PROFILE: Is Solomon Dalung the worst minister ever liveth?

Solomon Dalung YNaija

by Wilfred Okiche

After securing a historic mandate, President Muhammadu Buhari finally named his ministers in October of 2015, completing a five-month period in which he made Nigerians wait and squirm. The whole unnecessarily drawn out song and dance that trailed the President’s choice of policy drivers was considered an anti-climax once the long-awaited list was unveiled.

An all too familiar mix of the good, bad and the recycled, Buhari’s choices of men and women to lead on delivering his Change agenda were hardly inspiring. Sure there were names on there,- technocrats and politicians alike- that elicited some measure of excitement, for example Amina Mohammed who had worked in the Millennium Development Goals office at the United Nations and Babatunde Raji Fashola, a high performing governor of Lagos state, but analysts and political watchers could all agree on one thing, the cabinet appeared lacklustre, and not worthy of all the hype. Still expectations remained optimistic, cautiously.

Some of Buhari’s Ministers have hit the ground running, some have by the sensitive nature of their portfolios been thrust into the spotlight, a greater number of them have spent the past one year under the radar, leaving Nigerians to wonder what exactly they have been up to. And then there have been the truly disastrous, in the news only for the wrongest of reasons. Solomon Dalung belongs in this final category.

The man from Langtang

Not much was known about Solomon Selcap Dalung until he was named Minister of Sports and Youth Development but in just one year, the khaki and red beret-wearing politician has come to represent a new dimension of incompetence and cluelessness in leadership.

Born on the 26th of September 1964 in the town of Sabon Gida, a former World War II resettlement area presently known as Langtang South Local Government Area of Plateau state to a civil servant father and housewife mother. Dalung had his primary school education at Local Education Authority Primary School Sabon Gida town from 1971 to 1977 before proceeding to Government College Keffi, currently in Nasarawa State, for his secondary education. He had to abandon his studies for a while due to financial constraints but was able to resume extra mural lessons that helped him qualify for his first school leaving certificate.

Dalung joined the Prisons Service as a Prison Assistant in 1982 where he rose to the rank of Assistant Inspector of Prisons. After working for about ten years, he enrolled at the Faculty of Law, University of Jos and began studying for a first degree. Dalung spent nine years bagging his Bachelor of Law (LLB) and he blames this delay on the unpredictable academic calendar that characterized the Nigerian University atmosphere during the military years. However, going by the mediocrity of his antecedents in public office in just over a year, this development is hardly surprising.

Fresh from his call to the Nigerian Bar in 2001, Dalung was moved to the Legal Department at Prisons Headquarters Abuja where he served as Legal Officer in the prisons headquarters prior to retirement in December 2004.

Political Dalung

Solomon Dalung’s first foray into politics was to take up an appointment to serve as Personal Assistant to the late Solomon Lar, former Plateau state governor and Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) when Lar was appointed Adviser Emeritus to President Olusegun Obasanjo. This was short lived and presented no real chance for Dalung to flex his muscles. However he maintained his political interest and got another chance four years later when he was appointed Chairman of Langtang South Local Government Area.

Dalung’s tenure was brief (fifteen months) and mostly uneventful but it was noted for his interest in youth development initiatives. In certain quarters, especially those close to the Minister, he is credited for bringing coloured roofing sheets to his constituency because of the moderate infrastructure drive recorded during his tenure in a region still suffering from water shortages and a shortage of basic social amenities. In this capacity, Dalung served as Deputy Chairman and later Chairman of the Plateau state branch of the Association of Local Government Chairmen of Nigeria (ALGON).

Having caught the political bug, Dalung joined the Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) and made an unsuccessful bid to represent his people at the House of Assembly and in 2014, his attempt at the gubernatorial polls ended when he was defeated at the All Progressives Congress (APC) primaries by Governor Simon Lalong. With his 293 delegate votes to Lalong’s 2,222, Dalung finished a distant third.

After Buhari was elected, he named Dalung part of the 11-man transition committee headed by Ahmed Mohammed Joda. Months later and Dalung was named Minister of Sports and Youth Development. His appointment was not particularly exciting as only few knew about Dalung’s antecedents. His known prior association with the ministry was in 2002, as part of Nigeria’s delegation to Bamako, Mali to cheer the Super Eagles at the African Cup of Nations.

Al-Hassan Yakmut, former national volleyball player and past Director General of the now dissolved National Sports Commission welcomed Dalung’s appointment, calling him ‘’a sportsman to the core.’’ Yakmut told Guardian newspaper in a telephone interview, ‘’I am sure his tenure will be very fruitful for Nigeria sports if we give him the necessary support.” Yakmut was one of the early casualties of Dalung’s appointment as he was swept aside while his commission was scrapped.

