The appointment of square pegs in round holes is one signature of Buhari’s government that will be etched in our memory forever.

Months after his election, Nigerians awaited the best brains in the land that will bring the change that Muhammadu Buhari and his party promised us.

Their wait was in vain as most of the ministers named by Buhari will not make the third eleven in the cabinet of any European or American country, or even second eleven in African countries like Rwanda or Morocco.

One obvious square peg in a round hole is the Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung.

When he appeared on the scene, he seemed to have all the credentials to be a change agent and often dressed like our idols including Fidel Castro and Thomas Sankara.

I remember writing in Dalung’s defense when a colleague derided him.

However, within weeks, Dalung proved that he is nothing but a pseudo activist.

Dalung’s actions since appointment have put the industry in reverse gear. He does not even have the capacity to keep the industry at the level he met it, much less the ability to move it forward.

His latest diatribe was his attack on National SWAN President, Honor Sirawoo, for his comments on Team Nigeria’s unimpressive performances at the just concluded Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Though the SWAN President’s motives for criticizing Dalung and Team Nigeria’s performances at Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games may be mischievous, some valid points were made.

Before now, Sirawoo and his executive members were in bed with Dalung, so were blind to his inept and incompetent leadership.

They showered him in encomium where he deserved condemnation.

Dalung’s description of our performances in Gold Coast as “impressive and glowing” is not just a slap on the intelligence of his former friend SWAN President, his Exco and sports buffs, but shows his lack of knowledge.

SWAN’S Claim: Between Fact and Fiction

SWAN President blamed our poor outing on inadequate preparation, misappropriation and mismanagement of resources and that our medals would have significantly been diminished by foreign based athletes whose preparation we contributed nothing to.

This claim by SWAN is valid. Most of our gold medalists, especially in special sports, are established athletes who have amassed medals at global and continental games and championships long before Dalung dreamt of becoming Sports Minister.

Oluwatobiloba Amusan, gold medalist in 100 m hurdles, has been on the international stage since Warri 2013 African Youth Athletics Championships. Amusan is based in El Paso where she trained for the games without any input from Nigeria.

Chukwuebuka Enekwechi, silver medalist in athletics, was not even a Nigerian athlete. He is an American who probably decided to represent Nigeria because he could not make the American team.

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The athletics women relay quartet that won a silver medal in 4x400m and 4x100m that won bronze are established athletes who have excelled in many games and championships for over a decade. They were not anywhere near Dalung’s camp for Gold Coast 2018.

Dalung was being stingy with the truth by attributing the success of wrestlers to the Ministry’s camping and preparation.

He probably thought we had forgotten how the wrestlers protested and threatened not to participate at the games because of shoddy preparation, failed promises and unpaid entitlements. 

Same could be said for the medals we won in table tennis and boxing. So Sirawoo and his executive members are right, Dalung’s claim that his ministry’s preparation of athletes accounted for their success is false.

Between Glasgow and Gold Coast

Dalung stood logic on its head by asserting that Team Nigeria’s performance at Gold Coast 2018 games is better than that of Glasgow 2014.

In terms of medal count, Team Nigeria won 11 gold, 11 silver and 14 bronze medals, making it a total of 36 podium appearances at Glasgow.

On the other hand, in Gold Coast, Team Nigeria won total 24 medals, nine gold, nine silver and six bronze medals.

Even a neophyte in sports or a primary school pupil knows that 36 is greater than 24. His claim that the Glasgow outing cost more than Gold Coast is not tenable unless he can produce documents to prove that Glasgow was better funded than Gold Coast, but who cares about funding or the number of personnel used in prosecution of the games or championships?

What matters most is the medal count and on the strength of the evidence before us. Glasgow is 12 medals better than Gold Coast.

Dalung’s only take away from Gold Coast was an enviable record and a world record in power lifting. The Minister needs to be reminded that when a former Minister made similar remarks a few years ago, a professor of sports science at the University of Port Harcourt made him understand that Nigerian athletes excel in power lifting because polio has not been eradicated here, and that the moment polio is eradicated, we shall cease to dominate the world in power lifting.

