will see wonders, take them to the football pitch and you will also see wonders, basketball etc This is actually the way we are thinking. The government is investing massively in sports and the expectation is that we must channel the energies of these young vibrant and exuberant people, who may not be able to go to school for one reason or the other, to productive use. So, sport is supposed to provide two or three major leads as far as the thinking of the government is concerned.

One, it is an avenue that we will identify the skills of young people and try to build and develop them so that they become an economic enterprise. Secondly, it is supposed to serve the social stabilization function. Exuberance is an inherent character in the young minds and the function of leadership is to be able to dictate or direct this exuberance in the positive direction. Failure to do that, it is possible that such exuberance will be directed at negative ventures. So, we want to deliberately provide this sporting infrastructure in our communities, so that young people who find it difficult to go to school or show low interest in schooling, can learn one game or the other. So, that is the way the governor is thinking; how to use sport as instrumentality for peace, how to use sports as an economic enterprise.

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