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Minister’s N11m COVID-19 palliative fund tears athletes apart

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Oyiki accuses Onyali, AFN member of cover-up
• Money only given to Olympics-bound athletes says minister’s aide

The sum of N11 million reportedly doled out by Sports Minister, Sunday Dare, as a relief fund for Nigerian athletes to cushion the effect of the COVID-19 lockdown may have sparked a major controversy among stakeholders in the AFN family.

The funds, which were distributed under the title ‘Athletes Relief Fund (ARF),’ has allegedly been misappropriated by some individuals.

Former hurdler, Moses Orodo Oyiki, who represented Nigeria at Atlanta ’96 Olympics, alleged yesterday that some athletes, who should not have benefited from the Minister’s Relief Fund, did, while those, who should have benefited purely by performance, did not.

“What was a fantastic and commendable exercise from the Honourable Minister for Youth & Sports Development is receiving opprobrious remarks from some quarters because of the secrecy that shrouded the list of beneficiaries, the number of beneficiaries, and how these beneficiaries were selected,” Oyiki said in a message made available to The Guardian.

Oyiki, a London-based lawyer, added: “I understand 50 athletes benefited. Himah Charles (Athletes Representative on the board of AFN) and Mary Onyali (Special Assistant to the Sports Minister) unfortunately allowed their human flaws and frailties to influence the list with such a disastrous consequence.

“I do not think it is out of place to tell members of the athletics family how many of its members benefited from the Minister’s Covid-19 palliatives. In a competitive sport like ours, do not expect any act or omission to pass without a response, remark or criticism from athletes and other stakeholders,” he stated.

Oyiki continued: “I understand that two well-meaning Nigerians donated N1 million and N10 million respectively as Covid-19 palliatives to the ‘supposed 2020 Tokyo Olympics bound athletes.’ The minister’s relief fund was therefore not meant for ‘all-comers’. This was why it is still imperative that a list of those athletes is published.

“It would appear Himah Charles had knowledge of the list and the donations. He said more than 40 athletes benefited and they were paid N50,000 each. This is about N2 million from the N11 million pot. I understand Onyali played a major role in the compilation and the AFN board members, especially the president, were involved at the last minute with minimal or no contribution at all.”

Efforts to speak with Mary Onyali were unsuccessful, as she refused to answer phone calls put across to her. But the Athletes Representative on AFN board, Charles Himah, explained to The Guardian yesterday that he was involved in the initial compilation of the list, but was ‘edged out of the picture’ since April 16 when he handed over to AFN President, Olamide George.

“I was involved in the initial stage. On April 14, the committee called me, and on April 16, I told the AFN president about it. From April 16 to May 1, when the money was distributed to athletes, I was never contacted. What I know is that the money was not for those in track and field alone,” Himah stated.

AFN President, George has described Himah’s claim as false saying: “Charles did not submit any list to me. Mary Onyali forwarded the list they both compiled without contacting the board to me, not Charles. I also frowned at it.”

One of the Minister’s aides, who pleaded anonymity, told The Guardian yesterday that the Permanent Secretary in the ministry looked at athletes, who had qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Special Athletes, as well as those with the potential of doing well at the Olympics in distributing the funds.

“This is the first time a minister is taking this initiative, and Sunday Dare should be commended. The bulk of the fund raised is domiciled at the CBN, and there is no way all the money will be shared as palliative,” the aide stated.


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