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ACCOUNTABILITY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE COMMISSIONER OF YOUTH AND SPORTS DEVELOPMENT, HON. LAWRENCE EKPO ONOJA AT THE NUJ HOUSE, MAKURDI ON 23RD FEBRUARY, 2017 It is with pleasure that I welcome you to this first press briefing which has been arranged to afford those of us with cabinet responsibilities for Ministries for the opportunity to give account of our stewardship to the public. The Youth and Sports sector is a very fast expanding social sector which has witnessed unprecedented and rapid changes in the recent past with the attendant characteristic. Considering the percentage of vibrant, active and energy full bodied youth who constitute over 70% of the Benue State population, there is every need for us to harness their physical and mental capabilities for the overall socio-political and economic development of Benue State. As a young person who has been in the system before, my appointment as the Commissioner responsible for Youth and Sports activities, I was fully aware of the enormous problems and task ahead of me – the task of salvaging and providing an enabling environment for the youths in Benue State to grow. Nevertheless, it has been challenging. It is in recognition of this and the realization that in spite of my cabinet statutory responsibility for Youth and Sports Development, I cannot claim monopoly of ideas and panacea to all the Ministry’s problems. From the inception of the Samuel Ortom-led administration and inauguration of the State Executive Council, the Ministry has been pre-occupied with youth empowerment initiatives and commercialization of sporting projects, programmes and activities with the ultimate target of boosting its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) profile. This is with the cognizance that in the face of the economic downturn in the country and dwindling allocations from the Federal Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC), government can no longer sustain the funding of  its activities without extra effort, commitment and determination on the part of its functionaries. On behalf of the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Youth and Sports, Directors and Staffers of the Ministry, I commend your wisdom and ingenuity in embarking on this laudable even which is aimed at showcasing the performance of this administration under the leadership of our amiable Governor, Dr. Samuel Ortom. Gentlemen of the pen profession, may I seize this opportunity to intimate you that this Ministry was created on 2nd July, 2007 and charged with the mandate to evolve, plan and monitor the implementation of government policies and programmes for youth and sports development. The mandate also includes the creation of an enabling environment for the overall development of the teaming youth of the state and to improve in character modeling necessary to help them acquire productive skills and increase their capacity for self-reliance and to reposition them so as to avail themselves of prevalent opportunities. Structure of the Ministry As part of strategies put in place to actualize the given mandate, the Ministry is segmented into five departments with staff strength of 94; namely:
  • Administration and Supplies;
  • Finance and Accounts;
  • Youth Development;
  • Sports Development;
  • Planning, Research and Statistics (PRS)
At present, the Ministry has only one parastatal i.e Benue State Sports Council (BSSC) which has staff strength of 226. Department of Administration and Supplies (DAS) The Department of Administration and Supplies is a service oriented department which coordinates and facilitates the operation of the functions of other departments in the Ministry in achieving policy formulation, development and execution of same. It is headed by a Director and other supporting staff. The department among other functions process staff promotion, discipline and other staff matters. It is responsible for staff welfare, maintains records and general security of the Ministry. The achievements of the department in the period under review include the following:
  • Promotion of 31 of Benue State Sports Council in 2015 and 14 staff in 2016 respectively. All pending cases of promotion of other staff of the Ministry have been processed to their final destination and have been duly interviewed by the appropriate committee for that purpose in line with the favourable disposition of the Governor.
Department of Finance and Accounts This department was created out of the Department of Administration and Finance to assist the State Government to achieve its aims and objectives in policy implementation. It is the life wire of the Ministry as it coordinates all financial activities of the whole ministry. Funding The Ministry receives a monthly overhead allocation of N1,000,000.00 while the Sports Council receives monthly overhead allocation of N500,000.00. In the face of the current economic challenges confronting the state, this has not been regular. Department of Youth Development (DYD) The Department has the mandate to create an enabling environment for the development of the teeming Youth of the State to improve in character development, acquire productive skills, and increases their capacity for discipline, self-reliance and patriotism and also to position them to avail themselves of prevalent opportunities. The department is run under three divisions (units) viz:
  • Programmes/Planning
  • Involuntary Organizations/Field Services
  • Recreation/Open Spaces
The achievements of the department in the period under review include the following:
  • The Ministry in collaboration with Sir Ahmadu Bello Foundation, Kaduna sponsored the training of 350 youth/women on entrepreneurship and skills acquisition programme in July, 2015, they were trained in areas such as poultry production, confectioners, fishery, tie and dye of textiles.
