By Ben Efe
Nigerian athletics remain in turmoil even as concerned Nigeria Olympic Committee’, NOC and Sports Ministry top shots try to bail water out of a leaking boat.
The Athletics Federation of Nigeria, AFN has been in deep crisis since the controversial federations’ election of June 13, 2017, threw up Ibrahim Shehu Gusau as president of the embattled federation. Perhaps his major undoing was his inability to forge unity among the 13 member board. He opted to run the federation with a few clique, much to the disdain of a majority of members.
Things came to a boiling point in May, when a purported letter from the World Athletics ruling body gave Nigeria two weeks to refund an excess payment of US$135,000 given to the AFN as a grant in 2017. The letter signed by Jee Isram, World Athletics’ manager of international relations, gave Nigeria two weeks to return the money or face sanctions, which was interpreted to be a ban of Nigerian athletes from participating in world and continental competitions.
The letter came in the wake of the World Relays in Yokohama, Japan. A meet which was attended by Gusau, the AFN technical director, Sunday Adeleye and former AFN president Solomon Ogba. Rattled, and at the same time infuriated by the contents of the letter, former Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung summoned a meeting of the AFN board on Thursday, May 23, 2019 in Abuja.
Dalung who, all this while, supported Gusau’s two-man show at the AFN, asked Gusau who released the letter from the World Athletics body to the media. According to him, it was an embarrassment to him and the country in general. Gusau denied having a hand in the leakage or his members that went to Japan, from where the letter originated.
In the heat of the scandal, Dalung detailed how N39m (which was part of the $135,000) was released to the AFN president by the former AFN secretary-general, Amaechi Akawo. It was revealed by Gusau that a sizable amount of the money was used to purchase equipment for Nigerian athletes during the 2018 Africa Championships in Asaba, Delta State.
Not satisfied with the presentation by Gusau, a second meeting of the AFN was summoned three days later and there it was resolved that Gausa should stepped aside for proper investigation of the matter. The move was sanctioned by Dalung.
However, in a twist of events, the NOC president Habu Gumel and Sports Ministry Permanent Secretary Olusade Adesola summoned a meeting of the AFN with the aim of reconciling members on June 6, 2019. In that meeting the suspension order placed on Gusau was lifted, and there was no word on the allegations of financial impropriety leveled against him. Also committees which weren’t in existence throughout Gusau’s three year reign were hurriedly named and inaugurated.
But there remains a sticky point, which kept the board still at daggers drawn against themselves, as some members were opposed to Sunday Adeleye occupying the position of the technical director, and doubling as the athletes’ representative on the board.
Members voted on the issue but there was a 3-3 tie, with some members abstaining. It is a stalemate, which hopefully will be resolved this week. This is even as over 200 athletes have signed a petition calling for the sacking of Adeleye from the board. He was accused of pursing interests, which were detrimental to the athletes.
Apart from this stalemate, some of the members are still insisting on unraveling the circumstance surrounding the spending of the $135,000 and also a N13m allegedly given by the Sports Ministry to the AFN board to facilitate Nigerian athletes participation in the African junior championships in Cote d’ Ivoire.
“We have to get to the bottom of these allegations. This case must not be swept under the carpet, because there are documents to back the claims that monies were given to the AFN and it was spent without the approval of the board,” said AFN member, Brown Ebewele.
This is even as the Permanent Secretary of the Sports Ministry, Adesola was quoted by a board member Amanzi Marcus as saying that: “There was no issue of diversion of funds or any misappropriation of funds against Gusau who is also a Vice President of the Confederation of Africa Athletics.”
Adesola disclosed that the Sports Ministry has paid US$ 65,000 which represents about half of the USD135,000 IAAF mistakenly paid to the AFN.”
Speaking on the matter, a board member, Prof. Emmanuel Ojeme blamed the development on lack of dedicated leadership. He said the board has remained factionalised since the presidential election and there must be reconciliation for the sport to move forward.
“I have appealed to everyone in AFN to seek solution through dialogue to promote peace and reconciliation; things must not fall apart in the organization.”
But according to Rosa Colins, a board member and former African triple jump champion, athletics is suffering because there are too many people who see sports federations as means of enriching themselves.
“Nigerian athletes deserve better. For how long would they endure hardship just because we have people on board who have seen the sports federation as a means of achieving financial gratification.
“How do you explain that Nigerian athletes were put on a six day journey to Cote d’ Ivoire by road whereas provision was made by the sports ministry for them to fly?”
“We must put a stop to all these corrupt practices and focus on developing our athletics.
“This is why a country of 180 million people cannot win a gold medal at the Olympics. This is a disgrace to our country and it is a shame that our sports administrators are quite comfortable with this malady.”