D’Tigress with Buhari

..Dalung challenges Sports Minister to come out clean on alleged diversion

•Queries how training grants found way into escrow account

Says, Buhari released N1bn for team after he left office as minister

Problem started in 2017, before I became minister – Dare

By Omeiza Ajayi, Abuja

Nigeria’s former Minister of Sports and Youth Development, Barr. Solomon Dalung has challenged his successor, Mr Sunday Dare to come clean on the N1 billion approved by President Muhammadu Buhari for the nation’s women basketball team, D’tigress, saying though the funds were released in August 2019, it is disheartening that the players have not been paid till today.

Dalung who said he had facilitated the approval of the money, explained that it was paid months after he had left office as minister but that it has now found its way into an Escrow Account at the Central Bank of Nigeria CBN.

According to him, he had created the escrow account in 2019 to receive funds from sponsors and donor bodies and to allow for easy access by the various national sports federations without having to go through bureaucratic bottlenecks.

The ex-minister who disclosed this on a breakfast television programme, The Arise Morning Show was reacting to comments by Mr Dare who partially washed his hands off the case, saying it started in 2017 when he (Dare) was not the minister.

“For athletes who wear the Nigerian colour, it is a commitment, sacrifice. As a minister, I also ensure that I support them.

“I work within a system where the allocation of resources is based on certain critical factors. What we have done is to ensure that we push the files and do the documentation. The processes are ongoing.

“I share the pains. These are allowances that are owed since 2017 when I was not even the minister.

“This is something that the government has on an incremental basis tried to address. I know that part of this money has been paid.

“I understand the pain and I want to put it on record that the ministry has never slept at a switch”, Mr Dare had said in a video which has gone viral on the social media.

However, Dalung in his response said there was no reason not to have paid the girls till now.

He said; “I apologise sincerely to the girls. They do not deserve what they got from us as leaders because these are champions that we should be celebrating but not plunging them into this disgraceful state of affairs where they have to fall back on other means of reaching out to us.

“There were no issues in 2017 because when they won, I was given three days notice and I immediately reached out to the Presidency and got them to meet with the Federal Executive Council FEC. The president appreciated them and the ‘handshake’ was N1 million paid to each of the players and N500,000 to each member of the coaching crew. Immediately after the FEC meeting, they provided their bank account details and the money was disbursed to them. So, no issue with regards to 2017.

“This issue we are talking about was a result of their participation at the World Cup in 2018 in Spain. We had budgetary issues with their qualification preparation because the provision made in the budget went to the National Assembly and came back far below what we expected. I had to meet the President and he said I should put up a memo, which the Federation did. The amount was N1.5 billion covering their preparations and participation in the 2018 World Cup. This memo was not even brought to the ministry on time and so we were caught up with going to Spain. Then the president of the Federation said we could raise funds for the competition and when we return and we were paid, we could then address some of these issues.

READ ALSO: ‘D’Tigress don’t belong here’

“We went and the girls did the country proud, becoming the first African country in 100 years to qualify to the quarterfinals in basket ball, defeating great basket ball nations like Italy, Turkey and Argentina.

“So, when we came back, I approached the President again and he graciously approved N1 billion covering the costs of preparations and participation for the World Cup. I kept pursuing it and the funds were not released till I left office.

“The funds were released in August 2019. I was no longer the minister then. So passing the bulk of the blame to me, yes it all started under my watch but I did my own part of the bargain. What the girls are asking for now is why they have not been paid since August 2019. They are aware that the money has been released. So, passing it back to me is not the best way to go. The best way is for the ministry to come out clean, apologise and explain why the money, the AIE, which was raised in the name of the ministry suddenly found its way into an Escrow Account in the Central Bank because the AIE was issued in the name of the Federal Ministry of Sports and Youth Development. I know as a fact that the money was released to the ministry and the Nigerian Basket Ball Federation was paid because when the girls started complaining in 2020, they got back to me that they had not been paid and I called the President of the Nigerian Basketball Federation and he said the money had been released and they were going to pay the girls”, he added.

Mr Dalung urged the ministry not to sweep the issues under the carpet.

“So, I think that there is something that we are trying to hide. The issues are many. So, trying to sweep them under the carpet will not help us. Their stipends, training grants, allowances and bonuses had not been paid. All these things, the girls are entitled to. They have not been paid their camping allowances, participation allowances, bonuses and training grants.

“The training grants are provided by the international basketball federation. Are we also saying that these training grants that came have also migrated into the escrow account? Certainly not. What is this escrow account that we are telling Nigerians? I created that account in 2019 after the democratization of the national federations because I wanted to insulate the national federations from undue interference from the bureaucracy so that all contributions coming from outside, not from the government, will go into that account and we can be able to track them and render account to sponsors. But since I left office, they have never, never activated this account. It has been dormant. So, if monies suddenly migrated into a dormant account, I will challenge anybody that is saying this to help us with the statement of the escrow account. Blaming me, yes, I take full responsibility for not being able to get them their money before I left office”, he stated.

The players had in a video clip threatened to boycott future call-ups to represent Nigeria for the 2022 World Cup qualification series if all outstanding allowances were not paid.

Ify Ibekwe, one of the players, listed the figures owed and also included the $100,000 donation which was given to the team by three Nigerian banks in preparation for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

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