The age-long practice of paying glowing tributes to dead heroes without commensurate honour and monuments erected to immortalize them will no longer be the norm in Nigeria.
Youth and Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, is charting a new course in this regard and is determined to change the narrative.
Speaking through his Special Adviser, Media, John-Joshua Akanji, Dare remarked that he was committed to changing the old scenario by ensuring that recognition and honour is bestowed on athletes, coaches and administrators who have made immense contributions to sports development in the country.
As the body of the late National Sports Commission Chairman, Chief Alex Akinyele, is interned today, the Nigerian sports minister, who by his position is one of the successors to the late Ondo high chief, said beyond graveside oration, President Mohammadu Buhari is irrevocably committed to honouring sportsmen and women, coaches and administrators that have contributed to sports.
Hence a powerful delegation is not only in Ondo to pay their last respects to Chief Akinyele, the Minister is personally involved with the burial arrangements. The Minister mobilised men and resources to ensure befitting final rites of passage for the Ondo High Chief.
While paying glowing tribute to heroes and heroines that had won laurels, brought glory and honour to their fatherland, Dare said it must go beyond mere rhetorical statements and empty promises.
“We must learn to honour athletes, coaches and administrators that committed their lives to the service of the nation. Chief Akinyele was an epitome of service and patriotism. He exemplified what genuine service to the country meant,” Dare said.
“His personal charm was infectious and hardwork quite motivational. He tried to use his position to impact on the society. He was simply a true Nigerian hero.
“Sport remains our greatest unifying instrument, public relations tool and could be the biggest source of revenue if properly harnessed. So many heroes have died unheralded and in penury. We must celebrate our athletes and administrators while they are alive.”
According to the sports minister, Akinyele was a pace setter, astute administrator, accomplished technocrat, consummate businessman who left his mark on the sands of time.
Dare affirmed that Akinyele led an exemplary life worthy of emulation.
“Chief Akinyele was a man who abhorred failure, set his goals and ensured that they were accomplished.”
The late Akinyele presided during great epochs in Nigerian sports like the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations victory and the qualification for the World Cup for the first time among others.
He was meticulous and a stickler to details. He never believed in impossibilities.
Dare further described him as humane, humorous, urbane and honest in his views. While some viewed him as too cosmopolitan, he was a grassroots man who was at home with his people, no wonder he held the title of Lobosin of Ondo Kingdom.
He made remarkable marks in the development of his community in sports, education and infrastructural development. He united his people and brought them to national prominence. He was dutiful, loyal and patriotic. He was indeed passionate about the unity and progress of Nigeria. The late Akinyele midwifed so many reforms in Nigeria’s body polity. He headed the Reconciliation Committee set up by the late Head of State, General Sani Abacha.
While he was widely criticised in the South West, he won accolades across the Niger for his courage, zeal and unflinching belief in the sanctity of the union called Nigeria.
Before his foray into sports, the late Chief Akinyele brought panache, glamour, professionalism and respect to public relations practice as the pioneer President of the Institute of Public Relations of Nigeria.
His contributions to Public Relations Practice continue to evoke fond memories while he worked at the Nigerian Customs Service.
As Minister of Information under General Ibrahim Babangida, Akinyele developed the template that led to the elevation of media practice in Nigeria through liberalization. He was a stylish man, great orator, full of wits and idioms, jovial and quite amiable.
He was married to a South African, Indian and lastly a Nigerian. He can therefore be best described as a man of the universe.
Born on April 24, 1938 in Ondo town, Chief Akinyele was educated at the University of Ife. He died on November 15, 2019. He was buried 31st January 2020.