On June 12, 2017, elections into the board of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria were held which saw Hon. Shehu Ibrahim Gusau and George Olamide emerging as president and vice-president respectively.
The athletics election just like others saw those who lost at the polls crying foul as they alleged that there were irregularities in the electoral process conducted by the Ministry of Youths and Sports Development.
A prominent sports journalist, Olukayode Thomas had accused the then Minister of Sports, Solomon Dalung, of manipulating the process to produce his cronies and cover up alleged fraud in the federations.
Thomas threw up strong allegations against Dalung who in turn said he was proud to have finally democratised the sports federations.
With the ministry tactically backing the emergence of Gusau and Olamide as AFN leaders, the petition of Thomas was ‘swept under the carpet’.
However, the major crisis in the federation started in 2017 when the IAAF mistakenly paid $150,000 into the AFN account instead of $15,000. It was also reported that instead of refunding the excess money immediately, some top officials in the sports ministry misappropriated the funds.
The ministry officials on claimed the money was used to procure kits for athletes who represented Nigeria in the 2017 Africa Athletics Championship.
As soon as he became the next president of the federation, Gusau raised alarm about the missing money and when the IAAF threatened to ban Nigeria if the money was not refunded, the then Minister of Sports, Solomon Dalung as a parting gift paid part of the money while his successor Sunday Dare recently paid the balance of $65,000.
Unfortunately, even before the dust raised about the ‘missing $130,000’ could settle, another scandal erupted in the Athletics Federation. This time, the new president of the federation, Gusau and his predecessor Solomon Ogba were accused of misappropriating another $150,000 meant for the 2018 Africa Athletics Championship in Asaba.
Instead of Ogba to stay back and clear his name, he decided to quit the present board. He announced his resignation to the disbelief of many.
Prior to his ‘resignation’, Ogba accused the top officials of the Ministry of Youths and Sports Development of being responsible for the problems in the federation in recent times as he called them evil.
He also said his refusal to play ball with the officials who he didn’t name was responsible for the recent crisis hitting the federation.
“It has been like this. Every minister that came left with a bad name. Those Directors that are there are evil people. Apart from Tammy Danagogo who left with a little dignity, every other minister left that place with a bad name. Something is fundamentally wrong. This country must look at this carefully and call people out.
“The level of interference is too much and the only option left is to resign which I did early in the morning,” he said.
Meanwhile, it has also been alleged that the money from the IAAF was paid into a private account which could not have been possible without the authorisation of the President or Secretary-General of the AFN.
In response to the accusations of interference by the ministry, the media aides to Sunday Dare swiftly refutted the allegations.
“Ogba’s cry about interference by the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development at best is a false alarm and an escapist excuse to divert attention from the real issue.
“The Ministry under the leadership of the Minister Mr Sunday Dare is working to ensure sanity returns to the Sports Federations which necessitated the investigation into the missing $150,000 at the AFN and Solomon Ogba who is also the only board member of the Federation who was not sworn in properly, should have allowed the investigation run its course as he claims to be an advocate of doing things right.
“Instead, he chose the most convenient route at this time under the guise of undue interference from the Sports Ministry,” the statement said.
According to the sports ministry, records revealed that the bulk of the money was spent between May and August 2018, but the bulk of the money was spent in 2019 without any reference to the ministry. Moreso, it was paid into a private account in 2018.
With this fresh scandal, a nine-man AFN board led by Olamide George approved the suspension of the president, Ibrahim Shehu Gusau and removal of Sunday Adeleye as Technical Director as well as Athletes’ Representative.
Arising from a board meeting held at the AFN secretariat on Tuesday in Abuja, the board noted the violation of the AFN constitution by Gusau who allegedly usurped the powers and functions of the Secretary-General by changing the password of the AFN email account as well as entering into an agreement with sportswear giants, Puma without formal documentation.
In the communiqué issued, the board also frowned at the Gusau’s refusal to pay athletes, coaches and other officials’ allowances or not pay in full at major international competitions.
‘The board noted that the young athletes who attended the African Youth and Junior Championships in Abidjan in April 2019 are yet to be paid.
“Athletes who also attended the IAAF World Relays in Yokohama, Japan in May 2019 have not also been paid while those who attended the IAAF World Championships in Doha have not been paid in full,” the communiqué said.
The board members present “resolved that the President should step aside for an investigation to be conducted over his infractions and the vice president will act in his absence.”
The suspensions dished out to Gusau and Adeleye were in tune with an earlier directive given by the former minister of sports Dalung which was not carried out.
In a letter ref number FMYSD/FEAD/TFAN/2019/CON/1/24 signed on behalf of the minister by the director, Legal Services, Danjuma Al-Hassan Muhammad detailed how former Minister of Youths and Sports Development, Solomon Dalung on the 24th of May 2019 approved his removal from office as Athletes Representatives in a letter Ref No FMYSD/FEAD/TFAN/2019/CON/1/18 dated 11th of June, 2019.
As stated earlier, the directive by Dalung was not implemented so Adeleye continued to parade himself as the technical director and athletes’ representatives just as it was alleged that he used his position to misappropriate funds meant for the federation.
Meanwhile, the sports ministry has received the factional president of the Athletics Federation, Hon. George despite the suspension slammed on him and other members of his board by the Shehu Gusau led AFN.
According to George, being the supervisory ministry, it was imperative to brief it on the recent developments in the athletics federation.
He also confirmed that the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development had not intervened, nor had any hand in the recent issues in the Federation.
Meanwhile, he assured that if Gusau who was suspended by his faction will prove that he is not guilty as accused, he would be reinstated.
Although the ministry has already identified with the George led faction, it has not stopped the Gusau group from speaking tough.
At the end of the congress held in Awka, Anambra State, the faction led by Gusau also took some drastic decisions targeted at both the ministry and their opponents.
For instance, the Awka congress declared complete autonomy for the ministry of sports and announced that the secretariat of AFN would be moved out of the Abuja national stadium to a befitting office accommodation.
In addition, the Gusau faction slammed 2-year suspension on Olamide George and others like Brown Ebwele, Gabriel Okon, Ms Rosa Collins, DIG Sani Mohammed (rtd) and Mr Fidelis Gadzama.
Consequently, two presidents are fighting over the soul of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria. Unfortunately, it is said when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.
Therefore, there are growing concerns that once the crisis is not resolved in time, Team Nigeria Athletics will put up another disappointing performance at Tokyo 2020.
It will be recalled that at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Team Nigeria failed woefully and returned home without a single medal. Nigeria’s saving grace was indeed the male football team that managed to win the bronze medal.
Team Nigeria, therefore, was placed 78th on the 2016 Rio Olympic medals table.
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