By Patrick Omorodion
The FIFA U-17 World Cup tagged Nigeria 2009 has been plagued by scandals from inception when a bogus budget of N35 billion was presented to a shocked Federal Government which initiallyÂ subsequently announced its withdrawal altogether.
After pressure was mounted by eminent Nigerians and some sports administrators who told the government of the consequences of its action, President Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua balked but said the outrageous budget must be slashed. N9 billion was then approved.
Government of the eight host cities have complemented efforts of the central government by spending huge sums of money to put some of their facilities to FIFA standard, yet the Local Organising Committee (LOC) for the competition has continued to cry over paucity of funds, a cry former Chairman of the Gombe State Football Association, Alhaji Shuaibu Ahmed Gara-Gombe says is â€œpure blackmail and an attempt to sabotage the Federal Governmentâ€.
Before the event kicked off last Saturday, complaints poured in from all quarters, the media, participating teams and even members of the LOC at the different sub-seats across the country, over accreditation, lack of training pitches and paucity or non availability of funds to fix the minutest of logistics.
It got to a point that chairmen of the eight sub-seat had to hold a closed door meeting with theChairman of the LOC and President of the Nigeria Football Federation, Alhaji Sani Lulu Abdullahi, threatening to resign if the CEO, Mainasara Ilo, was not kicked out and moneyÂ approved for them.
To save the nation from embarrassment, it was gathered the government bent backward to approve an additional N3 billion for the LOC, yet things are still not moving smoothly.
It was alleged that some vehicles meant for use at the venues were stuck in AbujaÂ Â Â Despite the money approved for publicity and the noise made by the LOC, there was no sign at the countryâ€™s airport in Lagos that Nigeria was hosting such an event.
Some countries even had to wait several hours at the airport as no protocol officials were on hand to receive them. Volunteers who were recruited for different assignments became lackadaisical when they learnt that no provision was made for either their transport and/or feeding allowance despite having to work at odd hours.
Another scandal reared its head when Alhaji Gara-Gombe alleged that the LOC which cried of no money had to approve N120 million for one of its committees, the Marketing Committee, to take the competitionâ€™s trophy round the eight states hosting the competition.
But in his reaction to the allegation, head of the committee, Mike Itemuagbor told Sports Vanguard that neither the LOC nor the government gave them money to take the trophy on a tour of the host cities.
â€œIt(the trophy tour) was our initiative to create awareness and also help in boosting ticket sales. We did not get a kobo from the LOC or government to do the tour,â€ Itemuagbor said, adding â€œit was also a sort of sponsorship drive and I can tell you that it was successful.â€
To get to the root of this issue, Saturday Vanguard drew the attention of the whistle blower, Gara-Gombe to Itemuagborâ€™s reaction, refuting his claim. A visibly angry Gara-Gombe said he would swear that money was released for the trophy tour, adding â€œI challenge Itemuagbor to a debate on the issue if he says so and Iâ€™m ready to lay the facts before him.â€
He added another dimension when he revealed that in fact the committee wrote to governments of all the host cities, asking them for as much as N15 million for transportation and other logistics to enable the trophy come to their states.
Hear him: â€œThey wrote letters to the states, I saw the one written to the Kano State sub-seat asking for N15 million for transportation and logistics for the trophy to be taken to Kano but Kano refused and the trophy was not taken there. I know the trophy didnâ€™t go to Bauchi and Kaduna too. If it was for awareness creation, why was it not taken round all the centres. If it was for awareness creation, why is the government still buying tickets from the LOC for fans to watch the matches, why are the stadia still empty?â€
He also queried why the trophy was taken to Cadbury Nigeria Plc, one of the sponsors of the LOC, stressing â€œIt was taken to Cadbury and they used it to leverage their product. Did they do the same for First Bank, another major sponsor of the competition or other sponsors?â€
The former Gombe FA boss wanted to know if the committee did not get money from the LOC as claimed, who sponsored the trophy tour and at what cost and why some sub-seats were not visited.
To confirm Gara-Gombeâ€™s allegation, a call was put to the Kano sub-seat and a member of the media committee who pleaded anonymity said, â€œyes a letter was written to Kano but it did not receive a favourable response because it has no money. The trophy did not come to Kano also.â€
Itemuagbor reacting to the letter and N15 million issue through two sms messages said â€œLOC never wrote to any government to request for funds for trophy visits, rather trophy was used to sell tickets,â€ adding â€œnot to my knowledge as we only presented trophies at our own cost.â€
Gara-Gombe will not rest as he fired again, asking â€œthey have not told us how much they raised. They wrote to the National Sports Commission that they have raised US$11 million but did not tell us who the sponsors are and how much the local sponsors paid.â€
The angry critic of sports administrators said that awareness creation was not the function of the Marketing Committee but that of the Mobilisation Committee headed by Dr. Rauf Oladipo, leader of the Nigeria Football Supporters Club which got only N20 million for its function hence it couldnâ€™t work effectively.
Gara-Gombe also alleged that shoddy jobs were done in most of the centres because LOC members awarded contracts to their own companies, citing Kano, where a top notch of the committee handled the laying of the artificial turf, as an example.
Our source in Kano disclosed that the mess even got worse with the two training pitches picked for the competition yet to be ready with matches already on. â€œThe way it is now, the training pitches will be abandoned once the competition ends and money has been collected for the job,â€ he said.
The state of poor jobs done were exposed by heavy downpour on Wednesday in Enugu and Calabar where rain washed off the matches being played. That of Calabar was continued after several hours but the Enugu case was a national embarrassment as the match was moved to the next day (Thursday).
The poor state of the pitch at the Warri Stadium was the reason, FIFA Vice President, Jack Warner gave for the refusal of the football governing body to approve the oil city as one of the centres for the world event after it gave them kudos for their hotels and medical facilities. Ironically, the same FIFA ran back to the Delta state government last weekend to help it out with the ambulances they had already purchased for the competition before their hopes of hosting were dashed.
Before Gara-Gombe rounded off, he advised the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to build more cells because â€œafter the U-17 World Cup, many people will go to jail for the wanton looting carried out.â€
He alleged that officials of the present LOC were courageousÂ Â because nothing was done to those who did the same when Nigeria hosted the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 1999 as well as through COJA at the All Africa Games in 2003.