The Minister of youth and sports, Solomon Dalung was at the National Secretariat of the All Progressives Congress (APC) during the week and spoke to journalists on issues relating to the Ministry as it concerns football politics in the country and youth empowerment. Tom Okpe was there. Excerpts:
Honorable Minister, you are at the APC National Secretariat, why are you here?
Well, as a member of the party in government, once in a while I embark on a routine visit to the National Secretariat to brief the party leadership about the progress so far made and the challenges of leadership. Also to seek consultation of the party leadership and advice on areas in which the party leadership would need to intervene. So primarily this is why I am here at the party National Secretariat.
The sports ministry, particularly the football sector, which attracts the attention of most Nigerians is engulfed in series of crises, particularly with the headship of the Nigerian Football Federation. How far has your proffered solution to the problem yielded result?
Well, the development in the football industry is unfortunate, especially the leadership tussle. Personally I had initially wanted to avert this situation we found ourselves when I initiated earlier the dialogue, which advanced progressively, but however, was inconclusive because of lack of cooperation from both parties. But so far so good, I think where we are now is a bit delicate. We are between the devil and the deep blue sea. On the one hand we are confronting decision of our own court and on other hand we are facing the threat of sanctions for adopting the rules of international association. But I think in my mind that the best way out of it is that we must be able to come together and plan to mitigate the winner takes all syndrome. I have been emphasizing this so many times that the first republic collapsed because of the winner takes all. Both leaders must shift position from their extreme position to a mid way in the interest of football and in the interest of the nation. They must appreciate the fact that yes, even if their exhibition of charisma, they would have over stretched it. Now, there is a need for them to narrow their differences and summit especially to the voice of reasoning, so that we can make progress. I have set up a seven-man advisory committee, and from the briefings I got they would start sitting today. They have invited so many stakeholders in the football industry to interact with them. And some of them have worked with FIFA, some of them are working with FIFA. I brought them together so that we can benefit from their experiences. I think, by the end of two weeks, when I receive their report, there would be sufficient advice on way forward.
Out of sports to the youth segment of the ministry, there have been a lot of complaints from the youth particularly with the present economic realities. What are the plans the youth ministry is putting up to mitigate, the current economic realities?
Let me take the issue of the economic realities, Nigerians must appreciate one fact, sometimes in 2012, there was the sovereign wealth funds established by the Federal Government and that funds was very prophetic in terms of establishing it, because it was meant to addressed such time like this we are now. Ironically, this administration came in and the fall back mechanism is not there. So the global recession now is biting hard on the citizens because our fall back mechanism would have cushion the effect and would have not been as hard as it is, is not fair. So we are now flying an aircraft without a life jacket and of course, it has serious effect on our young people this we realize as a government.
Poverty level is also high, this we also appreciate. But in our this year’s budget, we had what we proposed the social intervention funds, which is about N250billion. One of the highest budgetary allocation so far proposed in the history of this country. The intention is to engage young people, provide and address poverty, unemployment frontally and we are going to approach it by diverse ways; agriculture, Solid Minerals, vocational training, youth empowerment programme so that we can create engagement.
I have also received invitation from 11 European countries to a partnership that would lead to the training of so many Nigerians, young Nigerians outside with different vocation. I will be visiting the facilities not too long to sign the Memorandum of Understanding. That is also an effort in that regard. We have also received a proposal, which we have considered from Peugeot Automobile Nigeria for the provision of cars and vehicles for young Nigerians who would want to venture into transportation, we would guarantee them, there is about five banks that are willing to fund that project. That would also go a long way to address the issue of unemployment and poverty. So I believe that, once we are through with the budget we will also begin to make progress. But the question is what are we doing, we have positively engaged the youth, we have set up a portal of direct access to young people, on one on one basis to engage them so that we can measure their thought and know what contribution they think they could make to affect them and the better ways we can also address youth challenges. So I think for us in the ministry, we have done much, but you know because there are little crisis in the youth ministry, what is happening there is not too pronounced.
On the Giwa/Pinnick crisis, some are accusing you of allegedly taking side with the Giwa-led faction, what is the true situation?
Well. Such opinion that people have are natural. I think those who hold such position believe that I am from Plateau, and Giwa is from Plateau, I would not have done anything to the contrary. But I think it is also an unfair assessment of the situation. There are courts sitting in Jos, judges are Plateau people and they decide issues affecting Plateau and they have been deciding it against them. So I don’t think because I am a Plateau man and Giwa is from Plateau and he has an issue, I should be supporting him. More so that this crisis started long over two years ago before I came on board could it have been me that supported Giwa to go to court? Or could it be me who encouraged the state to arrest people during their convention that led to the disqualification. Could it have also been me that gave him money to go to court the first time? All these questions go to answer that weak assumptions that I am supporting Giwa, but I think that I am supporting football. I stand for football for Nigeria. I have asked that all those fighting, how does football gain and the answer, there is no personality feud over leadership. I am interested in football not in leadership and my mandate is to build football, they are to help me, assist me make progress. So if they are fighting and I abandon the job because I am supposed to support them to continue fighting so that my job would not be achieved, I think that thinking is very weak.