  • His Excellency has shown tremendous commitment to the activities of youth in Benue State as evident in facilitating and sponsoring of the International Youth Week/Day in August, 2015, which was put on hold for many years by previous administrations.
  • Sponsorship of National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) Benue chapter on several programmes across the nation.
  • Sponsorship of the review of National Youth Policy in Abuja in September 2016.
  • Sponsorship of the first session of Benue State Youth parliament in October, 2016 in creating a platform for developing and empowering the youths to fully realize their potentials to compete favourably with youths in other democratic countries and nations of the world, His Excellency inaugurated the 1st Benue Youth Parliament at the Benue State House of Assembly complex with 30 youths representing their various constituencies in the state.
  • In the year under review, the ministry in collaboration with BENSACA sponsored the implementation of several HIV/AIDS activities aided by World Bank, which include:
  • HIV/AIDS counseling and testing for out of school youth in Otukpo, Gboko and Makurdi.
  • Distribution of 66,504 packets of condoms to Benue youth viewing centers and athletes during sporting events on quarterly basis.
  • Conducting outreaches to NYSC orientation camp Wanune and provision of condoms and health education for all batches.
  • Carried out outreaches on HCT at Wurukum Motor Park, Mechanic village at Apir and North Bank and Tertiary Institutions in the state.
  • The Ministry collaborated with Coolink Limited, a Nigeria company with international affiliates and a global focus sponsored skill acquisition and youth empowerment programmes tagged basic skill acquisition and vocational training, over 2000 youths were trained in various skills across the three zones. These vocational trainings include: e-business, website and block designs, photography/video production, soap, detergent, liquid hand wash, make-up and beauty therapy.
  • The Ministry has also embarked on various training programmes with startup packages in entrepreneurship and business development initiatives including the Benue State Youth Summit that will be catered for in 2017.
  • The Ministry is also collaborating in strategic partnership with national and international agencies on various training programmes for Youth and Sports development and enhanced skilled manpower in the state.
  • For the first time in the history of the ministry, we were able to host the Honourable Minister for Youth and Sports in the State from the 18-20th January, 2017 as a way of collaborating with the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development to initiate and kick-start the construction of all abandoned federal projects under the auspices of the federal ministry.
  • The NYSC Camp Wanune has continued to host Corp members posted to the State, under strict supervision from the Ministry and has always ensured the security of their lives and properties during their stay in the state.
  • Securing approval of council for the release of funds to enable contractor to resume and complete work on specifications at the phase 1 of the NYSC Permanent Orientation Camp Project Wanune, Tarka L.G.A.
Department of Sports Development (DSD) The Sports Development Department has the mandate to formulate and implement sports policies for the state. It coordinates and supervises sporting activities of the generally and Benue State Sports Council in particular. The achievements of the department in the period under review include the following:
  • Sport is a capital intensive venture and therefore the government alone cannot provide funding to run the activities of sports in the State effectively. The Ministry has therefore obtained approval of council on repositioning sports in Benue State for better performance. To provide permanent solution to these problems that affect the sector, we have also been meeting with private and public organizations/individuals who are willing to partner with us and the result have been rewarding.
  • Pursuant to the foregoing, the ministry only recently (12th July, 2016) presented a memorandum to the council on the need to commercialize sports. Through, the office of the Honourable Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, the Ministry initiated the idea to market sports and presented a memorandum on Benue State sports marketing and lottery bill which got council approval on the aforementioned date of 12th July, 2016. Already, Benue State House of Assembly has passed bill No. 9 into law, His Excellency has equally assented and signed the bill into law for the commercialization of sports in the state.
  • We were able to host the re-union handball championship at Aper Aku Stadium Complex in the last quarter of 2016.
  • The Ministry has planned Governors Cup, First Lady’s Cup, Handball, Open Championships, Basketball and Volleyball as well as Championships in Chess and other veritable sports to keep the sporting calendar alive and sustained.
  • The Ministry of Youth and Sports Development is equally collaborating with the Ministry of Education to enhance school sports activities in the state. This will pave way for the discovery of talent at the grassroots.
Department of Planning, Research and Statistics (DPRS) The department is relatively new in the Ministry and indeed the civil service of Benue State. The department is the repository base of the Ministry. It is saddled with the onerous responsibility of developing a proactive response mechanism for tackling management exigencies and dynamics of technology driven organizations. The department cooperates with all the other departments in matters relating to policy formulation, data collection, analysis, storage and dissemination, programme/project design, performance monitoring and evaluation as well as external relations. In this time of scarcity of funds to research on businesses, cooperations, and government agencies, the Ministry of Youths and Sports through this department is collaborating with other agencies of like minds to develop Youths and Sports activities. Salient achievements have been recorded by the department even in the face of teething problems. These include the following:
  • Effective coordination and preparation of ministerial 2016 budget estimates.
