The commitment of the Sports minister and his team inspired the performance at the Commonwealth Games, writes Kehinde Olaosebikan
On the 13th of May, 2022 while in Abuja on a political expedition, I stopped at the office of the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Chief Sunday Dare to brief him on some developments at home. As I was approaching the office, I saw him rushing out, descending the staircase to his office, briskly. Hurrying! My thought was that he must be hastening to meet an appointment in the villa with the President. But as he sighted me, he said “Kenny I am going to the stadium, join me there”. He practically raced to his waiting official car and sped off to the stadium.
I followed his convoy and at the stadium we met Mary Onyali-Omagbemi who received us and commended the minister for coming to the training session promptly “as usual “. Coming to the training session promptly as usual, I wondered whether he had been really attending their trainings. I kept my cool, waiting for a good opportunity to confirm this.
We immediately entered the main bowl where athletes from the 36 states of the federation and Abuja together with their compatriots from the Diaspora were training, competing for places to represent Nigeria at the just concluded Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
From track to field events, the heats were well organized and highly interesting to the extent that one had the feeling of watching the main event and not just a practicing or selection exercise. I observed keenly as the minister passed messages and instructions to Mary Onyali, his Special Adviser (Technical) from time to time. Fully alert, the Track Queen would elegantly dash down to the field and return to the minister. The two of them were obviously fretful but clearly focused and steadfast in getting the best out of the hundreds that came for selections.
As the heats were going on, the National Convention Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led by a former Senate President, Senator David Mark arrived at the stadium. The party was billed to use the stadium for its national convention some few days ahead. The minister took some minutes off to receive them.
But the former Senate President who was in company with the governors of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa; Benue State, Sam Ortom; immediate past Governor of Imo State, Emeka Ihedioa and Senator Philip Aduda among others was surprised to meet him on the field. Senator Mark said, “You supposed to be in the office treating files” to which Sunday Dare replied that “the main job is here Sir”. They all laughed and prayed that his efforts would yield great fruits. They were all impressed.
Done with the inspecting team of PDP, we returned to the training session where the selection of the team for the games continued. Sitting next to Mary Onyali, I was able to get more on the extra efforts put in by the minister towards getting the best team for Nigeria and also getting the best out of the individual athletes and coaches.
First, the minister, according to Onyali instilled discipline in the team ensuring that all the rules are obeyed to the letter in terms of punctuality, kitting and conduct both on and off the pitch. She disclosed that the minister has consistently displayed it in all his engagements with the team too. She confirmed (my inquisition) that the minister makes time to attend their trainings and always doing so, promptly.  Onyali told me too that the minister has also been a great source of motivation to the team as he personally interacts with them giving them confidence and expressing genuine love to them.
Sunday Dare profusely displayed this in my chanced watch of the heats and final selections of the team to the most successful Commonwealth Games Nigeria ever attended since 1950. He got to the stadium ahead of the time for the commencement of the heats. Showing uncommon commitment and impartiality, Sunday Dare watched all the heats and final selections and ensured that only the best were chosen not minding their religion, tribe or region. As a great motivator and exemplary leader, the youth and sports minister mingled with the team, amiably exchanged banters with firm assurance that the President, his ministry and the entire country were fully behind them in all their endeavors.
Onyali, a very passionate person about athletics did not forget to inform me of all the efforts already made by the minister in getting the nation prepared for the commonwealth and other international sporting engagements. She said the first thing the minister did was the unprecedented 300 per cent increase in rewards for medal won at all competitions which she disclosed was a major motivation and attraction for athletes to run for Nigeria.
She also revealed that the minister of Youth and sports strategically delivered the National Sports Festival and National Youth Games amidst COVID-19 complications to boost Nigerian sports and our chances at international tournaments.
On why there were so many performing locals on the pitch struggling to be selected, Onyali said that the Return to Grassroots Sports Development, National Principal Cup and Talent Hunt Programs of Sunday Dare-led sports ministry had brought out so many great talents from towns and villages across the country.
And as we were leaving the stadium after the minister’s convivial interaction with the athletes, Onyali asked me jokingly, that as a friend of the minister, whether I had adopted a game or an athlete in the spirit of Adopt An Athlete initiative of the minister to which I responded that I had already adopted Table Tennis and planning to build a Tennis Academy in my village, Onipe. She said, “thank you sir” with so much respect and passion that made me felt that this just must be done.
Now watching and reading about the great exploits of the eventually selected athletes to the Birmingham Games, gives me real joy. That the hard work of our Sports Minister, his Special Adviser, Mary Onyali and other officials of the sports ministry had paid off with the best outing of Nigeria in the past 72 years is gladdening. That the Oyo State representative in the federal cabinet has successfully through his effectiveness, efficiency, total dedication, creativity and doggedness changed the Nigeria’s narrative from negatives to positives and from sadness to elation.
One is however not surprised that such a superlative achievement is being recorded by Sunday Dare considering his background as a grade A journalist and a product of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu college of leadership. Without any fear of contradiction, the two ministers that have stood out in this administration and profoundly adding value to the government in their respective ministries are graduates of the college.
Today, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) is one of the best ministers in the cabinet of President Muhammadu Buhari. Aside, from doing his work diligently with the best of planning and projections, Fashola is the most terrific in terms of public communications amongst all the ministers of the federal Republic. His periodic interventions in defending, expatiating, projecting and promoting President Buhari and his government are second to none. Constantly exuding brilliance, intelligence and courage laced with panache, Fashola is clearly, President Buhari’s Mr. Fix it.
Now, at a time when our image had gone down to its lowest ebb; when Nigerians have become sad and angry about their country; when young Nigerians don’t really feel comfortable identifying with Nigeria talk less of calling themselves Nigerians; when all of us are tired of Nigeria as alluded to by our National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno; an exceptional Nigerian, Chief Dare, through effective leadership, dedication, patriotism and commitment has brought glory and joy to replace our sadness and angst. He has brought hope to our forlorn and despairs.  
Apart from being graduates of Asiwaju College of leadership, both Babatunde Raji Fashola and Sunday Dare served as his chief of staff. While Fashola was the CoS of Tinubu when Tinubu was in office as governor of Lagos State, Sunday served Tinubu as CoS as a private citizen, indicating that whether in office and outside of it, Tinubu possesses a great knack to identify and assemble the best at all times.  A confirmation that the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) already has the best team on ground and ready to hit the ground running from May 29, 2023 as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The declaration of President Buhari last night, that the historic feat of the Sunday Dare organized and inspired Team Nigeria to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham as his parting gift to Nigeria, confirms that Oyo State representative in the Federal Executive Council is the all-round Best.  I congratulate the minister and the good people of Oyo State for producing the Star Boy of the Buhari’s administration.  
It reminds me of the popular quote of Walt Whitman: “Keep your face always towards the sunshine, and the shadows will fall behind you”, as Sunday Dare has done in running the affairs of the Youth and Sports ministry in the last three years, leaving the shadows right behind him.
Olaosebikan, a reputation manager and CEO, Midas Communications Ltd writes through: midas1062@gmail.com
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