Sports is about to become a major field or economic activity in Nigeria, according to Youth and Sports Development Minister Sunday Dare, who, in this interview with BOLAJI OGUNDELE, gives an insight into government’s plans for ‘sports as business’, investments in youth and general economic development, as well as a rundown on the efforts of President Muhammadu Buhari to make Nigeria a model African economy.
How is the progress with the Sports Industry Policy? Is it being implemented?
In the last 18 months plus, we have spent a lot of time trying to, basically, review the National Sports Policy, with the aim of building a business model into it. Now, that process is at its final stage; it has delivered a number of low hanging fruits that are critical steps towards the full implementation of the policy. One of such is the reclassification of sports as business from recreation, which was approved by the President Muhammadu Buhari and the Executive Council. That alone was a major step. So, you can say, in fact, that sports is now business in Nigeria.
With that change, we have also seen the manifestation of the benefit for the sports industry. That was what also made it possible for the Ministry of Youth and Sports to have a seat at the table when they were developing the National Development Plan 2021-2025. Hitherto, when they did the ERGP, because sports was not business, we were not allowed a seat at the table. But this time around sports has become business officially and we’re just waiting for the policy to take effect. Also we were able to show and demonstrate, during the meetings that held towards putting together the development plan, that the ministry has its plans ready about the next level we want to take sports development in our country. What happened eventually, several weeks ago, when the National Development Plan was brought to Council and was approved, we had for the first time an allocation of N88 billion to sports as business in Nigeria for the next four years.
By the same token, in that same National Development Plan document, we have N60 billion allocated to youth development. Now all of these were possible because the ministry, through the work we’ve done in the last few years, was able to put on the table, and justifiably so, very clear initiatives and plans about youth development, about sports development, with expected outcomes, clear projections, what needs to be done, what should be the expected outcomes, who are the stakeholders that we need, what’s the role of government, what’s the role of the private sector, these entire efforts.
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So, when you asked me where are we now, we have submitted the final draft to the Attorney-General of the Federation, whose office is looking through it and once it comes back to us as a ministry, the next will be to put together a memo to Council, present it and hopefully we’ll get it ratified and Nigeria can have a new policy on sports as industry.
What are the features that will make sports a business venture?
First, the orientation is important. Even from the point of national development template, the orientation hitherto has been that sport is just recreation. That’s when the NBS annual survey takes place. The sports sub-sector is never surveyed; it’s as if no business takes place there; it’s as if nobody invests, nobody makes money. But this is a sector that has a value chain. Any sector with a value chain becomes a business. So, we needed that national re-reorientation, we needed that reclassification, which has happened under President Muhammadu Buhari, but also we needed a policy to drive it.
Now, the three triggers that we need, and we’ve benchmarked this across the world. From Jamaica to Canada, to North America, to South Africa, we’ve benchmarked it, and the rules are not different. You need three triggers for sports to become business. We call it the three I’s. The first ‘I’ is Infrastructure. There must be infrastructure rationalization before you can talk about sports as business. That is, you need the sporting infrastructures. Beyond the brick and mortar, you need the modern equipment, the digital equipment, the necessary equipment that must be in place, that will avail the athlete the best training that they need, when they need it and then they can compete with others around the world. That’s one.
We also need Investments. Just like in other sectors, in the oil sector, we see massive investments; transportation, we see investments; building investments, manufacturing investments. The country must come to grips that we need to invest deliberately. If you don’t invest, you should not expect any development or a return on investment, that’s the nature of business. So, we’re going to need both public and private investments to drive sports as business. You’ve seen this government taking the bull by the horns by the plan to inject public funds and attract private funds.
The N88 billion coming into sports development is a partnership between the federal government and the private sector. There’s a formula, there’s a ratio of how the money will come together, it’s never happened before.
Now, when those investments come in, it’s going to benefit the athletes, not just in terms of the infrastructure, but in terms of scholarships, in terms of grants, in terms of what they are even paid as remuneration, in terms of their allowances, in terms of their bonuses that come with it. Part of what we also have in the ‘sports as business’ is to make sure that there’s an athletes’ Sports Development Trust Fund ( SDTF) that is independently run, for athletes so that you don’t have to wait for government all the time. We’ve had a semblance of that, but we’re trying to make sure that it becomes part of government policy. You’ve seen it in the UK, you see it in Canada; athletes can go for grants, they can go for scholarships, they can also get single digit loans, as the case may be.
Now the third ‘I’ is Incentives. For you to attract investors into any sector that is of business orientation, you need to provide incentives. Now, the federal government is the one that needs to drive that process through its policy. What are these incentives? You need to be able to say if you’re taking a loan for any sporting event or sporting development, there must be a process in which you are given either a single digit or a 10% or 11% loan, such that within our system, once you have the documentation to show that your investment is in sports infrastructure or sports whatever, you get that interest rate. That’s one.