Academic Dalung

In December 2016, Solomon Dalung sat facing the House of Representatives Committee on Sports as they peppered him with questions relating to the disbursement of funds to the various sports federations. In the process of absolving his ministry of any complicity, Dalung made a grammatical error that instantly went viral once video clips of the session were obtained.

While responding to a query, Dalung fired off, “The funds spended were properly spended because we got them from intervention funds from Mr President.”

It is hard to tell, both from misfires like that and from his scandalous performance in office, but Solomon Dalung is held in some esteem in legal and academic circles. In 1991 while still in the employ of the Prisons Service, Solomon Dalung enrolled to study at the Faculty of Law, University of Jos.

After leaving the Prison Service, Dalung in 2004, took up an appointment with the University of Jos as a lecturer in the department of International Law and Jurisprudence. The next year, he commenced studies for a Master’s Degree program, combining this with his lecturing duties. His Masters in Laws (LLM) program successfully ended in 2007 and Dalung soon left Law for politics, but not before attending workshops and presenting papers at conferences and seminars nationwide. From 2004 to 2007, Dalung was Chairman of the civil society group, Plateau Peace Movement for the Sustenance of Democracy.

What manner of Minister?

Since his appointment, Solomon Dalung has been the rare public figure that just cannot get anything right. Nigeria has had its fair share of loathsome ministers but the public derision for Dalung is on another level entirely. His sins are a vile mix of incompetence with tactlessness, a disturbing lack of empathy plus an abysmal failure to comprehend the very basic idea of what public service is about.

In 2014, former Interior Minister Abba Moro was for a spell, the most hated public office holder in Nigeria when he oversaw a needlessly tragic recruitment exercise at the National immigration Service that led to the loss of about 17 young lives. Moro failed to take responsibility and at some point, tried to blame the dead. He also refused to resign and was only prosecuted two years later after his political party had left power.

Stella Oduah, now a serving Senator found herself at the mercy of public dissatisfaction when it was revealed that as Minister for Aviation, she authorised the purchase of 2 bullet proof vehicles for her own personal protection at the inflated sum of 255million Naira, by an agency directly under her supervision. The backlash was strong and swift and President Jonathan no longer had any politically expedient reason to keep her on board. The many sins and foibles of the former Minister for Petroleum, Diezani Alison-Madueke have of course been well documented.

Going back to the Obasanjo era, there was the case of the wickedly incompetent Babalola Borishade, a former academic who was first appointed to man the education ministry. Borishade’s legacy was a crippling shutdown of federal Universities for seven months in his senseless bid to ‘’deal with’’ the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

An in-law of President Obasanjo, it wasn’t until Borishade had supervised a horrific series of air mishaps, (five in sixteen months,) resulting in 453 deaths, that he was moved to Culture and Tourism, a ‘’less sensitive’’ ministry. He remains under EFCC investigation for allegations of mismanaging a N5.2 billion Aviation Safe Tower contract.

Solomon Dalung does not have quite the bum rap that these ignobles do but in a culture marked by increasing scrutiny on public officers, every single misstep of him has been documented for the Internet audience and the outrage has been magnified repeatedly. His insistence on dressing up to official functions in brown Khakis and a beret- red or black depending on his mood,-  in the manner of some wannabe revolutionary has not exactly helped his public perception.

But even the strongest critics of Dalung’s fashion sense-or lack of it- would have let him be if he went about his duties with a sense of competence, or even urgency. For the man from Langtang, it has been one incredible public gaffe after the other, the frequency of which has been quite surprising. It seems that there is barely time to recover from the last Dalung embarrassment before another occurs.

Greatest hits

One of Solomon Dalung’s early assignments as minister was his controversial attempt to ‘’settle’’ the leadership crisis in the National Football Federation (NFF), one in which both Christopher Giwa, of Giwa FC and Amaju Pinnick, both laid claim to the Presidency of the NFF. This was a strange, and needless move by Dalung as FIFA has officially recognised Amaju Pinnick’s leadership and Giwa’s appeal was subsequently thrown out by the Court of Arbitration for Sports.  The crisis reached a boiling point when policemen were drafted to seal the NFF headquarters in order to protect law and order.

Dalung was once quoted as saying that the Sports ministry is more lucrative than Petroleum and it may well be so, as his ministry was unable to account for N2.9 billion released by government for participation at the 2015 All Africa Games in Congo and preparations for the 2016 Rio Olympics. This was partly responsible for Team Nigeria’s poor showing at the Rio Summer Olympics in 2016 as the federal government was unwilling to release fresh funds pending the balancing of accounts. The Minister on assumption of office promised to eradicate corruption from the ministry.

