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Dalung, Blessing Or Curse For Nigerian Sports?

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Since Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999, the country’s sports have been manned by 14 ministers, even as popular opinion points to little or no impact on this important sector spanning over 16 years.
The sports ministers since 1999 include Damishi Sango, late Ishaya Mark Aku, late Steven Ibn Akiga, retired Colonel Musa Mohammed, Saidu Sambawa, Bala Bawa Ka’Oje, Abdulrahman Gimba, Sani Ndanusa, Alhaji Ibrahim Isa Bio, Taoheed Adedoja, Alhaji Yusuf Suleiman, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, Tamuno Danagogo and Solomon Dalung.
Starting from 1999, Sango held sway as the first sports minister of the returned democratic setting. He served between 1999 and 2001, within which time, nothing much was achieved by Nigeria in the area of sports, except the FIFA U20 World Cup which the country hosted, but were dumped in the quarter final by Mali.
Then came the late Ishaya Mark Aku, who lasted only one year, superintending Nigeria’s qualification for the 2002 World Cup, even though he was relieved of the position in May, 2002, one month to the kickoff of the Mundial. Under Aku as the sports minister, D’Tigers finished fifth in the FIBA African Championship in Casablanca, Morocco in 2001.
After Aku, the late Stephen Ibn Akiga stepped in in a time that lasted 17 months. He was succeeded by retired Colonel Musa Mohammed. Mohammed stayed in office between 2003 and 2005, the time within which, D’Tigers won both silver and bronze in the FIBA Africa Championship in Alexandria, Egypt, and Algeria respectively. Within that same period in 2004, D’Tigress finished 11th in the Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. That was after they had won the African Championship back-to-back in 2003 and 2005 in Mozambique and Nigeria respectively.
That same period in 2003, Grace Ebor, a retired Nigerian long runner, who specialised in the middle-distance events, won the gold medal in the 800m at the 2003 All-Africa Games, thereby setting a new record in a time of 2:02.04.
After Mohammed, Saidu Samaila Sambawa took over and lasted a year and quit the stage in 2006 before Abdulrahman Gimba took over. Under Gimba, the nation’s men basketball team finished fifth in 2007 and 2009 in FIBA African Championship in Angola and Libya respectively.
That was after D’Tigers finished in the second position in same championship held in 2003 and 2005. Also, under Gimba, the Super Eagles qualified and reached the second round of the 2008 FIFA World Cup in France in 1998.
After Gimba, Sani Ndanusa stayed on the position for a period between December 17, 2008 and March 17, 2010. He oversaw the qualification of Nigeria for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The Super Eagles preparations were marred by crisis as a result of the authorities not meeting players’ demands.
Alhaji Ibrahim Isa Bio took over in 2010 and lasted till July 2011. Alhaji Yusuf Suleiman took over then and was relived of the position just after six months in charge before Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi took over in the same 2011. He later paved the way for Tamuno Danagogo, who was on the seat until President Muhammadu Buhari won the 2015 presidential election, where he later appointed Solomon Dalung as the nation’s sports minister.
During Dalung’s time, Nigeria recorded some milestone. The greatest was the national men basketball team breaking the jinx of FIBA African Championship. The D’Tigers won the championship, beating such continental heavyweights like Senegal and Angola on the road to breaking the jinx in the tournament hosted by Tunisia.
Also, within the period of Dalung’s stewardship as the sports minister, D’Tigress, the women national basketball team, finished third and first in AfroBasket Women in 2015 and 2017 and in Cameroon and Mali respectively.
Under Dalung, Nigeria made a return to the Africa Cup of Nations after missing two previous editions, even though the latter miss in 2017 was also under his superintendent. The Super Eagles also qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Despite some of the aforementioned cameo successes, the sports sector, recorded under Dalung, observers believe that all these pale into insignificance considering the crises that rocked the nation’s sporting sector since 2015, which he failed to handle appropriately.