Two, there’s also a need for some kind of tax holidays, working through the FIRS. If somebody is investing in sports, what kind of tax break can he get? When it comes to land ownership too do they get longer lease? Do states provide free land? All of that has been well defined. So, those kinds of incentives are critical. Incentives for the private sector people are bringing the funds and also an incentive for the ordinary Nigerian athlete who wants to run for the country. They want to ask: do I have to wait four years before I can get a bonus, or do I need to win a gold medal? It shouldn’t be that way. There should be reward along the way for agreeing to even run for this country.To agree to be part of Team Nigeria, what do I get? You get the bene fit of the best camping in Nigeria, when it’s necessary. The bonuses that come with it. You get maybe a one-time grant that will help you to purchase the gear that you need. Perhaps you also get your coaches paid for on behalf of government.
Once the policy is done, there’ll be other committees and units that will work to deal with the granular aspects of it. But when it comes to incentive, the new orientation is that it’s not just incentives for the investors bringing in the money, but incentives for the athletes themselves and their administrators, the coaches, the sports scientists, all of those in that entire value chain.
So, we believe that the three Is, driven by the P, which is the Policy, kind of signal that new orientation and the direction we’re headed. We also hope to have Roadshows. Roadshows that will go around the country, just like I’m doing right now, to try and provide information. The roadshows will also explain the value chain because the policy has been designed in such a way that as an athlete, if you ask what is in it for you, you can go into that policy and see what’s in it for you. As an investor, if you have a question to say, why do you think I should invest in a football club, or sports, when I can invest in transport business, I make daily money, you’ll find a justification and the reason why if you invest in sports, your ROI. So, we develop in such a way that there’s a return on investment. No private businessman will invest in any business where there’s no return on investment.
As a youth in Nigeria, for instance, what is my interest? We know that through merchandise alone, manufacturing industries that are producing sneakers, stockings, jerseys and the rest of them, that chain can employ a lot of our youths. So, for the critical stakeholders, the policy is designed in such a way that you can look at it and ask the question: what’s in it for me? Then you’ll find what is in it for you.
Have some private sector interests started showing up to be part of this initiative, are you reaching out to them?
Basically, they’re also just waiting for the policy. We need a policy to drive the process. When you look at it, there’s a manufacturing policy, even the oil sector has a policy, the financial sector has a policy where the banks thrive. So, we’re coming up with such an industry policy, which will also have a code of corporate governance. If you look at the telecommunications industry, it looks well-structured now, regulated by the NCC. But then it also took about seven to eight years to put together a code of corporate governance, which all of them signed to, with opportunities and, of course, implications.
We’re now in that regime of developing a policy with a business orientation and when you have a business orientation, a code of governance, that is a code of responsibility, which everybody must sign on to, will also follow suit. So, these are lockstep processes that will take place.
Yes, public funding alone is not sufficient and we know that over the years, we’ve seen it clearly, but we started this process with the NESG – the Nigeria Economic Summit Group- which eventually set up a sports unit and we worked together with the team, the experts in the NESG, to drill down on the issues. We had a lot of technical sessions with about six or seven ministries, we brought a lot of experts from Nigeria and a few from the US who are Nigerians. We looked at the body of work that had been done by the NESG prior, we also brought the three documents on sports policy in Nigeria, which we have had before, we looked at what was missing when it comes to the business orientation, we built it in. There are some basic components of sports development that you can’t change.
So, what we’ve done essentially, for instance, grassroots sports development is one of the core components of the national sports policy, that remains intact. Essentially, what we have brought in is a business model and orientation and the mechanics of achieving that, weaving together all the other components of the national sports policy, that’s what we have put together and we believe we’ve already passed it up to a lot of private sector people, those that understand what obtains in other climes. They see a similarity with what we’re trying to do here. We’re not reinventing the wheel, we’re just saying, look, if you own Arsenal, what does Arsenal do that is a return on investment? Arsenal is into so many other business ventures, the value on their players increases. There’s massive branding, you see their jerseys. It’s the same thing we’re trying to do and most are businessmen that have their global view and they understand what we’re trying to do. But you know, we also have a task of messaging, but we just need the policy and then we can run with it.
It seems sporting is not enough to occupy the attention of the youth, to take their energy away from some of the vices…
Sports is enough. What has been missing is the connection between the public and the private sectors, when it comes to funding. That’s all. What has been missing is the correct mindset and orientation because sports is seen by government as just an aside; when you have more than enough resources, give them something. Let’s wait until when it’s National Sports Festival to give them something, let’s wait until when it’s World Cup to give them something. No, that is not sports development and it cannot engage youths. For sports to engage the youths, it must be on exclusive basis, just like other full time careers. So, we’re trying to see how we can bring about this missing links.
