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Cross River seals off table tennis club, denies clampdown on political opponents

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Nigeria’s top table tennis star, Edem Offiong, has been denied access to the training facility inside the U.J Esuene Stadium, Calabar

Cross River State Governor, Ben Ayade, has denied alleged systematic clampdown on government appointees and associates that have declined to follow him to the All Progressive Congress (APC), just as he has sealed up the Canaan Table Tennis Club hall.

The state government had on May 25, ‘without any prior notice,’ sealed up indefinitely the Canaan Table Tennis Club hall where the state’s team and some members of the public train. The government directed the director of sports to shut down the place, raising speculations that the order was not unconnected with the refusal of the former Chairman of the State’s Sports Commission, Chief Orok Otu Duke, to move to APC with the governor.

A notice signed by the Director of Sports, Mr. Etim Coco-Bassey Omara, on behalf of the Chairman of the Commission, Mr. Emmanuel Elom, and pasted on the wall of the hall in the stadium on May 25, reads: “I have the directive to inform the public and athletes that the table tennis hall has been closed till further notice.”

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At the stadium yesterday, the players said they were stranded as they had no place to train for a competition in Turkey next week and the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Top sources in the commission said the directives came from the governor and it is political to checkmate any PDP sympathiser close to government.

Commenting on the matter, Chairman of South South Table Tennis, Otuekong Orok Duke, described the lockdown of the hall as very unfortunate, adding, “the athletes need to train there so that the equipment do not go bad. Now look at what has happened, they locked the place without telling us. I don’t know why they have locked the place and I just hope it is not political… It’s only the chairman of the commission and Governor Ayade that can explain better. The chairman said the governor asked that the place should be locked but all those things belong to us.”

Duke, who is also the Incorporated Chairman of Canaan Table Tennis Club, described Ayade as his political associate, adding, however, “it is just that I am not crossing over to APC. As an elder statesperson, you cannot stop supporting the government because you want progress in the state.”

A table tennis enthusiast, Francis Etang said, “the complex (the table tennis hall) in the Article and Memorandum of Association shows that the state government has an equity shareholding of 40 per cent, while individuals have 60 percent.”

“He cannot shut down the place arbitrarily without informing the co-shareholders.”

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Reacting to the development, Chairman of the Commission, Mr. Emmanuel Elom, said, “To set the records straight, the Table Tennis hall in the premises of the U.J Esuene Stadium is owned 100 per cent by the Cross River State Commission. Together with the Cafe and Gymnasium, it was built with proceeds from the lease agreement with MTN to build the telecom mast within the stadium premises.

“Secondly, the Commission had, shortly before the last National Sports Festival, which was held in April in Benin, reviewed the membership of governing boards of the various sports associations in the State.”

To this end, Ntufam Edim Inok was appointed as the Chairman of the Cross River State Table Tennis Association. One of the first tasks before the new board is the refurbishment of the Table Tennis Hall and the gymnasium, both of which are due.

The work is planned to commence this week and that necessitated the temporary closure of the two facilities to players for the period of renovation.”

He said it was wrong to attribute the shutdown of the hall to “the refusal of Chief Orok Duke, the immediate past Chairman of the Commission, to defect with the governor from the PDP to the APC as the reason for the temporary closure of the Hall. Nothing can be far from the truth. It clearly shows that the mentality of the writer, and possibly his sponsor, is to reduce everything, including serious government business, to politics. To the best of our knowledge, Governor Ayade has not compelled any appointee of his to follow him to the APC, let alone Chief Orok Duke, who, currently, is not an appointee of government. This is a clear case of playing to the gallery.”

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