By Eddie Akalonu
Crisis in the Nigeria Olympic Committee, NOC, is reflective of the role and personalty conflict between incumbent president Habu Gumel who wants a third term in office and sitting Sports Minister/chairman National Sports Commission, NSC, Sani Ndanusa, who is also president of the Nigeria Tennis Federation.
On one part,Â the Ndanusa supporters who are championing a change, accuse the Gumel leadership of lacking ideas and direction, inactive and a jamboree president whose indecisions have left the NOC without growth, un- marketable and roundly dependent on government subventions in his eightÂ years of leadership.
Hiding under government interference as reason for blocking Ndanusa from ascending the top position, the Committeeâ€™s Annual General Meeting/ ElectionsÂ late last year was stalemated as a result. In this first part, President of the Nigerria Baseball and Softball Association, NBSA, who also doubles as president of the African body, an International Baseball Federation, IBAF, vice president and member of the NOC, Major General Ishola Williams (rtd)Â in Lagos spoke about the state of NOC and sports in general.
Sir, you appear very distant and quiet from the current happenings in the NOC. It was a huge surprise that crisis reared up again after the events of 1996 and 1997 that led to the change of leadership from Alhaji Raheem Adejumo to retired Major General Adamu Dyeri, under whose tenure members gathered to write a new constitution..How do you see the allegation and counter allegation by the two sides and why have you been on the sidelines?
I think you have given a fair analysis of the situation. Fortunately you have been in sports for a long time and so you know the in and out of NOC intrigues. It is the tradition and itâ€™s customary that you try as much as possible not to get a politically exposed person to be part and parcel of the NOC. It is not that politics do not meet sports. But they do at a different level altogether. The situation in which we are in now is where politics control sports and especially the NOC. The whole story started back at the election that brought Gumel into office in 2001 in Yenagoa, Bayelsa.
I was a candidate for the president position at that time and I said publicly that Gumel should not contest because he was then already a government officialÂ and on the two occasions people like Patrick Ekeji were routing for their own Ministry man because he was going to become a directorÂ in the Sports Ministry.
And I did say with that kind of situation, in the future, there is no way we can stop even a Sports Minister or any minister from becomingÂ president of the NOC or becoming an official of the NOC. So, where do you divide the line of independence of NOC from politics and political interference? Nearly five years ago, for the election that took place in Abuja, I raised the same issue, they knew what they were doing,
They wanted the Sports Ministry to control the Nigeria Olympic Committee and I told them it was wrong. Now, the Sports Minister wants to contest with the support of the Director General of the NSC who has always been very much in support of the NSC. And because all the national sports associations, except for those of them that are incorporated, are parastatals of the NSC, some of them are even illegal because they are not incorporated by law. What you then find is what?
The Minister can use his position, influence and public money to get those people leading these parastatals to go along with him and accept that he can become the president of NOC. But if he is a man of conscience, he should have known that what he wants to do is wrong. He can give excuses that some few countries have done it but that is not enough, it is not proper. Having said that, it appears to me that the position is already in a conclusive situation of which even though Gumel is going to stand, he knows that he stands no chance because he was part of the team that created the situation we have on our hands.
Gumel and his group accuse Ndanusa of bringing exceeding government interference while Ndanusa and his team say no itâ€™s enough, no third term, especially for his lack of performance. So, who is guilty? Who do we believe and follow?
Gumel did what he is accusing the other party of doing.
What Gumel is paying for are the advantages that he obtained when the National Sports Commission or Sports Ministry gave him all the backing and gave him all the advantage over all other candidates to win the elections and be president of NOC including my very self at those times, both nearly nine years ago in Yenagoa and nearly five years ago in Abuja. So Gumel should not cry over what is happening now. Gumel has no conscience at all to say that he wants to cry.
He is being paid back in his own coins and I told them then that it was going to happen in future. And people did not expect itâ€™s going to happen this way. On the other hand you cannot blame Mr. Ndanusa because he can be removed from the Ministerâ€™s job anytime. If he becomes the president of the NOC, he can stay as long as he wants because there is no limit to the number of times he can be president and of course, if Gumel can become member of the IOC, Ndanusa too can become. But the long and short of it is that they are not in there for the interest of sports in Nigeria. They are in there for personal benefits and advantages. Except you want to prove to me otherwise,Â I cannot see any other reason on their part.
