It wasn’t a surprise when two presidents emerged after the Athletics Federation of Nigeria board membership elections held Monday, June 14 2021.
The scenerio was the climax of a saga that has been unfolding since June 19 2017.
Delta State sports commission chairman, Tonobok Okowa emerged president of the “officially recognized AFN” in a rancour free election conducted in Abuja, while Ibrahim Gusau in Kebbi reestablished himself as ‘Autonomous AFN’ president in a make belief election where almost all the States Athletics Association chairmen were absent.
Perhaps sports enthusiasts in Nigeria can sit back and expect more unfolding drama like they did, when Nigerian Football Federation president, Amaju Pinnick had a long drawn battle with big spending Chris Giwa during the tenure of Solomon Dalung as sports minister.
The same Dalung who was suspected to be the hand teleguiding Mr. Giwa was in Kebbi to give Gusau support in his show of defiance.
Ironically, Dalung was the architect of Gusau’s chequered reign in the AFN. During the election in 2017, Dalung practically and crudely eliminated all opponents in that election paving way for the smooth emergence of Gusau who was an absentee vice president during the reign of Solomon Ogba as president of the AFN.
Gusau, Dalung and the sports ministry officials worked in tandem, until early 2018 when news broke that a 150,000 USD grant from the World Athletics had been misappropriated. Dalung and some sports ministry staff were fingered in the ‘sharing of the money.’
This infuriated Dalung and he quickly organised AFN members who were sidelined by Gusau and his right hand man, Sunday Adeleye in their two-man ‘AFN cabal,’ to impeach Gusau. The plot was successful and vice president Olamide George became acting president.
However, this happened just as Dalung was writing his handover notes. He did not win nomination for a second term as sports minister. There was a brief interval before Dalung’s successor, Sunday Dare took over the reins at the Sports Ministry.
This lacuna afforded Gusau some maneuvering space and the then Permanent secretary in the Sports Ministry, Olusade Adesola stalled the removal of Gusau, he called for reconciliation because according to him, Nigeria was preparing for the 2019 All African Games and he didn’t want any distraction.
However, AFN board members like Rosa Collins, Brown Ebewele and Gabriel Okon insisted that certain conditions must be met for there to be harmony in the board. One of such was the removal of Adeleye as technical director. Gusau refused saying that without Adeleye, he couldn’t function and thus both sides returned to the trenches.
When Mr. Dare stepped in September 2019, he was reluctant to put out the fire at the AFN house. But after Nigeria’s dismal outing at the Doha 2019 World Championships and the unpleasant technical lapses that trailed the outing, Mr. Dare decided to dispatch with Gusau to save the sport and Nigeria from further ridicule.
In December 2019 a congress was called in Abuja and Gusau was invited to appear to explain the discrepancies noticed in the signing of a sponsorship deal with Puma and other contentious issues.
But Gusau balked at the invitation, rather he headed to Awka in Anambra State to hold a rival congress. It was there the Autonomous AFN was born.
Interestingly, people like Mr. Ogba and Prof. Ken Anugueje who were on board at Awka withdrew, after they saw the hand writing on the wall; most especially after the Nigeria Olympic Committee declared the ‘Autonomous AFN’ an abnormality.
Unbowed, Gusau had an ace up his sleeves. He refused to surrender the AFN WA membership code, thus shutting out any correspondence between the Abuja AFN and world athletes ruling body. He also went to court to seek redress and he got a favourable judgement. However, the sport ministry, a defendant in the case appealed all the way to the Supreme court, judgement is pending.
It was at this Juncture, WA and Confederation of African Athletics decided to mend fences. And after deliberations held in Abuja back in April both parties agreed on a number of issues.
The sticky point was the AFN constitution. Gusau wanted his Awka 2019 congress amended constitution to hold sway in the conduct of the election. The idea was rejected by the WA and CAA, because the congress that gave birth to the 2019 constitution did not get the appendage of majority of AFN members and the AFN general congress.
The 2017 AFN constitution was adopted instead. Gusau and Adeleye refused to sign on the WA and CAA mediation. They have since threatened to drag the WA and CAA to the Court For Sports Arbitration for “interfering” in local federation matters.
However, with the recent election observers believe that Mr. Okowa will usher in a fresh start.
“We have seen the last of the leadership tussle in the AFN hopefully,” said a member of newly inaugurated board.
I believe that Okowa will run an all embarrassing board. As for Gusau, he is only riding his luck… let’s see how far he can travel on the path he has chosen.
“It is rather unfortunate that the former Sports Minister, Dalung is pushing Gusau on. They are only in it because of their shared interest in seeing Sunday Dare fail as sports minister.”
However, if reports by an online media is anything to go by, the battle, it seems, has just begun.
Gusau is said to be nursing a plan to go to court over the June 14 election, hoping that the court will delegitimise the Abuja AFN.
“I am going to tell you with all authority that already we are in court. We have gotten a date,” Mr. Adeleye was quoted as saying.