Let’s talk about the National Sports Commission, what is happening to that huge outfit?
When you back up and look at the history of sports development, you’ll also recall that we had the National Sports Commission that had its mandate clearly spelt out. The fact that the Sports Commission was rested was also because that mandate was corrupted, the focus was lost and then it had to be rested. But in the last two years we have interrogated, working through the National Assembly, talking to stakeholders the need to return the National Sports Commission. I’m convinced, on my part, that there’s a need to bring back the National Sports Commission. A National Sports Commission that is fit for purpose, that is refocused, that is restructured, that will have technocrats working there, with a board that will be in charge of administration and so on, just like a sports authority. They will be under the ambience of the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
What we’ve done is work so far to get it to the final reading, pass the bill. It’s going to work its way to the President for assent and we will work to that extent to see how we can bring back the National Sports Commission. I think that’s something that will gladden the hearts of many stakeholders in sports and then many sports lovers. The Ministry will do the necessary final tweaking to ensure that what we have in the new NSC is not a caricature.
When you look at the effort to bring back the National Sports Commission and you look at the national sports policy already in place, you’ll now start to understand that we’re putting in place the necessary pillars. It’s not just enough to talk about sports development- it’s a whole reorientation, a whole refitting of the key components and that’s what we’re putting together. We’re putting together those key components that will put us at par with sporting best practices across the world so that when somebody looks at it, you can say, oh, this country is really serious about sports development. So, those parts are beginning to come together gradually. It’s just been two years that I’ve been minister, a lot has been done and there’s still a lot to be done and with patience, with the support of Mr. President, I think we’re going to get there.
Honourable Minister, what is the big picture you are looking at achieving in sports, something you will point out that this is what you want the sports sector to look like?
years, four years, might not be a conclusive time to record the kind of success that you want. I think my work as Sports Minister is to make sure that I set the right tone, make sure that I put down the necessary markers,to make sure that the right policy, with its implementation templates is in place. To also ensure the implementing of key aspects commences such that whoever comes after you, either as Sports Minister or even as the national government, can continue to build on a sustainable model for sports development, a well-rounded one that not only focuses on public/private investment, but focuses also on placing value on the athletes that really are the most important component of that value-chain.
If you invest in stadia, you invest in the best equipment, and you don’t invest in the human capital, that is the athletes themselves, what have you done? So, when you look at it, it’s to make sure that we have a well-rounded policy to make sure that we put down the clear markers to set the foundation that is necessary for a sustainable sports development in our country such that our sports development is not defined only by competitions, whether continental, national or international. When funds are made available only when Nigeria wants to go for Olympics, Commonwealth Games and African games – now that’s not sports development. Look at what we’ve done. For instance, because of the atmosphere that President Buhari has created for public private partnership, we’re able to bring back the Abuja Moshood Abiola National Stadium, working on public/private partnership. You’ve seen what we’ve done.
The National Stadium, Surulere, under the same public/private partnership. For 19 years, it was completely out of use. We’ve already got that up and going and very soon we’ll have that ready in the next year. We’ve done one or two township stadia. Already Ibadan, we’ve not found a private partner, but government is injecting money so that between this year and next year we can bring back the Liberty Stadium, Ibadan.
As we talk, the Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna, the Kaduna State government has written the federal government, asking that the stadium be given to them, with a commitment that they will maintain it for extra years, just like we did for the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium and the Tafawa Balewa Stadium in Bauchi. In all of these also, we see government leveraging on both sub-national governments to be part of sports development, private sector to be part of sports development, and also the federal government. That’s the way to go.
So essentially, what do I intend to see? First, I intend to see that the policies we’re able to put in place, the sustainable model that is built in it, I want to see a situation in which even when I’m no longer in office, that process can go on in such a way that there’s no departure from the markers and the plans we have put forward as a government.
Youth is part of your mandate and over the years Nigerian youths have complained of neglect or being sidelined, not just under this administration. It was part of the reasons we saw recent unsavory reactions from youths. Is this administration thinking of bridging the perceived neglect?
To the contrary, youth development has enjoyed the attention of this government in the last six years, especially under President Muhammadu Buhari and there are facts to corroborate this and then we’ll now move from the facts to say what the truth really is. There’s a specific development: I think you are inferring to the #EndSARS. But don’t also forget that what triggered the #EndSARS was essentially the rupture in police/youth relationship, which opened up a few other issues.
Recall that several months prior, precisely in July 2020, this President- President Muhammadu Buhari- approved ,for the first time, a N75 billion Youth Investment Fund. Never done before by any government, because he was convinced beyond doubt that we need to invest in the potentials, the skills, the enterprise of our youth; that we need to support them as self-starters, we need to put them on the path of entrepreneurship, since government could not give more jobs.
