Not every superhero wears a cape but this one is certainly bespectacled and loves really nice suits. He may not have x-ray vision but his vision is laser-focused on the goal of Youth excellence. He may not be able to scale a tall building in a single bound but he will catch a flight to the ends of the earth if it would advance the cause of sports in Nigeria. He may lack the energy to outrun a speeding bullet but he would willingly take a bullet for Nigeria. This is all true of the man who is 55 years young today but still packs the enthusiasm and strength of an adolescent. Step forward, Mr. Sunday Dare, the Honourable Minister for Youth and Sports Development.
Today, Sir, I humbly ask that you lend me that pen that you have used to document and re-write our history for so many years. For today, sit back and read as one of your prodigies writes about you for a change.
So, how do you write about a man, whose journey began in the Tin City of Jos, which has been home to so many illustrious Ogbomoso people for generations? How do you trace the history of a man who chose the most dangerous job in his country under the Military Junta and spent his days investigating and publishing human rights violation stories and his nights dodging assassin bullets? How do you aptly describe the sojourn of a man that has Oduduwa’s blood running in his veins but speaks Hausa like a Kano native? How do you categorize a career that has journalist in the beginning, Voice of America Editor-in-Chief in the middle and is currently experiencing the position of Federal Minister? Am I even qualified to write this piece?
I guess I will write about what I know and leave it at that. As a child, I did watch and admire Egbon Sunday Dare do daring things. As a boy in Jos, I often read his stories in the papers with a sense of pride and looked forward to seeing him each time he visited. Then, he had to leave the country in a rush and we lost touch. While I followed my passion and became an architect, he pursued his and became a celebrated journalist. His return to the country after democracy was restored, meant he had options and he took one of them. He chose to serve as Media Adviser to the Former Governor of Lagos State and National Leader of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
Being a smart man, he used this opportunity to learn the skills of politics and who else was better than the Jagaban of Borgu? For years, he absorbed from the leader and grew his contact base. He played his part in the amalgamation of the several parties that came together to form the juggernaut party that could stand and beat the ruling party in 2015. He played the role of peacemaker, massaging huge egos until the marriage was consummated. Having accomplished the almost impossible, it was time to move on up. And that he did with his usual aplomb.
In 2016, he was appointed as the Executive Commissioner, Stakeholder Management, at the Nigerian Communications Commission. Here, he brought renewed energy and vigour to the job. Journalism had expanded his world view and he was quick to see the linkages between having a sound digital economy, progressive ideas, productive jobs and enhanced national security. Many of the projects he kicked-off and anchored are today the cornerstone of the fight against insecurity and insurgency. However, before he could see these projects through, he got a higher call.
In his wisdom, His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, who has known and worked directly with Mr. Dare for years, saw in him the man to champion his Youth agenda. He appointed him as Federal Minister of Youth and Sports Development and gave him his marching orders. “Sunday, keep the Youth busy!”. Those orders were as clear as any General could be. Mr. Dare knew what was expected.
From his first day in office, it was clear to all that this Minister was different. While others had found succour hiding behind success in sports, mainly football, he declared that the age of Youth development had come. He was determined to invest as much energy and resources in getting the Nigerian Youth ready for employment in today’s global economy, as he was in making sports more viable. “We are going to ensure that sports and youth development are placed on even keel”. Those were his words and he immediately went about making it happen.
Within weeks of his appointment, he and his team of agile aides had come up with a plan he coined “the New DEEL for the Nigerian Youth”. DEEL stands for Digital literacy, Employability, Entrepreneurship and Leadership. This initiative has defined his drive since and he has never looked back. Despite having one of the lowest budgets of all ministeries, Mr. Dare has intelligently created opportunities for young people to be gainfully employed after securing trainings, internships and mentorship programmes for them. Through his conceptualization, the Federal Executive Council in August 2021, approved the establishment of the N75 billion Nigerian Youth Investment Fund (NYIF), that seeks to finance the budding business ideas of millions of youth entrepreneurs. While the pandemic lockdown lingered, interested Nigerian Youth were online getting digital skills for free from Microsoft, a deal secured by the Minister. While sportsmen the world over were groaning in hunger due to Covid-19 restrictions, Mr. Dare facilitated the payment of allowances to hundreds of Nigerian athletes. He fought to ensure they could feed themselves while idle.
His initiatives did not stop with care for sports professionals. Being a creative mind, he knew that sports development depends a lot on infrastructure. So, to resurrect the National Stadia in the country, he got creative. He reached out to philanthropists in the country through the vehicle of his “Adopt Campaign” initiative and made a compelling case for the rehabilitation of the stadia. As we speak, the Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja, and the National Stadium, Surulere, are wearing new looks. Chief Kesington Adebutu and Alhaji Aliko Dangote, who have always respected Mr. Dare, believed in his vision and made the funds available for these rehabilitations.
Living and studying abroad has its advantages. One thing that bothered Mr. Dare was how to make sports a viable business industry as available in Europe and America. He quickly sought and cemented a partnership with several critical stakeholders across the private and public sectors which include the Nigeria Ecomonic Summit Group, whom he all tasked with the job of developing a “Sports Industry Policy”. This they have done and awaits adoption as the new National Sports Industry Policy by the Federal Executive Council. Now, investment in sports will enjoy the same protections and benefits as all other legal businesses in the land. The opportunities for growth are unlimited.
After achieving so much, it was no surprise that his people found Mr. Dare worthy of a traditional title. On March 11th this year, he was installed as the Agbaakin of Ogbomosho land by the Soun of Ogbomosho, Oba Jimoh Oyedunni Oyewumi Ajagungbade III. The honour was in recognition of his strides in the development Ogbomosho and the country at large which has seen him renovate the Soun Stadium, train 40 coaches, and facilitated many youth development projects. It was a sign that not only is he loved outside his home but that his people know exactly what a gem he is.
So, when I say Mr. Dare is a superhero, I know he is of the capeless variety. He always carries the burden of dozens on his back and tends to leave a huge hole each time he leaves a place. His capacity for work is voracious and he is fiercely loyal. On the occasion of his 55th birthday, I wish him more energy and grace to accomplish much more.
Happy Birthday, Egbon!
By Biodun Owoborode
Arc Biodun Owoborode is the Special Assistant on Projects to the Honourable Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Mr Sunday Dare.