First, it was during his tenure that players of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) had to stay at home for more than six months due to leadership crisis that threatened and still threatening the nation’s football hierarchy.
But in all the past administrations in the sports ministry as listed above, elections into the various sports federations did not witness such drama as those witnessed in the run up to federations’ elections in the past two years, in issues stakeholders blamed the minister for his shady handling of the impasse. In some quarters, he was solely blamed for favouring one candidate at the expense of the other.
For instance, in the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) election, Dalung presented himself as a biased umpire when he allegedly and reportedly twisted both the Jos High Court and Appeal Court rulings to favour Chris Giwa, whom he wanted at the NFF secretariat at all cost.
His insistence on imposing Giwa on Nigerians even when the Supreme Court order merely directed the gladiators to go back to the root (Jos High Court) to relist the matter of who among the two is the authentic NFF President, almost led to FIFA banning Nigeria from global football matters but for the prompt intervention of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. This is because FIFA had repeatedly maintained that it recognises Pinnick as the authentic president of the football house.
The matter reportedly set Dalung against the presidency, who viewed the unresolved impasse at the NFF as giving Nigeria a negative image before international community.
Also, Nigerians blamed the minister for allowing the leadership crisis that rocked the Nigerian Basketball Federation (NBBF) to linger for so long a time. Just like what happened at the NFF following the outcome of the two congresses in Lagos and Delta, the basketball crisis crippled the domestic league that was and still is battling to find its form.
Tijani Umar and Musa Ahmadu-Kida were claiming the leadership of Nigerian basketball. While Ahmadu-Kida won the sports ministry and Nigeria Olympic Committee-backed June 13, 2017 NBBF presidential poll in Abuja, Tijjani won an unrecognised June 12, 2017 election in Kano.
Besides the above, Dalung is seen by majority of sports writers as a misfit. The sports journalists, while acknowledging the minister’s intelligence and bravery in some issues, openly noted that he was not the right man to advance Nigeria’s sports.
For instance, the minister obviously goofed after Team Nigeria to the last Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, turned in a very poor result in what could go as the nation’s worst outing in the multi-sport event in recent time. But for the bronze medal recorded by the Mikel Obi-captained U-23 football team, Team Nigeria failed to win a single medal.
He was quoted as saying that athletes do not need too much preparation to climb the podium in major events like the Olympic Games.
According to Dalung, while laying the blame of not winning anything on the doorsteps of the athletes, “the disabled athletes have shown that all you need is a winning mentality and not too much preparation, they trained under the same condition with their able bodied counterparts but they are winning medals now.”
With countries’ preparations for big events like the Olympic Games spanning over 10-years, such statement coming from the main custodian of a country’s sports was most unfortunate and presented him as the wrong person for that position. This is apart from some past utterances of the minister, which did not go down well with major stakeholders in the country.
Despite the above, analysts have averred that perhaps the greatest sin of Dalung remained the scrapping of the National Sports Commission (NSC), making same a directorate in the Ministry of Sports. Some stakeholders are of the view that Dalung scrapped the NSC because he was afraid that the commission was rivaling him and threatening his position.
Some Nigerians, who though thumped up the minister for the action, said that the existence of the NSC amounted to duplication of duty, emphasising that it served the interests of few and was a conduit for syphoning public fund, even as they admitted that the Sports Ministry could handle the jobs of the NSC.
NSC berthed three years after Nigerian gained independent and it was formed to entrench core Nigerian sports culture as against the colonial sports tradition. Late Pa Abraham Ordia was appointed as the pioneer NSC secretary, overseeing the core administration of the commission.

