The endless wrangling in sports federations in Nigeria

The endless wrangling in sports federations in Nigeria

From the creation of man, sports have always been part of the human race and though it was exercised informally, it was first noted in the 1950s in Nigeria and the country had its first official sports appearance in the Helsinki Olympic Games in 1952.

Ever since then, Nigeria has been involved in various sporting activities at different levels ranging from inter-house sports competitions to Nigeria University Games to the Olympics Games. 

To harmonise the various sporting competitions and have a well-laid plan to coordinate and integrate efforts to raise the standard of performance in sports in Nigeria, the National Sports Council was set up in 1962 and in 1971, the National Sports Commission was founded. 

With the creation of sports regulatory bodies, sporting federations were equally founded and as at the time of writing this piece, there are 39 sporting federations in Nigeria with 24 of them being national federations of Olympic sports affiliated to the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) while the remaining 15 are non-Olympic federations.  

With the emergence of these federations, the struggle for control became the burning issue which led to the factionalisation of some of them as Nigerian sports and crises are like Siamese twins.

At every election cycle, the winners claim the election to be fair and free and the losers cry foul. In this ugly drama for power, the winners and losers cast doubt on elections which put the game into disrepute.

Nigeria Football Federation (NFF)

Sports, particularly football, is the foremost unifier of the ever-divided Nigerians. Whenever Nigeria plays, Nigerians bury their differences of religion, ethnicity, and region and come together as just Nigerians to support the national teams. And when the opportunity to watch and support their teams is taken away due to crisis, there is bound to be anger, revolt from the citizenry. 

In 2014, the leadership crisis that erupted almost consumed the federation especially with the FIFA hammer dangling over Nigeria which was resolved albeit temporarily. But in 2018, it was again revived.

The crisis began after Nigeria’s ouster from the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals in Brazil after a high court in Jos granted an injunction on a suit brought by Chris Giwa dissolving the NFF and the NFF Congress. It was unheard of that a court will grant such injunction moreover as football matters are prohibited from civil courts by provisions of the FIFA Statutes and FIFA –approved NFF Statutes except for criminal cases.

A plot was hatched to impeach the FIFA –recognized Board headed by Aminu Maigari, with 1st Vice President Mike Umeh taking over the mantle of leadership. After back-and-forth correspondence between FIFA and the legitimate NFF Executive Board headed by Aminu Maigari, with Musa Amadu as General Secretary, FIFA insisted on the board recognized by its re-taking office before progress could be made.

As part of the resolution, FIFA demanded a fresh congress to be held and the electoral committee empanelled refused to sell presidential forms to any other person than Giwa, and this riled FIFA who ordered that since the crisis had rendered the 26th August 2014 date set for elections not feasible, the NFF must hold an extraordinary general assembly on the said date to fashion a road-map for elections. 

On the day of the elections, members of the NFF congress discovered that their leaders (Maigari, Board member Chris Green and GS Musa Amadu) were being held by security agencies while the elections were held in their absence which threw up Amaju Pinnick as the NFF president. 

However, Giwa, with the support of the then Sports Minister/Chairman, NSC Tammy Danagogo went ahead presenting himself as NFF President, saying that there was an injunction on the NFF not to conduct the elections in Warri on 30th September NFF claimed, however, that it was not served. 

Giwa went back to the High Court in his native State, Plateau State ruled that the NFF elections of 30th September were null, void and unconstitutional and that Giwa was the legal NFF President.

This action forced FIFA and CAF to write letters that Nigeria was hours from a ban from international football for obstinacy and failure to keep third party interference away from football.

It got to a point that Pinnick was stopped at the airport on a trip to Namibia to watch the final of the 2014 Women Africa Cup of Nations, in which Nigeria was taking on Cameroon. 

It was at this stage that former President Goodluck Jonathan intervened, calling both men to the Presidential Villa and prevailing on Giwa to withdraw his case from the court. 

Pinnick gained full control of the NFF offices, but following the appointment of his kinsman, Solomon Dalung as Sports Minister in November 2015, Giwa resurrected his matter and went back to court to seek a re-enlistment of the suit.

The High Court in Jos granted his prayer on 8th April 2016, and he assumed he was back in office as NFF President. But the Amaju Pinnick Board immediately appealed the ruling and the status quo was maintained.

On 25th July 2016, the Appeal Court ruled that the High Court could not re-enlist a case that had been withdrawn, and confirmed Pinnick as the legitimate NFF President.

