By Patrick Omorodion
It is no longer news that Sports and Youth Development minister, Barrister Solomon Dalung complained about paucity of fund which he also said came very late for Nigeria’s poor showing at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
He has equally been preaching that individuals and corporate organisations should come to the aid of the government, invest in sports by supporting the activities of the sports federations which he told to source funds to support their numerous programmes.
From the way the minister spoke, he may have been quoting from the report of the committees he set up to find ways to make the federations depend less on government funding while the government will gradually withdraw from running sports.
And only recently, the Director of the ministry’s Federation of Elite Athletes Department, Mrs Hauwa Kulu-Akinyemi said federations which don’t organise national competitions may not get funds from the government any longer to participate in any international championship. She said this at this year’s Annual General Meeting of the Nigeria Basketball Federation, NBBF where the news of a new US$12m sponsorship deal for the federation’s male Premier League was broken.
The current Board of the NBBF had suffered untold delay of funds for its programmes and in most cases went the extra mile to source funds to run the national teams programmes which ordinarily is the responsibility of the government because the teams represent the country.
As you read this, the federation is still owing individuals (including some Board members) and organisations millions of Naira it borrowed to fund the national teams programmes from 2009 till last year. The only reason why the Board and its leadership are a bit relieved is that despite the debt burden, the efforts yielded dividends in the national teams.
The senior national male and female teams did the country proud by winning silver and bronze medals respectively at the 2015 Africa Games in Congo. Then the big one. The national male team, the D’Tigers did the unprecedented, winning the sport’s highest honour in the continent, the Afrobasket trophy in Tunisia in 2015, the first time in 50 years and against the strongest team in the continent, the Angolan national team. It is on record the players performed this feat without argument over bonuses which was not available any way.
The senior national female team missed the Afrobasket for women by whiskers. They qualified for the Olympic qualifiers but because the sports ministry said it doesn’t have money to fund their participation, the federation as usual bent backwards to source funds for their participation. Even though they missed qualification, the NBBF president, Tijjani Umar has consistently maintained that their experience at that qualifying tournament will serve them well when the 2017 Afrobasket gets under way in a matter of months.
Despite all these efforts and results, surprisingly the same sports ministry which has been preaching that sports federations should not wait to be spoon-fed by it is now joining some disgruntled elements to either sabotage the NBBF or forcefully take over its affairs.
Because the government now feels that sports should be run by individuals with the support of the corporate world, the Nigeria Olympic Committee, NOC with advice from the various international federations Nigerian federations are affiliated to as well as the International Olympic Committee, IOC, advised the federations to work on their constitutions with which they will be run from henceforth.
Being one of the leading federations, second only to the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, the NBBF Board drafted its constitution which was approved by the sport’s world body, FIBA after making its own relevant input. The document was finally adopted at the AGM late last month by the stakeholders who however, said there are rooms for future amendments as the need arises.
Information that leaked out of the sports ministry last week is that some people are using some top officials of the ministry to want to truncate the smooth operation of the NBBF later in the year when the elections are expected to hold.
And like they say that there is no smoke without fire, close sources at the ministry leaked to SportsGuard that this group of desperate power seekers have handed a princely some of N15 million to two top officials and decision makers to ensure that the new NBBF Constitution is thrown away so that they return to the old way of appointing friends and stooges into the board.
These same top officials have complained that the leadership of the NBBF don’t carry them along, an euphemism for not parting with some percentage of government funds it releases for the running of the various national teams.
Shockingly too, one top official of the ministry complained to one subordinate that “the NBBF thinks they can do things alone. Imagine they are signing a $12 million deal without involving us.” Instead of praising the NBBF, they are envious and plotting to scuttle the progress it is making. All because they want to install people who will not behave like Tijjani Umar but share part of this new deal and every other fund coming into the NBBF with them.
If the sports minister wants to be seen as an anti corruption crusader he claims he is, now is the time to probe the source of the N15m bribe aimed at destabilising the NBBF and fish out those who collected the money also. Nigerians are waiting.