Sports as den of ‘corruption’ in Nigeria

Among NFF top officials charged for alleged fraud…2nd Vive President Shehu Dikko, President Amaju Pinnick (middle) and Ist Vice President Seyi Akinwunmi

Among NFF top officials charged for alleged fraud…2nd Vive President Shehu Dikko, President Amaju Pinnick (middle) and Ist Vice President Seyi Akinwunmi

In October 2016, former Super Eagles attacker, Daniel ‘The Bull’ Amokachi opened a can of worms when he alleged that the nation’s sports had become a den of corruption. He spoke when he led a coalition of civil society organisations (csos) operating under the aegis of National Support Groups for Good Governance (NASUGG) to the gate of the National Assembly in Abuja.

Then, Amokachi’s major concern was the plight of the Nigerian youth, who, he alleged, were forced to pay as much as N250,000 each to get into the national U-17 team (Golden Eaglets).

“Corruption has invaded sports so deeply that even at FIFA headquarters in Zurich, we saw how the world stood up and said, “Enough is enough.” We saw how the president, Sepp Blatter was not spared. He was removed from office because integrity matters when it comes to the constitution.”
“President Muhammadu Buhari doesn’t take nonsense when it comes to fighting corruption. I have said I will support the movement, because in my field, which is sports, corruption is now the order of the day. Amokachi continued: “For instance, in Nigerian football today, the youths, when invited to the national team, a coach will ask them to bring N250,000 each to get into the U-17 team when he already has the talent. If a person has talent, he should be allowed to showcase what he has in the interest of the nation.”

Amokachi, a member of the Super Eagles team that won the African Cup of Nations title at Tunisia ’94, as well as Olympic gold medal at Atlanta ’96, also bared his mind on high level corruption ravaging the nation’s football league: “A small team cannot win the Nigerian league because all the people in Nigerian football are corrupt.”

For the past one month, the world’s attention has been on Nigerian sports, precisely athletics, with the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) at logger-heads with its Nigerian affiliate, the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) over the delay by Nigeria in refunding an excess of $135, 000 erroneously paid to the country two years ago.

The IAAF in 2017 mistakenly sent $150,000 to the AFN instead of the annual $15,000 it usually gives to its affiliates. On discovering the error, the world athletics body wrote to the AFN demanding the return of $135,000, which is the excess amount.

However, after two years, the AFN has not refunded the money, prompting the IAAF to issue a deadline on May 13, threatening to sanction the country after two weeks if the money was not refunded. The deadline given by the IAAF is expected to expire by 12.00 noon today.

There have been counter-allegations by Nigerian sports officials since IAAF issued its deadline on May 13. Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung, who is at the center of it all, questioned the claims made by IAAF at the weekend during the 2019 Okpekpe Road Race in Edo State. He claimed that Nigeria did nothing wrong and accused the IAAF of trying to blackmail Nigeria.

He said: “I think Nigeria has been unfairly treated because the issue has been painted and promoted as if there was any wrongdoing on the part of Nigeria. “Certainly not, grants were released to Nigeria on May 17, 2017. IAAF on the 19th confirmed the transaction; those from IAAF after two months turned round and cried foul that it was a mistake.” 

When asked what Nigeria would do to avoid the possible ban as threatened by the IAAF, the sports minister said: “Ban us for what? What has Nigeria done? What is the crime? Did we steal money from them? Did we ask them to transfer money to us?

“They transferred money to us; they confirmed the transaction to us, then after two months, they woke up from slumber. Is IAAF telling us they are as much disorganised as that? Where is Nigeria wrong? IAAF cannot wake up and just realise that they have something to hold on to. We are not even convinced that there is any mistake, the money was sent for the golden relays, and it was done. Are they saying there were no golden relays?

“I think those promoting this are trying to cry blue murder; I think they are just enemies of this country and we should ask questions,” Dalung stated.

However, many Nigerians see the issue differently.Former Nigerian jumper, hurdler and sprinter, Seigha Porbeni sees the statement credited to Dalung at the weekend as uncalled for.

“Nigeria is too big a nation to be thrown into this mess,” Porbeni told The Guardian yesterday. “As far as I am concerned, what the sports minister and the president of AFN has just done regarding the IAAF money is to prove to the entire world that Nigeria can not be a trustworthy nation. It is very unfortunate.”

Porbeni, a former Director of Sports in Delta State added: “IAAF mistakenly sent money to you in May 2017, and throughout that year, you didn’t do anything about it. Even when the IAAF president came to Asaba in 2018 and appealed to you to refund the excess, you gave them your words that you will pay 50 percent soon; how come you are turning around to say all these?

“This is high level of corruption, and I think President Muhammadu Buhari should act fast before the name of Nigeria is dragged into the mud,” Porbeni stated.Some other Nigerians, who are displeased with the comments made by the sports minister, have berated him, saying that the man has no shame.