You made mention of no limit to the tenure of candidates for positions in the NOC. Could this have been deliberate or an oversight by NOC members when its Constitution was being reviewed and approved between 1998 and 2001?
Even with the IOC itself, from the time of Samaranch, they had always stayed nearly forever.
So, people took that as an example. That set agitation such that IOC now said people should not serve for more than two or three terms . So you find a situation that members cannot serve for more than eight years and in the case of president two terms of eight years making 16 years. The same thing should be introduced into the NOC Constitution that people should not serve for more than two or three terms. This will make way for others to serve.
Following the stalemate in Jigawa, a committee of three men emerged to help harmonise things.Â Do, do you think the committee will come up with recommendations that would help restore peace?
I have not seen their recommendations of the three wisemen and I do not see the reason why they even set up a committee in the first place. NOC have been holding elections for so many decades without rancor. May be it was done because the Minister wants to contest or because members are in disagreement.
I think they should simply interpret the rules and Constitution of the NOC, period. Whether they indict the NSC or any individual, to me, is not relevant because the NSC will still do what they want to do because in most cases the NOC has no money to organise elections. Usually they look for states to help or from NSC itself to organise these elections.
Of course if they have to go to the NSC for money to hold elections, then, NSC will hold them to ransom and under the IOC rule, they have to hold elections. The other aspect is that whatever the committee of three wisemen decides, is not binding. Itâ€™s not a judgement of a court of law so, itâ€™s not binding. Who are they submitting the report to? Is it to the Executive Committee of NOC or to the National Sports Commission? Who set them up in the first instance and who is the authority they are going to report to and who would take action on their report? These have got to be clarified.
The present situation, like I have said, is the Minister is determined to contest for office and the other thing which is very fundamental, is why should he (Ndanusa) as a Minister continue to hold the position of president of a federation? I can understand his holding the position in his international federation. But people are not questioning why the Minister should hang on to the office of president of the Tennis federation. There is nothing in the Constitution that says if he is president of a federation nothing stops him from contesting.
Can this issue of interference be curtailed or limited or even removed entirely?
And when I told them about nine years ago and reminded again about five years ago that as itâ€™s customary, no one holding political office should contest the NOC office andÂ Gumel as a director was allowed to contest because they refused to agree, Gumel had already handed over the soul of the NOC to the National Sports Commission. and NOC at that time was getting a lot of money from the Sports Ministry. Because Gumel had put the NSC/ Sports Ministry in position of control over the NOC, NSC is now thinking why canâ€™t we accumulate the two bodies.
I even think that the Director General is being modest otherwise the Director General would like to contest as president of NOC. Who will not like to be president of NOC? Itâ€™s just that he is being modest because he cannot hold the president of a federation. They have never taken time to look at the fundamental issues that touch sports. Let me not forget, rules for the elections that brought all these federations were made by who? The NSC of course. Whether they say they will interfere.
They do and Gumel had been part of the process and processes that brought about the yardstick for interference. Like everybody knows, they interfere and influenceÂ who becomes the president of a federation. So, I ask again, why should he complain? Now if you are not under the NSC and they donâ€™t influence you, NSC will say they cannot give you money because you are not under them. Is that what the rule says? NSC is supposed to look after all sports federations. In all countries of the world, all sports federations are supposed to be incorporated as legal entities. Not in Nigeria.
The few ones that are incorporated and legal, NSC does not like them. We in baseball and softball, because we are out of the Olympics, we have not got much say in what happens in the affairs of the NOC. So, let them do whatever they want to do with themselves. NOC has a problem and the problem is, NOC is not making any effort to become financially independent. And as long as they continue that way, NSC, the minister or whoever is in charge of sports, will continue to have a very big say in what happens in the NOC or who becomes its president
How do you react to the millions announced as Lars Lagerback’s remunerations in the light of complaints by lesser sports like baseball and other sports?
It appears thatÂ most Nigerians have accepted that other sports can die as long as football continues. Itâ€™s only in Nigeria that governments supports football clubs to run the national league. There is no other. If you know tell me. If states pull away, how many clubs will remain in the league? Secondly, there seems to be a conspiracy between the NSC or sports ministry atÂ any time and the Presidency, in using that as opportunity to steal public money, in saying they are supporting football and all Nigerians love football. All the competitions they have been going to, apart from the noise about Nigeria, what have we benefitted economically or financially?
This piece was written before the minister’s removal