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AFN’s many troubles mirror tragedy of a broken system

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Athletes preparing for Edo 2020 National Sports Festival before it was postponed due to outbreak of COVID-19

As Nigerians continue with their celebration of another Inauguration Day, the first in the second tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, which is also the first year in office for Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, one sports federation, the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), stands out as broken mirror most followers of the sector see Nigerian sports.

Even before Sunday Dare came on board as a minister, the AFN had been embroiled in a leadership crisis, which stemmed from corruption and underhand practices allegedly perpetrated by its former president, Shehu Ibrahim Gusau.

The image of the AFN has been painted by its many troubles within the last one-year and the many battles fought by the gladiators, including Gusau.

The issues range from IAAF’s ‘missing’ $130,000 to an agreement with kits manufacturing company, PUMA, which was purportedly signed without the knowledge and consent of the board. There is the issue of an N13million fund for the African Youth and Junior Championships in Abidjan, which was allegedly mismanaged, as well as the allegation that Gusau and a few others secretly obtained N35 million (about $92,000) for the IAAF World Championships in Doha.

The allegations eventually led to the ouster of Gusau as AFN president, but that was after Nigeria’s image had been damaged severely at the world stage.

How did the AFN find itself in such a situation?

According to Nigeria’s ex-Olympian, Falilat Ogunkoya, the many troubles encountered by the AFN in the last year could have been avoided if the board members had operated as members of one family. She also pointed out that greed on the part of some of the leaders fuelled the crisis.

“First, our sports administrators should learn to put the athletes first in whatever they are doing,” Ogunkoya told The Guardian. “The President of any sports federation should be ready to treat the athletes fairly. They should remember that without the athletes, there would be no sports ministry or sports federations. Regrettably, some sports administrators think of what they stand to gain first. It should not be so.”

Ogunkoya won a number of national and international championships, including a bronze medal in the 400m at Atlanta ’96 Olympics where she ran a personal best and African record of 49.10 seconds, which is currently the 12th fastest of all time. She was also a gold medalist at Jo’burg ’99 All African Games in the 400m.

She stated that failure by the board members to put aside their ego led to the impeachment of Ibrahim Gusau by some board members of the AFN. “I believe if they had worked together as board members and put aside their egos, things would have been alright in AFN,” Ogunkoya stated.

Former Green Eagles winger, Adegoke Adelabu, now a sports scientist, described the situation in AFN in the last one year as the tragedy of a broken system.

“Like every other federation in the country, the AFN has been a source of embarrassment to the nation without any attempt by the government to call the officials to order,” Adelabu told The Guardian. “Considering the huge corruption charges against the federation president, the question that readily comes to mind is why was he in charge of funds?

“Has the system been so bastardised that the president will now be in charge of funds? Where is the secretary and others, who should be responsible for the welfare of the athletes?” he queried.

Adelabu, who played club football with the IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan, added: “This is the only country in the world that athletes are owed allowances despite the fact that sufficient funds were collected for the competition. I don’t want to believe that certain persons from certain part of the country can steal so much money, and the government will turn deaf ears to such allegations.

“I think it is imperative that EFCC or ICPC should have a department that will investigate our sports federations and ensure any corrupt official is banned from participating in sports forever. It is the failure of the government to discipline erring sports administrators that encourages our administrators to commit financial crimes internationally.

“The AFN should explain how the disgraced president stole the athlete’s allowances since two years ago? We need to know whether the funds for the competitions were paid into his account. The government should not treat sportsmen and women as dispensable commodities.

“Some time ago, even one of the sports ministry officials threatened the athletes with sanctions if they did not report in the camp and that after all, they were given the opportunity to represent the country. It shows that many of these administrators are ignorant of what sports mean.

“The government must look into the situation of the AFN and ensure that athletes are paid all pending allowances because it is disrespectful to the personality and integrity of the athletes. I will not hesitate to sue the Federal Government for her insensitivity to the welfare of sportsmen and women in the country and for allowing corrupt administrators to create psychological problems by oppressing the athletes and taking them hostage by not paying their allowances.”

Adelabu hinted that when athletes complained about the inadequate welfare system, the officials always threatened to stop inviting them to camp. “Hence, the athletes are always not in the right psychological frame of mind to perform, to the detriment of the development of sports in the country.”

Though, a former lawmaker from Ondo State, Olamide George has since taken over the leadership position of the AFN, Gusau still insists he is the president of the federation, flaunting a vote of confidence passed on him by a faction of the body, who held a congress in Awka, Anambra State. Gusau declared ‘autonomy’ from sports ministry at that congress, a step, which did not go down well with the federal government.

Apart from the majority of the board members, the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports also did not recognise Gusau; instead, it has put its weight behind Olamide George as the de facto AFN leader.