The road to the Rio Olympics was indeed rough and it is a wonder the country was eventually able to medal. At the opening ceremony, team Nigeria greeted the world in their plain tracksuits after it so happened that the designer outfits budgeted for the occasion failed to arrive Rio on time.

Even before this, the Samson Siasia led Under-23 football team that was camped in Atlanta prior to the Olympics found themselves stranded as they could not get a suitable plane to lift them from Atlanta to Rio.

At a Q&A session, Dalung who alongside the National Olympic Committee was under fire for the logistics mess retorted sharply at journalists, “Who took them there? What are they there for? Because they are under 23 and they went to the US. Now they are having problems, does that become our business?” The team eventually arrived Rio, a few hours before their opening match against Japan. They were also responsible for Nigeria’s sole medal, a Bronze at Rio.

During the November international break, while serious nations busied themselves with Russia 2018 World Cup qualifiers, Minister Dalung had some advice for the President. He dished without an ounce of irony, or shame, “The cup that we (Nigeria) can win is the African Cup of Nations. There is nothing again that will take us to another man’s balcony in the name of the World Cup. We already have the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics. For these, we can attend such meets.”

He later claimed to be quoted out of context (his go to excuse following every gaffe) but this announcement prompted Vanguard newspapers to pronounce him as the ‘’anti-sports minister’’ in a stinging editorial that also called for the President to reject his advice.

While commending the Paralympic team for their impressive performance at the Rio Summer Olympics, Dalung in an interview with Lagos’ Brila FM, played down the importance of adequate preparations for big picture events like the Olympics, hinting of a shocking cluelessness as to how systems work. Hear him, “the disabled athletes have shown that all you need is a winning mentality and not too much preparation, they trained under the same condition with their able bodied counterparts but they are winning medals now.” This from a federal minister of sports.

Dalung must go

There are of course other examples of Minister Dalung’s acts of incompetence and inability to measure up to the demands of his office. There was the NFF’S (which he supervises) bungled and shoddy participation in the burial activities of football hero, Stephen Keshi and the embarrassing incident of athletes being directed by ministry officials to make their own way to Rio, prompting the kick off of GoFundMe campaigns in some quarters.

But it was with the saga of the Super Falcons in December that Dalung got his biggest push back yet. The female national football team, the Super Falcons won a record tenth African Women Cup Of Nations but despite their efforts at bringing honour to the country yet again, the girls were thoroughly humiliated while the world looked on.

Learning from experience, the Falcons refused to leave their hotel rooms in Abuja and were forced to embark on protests to the national assembly building before their allowances and bonuses were eventually paid. It was indeed a show of shame as the country watched in horror, the Nigerian reward for excellence in service. Dalung was caught in the thick of it and was forced to defend his role and his government. He probably should have just kept quiet.

According to Solomon Dalung, the NFF was not particularly prepared for another Falcons win, hence the delays in processing their payments. Dalung’s cringe worthy and embarrassing defence was summed up in a quote that laid bare the inner workings of his ministry and its fatal romance with mediocrity. The Sports Minister told reporters, “Don’t forget that nobody even knew the team (Super Falcons) will emerge victorious. If we were confident they will emerge victorious, all the federation would have done is to plan for process of participation and entitlement.’’

It was the quote heard around the world and Nigerians, weary of Dalung’s streak of reckless comments and unguided actions were quick to call for his resignation.

The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) is another agency under Dalung’s supervision that has been in the news, also for negative reasons. In 2016, three Batch B (Stream 1) corps members participating in the orientation course lost their lives in various circumstances at NYSC camps in Bayelsa, Kano and Zamfara states.

The NYSC was quick to absolve itself of any negligence in the corpers’ deaths but the tragedies placed a beam on NYSC practices and the culture of care for the young lives placed under government care via the compulsory scheme. Distraught parents and relatives of the deceased have demanded that heads roll but so far nothing has happened yet.

According to news reports picked by various national dailies, the Presidency is considering another cabinet reshuffle soonest. Going by Buhari’s unhurried style, many aren’t hopeful that he pulls off a reshuffle soon enough despite the fact that a good number of his ministers appear in over their heads with their respective portfolios.

But if such a development eventually does happen, the name on everyone lips is Solomon Dalung. Nigerians do not expect the Sports Minister to survive a reshuffle going by public outcry and his dismal performance in office. Some other ministers are underperforming as well, but while they have mostly stayed out of the public glare, Dalung’s follies have been amplified.

A long time ago (seems like another life,) Solomon Dalung, with his knack for quoting Karl Marx and support for the #BringBackOurGirls group was considered a change agent in some quarters. These days though, the man has by himself, erased any such contemplations of his abilities. Reduced to a punchline and a mascot for government incompetence, when the President eventually comes around to giving Dalung the boot, it would be to the surprise of no one anywhere.

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