Secondly, the world does not stand up for feats in special sports or other sports in games but feats of winning the blue-riband in the men or women event.

This Nigeria did at the Glasgow Games where Blessing Okagbare won the women 100m event thus becoming the fastest woman in the Commonwealth.

Okagbare, at the game, won the women 200m. Glasgow also gave us a new kid on the block, Ese Brume, a feat Gold Coast did not achieve.

Fresh from the IAAF World Junior in USA where she did poorly, Brume arrived Glasgow just to participate but Yussuf Alli, a former great jumper assured her that she will win the gold medal with proper management. This came to pass. At the next Olympics in Rio, Brume, still managed by Alli, placed fifth in the world.

So where are the new kids on the block that Dalung claims were discovered in Gold Coast to form the bedrock of our future team?

Commonwealth Games Not True Measure of Sporting Prowess

Dalung’s assertion that our performance is the beginning of an upward rise in the sporting world is another evidence of his lack of knowledge of the sports. Unlike before when the Commonwealth used to be highly competitive, it has lost some of its glamour.

No serious nation will measure its sporting prowess by Commonwealth Games’ standards because global sports giants like USA, Germany, Russia, Brazil, Italy, and Cuba, are not member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

The true measure of a nation’s sporting prowess today  are the Olympic Games and sports championships of each federation like FIFA World Cup, IAAF World Championship and others.

Crisis in Team Nigeria at Gold Coast

Contrary to what Dalung wants the world to believe, the Nigeria camp in Gold Coast was a house of crisis.

Most prominent was the clash between Dalung and the Director of Sports Development, Tayo Oreweme.

While there was crisis over the issue of kits and allowances, some ministry staff had told the athletes that there was no money.

Oreweme was said to have told the athletes that there was money and all the money had been released.

Her revelation was said to have irked top officials of the Ministry who disabled her accreditation and prevented her from entering the games village.

Demola Are, Director Grassroots Development, was mandated to take over from her.

There was also serious crisis over payment of allowances and grants. Hitherto, grants are paid based on performance but Dalung chose to pay based on location. Foreign based athletes who did not even advance beyond the first round were paid grants whereas home based athletes that won medals were denied grants.

Though between N2 to N3 billion was released for the games, the home based were denied their entitlement.

More embarrassing to Nigeria was the defection of about six athletes and officials, though some claim the true number could be higher.

Nigeria’s desperation to win medals led to the accreditation of Mike Edwards, an athlete that still competed for Great Britain as of February 2018.

That means our officials were ignorant of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) new rule on change of allegiance.

Gold Coast Games will be remembered as one in which every Tom, Dick and Harry hopped on the plane. An athletic coach whose wife’s personal best is 13.5 in 100m hurdles was put on the plane after her husband assured top ministry officials that she will improve at the games and win the gold medal. There was also the case of the 14.1 sec runner in 110m hurdles that they also assured will win gold.

The biggest scam was the inclusion of 13m jumpers in the triple jump, the coach equally doled out assurance that she will win gold, the trio did not even set a new personal best.

What a People Minister’s Focus Ought to Be

Dalung’s almost 30 months in the saddle as sports minister are months of the locust.

A more focused person would have used sports to engage youths and contributed to the economy, especially in areas of tourism.

He would have worked with NFF to revive football at the local level, ditto athletics, boxing, volleyball and others.

We have not had the National Sports Festival since EKO 2012, the Youth Games is moribund, National Stadiums in Lagos and Abuja are an eyesore, sport at the primary, secondary, and inter-collegiate and community level is dead but Dalung is not interested in all these, his interest is the next trip.

Dalung’s performance since assumption of office is nothing short of a disaster, but more importantly, he needs to talk less so as to stop exposing his inadequacies.

Olukayode Thomas is a Lagos based reporter.

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