Intrigues, power play, battle for soul of Nigerian sports begin
The dice is cast. Today is the day many sports stakeholders have been waiting for. It is the day when those who want to administer the 31 National Sports Federations will go to the polls to test their popularity among their constituents at the National Stadium, Abuja.
Yesterday, the Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung blew the whistle, signaling that the proceedings should start this morning. In declaring open the venues for the polls, Dalung tasked the Electoral Committee Members to be fair, just, courageous and unbiased in the conduct of the polls.
Speaking while inaugurating the 93-man committee at the VIP lounge of the National Stadium Abuja, Dalung said the foundation of change in the sports sector would be laid during the conduct of the sports federations elections and harped on the need to get it right through a democratized process.
He said through a statement made available to The Guardian, “It is important and critical that we get this elections right. It is the foundation of the change we are trying to establish. The outcome will either justify or vilify our intentions. It is the credibility of the process that will vindicate our stand to democratize the Sports Federations.
“Apart from the transition of the old tradition where 13 persons were appointed into the boards, the expansion of the electoral college from 13 to 54 presents its unique challenges. If a process is fair, transparent and credible, both winners and losers will have a sense of victory. So, I charge you all to ensure that we achieve our collective objectives of delivering a fair, transparent and credible election.”
Also speaking during the inauguration of the committees, Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) President, Habu Gumel also advised the electoral committee members to conduct the polls in a democratic way, as Nigeria would be monitored by international bodies and observers.
He said, “I will not like to receive any letter from any international federation or the International Olympic Committee asking questions about this election. We should do this properly and let it be the best ever. You should conduct this election without sentiments and favour.”
Speaking ion behalf of his members, Badminton Federation’s Electoral Chairman, Arch Kefas Lar, revealed “having served as the President of the Nigeria Badminton Federation for eight years, the President of African Badminton for five years and the World Badminton Federation for six years, this is the very first time that I am seeing very serious business in the electoral process. We are all aware of the decay that is going on in sports administration. I assure you, on behalf of other members, that Tuesday’s elections will be fair, transparent, just and based on the major principles as stated in the electoral guidelines. We pledge to give all our support to ensure that we come out with one of the best elections as projected by the NOC President.”
Aside the polls committees, the minister also inaugurated a seven-man Elections Appeals Committee, whose members he also charged to ensure that they preside over appeals, petitions and complaints of aggrieved contestants with justice and fairness.
The Chairman of the committee and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Abdulrazak Salau also pledged on behalf of the members to live up to the task assigned to them.
Since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999 till date, 14 politicians have held the portfolio as sports minister. They are Damishi Sango, late Engr. Ishaya Mark Aku, Steven Ibn Akiga (also late), Col. Musa Mohammed (rtd), Dr. Saidu Sambawa, Bala Bawa Ka’Oje, Abdulrahman Gimba, Sani Ndanusa, Alhaji Ibrahim Isa Bio, Prof. Taoheed Adedoja, Alhaji Yusuf Suleiman, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, Dr. Tamuno Danagogo and Solomon Dalung. But in all these past administrations, elections into the various sports federations had never witnessed such drama as those witnessed in the run up to today’s polls.
There were fears that today’s elections would not hold following an order by the House of Representatives that it be shifted as they claimed that it was being organised without recourse to constitutionality.
They argued that the minister erred in setting agenda for the federations, adding that the dissolution of the boards would affect the country’s participation in world tournaments.
They, therefore, ordered the minister to recall members of the sacked boards to their various federations. The House went further to mandate its Committee on Sports to investigate the non-release of funds appropriated for the federations in 2016.
As events have shown the order by the lawmakers have not done anything to stop the polls. In fact, many stakeholders in Nigerian sports accuse the outgoing federations’ board members of trying to use their friends in the House of Representatives to perpetuate themselves in power even when they have failed the nation woefully.
The stakeholders argue that most of these board members have been in control of the federations for more than four terms, which is 16 years and there is nothing to show for their leadership of the nation’s sports. Nigeria has won only a bronze medal in two Olympic Games under the current leadership of the federations.
The federations were inaugurated in May 2013 and by tradition, should be dissolved after every Olympic Games. Dalung said his decision to dissolve the boards of the federations would ensure a free and fair conduct of the elections.
