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The brouhaha over ‘N21billion’ for Lagos National Stadium renovation

The week that just ended was indeed a trying one for the Minister of Sports, Mr. Sunday Akin Dare, who came under fire for a…

The week that just ended was indeed a trying one for the Minister of Sports, Mr. Sunday Akin Dare, who came under fire for a ‘sin’ he said he didn’t commit. A section of the media made unsubstantiated allegations that the Ministry of Sports was asking the Federal Government for a whopping N21bn to fix the dilapidated National Stadium in Lagos.

The news no doubt upset most Nigerians who are now tired of wasteful spending by the government. Of course, many concluded that such a humongous amount is enough to build a brand-new gigantic stadium. But considering the present value of the Naira, such an assumption is not only an exaggeration but a fat lie because as things are at the moment, that amount of Naira can only build a mini-stadium.

Well, as the hullabaloo over the alleged N21bn request for the renovation of the Lagos National Stadium continued unabated, the Ministry of Sports issued a press statement to clear the air on the matter.

According to the Ministry, some mischief makers had wilfully taken out of context Dare’s words at the recent press interaction he had with some sports journalists.

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The Ministry insisted that at the said media parley in Lagos, Dare only disclosed that based on proposals submitted, it would require about N21bn to reasonably fix the stadium. The statement stressed that the Minister didn’t ask or receive the government’s approval for such an amount. Invariably, the Ministry was saying the ballyhoo about N21bn for the repair of Lagos Stadium was nothing but a figment of the imagination of the writers.

Despite the explanation, many still wondered why it was reported that the Minister asked for such a hefty amount of money if indeed he didn’t make such a request. To add to the confusion, there was no documented evidence to back up the reports that Dare had sought or got approval to spend the said money on the stadium. So, it wasn’t easy for one to know exactly what was going on, yet many insisted on believing what they wanted to hear about the stadium renovation.

Well, what some of us know is that through the Sports Ministry’s programme called adopt-a-facility, some hitherto abandoned stadiums like the MKO Abiola National Stadium Abuja, Obafemi Awolowo Stadium Ibadan and Daura mini-stadium in Katsina have been brought back to life. It was also on the platform of this Public-Private-Partnership initiative of the Ministry that a business mogul, Pa Kessington Adebutu, popularly called Baba Ijebu, agreed to renovate some sections of the Lagos National Stadium with his hard-earned money.

Out of 17 items, it is said he picked the tartan track, scoreboard and playing pitch for renovation. He didn’t agree to embark on a complete renovation of the over the 50-year-old stadium. So, this was the understanding that gave birth to the ongoing renovation of the three critical segments of the Lagos National Stadium.

Even as it may be argued that there can be no smoke without fire, we should also not forget that a new government is about to come on board so there is serious jostling for political offices. It is possible that some people who are interested in becoming the next Minister of Sports are behind the present travails of the incumbent whose chances of emerging as the longest-serving Minister of Sports are really high.

In all honesty, Dare has shown more than a casual interest in sports development. Although he came in unheralded, he has introduced signature programmes like adopt-an-athlete, adopt-a-facility, reclassification of sports as a business and the enactment of the Sports Industry Policy (SIP) all of which have impacted positively the sports sector. Moreover, his closeness to the incoming President is an open secret. Therefore, he is highly favoured to continue as Nigeria’s Minister of Sports. Against this background, the Minister may be tempted to say some clandestine plans are being hatched to reduce his value.

As if to say the recent allegation against him is being orchestrated by those who have their eyes on his position, the Minister recently said he is not desperate to stay in office beyond his present tenure. According to him, he has successfully run his race as Nigeria’s Minister of Sports and will be willing to serve in any other capacity that the new President would need him. This simply means he is ready to move on to other challenges.

However, in as much as there are even more qualified sports administrators out there who can perform better than the incumbent if appointed to the position, it will be uncharitable for anyone to cry foul when there is none just to ensure that the present occupant of the office is forced out.

Dare too shouldn’t allow himself to be stampeded out of office if he feels strongly that he still has so much to offer Nigerian sports. Going by the records of most of his predecessors, he has not done badly. He has made giant strides and will be remembered for some of his enduring legacies.

But before I am accused of shutting the door against other Nigerians who want to replace Dare, let me state unequivocally that I lack the capacity to keep the incumbent in office or decide who becomes the next Minister of Sports. All I can do is pray that if Dare is not retained, whoever is coming to replace him should be someone with the prerequisite knowledge and experience to improve on some of his laudable initiatives.

I once watched a video clip of a school’s relay competition in which a kid runner collected the baton from her colleague but instead of sprinting forward, she turned and ran back while the rest raced towards the finish line. May this not be the portion of Nigerian sports after Dare’s exit. This is my selfless prayer for sports in Nigeria.

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