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Sports: So Far, So Much Expectation

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To whom much is given, much is expected according to an old and enduring maxim that aptly situates the place of sports in Rivers state. Since creation, Rivers has played frontline roles in sports and its development in the country, contributing infrastructure, economic resources and talents to the storied successes achieved at various levels of national and international sports arenas by Nigeria.
Indeed, successive administrations in the state have strove to leave indelible footprints in the sands of time. Whether it is in the area of sports infrastructural development, promotion, local, national and international competition hosting, talent discovery and weaning, the state’s scorecard is impressive. Currently, the state boasts a handful of sports outfits like the Rivers United Football Club, Rivers Angels Football Club, Rivers Hoopers Basketball Club, Real Madrid Football Academy, Port Harcourt and a host of sports associations under the state Sports Council, among others that it sponsors.
Through these outfits, the government has succeeded in, not only engaging young persons and empowering them, but providing a platform for them to explore and express their talents. That is why at this time that the administration of Sir Siminalayi Fubara is clocking 365 days in office, not a few Rivers youth, men and women are looking up to the government with great expectations, especially, in the sports sector. This is perhaps so because sports is a veritable tool to providing the opportunity to easily steer the youth toward the path of positive living and productivity.
Interestingly, Governor Fubara’s administration, with barely one year in office, has shown that it possesses the tact, commitment and will to make sports promotion and development one of its focal points in the state. Early indications are that Fubara’s aura bodes well for the sports sector. Within the period under review, the state has recorded some successes that if built on, could lead to huge and immeasurable glory.
It is on record that that through the government’s motivation, Rivers United’s youth team was able to emerge winners at the Nigeria Professional Football League’s maiden U-17 NPFL Youth League in the country, while the Rivers State female Handball team won the national female Handball League in Nigeria.
It is self evident that since the inception of this present administration on the 29th of May, 2023, sporting activities and promotion at both State, national and grassroots levels have significantly improved and took set to return the state to its pride of place again, as  State athletes are now promptly attending most of the national tournaments and competitions which has equally brought laurels pride to the state.
The State’s Basketball team Rivers Hoopers also won the National Basketball League which qualified them to represent Nigeria at the Sahara Conference Basketball Africa League ( BAL), in Dakar, Senegal. Hoopers further qualified for play offs  in Kigali,  Rwanda, becoming the first Nigeria basketball team to achieve that feat.
The Rivers Hoopers Basketball Club also conquered all to qualify for the final round of the Basketball Africa League, BAL, currently going on in Kigali, Rwanda, where the KingsMen have qualified to compete in the semi final of the League. Rivers Angels only at the weekend finished runners up in the first edition of Nigeria Women Premier League, NWPL Super Six playoff, losing the title narrowly to Edo Queens after a close and exciting competition.
Apart from football and basketball, the state’s sports associations have become active on the national scene, attending and hosting competitions. The State attended the national 5 A-side Hockey Championship at Ibadan, where the Men and women won gold and bronze medals respectively.
Apart from that, the State’s athletes won gold medals at the South South and South East Beach Volleyball Championship held in Ibeno, Akwa Ibom State.
Again, Rivers State athletes shone at the recent Felicia & Akanbi Memorial National Table Tennis Championship, where she won gold in men’s singles and double, with gold also in the women’s double and bronze medals in singles.
The State further hosted the Strata Base National Karate Championship, at the Alfred Diete Spiff Sports Complex , Moscow Road, in Port Harcourt, which was attended by over 26 States and 38 Karate Clubs in Nigeria. As hosts, the state proved her mettle on the mat and through unparalleled hospitality gestures
A couple of weeks ago, the state also played host to the third edition of Naphtali Open Chess Tournament.  This high profile tournament saw  Rivers born  Koko Obubele winning the best player in male category, while another Rivers indigene, Queen Dan-Jumbo, emerged the best player in the female category.
In spite of the successes recorded in the short life of the administration so far, most Rivers people believe that the Governor possesses the midas touch to take the state to the highest point it can be, considering his vision, style of leadership and the human capital available to all the strata of government in the state.
For former youth international and sports journalist, Prince Worlu, the Fubara administration has done very well since coming to power, but there is still huge expectation from the government. “The government needs to really look into the set up and management of most of the sports outfits in the state with a view to enhancing best practices that will engender efficiency and good results. Also, the Real Madrid Academy should not be allowed be rundown as it is expected to be producing players for the nation’s U-17 teams,” he said. “In addition, there is need to look into playgrounds and football fields in the state, which has be en adversely affected by development programmes of past administrations, this I think will rekindle the sports boom at the grassroots, which used to be the hallmark of communities and townships in the state”. He called for a deliberate policy to give locals and Rivers indigenes who have what it takes to be part of any of the government owned teams rather than focusing on getting players from abroad, who clearly have no edge over local ones. “if we must engage foreigners, it must be those with exceptional qualities that can justify what is expended on them”.
Another respondent, the Head coach of Erema FC, Port Harcourt, Prince Abidi agreed that the government has done well in sports development but should take a holistic approach to ensure that other sports are given due attention, also. “The over concentration on football is affecting other sports. I am confident that if other sports are treated the way football gets attention, we’ll have more to celebrate”.
Also speaking, a grassroots football coach, Joseph Ebu, popularly called Coach Zeco urged the Governor and his lieutenants to work towards bringing back the glory days when the state was known for, not only football, but swimming, weightlifting, wrestling, boxing and tennis. He said that more youths at the grassroots would be carried along if diverse sports were made to be attractive.
For the Secretary of the Youth Sports Federation of Nigeria, YSFON, Rivers state chapter, Whyte Bencyger, youth games is the way to go for the state to fully retake its pride of place in Nigeria and beyond.
“ The foundation of any sporting success is the grassroots, unfortunately, today one hardly sees grassroots activities in Rivers State.  I think it is high time government develops a deliberate policy for youths sports, especially, competitions like the Schools Sports, so that the grassroots would once again be the bedrock of sports development and talent production”.
Anthony Bargbe, a sports enthusiast, on his part noted that the Governor may not have been a household name in sports circles but he has shown that he understands the importance and place of sports in the polity, especially, using it as tool for socio-economic leverages.
He however, called on the private sector to partner Fubara’s administration to ensure that the state’s potential in sports is maximized, as according to him, “government cannot do it alone, all hands must be on deck”.
It is worthy, however to note the administration has already taken steps towards making the state a sports hub by placing sports promotion and development on the front burner with the conviction that it would make the state a tourists and investors’ destination of choice. The Governor through his Commissioner for Sports, Barrister Christopher Green has set the ball in motion by already concluding preparations for the First Rivers State International Marathon race scheduled to hold on Sunday, June 2, 2024. The race is set to be an annual event in the state’s calendar.
Also, arrangement is in top gear for the state to host All Secondary Schools Sports in August with the Public Service Games coming on its heels.