There are interesting developments in virtually all the sports federations, including the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), basketball, handball, cycling, judo, weightlifting, gymnastics and boxing, among others.
The stakeholders say they have taken retrospective look at their sports and insist there should be change since most of them seem to have run into a permanent stall in the country.
The Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) holds a lot for the nation’s sports. It is the second biggest sports outside football. The race to produce a replacement for the outgoing President, Chief Solomon Ogba is very fierce with about 10 candidates eyeing the seat.
The candidates include former African and national triple jump women record holder, Rosa Collins, a former 400m hurdler, Henry Amike, a member of the Sydney Olympics 4x400m gold winning quartet, Fidelis Gadzama, former AFN Technical Director, Navy Commodore Omatseye Nesiama, former board member, Professor Ken Anugweje, ex-Olympian Enefiok Udo-Obong, former Sports Commissioner in Bauchi State, Haruna Bako, former Spokesman of the board, Olukayode Thomas and former board members, Prof. Tunde Makanjuola and Ibrahim Gusau,
Collins set the pace after making the AFN board on the ticket of the Nigeria Women In Sports (NAWIS). As a former athlete, she is said to be enjoying the support of athletics stakeholders. If she succeeds, Collins will be the second woman to occupy the AFN top position after Mrs. Violet Odogwu-Nwajei.
Amike, who still holds the national 400m hurdles record, a 49.10 seconds effort made in 1987, is pressing on with his agenda to replace Ogba. He said last week in Lagos that though the process has been made somewhat cumbersome, he would still forge ahead with his ambition to become AFN president.
The immediate past Technical Director of AFN, Commodore Nesiama commands the respect of majority of the athletes and officials. He is also well respected internationally having led the country’s athletes to various competitions since 2013.
Nesiama told The Guardian that as the former Technical Director of the body, he knows the missing link and how to fix the nation’s athletics, just as he commended the Ogba-led board for laying a solid foundation for the in-coming board,” Nesiama stated.
On his part, Prof. Ken Anugweje, a former AFN’s doping officer feels he is the right candidate for the position. He has firm grip of the South-south region, and he is sure of getting votes from the South East.
Olukayode Thomas, who was the head of AFN media and communications, has promised to transform the federation into a success story like the Access Bank Lagos City Marathon.
“It is easy to stand on the fence to pontificate on the problems and challenges of athletics; with over two decades’ experience as an athletics reporter and serving a term on the board, I have better insight. Most do not know the problems and the way out while many of those campaigning are election merchants. Once they come on board, that is the end. You will never see them providing meaningful contributions or attending meetings unless there is a major championship,” Thomas said.
Nduka Odizor’s withdrawal from the Nigerian Tennis Federation’s (NTF) race has dampened the enthusiasm of most Nigerian tennis followers. For 16 years, former president of the Nigeria Tennis Federation (NTF), ex-sports minister, Sani Ndanusa was the commander-in-chief of the federation. His tenure was a mixture of the good and the bad for tennis in the country. And so when the news came that Nigeria’s most successful tennis player, Nduka Odizor had signified his intention in running for the NTF top shot, many lovers of the sport saw it as a welcome development. But Odizor, popular called the Duke of Wimbledon, has since said he would no longer contest in the polls due to certain practices in the system that do not tally with his personal principle.
Squash is one of the sports that have suffered from the apathy of the government to ‘lesser’ federations. However, there may be a green light in the Squash Federation if declarations by Major General Shehu Yusuf (Rtd) are anything to go by.
Yusuf said he would give squash a new look if elected as President. The retired army general believes the days of paying lip service to the development of the sport are over, boasting that he will work hard to give the sport a new lease of life.
Volleyball is one of the federations that have suffered total neglect due mainly to poor management, sponsors and government’s apathy to any sport that is not football.
Stakeholders in the sport accuse the incumbent president, Habu Gumel of acquiring positions without doing anything to ensure that the titles impact positively on the Nigerian volleyball.
As well as being a board member of the African federation, Gumel is also an IOC top official, secretary of the National Lottery Fund as well as president of the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC). But with all these positions, he is accused of supervising the death of Volleyball in the country through his failure to organize regular competitions for the athletes.