Solomon Dalung is not a divisive public figure by any stretch of the imagination. There is near-unanimity of opinion about his utility as Nigeria’s minister of sports. The kooky man with a fetish for red beret and khaki is the mascot of President Buhari’s administration.
He is the poster child of the shambolic game of ineptness that patriotism urges us to hyperbolize, as a ‘government’. Dalung has a flair for sabotaging Nigeria in sports competitions and a penchant for spouting senseless excuses to explain away the scandals he orchestrated. His attempts at composure, for some reason, accentuate the extremism of the clown in him. He performs for the trivialization of sports and the sports of trivialization.
Two weeks ago, the Super Falcons successfully defended their Africa Women Cup of Nations title. They won against all odds. They had to first defeat Dalung, the anti-sports minister of sports, before they could overcome their rivals in the field of play.
The Super Falcons trained for the tournament amid demotivating deprivation. Dalung and his ministry did not pay the girls allowance during their camping. Yet, these girls travelled to Yaoundé, played in Nigerian jersey, and prevailed.
This year’s win was a continuation of a fine tradition. Nigeria has dominated the biennial competition since its inception in 1991, clinching the gold trophy in eight of the ten editions. But their victory shook Dalung to grief. He had expected the girls to return home empty-handed.
And, because girls defied his cynical wish and came back with the ultimate prize, he inoculated himself against their joy. Neither would he will himself into the mood to facilitate the payment of bonuses of the players. He became a killjoy, choosing to create a kerfuffle in which the girls had to condescend to begging for their wages, even making a hostage of the trophy in a bid to dramatize their displeasure at the shabby treatment meted out to them by Dalung and his ministry.
The incredible sight of a victorious national football team, gold-trophy-in-hand, protesting the denial of their due rewards magnetized the cameras of the global media. But rather than apologize for the humiliation of the girls, an embarrassment with a whiff of misogyny, and scramble to pay the debt, Dalung stepped forward to admonish the Super Falcons for rejecting the defeatist dream he had projected onto them. Why did they fail to lose as he had fantasized? Why did they deny him an implausible reason to owe them? Why did they bother to win?
On December 14, 2016, the Super Falcons protested at the National Assembly. It was a shameful spectacle. The girls were fighting for their payment after they had fought to win the cup. And this, on a day President Buhari was presenting the 2017 budget to the joint session of the National Assembly!
The protest of the girls at the National Assembly was a gesture of frustration. They had been demonstrating on the streets of Abuja since their return from Yaoundé. Dalung ignored them. They had to draw the attention of President Buhari to the mess.
Meanwhile, Cameroon celebrated their girls differently. The country treated the Indomitable Lionesses with chivalry. President Paul Biya hosted the silver medalists to a grand reception in the state house and lavished them with honor, praise and gifts.
Following the Super Falcons’ protest at the National Assembly, Buhari reportedly ‘ordered’ the ministry of sports to pay the girls. The girls have been paid but shortchanged. Which leaves the matter unresolved.
The girls shouldn’t have had to fight harder for their wages than they did to win the cup. And they shouldn’t have been paid less than the wages owed them.
Really, if President Buhari was capable of outrage or embarrassment, he would have made casualties of those complicit in the ordeal of the girls. He would have rid himself and Nigeria of Dalung. Dalung has demonstrated time and again that he is not only ineffectual on the job but that he is also aggressively toxic to Nigerian sports. And the latter is twice as strong a reason to dismiss Dalung as the former.
Dalung and his ministry made a disaster out of Nigeria’s outing at the Rio 2016 Olympics. They left Nigeria’s Dream Team stranded in Atlanta, USA. They failed to arrange a plane to fly the football team to Manus, Brazil. The boys would have missed their first fixture and earned a walkover save for a deux ex machina. A foreign airline intervened and flew the Nigerian team to Brazil just in time for the players to catch a breath before the beginning of the match.
Dalung and his ministry primed the Super Eagles for defeat. Still, the boys looked inside themselves and found the strength to negotiate with victory. They strived and snatched a Bronze!
During the opening ceremony of the games, Nigerian athletes were conspicuously odd-looking. In a pageantry of colour and style, beamed live to millions of people around the world, our sports ambassadors paraded in track suits. They marched like poor orphans under the Nigerian flag.
