Vanguard Newspa-pers are insisting that their comments on the N60m commission the Nigeria Football League, NFL, paid to Shehu Diko were fair comments on an issue of serious national interest.
The newspaper said so in a libel case instituted against them by the Chief Oyuki Obaseki -ledÂ NFL.
Shehu Diko was the argent that initiated the move to wrestle the rights of the Premier League from Globacom in 2006. He made a strong case for MTN to take over the sponsorship right of the Premier League from Globacom when the existing contract ended at the time.
For Globacomâ€™s N90m, Diko said MTN had offered N500 and fought strongly for them to take over the league sponsorship. But Globacom had the â€˜first right of refusalâ€™ in their contract and, with it, they fought back too to retain their rights after offering N693 million.
However, the league board surprisingly paid Diko N60m as commission for the same Globacom sponsorship he had fought against. Our Group Sports Editor, Onochie Anibeze, in his column on March 9, 2007 condemned such act and argued that the league money could be put to better use.
NFL went to court to challenge the comments of Anibeze. NFL also paid N50m to their lawyer for renewal of an existing contract. Mr. Anibeze condemned this too. Cited in the case against Vanguard was also the comments of former NFA Chairman, Kojo Williams, who also frowned at the way NFL was spending sponsorship money. â€œIâ€™m shocked at the way they are spending money fraudulently but am not surprised because the whole thing (NFL) is structured on wrong foundation,â€ Kojo was quoted as saying in a news report. Then Sports minister Bala Kaâ€™Oje also had issues with NFL over league money and Vanguard reported his position.Â NFL found the report offensive too and are contesting in court that their image has been tarnished by reports in Vanguard.
All the 13 board members of the League Board were named in the suit against Vanguard and Onochie Anibeze. They are claiming N500m as damages.
In the matter before Justice Taiwo of Lagos High Court, Vanguard, in their statement of defence said that their publications were fair comments and Anibeze maintained same position when Vanguard opened their defence.
â€œI felt that it was not proper to pay Diko commission for a job he did not bring and actually fought against,â€ Anibeze told the court. He stated under cross examination that his reports were not defamatory but fair comments.
He debunked the imputation that he wrote his articles because of his close affinity with Mike Itemuagbor of Pamodzi Sports Marketing. Earlier, Chief Obaseki in his evidence, had maintained that Anibezeâ€™s reports defamed him. In support of his evidence was Diko who admitted under cross- examination that Globacom had the first right of refusal and that he did not introduce Globacom in the first place. His statement on Globacomâ€™s â€˜first right of refusalâ€™ contradicted that of Obaseki who told the court there was no such a thing.
NFLâ€™s lawyer had argued that even the title of Anibezeâ€™s column of March 9, 2007, STEALING ADENUGAâ€™S MONEY suggested conviction of theft on the claimants and asked Anibeze to read the part where he made such remarks. But Anibeze pleaded to the court to allow him read from the beginning to enable the court have a clear picture. Justice Taiwo obliged and he, thus,Â read the opening paragraphs of the said article:
â€œIn 1994, I went to Nulec office in Ijora to scout for World Cup sponsorship. They agreed to be part of our World Cup coverage;but quickly chipped in that they would like to do something for the Nigeria Football Association, NFA. They wanted to be official recorders of the Eagles to the USA â€˜94 World Cup. I dashed to the NFA to tell them I had a sponsor for them.
A deal was later struck and NFA was richer for it. NFA appreciated the business I brought for them and paid me N25,000, a lot of money for me then. Yes, they paid me and their official marketer did not get a dime because he did not fetch the business for them. How times have changed.
I had told this story to continue to query why the Nigeria Football League paid N60m to an agent, as commission, for a business he did not bring and actually fought against.
I have tried to look at it from all perspectives and my simple conclusion is that the people in NFL have simply stolen money and should face the music. They just looked for an avenue to appropriate the league money and agreed to pay that much as commission on the N693m Globacom paid for the league sponsorship.
I have nothing against the person of Shehu Dikko, the man that was paid the money. But I have everything against NFL that possibly used the man to divert money to their personal use. It is the same way I view the N50m sports minister Bala Kaâ€™Oje said NFL also paid as legal fee to the lawyer that drafted the contract.
Note that sponsorship of the league did not change from Globacom to another body. It was a renewal.Â And thatâ€™s what, according to the minister, they still paid N50m. What else do we need to prove how corrupt the NFL is? I support Bala Kaâ€™Oje in this battle. I strongly feel that Kaâ€™Oje is even weak. The matter should have long been sorted out by now.
Everyday we read billions being stolen by our politicians. Now same happens in sports. If some politicians are subjected to the EFCC, why are they leaving out those who destroy our sports everyday?
I have been writing on the ills of our sports and so have many of my colleagues and other Nigerians. From misappropriation of funds meant for sports to the inefficiency in sports administration largely due to wrong appointments, ours have never been a good story to tell.
If the Presidency doesnâ€™t give a hoot about those who manage our sports I thought that they would show concern when money meant for sports is stolen.
Their indifference to what goes on with sports funds lends credence to the general belief, in sports circles, that top people in government also get â€˜settled.â€™
There have been many revelations, in the past, that were ignored.
If top officials misappropriate government fund and get away with it, should same happen to sponsorship funds provided by private sector as is now the case with Globacomâ€™s sponsorship money for the Nigerian Premier League? Thereâ€™s no way the NFL can defend their reckless spending lately…