Sports ministry is killing me silently, says Okorodudu
In his days as an athlete, Jeremiah Okorodudu was one of the reasons many Nigerians fell in love with boxing. Jerry, as he is fondly called, was a legend of the sport. A boxer and musician, he was the national light middleweight champion for many years before he turned professional. As an amateur he represented the country at the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, Australia, as well as Los Angeles ’84 Olympics.
After the Los Angeles ‘84 Olympics, where Okorodudu lost in the quarterfinals, he turned professional and promptly became a national champion. He fought many memorable fights, and had a shot at the world title, which he lost.
The toughest fight for Okorodudu was the one against Mike Killock of England. His opponent once drew with the famous Sugar Ray Leonard, but Okorodudu thrilled American fans with his butterfly movement in the fight held in California. It ended in a draw.
As a coach, he has equally produced boxers, who have won laurels for the country in international competitions. However, in the late 1990s, he was shown the other side of Nigerian sports when the then Sports Minister, Chief Jim Nwobodo, canceled his appointment as coach with the ministry.
This put him out of the ministry, thereby, prompting a legal battle, which lasted for 10 years. Reprieve came his way in 2013, when the legal department of the sports ministry reached a truce with Okorodudu’s lawyer, asking him to withdraw the case. He did, and Okorodudu was reinstated, though, as a contract coach. This was under the administration of Malam Bolaji Abdullahi. The ministry engaged him alongside two American coaches, Angie Taylor and Eric Campbell.
While Okorodudu was in-charge of Nigerian boxers, Angie Taylor was solely responsible for the ‘High Performance Centre,’ and Eric Campbell’s job was to develop Nigerian talents to become ‘world beaters.’
He was placed on a monthly take home of N150,000, while the Americans were on $12,000 and $10,000 monthly pay respectively. “I was paid N150,000 monthly from 2014 to February 2016, and since then, the Sports Ministry has not paid me,” Okorodudu said in an interview with The Guardian during the week at the National Stadium, Lagos.
According to Okorodudu, he decided to accept the contract offer by the sports ministry after his 10 years of legal battle because he had financial challenges. “The reason why I went to court when Nwobodo stopped my salary was to be reinstated as a full staff of the sport commission. But I decided to reach an agreement with them because they said if I don’t want to accept the contract job, the case would drag on in court. It was not easy for me to stay without a job for 10 years.
“I know how I was feeling then: taking care of the children, and paying school fees was so difficult. I considered their offer of N150,000 as okay for me, which was to run for five years. The agreement was that after five years, you could renew your contract. I saw it as good condition, but they have not paid me since February 2016. That was one full year and one month. So, how do they want me to survive? I am still performing my duty as a coach, yet the sports ministry has refused to pay me.
“The contract started in March 2014, and my lawyer and the sports ministry’s lawyer signed papers to that effect. Even when Bolaji Abdullahi left office, the minister who took over, Tammy Danagogo continued with the payment. They paid my salary until February 2016. I don’t know why they stopped.
“I have made several attempts to see the sports minister, Solomon Dalung to know why my salary was stopped. I have sent him several text messages and I also traveled to Abuja to meet him. We talked but the response was not good, so I went to Permanent Secretary. I was with him for about 45 minutes because of the issue. He promised me that as soon as salary comes, he would make sure I get my salary. That was January 2017, but till now, I have not seen anything. It is frustrating. They are killing me silently,” he stated.
On his next line of action, Okorodudu said: “I have called my legal team, and they said I should bring my statement of account from the bank for them to write a reminder to the sports ministry.”
The Guardian learnt that while Okorodudu has not been paid for 13 months, his American counterparts, including Tailor, are getting their dollars constantly. Okorodudu’s problem with the ministry started in the mid-1980s when he was granted a leave of absence to enable him travel to the United States.
“When I came back, I was re-absorbed into the National Sports Commission (NSC). I was in Kaduna attached to the zonal boxing team. In 1995, the then Sole Administrator of NSC, Shola Rhodes, re-instated me to my job. It was based on a later written by the secretary, Yusuf Dangwai advising the NSC to re-instate me because my association (The Nigeria Amateur Boxing Association) could no longer pay my salary, which they did.
“But suddenly, things turned sour when Jim Nwobodo came in as Minister of Sports. He cancelled everything Shola Rhodes did, including appointments made by the former chairman of the Commission. I then went to him (Nwobodo) to tell him that Rhodes did not employ me, and that my letter was signed by Dr. Patrick Ekeji. This was the most annoying part of the whole scenario because if we sportsmen cannot help ourselves, who is going to help us?
“Ekeji signed my letter of reinstatement, but when the NSC was not coming up with my salary, Nigeria Amateur Boxing Association (NABA) under the chairmanship of David Johnson, gave me temporary employment with the boxing federation pending when the commission will resolve my case. I was with the team at the All Africa Games (COJA) in 2003 where I handled the national team and we won four gold, two silver and two bronze medals.
“Later, NABA said they could no longer pay me and referred me back to the NSC. When I went to the Commission, Ekeji promised that when I returned from the training tour of Cuba with the boxers, he would ensure the problem was resolved. I wrote series of letters to the NSC without success. It was when I became fed up with the whole arrangement that I went to court. We were in court for three years before the Federal High Court, Lagos, gave judgment in my favour ordering the commission to reinstate me, but they went on Appeal.”
No sports ministry official was willing to speak on the issue when The Guardian called yesterday.