By Yemi Olus
It’s been a week since the two factions of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) both organized competitions in Ozoro, Delta State, and Akure, Ondo State respectively. It must be said though that the turn out in Akure far exceeded that of Ozoro, demonstrating that more athletes and coaches are siding with the Olamide George faction. Most of the big names on the domestic scene also showed up in Akure. It also appears that the crises may be heading towards a resolution, although not in a manner we may expect.
For starters, the Gusau-led faction suffered a hit in the course of the week when a major pillar in their group, former AFN President Solomon Ogba switched sides and declared support for George’s presidency.
In a letter made available to the public titled ‘Resolutions on the Athletics Federation of Nigeria Crises’ and signed on February 17, 2020, Ogba as Chairman of the Confederation of African Athletics (CAA) Marketing and Media Rights Commission, and three others under the auspices of the official Stakeholders in Athletics, Nigeria’, alluded that Gusau had not been transparent in his dealings as AFN President.
The co-signees to this letter are Professor Lucas Ogunjimi (President, Nigeria Association of Athletic Technical Officials), Godwin Ogogo (President, Track and Field Coaches of Nigeria) and Professor Ken Anugweje (Director, African Athletics Development Centre, Port Harcourt).Part of the letter goes thus:
“Ibrahim Gusau has not been able to account for the funds he received from the national government for the participation of Nigerian athletes at the U-18 and U-20 Confederation of African Athletics Championships in Abidjan in April 2019. As a result of this failing, the new Sports Minister paid athletes’ entitlements for that competition from personal funds two weeks ago. There is substantial evidence that AFN collected Thirteen Million Naira from the government.
“The Delta State Sports Commission in sympathy with the pitiable condition of our athletes in Abidjan, gave his personal money so that the athletes could buy vital requirements. The money was not given to the athletes by the AFN leadership.
“Ibrahim Gusau has repeatedly failed to produce the document for the PUMA kits contract. The entire contract is shrouded in secrecy even from members of the AFN Board. We hereby resolve as follows:
- That there must be transparency and accountability in the conduct of the affairs of the AFN.
- That the removal of Ibrahim Gusau was necessary in order to restore the confidence and interest of athletes, coaches and technical officials in the AFN board.
- That we unequivocally endorse the AFN board under the leadership of Mr Olamide George and support his efforts to reverse the retrogression of the sport and to restore the values and objectives of the Federation.”
It is interesting to note that these are the reasons being given for the switch of allegiance, considering that these allegations against Gusau were already public knowledge before Ogba sided with the Gusau camp and was even part of the Akwa Congress where the body declared its autonomy from the Ministry of Sports, so what led to this recent decision to change of sides?
Nevertheless, Ogba’s defection would be a serious blow to the Gusau camp since to a large extent, whatever influence Gusau enjoys in the CAA is due to the backing of the former. Gusau is currently the President of CAA Region II (which comprises West African countries), and one of CAA’s Vice Presidents and I wonder what will eventually happen to these positions.
Interestingly, results from both competitions (Ozoro and Akure) have been ratified by World Athletics. Initially, when it became clear that each faction would host a competition at the same weekend, one of the major concerns was whose results would be accepted by World Athletics? The Gusau faction or the George group?
It appears that the board led by George and backed by the Ministry of Youth and Sports wanted to send a strong message to all doubting Thomases. So, by Monday, February 17, results from the Akure meet held the previous Saturday (February 15) had been uploaded on the World Athletics website. On Wednesday (February 19), the results from the Ozoro meet also got ratified by World Athletics.
Worthy of mention is the fact that impressive performances were recorded at both competitions, with some athletes already qualifying for the World U20 Championships and African Senior Championships coming up in Nairobi and Algiers respectively. This is an Olympic year, and Nigerian athletes are hungry to do their very best. Hopefully, these distractions will soon be a thing of the past.