IN October 2012, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Minister of Finance and Cordinating Minister of Economy organised a presidential sports retreat at the State House, Abuja – Team Nigeria to the Olympic Games had returned without a medal. She hired one of the world’s top consultants to probe the performance.
Her speech, at the event, placed her above issues that torpedoed Nigeria’s efforts at the Games. She never mentioned that she released the contingent’s funds only weeks to the Games. The report of her consultancy was not made public.
Late release of funds accounts for poor preparations that result in performances that embarrass Nigeria. Poor funding got minimal attention at the retreat. President Goodluck Jonathan and his Ministers attended. Not one action, to improve sports, has issued from that retreat.
With her cognomen, Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, decides the fate of Nigerians in more ways than many realise.
She releases funds as she pleases, usually after top government officials have pleaded with her about the importance of the request. It does not matter if the National Assembly appropriated the funds, or presidential approval had been obtained. Without begging her, the funds would not be released. Her prudence has not stopped budget deficits that increase yearly.
The World Cup in Brazil starts on June 12, only 30 days away. Not a dime of the funds the Eagles require for preparations has been released. The Minister of Finance is still seeking justifications for the proposed expenditure.
From July 23 to August 3, the Commonwealth Games, a multi-sports event with 70 countries (6,500 athletes) participating in 17 sports over 11 days, hold in Scotland. Powerhouses, Australia, Canada, England and Jamaica participate in the Games, which offer Team Nigeria mid-term assessment of her preparations for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala thinks it is too early to release funds for preparations, and some qualifying competitions that can enhance Nigeria’s performances in athletics, boxing, wrestling, and other sports. Last week, officials of sports bound for the Games protested the late release of funds. Hotels, where teams are camped, are threatening to eject them over their debts.
On March 17, 2013 when she gave her overview of the 2013 budget, the Minister had said, “We all remember our recent celebrations following the sterling performance of the Super Eagles who won the African Cup of Nations after 19 years! Mr. President wants to ensure many such celebrations for Nigerian sports. In this regard, he has now tasked me to work on developing a sustainable model for sports financing in Nigeria.”
Is it possible she is executing a presidential task to ensure sustainable cessation of sports celebrations? Maybe, she is waiting to hire another consultancy if the teams fail.