D’Tigress Sarah Ogoke scores for Nigeria
By Patrick Omorodion
The late Afrobeat King, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti once sang a song “You be thief, I no bi thief, You be robber, I no bi armed robber” to buttress the passing of buck between the government and some citizens who have been accused of corruption.
That scenario seem to be playing out today between the Spanish Embassy in Lagos and the National Agency For the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), as both bodies have been trading blames on who is actually responsible for the denial of visa to the country’s U-17 women’s basketball team schedule to participate at the ongoing FIBA U-17 World Championship in Zaragoza, Spain.
The team qualified for the competition a year ago from the African qualifiers. FIBA Africa commended the team for their gallantry, playing with only nine players out of the possible 12. This particular team were rewarded by President Muhammadu Buhari last February for this feat, qualifying for the World Championship.
So the team was not a ghost team by any standard. They were known to the Sports Ministry, the Federal Government of Nigeria, FIBA Africa and FIBA World, organisers of the Championship which Spain applied to host with the understanding that it will make easy passage for all qualified teams.
So to begin with, the owners of the team, the Nigeria Basketball Federation, NBBF, started preparation for the team even without a dime from the supervising ministry, who were and are still waiting for the government to release funds to it.
What did NBBF do? It wrote to the Nigeria Customs Service, the Nigeria Immigration Service, NAPTIP and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, why? Each has a role to play. The Customs would need to clear the players who will carry a lot of luggage which will include their kits and training equipment. The Immigration will make their passage as Nigerian Ambassadors hitch free.
Knowing that the players were minors, the NBBF equipped itself with the players birth certificates and sworn affidavits provided by their parents as well as letters of consent that they approved their wards trip for the championship, all as demanded by the Spanish Embassy.
The NBBF did not end there, it took all these documents to the Foreign Affairs ministry which then endorsed them. With these in hand, the Secretary General of the NBBF then forwarded them to the Embassy and all the players and their officials also made physical appearance too. The Embassy started treating them, giving assurance that it will be done early enough for the team to travel.
Note that only NAPTIP did not reply the NBBF upon the receipt of a letter by the federation to intimate it on their proposed trip, fully aware of the agency’s duty to help stamp out child trafficking which was gaining notoriety in the country.
Shocking and to the disappointment of the NBBF, the young players and their officials, they were denied visas and their passports returned to them through the protocol officer of the sports ministry, without, I repeat, without any explanation to the NBBF.
When the news of the visa denial broke out, Nigerian journalists took it up with the Embassy which then informed them they rejected the visa application because of a letter from NAPTIP alerting them they suspected child trafficking.
NAPTIP was then reached for their reaction and its Head, Press and Public Relations, Josiah Emerole denied the Spanish Embassy. He claimed the Embassy in Abuja, not the Lagos one which the Embassy applied through, told them a different reason. That the NBBF’s applications were full of irregularities, that they came late and that the application form was signed by someone who was dead.
The agency’s Ag. Director General, Alhaji Abdulrazak Dangiri, also came out to confirm this and stressed that they never wrote the Embassy concerning the basketball contingent and that the Embassy never wrote them to clarify anything about the team. According to him, they wrote the Embassy to clarify the allegations against the agency,after the news broke out, adding that the Embassy in response told NAPTIP that the visa application was full of irregularities.
From what I have narrated here, both NAPTIP and the Embassy are not telling Nigerians the truth. If NAPTIP didn’t write the Embassy concerning the basketball team, why is the Spanish Consular insisting they got a letter from NAPTIP. Mr. Emerole said the only time they wrote the Embassy was an alert letter written to all Embassies on the child trafficking syndicate, not only Spanish Embassy.
It then behoves on the Embassy to produce the letter they claimed was from NAPTIP alerting them about the U-17 team. On the side of NAPTIP, if they wrote to the Embassy to clarify the story linking the agency to the visa denial and the Embassy responded and told them it was because (1) the applications were full of irregularities, (2) that they came late and (3) that the officer who signed the form was a dead man, they should produce the letter from the Embassy as we cannot take it from them that the Embassy’s response was verbal. This matter must be investigated by the Federal Government through the Foreign Affairs ministry because the image of the country has been tarnished and the future of young players jeopardized by both NAPTIP and the Spanish Embassy. And the culprits must be punished. Unfortunately the sports ministry whose duty it is to find out what happened is the one already passing a blanket blame on sports federations for “fire brigade approach” without any investigation. So sad.