Gabriel Nwanetanya With Reports From Tonye Orabere & Kiadum Edookor

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Sports

Rivers International Marathon To Celebrate Fubara’s One Year

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Former Nigeria international goalkeeper, Peterside Idah says next month’s Rivers International Marathon will be used to celebrate the one year anniversary of His Excellency,  Siminalayi Fubara as the Executive Governor of Rivers State.           Idah, who is the race’s head of media and communications said the event could not have been better timed and organizers have keyed it into the one year celebration of Governor  Fubara’s tenure.       “We want to use this race to celebrate the one year anniversary of our Governor, Fubara who is the main reason Rivers State has been officially termed as the sports hub of the nation by John Enoh, the Minister of Sports Development,” Ida said. Continuing, Idah revealed that the Rivers International Marathon has received massive backing from Governor Fubara as well as corporate Nigeria.        “Governor Fubara is the biggest supporter of the race and we are determined to organise a race befitting the status of Rivers state as the new destination of sort for sports in Nigeria,” Idah stated, adding two financial institutions have thrown their weight behind the race.    “Globus and Zenith bank are backing us as partners and this shows that corporate Nigeria is appreciating the giant strides we have taken in terms of sports development and the many benefits that come with organizing a road race.

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BAL : Rivers Hoopers Arrive Rwanda, Attend Playoff

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Nigeria’s representatives at the 2024 Basketball Africa League (BAL), Rivers Hoopers on Sunday landed in Kigali, Rwanda ahead of the competition which dunks off on May 24th .
The Tidesports source hinted: “The KingsMen have arrived in Kigali, Rwanda for the Playoffs. Dakar was good, Kigali be great.”
The KingsMen will face AS Douanes of Senegal in one of the four seeding games in the playoffs in Kigali on May 24th.
The two teams played against each other twice in the Sahara Conference that ended last week in Dakar, Senegal with each winning one game apiece.
The winner between Hoopers and AS Douanes (Game 40) will play against the winner between Petro de Luanda (Angola) and US Monastir of Tunisia (Game 39) in the semi-final, while the loser of the tie will square up against the loser of Game 39 in the quarter final.
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s hip-hop star, Adekunle Kosoko aka Adekunle Gold and AG Baby, are among the list of top celebrities who will perform at the 2024 African Basketball League playoffs in Kigali.
The finals usually attract top celebrities from both the sports and music community And this time around, BAL 4 playoffs will feature performances by local and international acts, including the likes of Nigeria’s Adekunle Gold and Rwanda’s very own The Ben, Chris Eazy, Ish Kevin, Kevin Kade, Ariel Wayz, Kivumbi King, Bwiza, Ishami Talent, Inganzi Ngari cultural troupe and Kenny Sol.
The selected artists will perform during the halftime shows of the finals. Globally with special performances to spice up the halftime show atmosphere.

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