The sports family will dearly miss the most distinguished lobbyist that has ever served the Ministry of Sport and that has raised the sporting bar to an incredible height. Ibrahim Nyelenkeh is the name, the immediate former Minister of Sport.
On account of his human relations and his love for sport, it pleased His Excellency President Bio to appoint Ibrahim Nyelenkeh in April 2018 and in May that same year, he started work.
A believer of the creed that a house divided against itself cannot stand, he ensured that his first task was seeking peace within the fragmented SLFA Executive. Having got it right, he summoned all 35 sporting disciplines at the time to a meeting. Sixteen of this number were going through serious administrative conflict triggered by constitutional misrepresentation. With his power to convince, he was able to end the war in fifteen of those associations except for Cycling whose peace deal came aright years later. Quieting the noisy landscape, it was time to start work.
He started the drive with the Sierra Leone Premier League 2018 edition. He led Government into committing over three billion Leones to rekindle the spirits of the country’s topflight football league, whose opening accounted for the most staggering crowd-pulling tournament opening for decades at a time. From 2018 to the significant half of 2023, Government spent over one million dollars to redirect the course of domestic football, bringing life to the Sierra Leone Premier League by every indication.
This effort benefitted players who had opportunities to be spotted back home and plied their trades abroad. It created jobs for over sixty thousand Sierra Leoneans including players, welfare staff, market women, hawkers, transport owners, hotel owners, guesthouse owners (promoting domestic tourism), and so forth.
Female Premier League
Ibrahim Nyelenkeh did not only see the flourish of the male premier league; through his lobbying power and distinguished human relationship, he witnessed the rise of the Sierra Leone Female Premier League, pushing Government to commit two billion Leones to its start. This is a significant milestone especially a time the world has begun bringing female football to the center of its activities.
Other Sporting Disciplines
Nyelenkeh’s stride was not only to promote the existence of football, the country’s first choice by all indications, but also to ensure the crucial survival of the five prioritized sporting disciplines including those outside the gauge.
Cricket : After years of battling to secure land at Sussex under successive sport ministers of the past regime, the Government, through strides made by Nyelenkeh allocated over seven hectares of land to Cricket Sierra Leone to help with the construction of cricket academy. This is in conjunction to financial aid given to Company.
Boxing : The lobbyist led the way to see that Government fund the Zone-2 Boxing Championship which brought together over ten countries in Freetown. This does not include other forms of support Nyelenkeh championed.
Scrabble : The Sierra Leone Scrabble Association will dearly miss Nyelenkeh for have always helped them secure air tickets to international tournaments. “We will miss him for his proactiveness,” says one Scrabble stakeholder.
Swimming, Athletics, Karate, Gymnastics, Cycling, Lawn Tennis, and Taekwondo will never forget the strides Ibrahim Nyelenkeh made to see them participate in cross-border tournaments and brandish the Green, White and Blue in positive lights.
Perhaps, the most revealing of Nyelenkeh’s achievements is creating the atmosphere that witnessed the qualification of Leone Stars to the Africa Cup of Nations after 25 years of successive failures. To get this done, he led Government to fund 13 international friendlies during his reign, an exposure that led the country out of such spell.
For each of those friendlies, each player was given two thousand dollars for match appearance and one thousand dollars for bonus.
For the qualifying series, each player received two thousand five hundred dollars and for bonus, one thousand five hundred dollars.
After the qualification, match appearance for each player stood at three thousand dollars whilst bonus was at two thousand dollars.
Before he took over, match appearance used to be five hundred dollars and bonus five hundred dollars.
For the female, it was three hundred dollars for match appearance, and that was all. He pushed for the alignment of this per-diem such that the two top opposite sides enjoy equal benefits.
If not for Ibrahim Nyelenkeh, the Kenema Artificial Turf Project would have suffered gradient setbacks. The artificial turf consignment stayed at the Queen Elizabeth II Quay for two years until it went into demurrage. When Nyelenkeh came, he saw to it that the consignment was removed at the Quay and process involving the installation of the artificial kick-started.
Being a key figure of FAN-SL, he brained the installation of the artificial turf at the Murray Town Community Field.
The biggest infrastructural project undertaken under his watch is the comprehensive 40-million-dollar rehabilitation project of the National Stadium. It may interest readers to know that it is his idea that a mini two-thousand-seater stadium be built at the Stadium Practicing Field.
The annual budget allocated to sport during the APC regime was two billion Leones. When Nyelenkeh took over, he lobbied government in explanatory terms to raise such paltry amount to 48 billion old Leones, a significant quantum leap that changes the face of sports. No minister in his capacity has ever exhibited such zest of a true lobbyist.
One amazing project waiting to bloom was the launch of the National Sport Basket Fund. Before he left office, Nyelenkeh, together with his team of experts, had redesigned the Basket Fund to ensure its sustainability. The idea is to deduct a minimal sum from the salaries of all public servants; some amount to be deducted from the buying of fuel. Doing this, the new system is estimated to generate over two million dollars each year.
During his distinguished reign, Nyelenkeh had several international and local awards for championing sport activities. He received an award from FIFA President Gianni Infantino for peacefully conducting the elective congress of the Sierra Leone Football Association.
He received an award from the African Military Sport organization for being one of the Most Recognized Sports Ministers in Africa.
Locally, he had eight awards for feats gained in sports.
If Nyelenkeh will be remembered for one thing, it will be his exceptional human relation. Till he left, he was in good speaking and brotherly terms with his deputy, a reality that was never the case in the reign of his predecessors. He ties cut across political, religious, and regional boundaries. He is a friend of all sport journalists. And if not for his good human relation, he would never have been able to foster peace (at least negative peace) in the football circle and complete in other sporting associations. What a loss. We pray President Bio considers rewarding him with a better position.