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N8.2bn: What President Yar’Adua owes me

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By Onochie Anibeze
I wrote what could be termed a good story for Umaru Yar’Adua when he visited our Kirikiri office while campaigning to be President. . In a brief one-on-one after addressing the editors and fielding questions, I told him why President Obasanjo failed in sports, citing his many sports ministers who knew nothing about sports. In his eight year reign, Obasano had seven sports ministers.

Yar’Adua laughed and promised me that, if he became President,  there were technical areas he would find experts to manage and that sports was one. I celebrated the story on our back page. Yar’Adua became President and the rest is now history.

He failed me and the nation. He gave us Abdulrahman Gimba, a lawyer who would be remembered for his strong memo that Nigeria should not participate at the Beijing Olympics. Eventually, he got to China before everybody and most of the time stayed in his hotel room. He didn’t know how the games went or what happened to our athletes.

Gimba recorded Yar’Adua first failure in sports. Failure number two; up till date, nobody has uttered a word to the footballers who won silver and the five girls who won bronze – the 4x100m relay team lead by Damola Osayome and Blessing Okagbore who won our first medal from the Long Jump, interestingly the same event that gave us our first ever gold in Atlanta through Chioma Ajunwa.

The last I heard of the girls, some of them were contemplating adopting another country. Till date, there’s nothing to celebrate in sports. We shouted to high heavens when the Local Organising Committee, LOC, announced a budget of N35.billion to organise the FIFA U-17 World Cup this October in Nigeria. Federal Government sent Gimba to FIFA to deliver a letter withdrawing Nigeria as hosts. The budget, we all agreed, was outrageous. Controversy followed.

While this was on, Gimba was withdrawn as minister. Many mounted pressure on Government to host but slash the budget.

Still outraged, the government sent a delegation to FIFA,  asking to be allowed to change LOC. It didn’t work but they eventually agreed to host with a budget of N9.5 billion. What millions didn’t know was that over N14 billion was included in the original budget for digitalising NTA facilities from their current analogue system. Because of the public outcry and Presidential condemnation of the LOC, the authors of NTA’s part of the budget kept sealed lips.

You may not blame them. But months after the initial ploy failed those who know how to get things done in government are back with N8.2 billion, this time to upgrade NTA’s Standard Definition (SD) facilities to High Definition (HD) facilities. Experts say it is not possible to upgrade these facilities.

It is either you purchase the digital facilities or you remain with analogue. A lot has been said about this latest scam in Nigeria.

It is possible that Dora Akunyili, the Minister of Information and Communications who consented to the memo that led government into approving this N8.2 billion contract  did not know the technicalities of the subject before her action.

It is possible that she did not know that for N6.3bn South Africa has brand new four HD OB Vans with 18 cameras. It is possible that she did not know that contract was loaded in the usual Nigerian way. It is possible that she did not know that acquiring HD facilities for NTA or not  would, in no way, stop NTA from broadcasting the matches to their 30 million viewers.

It is possible that they did not tell her the difference between Television Right and Host Broadcast Rights and how the whole thing works -  that the Host Broadcast Rights belong to HBS, a French company who, with FIFA, choses their partners in any country hosting FIFA competitions.

It is possible that they did not tell her that upgrading or even purchasing digitalised facilities will not earn NTA Television Right that has already been given to Broadcast Organisation of Nigeria, BON, which interestingly NTA has subscribed to for the event  and that NTA has even paid to broadcast the matches.

It is possible that they did not tell her that for the Host Broadcast station (the organisation to produce the matches and uplink to television stations including NTA) FIFA was not looking for one as they have found one in Nigeria. In this case, there was no need to be in a hurry to sign away billions of Naira now. NTA can still and should go digital but due process must be followed.

They have to do a thorough  job and not the fire brigade attitude that gives room for sleaze. And going by the reaction of Sunday Dare in The Punch of Tuesday, July 28, it is possible that they told the minister it was absolutely necessary to award such a contract and failure to do so could jeopardize Nigeria’s hosting of the event.

Dare was reacting to Azu Ishiekwe’s column, July 21. He partly wrote: “Nigerians will recall that about two months ago, FIFA’s Jack Warner visited the country for the purpose of inspecting facilities that have been put in place preparatory for the hosting of U-17 FIFA World Cup.

That inspection turned out a nightmare because Warner was not impressed and warned that if things didn’t get better before his next visit FIFA would have no option but to withdraw the hosting right from Nigeria.

For the TV broadcast coverage, FIFA had stipulated an irreducible minimum requirement which is digitalised broadcast system that deploys High Definition System. Incidentally, all the tv stations in Nigeria still operate the Standard Broadcast System. This called for immediate action.”

There are holes in this. Jack Warner expressed disappointment over the stadium facilities but lauded AIT for the High Standard Definition system which he said could match any in the world. His conference was live on same AIT. I attended the conference at Sheraton Hotel.

Against this background, therefore, I plead with President Yar’Adua not to fail me and the nation this time. I plead  that he orders a probe on this N8.2bn contract and possibly check some of the rapers of our economy who are trying to use NTA to continue milking the country. I hear that the contract has been approved for Well Trade Services, WTS but not awarded yet. You can still stop them, Mr. President.

WTS are sales agents of Sonny, FIFA’s partners. Is it true that Nigeria can strike a better deal directly with Sonny? Let them investigate, find out the truth and possibly take appropriate steps. NTA can go digital but due process must be followed.

I believe my campaign story was good for the President then. He owes me, as a citizen of Nigeria, the responsibility of good governance. The N8.2bn contract will not help that. Just one reminder for our President. Can he remember why he withdrew from hosting the FIFA event before he changed his mind and slashed the budget? Just think, Mr. President. I’m sure you will remember.

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