The kits they were supposed to wear on day one arrived three days to the end of the competition!
Dalung’s appointment as minister of sports highlights Buhari’s betrayal of his avowed commitment to lead Nigeria by a new paradigm. The most basic expectation Nigerians had for this government of ‘’change’’ was a cabinet peopled by Nigeria’s brightest talents. Nigerians looked forward to an ensemble of smart picks. The most competent people in the most fitting positions.
Buhari raised expectations higher by delaying nomination for cabinet positions for half a year. He said he needed that much length of time to identify and vet the most qualified Nigerians to serve in his administration. It was an absurd statement from a former head of state who has been a presidential candidate for four times. But people gave him a benefit of the doubt, believing that the wait would be worth it.
It turned out that Buhari took eternity to compose an essentially underwhelming list. He nominated people of little accomplishment and scant promise. People you were certain that, going by their uneventful track record, were incapable of effecting positive disruptions. Worse, he dispersed them blindly, without regard to niche fittingness.
Dalung was one of those ministers Buhari mismatched with an important cabinet position. Dalung has zero experience in sports administration. He has never had the most casual flirtation with any known sport prior to his nomination. Buhari miscast lawyer Dalung, in the far-fetched assumption that the skill set of a lawyer will do Nigerian sports a world of good.
Dalung has made a point of proving to all and sundry that he is the most unsuitable person ever to manage Nigerian sports. Yet Buhari continues to let Dalung cast in bold relief the poverty of the president’s sense of choice. Buhari continues to permit Dalung define down ineptitude. Buhari continues to let his administration look more like an exercise in the cultivation of mediocrity.
A good number of members of Buhari’s cabinet do no more than occupy space at the Wednesday meeting of the Federal Executive Council. Daily Trust profiled 11 of those do-nothing, forgettable Buhari ministers. They have achieved nothing of note one full year after they were hired.
Dalung would have made that number a dozen but for his bad luck in being bestowed the highly visible sports portfolio. The very nature of sports makes the individual in charge of it a celebrity. And this is why Dalung seems to be the most incompetent minister in Buhari’s cabinet though there are at least 11 other credible contenders for the ‘award.’
Buhari once rationalized his cronyism. He said he didn’t bother to search far and wide for men. He settled for old friends. People who were unflinchingly loyal during his three failed quests for the presidency.
In a country as rich in human talent as Nigeria, Buhari was spoiled for choice. Why he elected to gravitate towards average calibre is inexplicable. And the surprise is that he is at peace retaining them to the detriment of his increasingly diminishing presidency. He is content to accommodate the goofy Dalungs of this world in his cabinet when Nigeria boasts infinitely better brainpower at home and abroad.
In general, Nigerian rulers tend to approach political appointments with levity. They regard the solemn responsibility of filling public service vacancies as a license to ‘empower’ their sidekicks. But Buhari has arguably outperformed his predecessors in the abuse of the presidential power to hire. His blind and arbitrary generosity with cabinet seats is one reason why the Nigeria he governs resembles King Solomon’s portrayal of a chaotic society. His Nigeria is a land where ‘’princes walk on foot and servants ride on horses.’’
Sports is serious business. It harnesses, employs and rewards human potential. And it has become as much an industry as a component of modern day foreign policy. It is now the fun, subtle way to conduct diplomacy by another means.
All serious-minded countries shine their ideals and their sense of place in the world through their sports teams. These nations are intentional about how they run their sports systems. They know that the quality and results of every national sports team reflect on the image of the same country. They are always strategic, focused on making their individual teams a testifier to their respective claim to relevance in global affairs.
There is no deliberateness or method to how Nigeria does sports or anything else. Everything is a matter of weather, whims and favor. The president may appoint any fawning drifter minister of this and that. And the ‘honorable minister’, if he is a Solomon without wisdom, may take the liberty of making the popularization of his curious dress sense the job description!
Dalung deserves no place in national leadership. He is an unmitigated nuisance as minister of sports. His inability to handle the simplest tasks of his current post is a sure sign that he would be as much a failure if he was redeployed in a cabinet reshuffle. He and his incompetent likes must give way for Nigeria’s best.
That’s how President Buhari can stop his ‘government’, this poor parody of governance, from deteriorating into an apocalyptic joke!
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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