Exclusive interview with the Minister of Sports, Solomon Dalung.
Why I wear Khaki – Solomon Dalung
By Taofeek Lawal Olayemi
Nigerians want to understand the idea of your khaki and beret wearing as a sports minister. They are curious about this and would like to know the significance of this dressing.
May be because of the curiosity of the much younger minds otherwise the way you dress is completely your business and should not bother anybody. I even have problem with the way other people dress but because it is a democratic setting, there is amplitude of right to freedom but I don’t care about it. Back to the mode of dressing as a public official, it is just to look simple and not to forget where I am coming from. I am an activist who believes in social justice, the right of the common people so I don’t want to forget my root easily by the position I presently occupy. It is a signature of my commitment to struggle for social justice. Basically, it is not to forget where I am coming from.
You seem to be the most misunderstood minister in this government. Why do you think people have this perception about you because anything you say is translated differently?
You see sport is national passion and the interest in sport is more than any other thing in Nigeria. It is the only thing that unites all Nigerians. So people have vested interest in it but it is also in Nigeria that we have so many stakeholders in sports who cannot define their stake. The man that has not produced a single player in his life, does not have a team or even organize a single football competition in his village is a sport stakeholder in Nigeria. May be because he has been watching football for 30 years and most of them are just self-appointed stakeholders.
So these self-appointed stakeholders have appropriated to themselves the monopoly of wisdom and knowledge of sports so much so that they mirror anybody from their perspective and personal background. So if you are strange, you are not welcomed and they have succeeded in the past to use negative publicity to be removing ministers and that has destroyed sports in Nigeria.
The longest minister here spent one year four months and sport is policy that requires time to mature. Olympics is planned every four years, the Commonwealth Game is biennial. So, if a minister of sports who started nurturing athletes for Olympics just spend four months and he is removed, the next one came and after six months he was showed the exit door, you can imagine the type of performance Nigeria will have when we go for international competitions.
It is not about the incompetence of ministers but the conspiracy of the people who have appropriated monopoly of sports in Nigeria to themselves and who believe that they can sack anybody. They intimidate ministers so that anybody who is on this seat is afraid of them. The minister will be cowed and needs to now go begging, he needs to appease certain gods from the mountains and needs to befriend all manners of people. All efforts are wasted on this and expectedly sports suffer.
I am being misunderstood because I am somebody who doesn’t have a godfather. And that tells you that I am never going to lie down for anybody in his parlour for one day and I will not learn it when I become a minister. I don’t see this seat as anything because I can leave it anyday anytime.
With this in mind, I can tell anybody my mind. I don’t intend to be understood I can only be understood when I leave here. But one thing I have enjoyed these days which is not happening is this negative press. The negative press has put me on my toes and makes me to work very hard. If I check the papers I will see ‘sack Dalung’ which means Dalung is doing something and I will do it more. But now they are not writing it again and I am not happy about it because I am used to the negative press already. It is like fuel for me and it energizes me to do the right thing.
When I read about the negative press, it inspires me the more that these people are appreciating my presence and I will tell myself; let me give my best every time. This negative publicity has affected our sports and was responsible for one of the medals we lost in Rio Olympics. One of our athletes who could have given us medals in athletics read online in the night how one of the newspapers had damaged the integrity of the athlete. She cried all night and the following day when she went for her event, she could not make it because it affected her performance.
Negative publicity has destroyed sports and it is not about the competence of the minister. The minister can do his best but sport is a very fragile thing and there are athletes too whom you have to encourage always. You can spend the whole billions on an athlete but it only takes one sentence to destroy that effort. So when people say Nigeria did not perform in Rio, Nigeria did not prepare I say NO. Nigeria was destroyed by negative press.
You remember that before we left for the Olympics people are already saying that Nigeria will not come back with a single medal and I thought those who wrote about this will be honorable enough to come back to me and say ‘you are a man of your words by saying that Nigeria will not leave Rio without a medal’. The point is that we are all sports stakeholders; the media, private sector, sportswriters, the ministry, national federations, fans and Nigerians in general. We are all stakeholders and we must collectively come together to strengthen sports. The idea of saying you are going to write negative story to sack anybody is an idea that has gone forever. Ministers should come and work for Nigeria, nobody should intimidate minister with his write-up and when minister are on this seat they should not be afraid of being sacked. The fear that you are going to be sacked will not allow you to do anything and people will keep tossing you around and give you negative publicity. They can write their thing we are in a democracy, write their opinions and you do your work and when you leave posterity will judge you.