  • Timely processing ad submission of relevant data and other information to requesting MDAs.
  • Effective processing of data and representation at Commissions of Inquiry and Contract Review, Valuation and Assessment Committee of Government.
Benue State Sports Council (BSSC) The Ministry of Youth and Sports has only one functional parastatal; i.e the Benue State Sports Council, whose main duty is to oversee the activities of various sports associations and organizations in the stat with the sole aim of discovering hidden talents and training them to win laurels for the state. The Ministry oversees the activities of the sports council while a director is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the council. Achievements of Benue State Sports Council (BSSC)
  1. Athletics
  • Benue won a gold medal in pole vault and silver medal in the female javelin event in the All Nigeria Athletics Championship held in Warri; Delta State in July – August, 2015.
  • Ten athletes were involved in AFN over distance completion held in Port-Harcourt in February, 2016 with very outstanding result.
  1. Badminton
  • Participation from Benue State in Ashanay National U-15/19 Badminton Championship held in Minna in July 2015 and was able to reach quarter final where gifts of shorts and shirts were won by them.
  • Two players from Benue were able to reach the last 16 from the chart of Lagos International Challenge held in July 2015.
  1. Hockey
  • In the National Hockey Super League (female) held in Kaduna in August, 2015, the Benue Hockey Team (Benue Amazon) took fourth position. Five of the players were selected for national camp in Abuja after the competition.
  • In the National Hockey Super League women held in Abuja in July, 2016, Benue Hockey team (Benue Amazon) took 3rd
  1. Basketball
  • In the National Zenith Bank women basketball league held in Abuja in March, 2016, the Benue Princess Basketball team took 4th position on the table standing.
  • In the April 2016 edition held in Asaba, Delta State, the female basketball team came 2nd position on the team table standing.
  • In the May 2016 edition, two players from Benue Princess basketball team were called for national camp.
  1. Tennis
  • Benue State got a gold medal in the Governors’ Cup Tennis Championship held in Lagos, 2016.
  1. Handball
  • Both male and female handball teams took 3rd position each in the handball under-17 championship held by the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports, North Central Zone in conjunction with Desire for Greatness Foundation in Abuja in July, 2016.
Challenges faced by the ministry It is not out of place to attempt to highlight some of the problems and constraints that the Ministry has had to grapple with overtime.
  • Insufficient and irregular monthly overhead allocation both for the Ministry and Sports Council for the day-to-day running of the offices.
  • Lack of cash backing for the approval for the execution of Ministry’s programmes and projects.
  • Lack of mobility and transportation for Youth and Sports service delivery.
  • The absence of Youth Center as a veritable institution for skills acquisition training for youth.
  • Inadequate staff strength, office and housing accommodation for effective and efficient service delivery at grassroots level.
  • Insufficient parastatals under the cabinet responsibility of the Ministry for example, Lobi Star FC is no long under the preview of the Ministry’s supervision.
  • The absence of office accommodation at the local government levels.
  • Lack of a practical and workable policy on sports which has militated against the development of sports.
  • Lack of inability legislation for the successful take-off of the Benue State Youth Development Agency.
Prospects Benue State as we all know has abundant sports talents hidden in the local areas. The Ministry is determined to comb out all hidden talents through grassroots competition in sports activities. In the area of Youth Development, we believe that the number of our youth roaming the streets, thereby reducing youth restiveness. Conclusion In conclusion, we have attempted to highlight a synopsis of the salient achievements, challenges and prospects of our Ministry within the period under review. We wish to place on record our profound gratitude and appreciation to the organizers of this interactive session which has afforded us the rare opportunity to showcase our modest achievements. Our doors are widely open for continuous interaction and dialogue with journalists and media practitioners on all matters within the purview of our cabinet responsibility. Finally, we also wish to seize this opportunity to acknowledge our amiable and dynamic leader, His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Benue State, Dr. Samuel Ortom for his tremendous support and keen interest in youth empowerment as well as sports development, and for the provision of the enabling atmosphere of peace that has made the state a safe haven for all. Similarly, I wish to immensely appreciate the sterling leadership style of His Excellency, the Deputy Governor, Engr. Benson Abounu which has undoubtedly, enhanced stability in the conduct of government and public affairs in our dear state.