So, the President plugged into it and that is the paradigm shift from just empowering our youths, to investing in them and making them wealth creators. That was done in July.That shows a president who is committed to youth development. It shows a government that places priority on youth development and support. There’s nowhere in the world where youth unemployment has been solved without a deliberate government policy that places its youths on the path of entrepreneurship.
So, we have N75 billion, which is N25 billion per year for three years, from which our youths with ideas can apply, get evaluated and get this loan. It’s a single-digital loan of 5%. It has a moratorium, it gives them enough time to pay back. In fact, you don’t need the regular collaterals from the bank. It cuts the process by more than half when you compare it to getting commercial bank loans. So that’s just one landmark decision, the National Youth Investment Fund.
We also did an audit as a ministry and we found over 40 youth-focused programmes under this government, domiciled in various ministries, departments, and parastatals. Now the question is: unless you apply yourself to a process, you can’t benefit;unless you start a race, you can’t win. How many people are really aware of this? How many are applying themselves to the process? So, what we did was kind of create an awareness about these programmes, let people know where they’re located and then urge our youths to apply.
Many of our youths have benefited from a lot of programmes and what the government realizes is that it is a question of scale because government must make sure that for each of these programmes we must accelerate the onboarding. It’s not enough to train 200 youth, it will seem as if you’ve not done anything, when you have over two million waiting to be trained.
So, the President has directed, not just the Sports Ministry alone, but also all the ministries and parastatals which have one slice of youth mandate or another to accelerate training for the youth.
the N-Power climbing up to one million beneficiaries, youths. You have JEEP, you have the Presidential PS, you have the Young Farmers Programme, you have the Anchor Borrowers Programme, just quite a number of youth focused-programmes, a slew of them all over the place.
Now, here’s the responsibility: if these programmes are made available, the youth must apply themselves to the process and then the government will, on a continuous basis, try to improve the recruitment process, try to widen the level of beneficiaries. I’ll give you an example: during COVID-19, the Youth Ministry and the Woman Ministry were picked as part of the core ministries that sat and worked on programmes under the Economic Sustainability Plan. The Youth Ministry alone was able to secure N5.6 billion from the stimulus plan. This shows a government that pays attention to youth development and under which we’ve been training youth from across the six geopolitical zones. We’ve just graduated over 4800 youths in five different key areas: Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Green Stimulus Programme, Smart Agriculture, and the rest of them.
Let’s talk a bit about politics, local politics. In your state, Oyo, will you say the resources of the state have been justly applied by the PDP government in charge?
Answer: Under the eight years of the late Governor Abiola Ajimobi, we saw Oyo State develop on the path of modernity. We saw clear landmarks that accelerated the development of Oyo State, under those eight years, some of these efforts building on previous efforts. But those eight years stand out clearly as years in which Oyo State was on a new trajectory of progressive developments.
My answer to your question is that Oyo State will have fared better or will fare better under an APC government. My answer to your question is that the people of Oyo State are the best judges of what is on the ground now; vis-a-vis development, vis-a-vis resources, they are able to compare because you’re going to be comparing oranges and oranges, not oranges and apples. They have experienced eight years of progressive politics and development. They are under the third year of PDP governance, they can tell. But my role as a minister from Oyo State is to make sure that the benefits of federal government policies, under President Muhammadu Buhari, trickle down and cascade down to the people of Oyo state.
I’ll give you an example. When five months ago, the federal government launched a new empowerment series for people across the country, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, I worked with her and the launching grant for that empowerment was in Oyo State, where over 6000, mostly women, were given N20,000 cash to help their petty businesses. That’s an example.
So, my work is to direct federal government resources to Oyo States so that they can feel the impact of the federal government and then also get convinced that when the time comes, they know exactly the party to give their vote.
We know that people in Oyo State have been calling out to you to throw your cap into the governorship ring, come 2023. Are you considering accepting these calls?
Right now I have a national assignments, I am on a national assignment, given by Mr. President and by extension, the people of this country, to help the development of sports and youth in our country. That assignment alone demands full concentration, full commitment without distraction so that we can make a difference for hundreds of millions of youths across the country, and also sports loving people. For now, I am so preoccupied with that assignment and will not want any major distraction now and I think that’s important, not minding the fact that elections are ahead.
Yes, I’m interested in making sure that the APC returns to Agodi House in Ibadan, Oyo State and from the center as the Minister of the Federal Republic, as a member of the APC, I will do whatever is necessary, in terms of my own contributions, to support. But in terms of ambition, ambition for now is not a priority for me. Being able to serve Mr. President and being able to serve Nigerians in the area of Youth and Sports is my preoccupation and I want to leave it at that.