“Why put the nation through such a shame simply because of $150,000?. This is quite funny,” the Proprietor of Cable Football Academy, Edwin Onovwotafe querried yesterday.A board member of the AFN, Brown Ebewele had told The Guardian shortly after a meeting with Sports Minster last Tuesday in Abuja that the meeting gave them a clearer picture of what transpired on the IAAF money.
“The meeting with the sports minister actually gave us a clearer picture on what happened to the IAAF money,” Ebewele said. “Before now, the impression some of us had was that it was the sports ministry that spent the money. But on Tuesday, the minister told us that he actually approved N39 million for Ibrahim Gusau (AFN President) to be refunded to IAAF after his meeting with them (IAAF officials) during Asaba 2018 Africa Senior Athletics Championship.

“The minister stated that he made it clear to Gusau that the money he approved was for the IAAF, but not for purchase of kits as we are being made to understand. I am very sure that it was after Gusau and Sunday Adeleye (Technical Director of AFN) collected the N39 million that this issue of purchasing kits for the athletes came up. Even at that, no other board member of the AFN was aware of such approval,” Ebewele stated.
But the AFN Technical Director, Adeleye has a different story. He explained to The Guardian that the issue of how the IAAF money was spent was never discussed at the meeting with the sports minister.

“We actually asked for money to purchase kits for Team Nigeria about eight days to Asaba 2018 Championship. Don’t forget that the IAAF money transaction was done in 2017. So, how come the money was still there in 2018?

“When it was obvious that our athletes would face an international embarrassment due to lack of kits, we approached the Permanent Secretary for money. He said we should put our request in writing, which we did. Then, the AFN Secretary General Amaechi Akawo was already in Asaba working with the LOC for the championship.
“But when the file got to the table of Tayo Oreweme (Director, Federation of Elite Athletes Department (FEAD) in the Sports ministry), she insisted that such requests should be made by the AFN secretary. So Akawo had to come down to Abuja to apply for the money. I was in Europe for the kits, and that was what saved us from international embarrassment,” Adeleye stated.

Perhaps, what might take the attention of many Nigerians from the issue of IAAF ‘missing’ $135,000 may play out this morning in Abuja, as a total of 29 witnesses are said to have lined up to testify in two separate cases instituted against five top officials of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) over alleged misappropriation of about N4billion belonging to the football body.

In a 17-count charge, marked, FHC/ABJ/CR/93/2019, filed before the Federal High Court in Abuja, NFF President Amaju Pinnick, Secretary General, Sunusi Mohammed, 1st Vice President Seyi Akinwumi, 2nd Vice-President Shehu Dikko and Executive member Yusuf Fresh are also accused of “moving dishonestly and intentionally the sum of about N4billion” belonging to the NFF without the consent of the NFF.

Also included in the charges filed against the NFF officials by the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property (SPIP), led by Okoi Obono-Obla is the failure by the NFF top shots to declare their assets.

The five NFF officials are also facing charges by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The Guardian learnt yesterday that 12 witnesses will appear to testify against the NFF ‘big five’ today (May 28), when the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property (SPIP)’s case comes up in Abuja, while 17 persons will line up as witnesses against them (NFF ‘big five’) in the case instituted by the EFCC on May 30.

Among other things, Pinnick and his alleged accomplices are being charged with the alleged misappropriation of money said to have been paid by world football governing body FIFA to the NFF as appearance fees in the group stage of Russia 2018 World Cup.

The Special Presidential Investigative Panel (SPIP) set up by President Muhammadu Buhari had filed the suit at the Federal High Court in Abuja on Tuesday, May 7, on behalf of the Federal Government. The Amaju Pinnick-led NFF had denied the charges against it, terming the charge malicious from the chairman of SPIP Okoi Obono-Obla. 

When Daniel Amokachi and his coalition of Civil Society Organisations protested to the National Assembly in 2016, Senator Barnabas Gemade, who was then chairman, Senate Committee on Housing, corroborated Amokachi’s position on the rot in the sports sector: “I’m very particular about your comment on football because I am one of those who love football. I started a club called BCC Lions, which you know.
“And I have witnessed all that is happening in the sports arena. And I know that corruption is killing it, just as it is killing all other aspects of our national life. We must fight corruption,” Gemade assured.
In November 2010, Nigerian sports received the biggest humiliation around the globe when the former Director General of the National Sports Commission, Dr. Amos Adamu received a three-year ban and 10,000 Swiss franc (£6,341) fine from world football governing body, FIFA’s ethics committee after being found guilty of breaching bribery rules.

As at the time of the ban, Adamu was one of Fifa’s most senior figures. He become the first official from the organisation ever to be banned for bribery after six officials were punished following a corruption scandal. The bans followed a Sunday Times expose, which reported that Adamu and the other officials asked for cash in return for World Cup votes.

Between 1991 and November 2008, Adamu was in charge of sports multi-million dollars budgets. He was also in charge of Abuja 2003 COJA Games.Certainly, there are many sordid cases of corruption in different aspects of Nigerian sports. And as the quest for sanity continues, many of such will come to light.

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