A general congress called by the AFN to rectify the changes made since Gusau’s removal was put on hold a few days to its scheduled date following the outbreak of COVID-19. Some stakeholders are of the opinion that until such congress was held, the international body would not like to deal with the Olamide George leadership.

Prior to the crisis that engulfed the AFN before and after the African Senior Championships in Asaba in 2018, George was among the board members allegedly sidelined from the activities of the body by Gusau and the former technical director, Sunday Adeleye.

Among other things, Gusau’s administration was accused of violating the constitution of the AFN, misappropriation and misapplication of funds, a penchant for taking unilateral decisions without the board’s approval and non-payment of athletes’ allowances in full or none at all in some cases.

The new president, George, had alleged that Gusau obtained N35 million (about $92,000) for the IAAF World Championships in Doha in September and October last year without the board’s knowledge, adding that he gave $38, 000 to the former Secretary-General to pay athletes allowances.

“The money was not enough as the 25 athletes are owed $300 each as they were only able to get $1000 out of the $1,300 agreed on for each member of the team,” he said.

“The coaches are also owed $300 each. What did Gusau do with the balance of $54,000, especially when you take into cognizance that World Athletics (IAAF) took care of all 25 athletes’ travel and accommodation 100 per cent.

“Gusau collected N13 million for the African Youth and Junior Championships in Abidjan in April last year. The sports ministry released the money after the event. The young athletes who travelled by road for three days to the event and three days on their return were not paid a dime. It was the sports minister, Sunday Dare who paid the athletes soon after he came in. We heard Mr. Gusau said he used the money to pay for Nigeria’s participation in the World Relays in Yokohama, Japan, in May last year. This is clearly a case of misapplication of the fund.

“Do you know that our participation in the World Relays was partly funded by World Athletics? Mr. Gusau had also deprived the Secretary-General of his constitutional function as the custodian of the federation’s records, documents and properties by changing the password of the federation’s email server with World Athletics since April last year,” George stated.

The AFN also accused Gusau of nominating a private bank account, Dynamic Sporting Solutions owned by Sunday Adeleye to warehouse payments said to have been made by PUMA on behalf of the federation, a clear breach of not only the AFN constitution, which makes the Secretary-General the ‘A’ signatory to the federation’s bank account, but also Nigeria’s extant laws.

The contract for the PUMA deal was allegedly neither in the files at the Secretariat of the AFN in Abuja nor in the custody of the Secretary-General, who is legally recognised as the custodian of AFN’s documents, records and properties.

Perhaps, the hardest punch that threw Gusau off-balance in his quest to hold on to power came when former Delta State Commissioner for Sports, Solomon Ogba and a group named ‘Official Stakeholders Athletics’ disassociated themselves from the autonomous Athletics Federation of Nigeria.

Ogba, who initially backed Gusau and his group, listed that the man (Gusau) was not transparent in his dealings with the AFN board members and athletes. They added that Gusau’s impeachment in January 2020 was in order.

“The removal of Ibrahim Gusau was in order to restore the confidence and interest of athletes, coaches technical officials and the board members,” the group said in the letter signed by Ogba, Prof. Lucas Ogunjimi, Prof. Ken Anugweje, and Godwin Ogogo.

“We equivocally endorse the board under the leadership of Olamide George and support his effort to reverse the retrogression of the sport and to restore values and objectives of the federation.”

Ogba was the backbone of the Gusau camp’s quest to form a splinter AFN on December 13, 2019, but that move was dead on arrival as the sports ministry and the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) refused to give it any legal and moral backing. Gusau has claimed that the World Athletics recognized his faction, but in actual fact, the world athletics ruling body washed off its hands in the internal affairs of the AFN.

Meanwhile, Gusau has continued to insist on the autonomy of the AFN. He noted that although his board since inauguration has been faced with different problems, it has been able to make some gains.

Gusau stated then that he was positive that with the requested autonomy, more gains would be achieved.

“Let me make it abundantly clear that everything we have done has been with the best interests of athletes and an innate desire to develop athletics in Nigeria,” Gusau told journalists in Lagos.

“We believe that without athletes, there will be no sports and without sports, there will be no Sports Federation.”

Although he acknowledged President Buhari’s efforts to attract foreign investments, Gusau believes that securing alternative means of funding the federation would ease the pressure on the government. “This is part of the reasons we seek autonomy to enable us to increase the funding base of the federation. The sponsorship deal signed with Puma attests to the capacity of this board to attract private funding for sports from within and outside the country.

“The autonomy we are talking about had always been in existence in the statutes of the AFN, the CAA and the WA. We have always borne all expenses associated with the administration of the federation.

“This does not, however, preclude the government, through the FMYSD, from meeting its obligations to the athletes. If athletes are representing Nigeria in a competition, it behoves on the government to take care of them because they are representing the country, not the federation.

“The world is fast moving towards the independence of sports federations. We must join or risk being left behind,” Gusau stated.


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