Giwa went to the Supreme Court, which on 27th April granted that the High Court could re-enlist the case. But Giwa and his group assumed that with that ruling, they had been given control of the NFF. They moved into the NFF Secretariat following the FIFA World Cup in Russia, and on the back of a directive by Giwa’s kinsman, the then Sports Minister Dalung, that the Pinnick –led NFF Board should respect the Supreme Court ruling.

For three weeks, Giwa and his group took control of the NFF offices, but following a presidential directive, operatives of the Directorate of Special Services (DSS) took control of the NFF Secretariat, ensuring that only persons recognized by FIFA were in charge of affairs.

On Wednesday, 8th August, and following a change in the leadership of the DSS, the operatives returned to their offices for a briefing. This allowed Giwa and his group to storm the NFF offices, believing they were back in charge, and they harassed staff to no end. This prompted FIFA, ever so concerned about the uncertain situation, to give Nigeria until Monday, 20th August 2018 to confirm that the FIFA –recognized NFF Board of Amaju Pinnick and General Secretary had been given effective control of the NFF offices or Nigeria would be suspended from international football that day.

However, the following day the DSS operatives were back to enforce the presidential directive, and on Saturday, 18th August 2018, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (as Acting President) transmitted a letter to FIFA confirming that the “Federal Government of Nigeria recognized the current and only NFF Executive Committee headed by Amaju Melvin Pinnick as the authentic NFF Executive Committee.”

Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN)

Just as the NFF, the AFN has more than had its fair share of crises since it was established in 1944 with the most recent in 2017 shortly after the Ibrahim Gusau-led board was inaugurated in 2017 by former Minister of Sports, Solomon Dalung.

Gusau was reportedly said not to be comfortable with his then-vice, Hon Olamide George and thus made his right-hand man Sunday Adeleye the unofficial Vice-President and Technical Director.

This didn’t go down well with George as expected and this began a chain of crisis that lasted till 2021 albeit temporarily again. 

Gusau used his closeness with Dalung to dig up a case of allegation of giving athletes performance-enhancing drugs levelled against Mr George by Folasade Abugan. This led to the suspension of Mr George from the board pending the conclusion of an investigation.

While George was under suspension, Nigeria’s integrity was brought to the international fore when the case of World Athletics missing money came up. In a bid to free himself from the crisis Gusau invited the anti-graft bodies to investigate the matter and this irked the officials of the Sports Ministry and an investigation into the drug allegation levelled against George was dropped and his suspension was lifted.

George’s first act after he returned was to remove Gusau as president and he was named the acting president following a board meeting resolution. At this point, Sunday Dare was already the minister and had inherited the crisis. The sports ministry backed the Olamide George faction against the Gusau camp. 

After a series of interventions by the World and Africa governing bodies of athletics WA and (CAA), it was agreed that a fresh election that will unify the warring factions will be held on Monday, June 14, 2021, in line with the 2017 constitution of the AFN to bring lasting peace.

It was hoped that will bring much-needed peace to Nigeria’s biggest federation but Gusau led board who refused to back down conducted its election in Birnin-Kebbi while the other faction backed by the Sports Ministry in Abuja produced Chief Tonobok Okowa. 

Before the election of Okowa, George who was favoured by the ministry felt he was being ‘used and dumped’ berated the leadership of the Ministry of Sports for interfering in the internal democratic mechanism of the AFN.

He said the guidelines released for the Abuja election by a staffer of the Ministry, Adisa Beyioku, is an attempt to hijack the electoral process in favour of their preferred candidate.

As for Mr Gusau, the Abuja election is illegal, and he quoted the AFN Constitutions of 2017 and 2019 to back up his claims. He said only the President of AFN can authorise the convening of the Congress of the Federation.

“Article 6.1.2 of the 2017 edition states: The President of the AFN shall convene the Congress, while Article 19.1 of the 2019 edition states: The President of the AFN shall convene all Congress Meetings.”

He stated that any Congress not convened by the President will be termed illegal and decisions taken therein will be null and void and of no consequence.

As at this moment, it seems there is relative peace in the federation and it is hoped that it will remain so for a foreseeable future.

Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF)

In 2009, the NBBF had no constitution and the sports ministry under Bolaji Abdullahi appointed Tijani Umar as the federation’s president. In 2003, when he sought reelection, the sports ministry in conjunction with the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), had drawn up guidelines for the election.

His re-election wasn’t going to be one-way traffic as Engr Musa Kida, a member of the FIBA finance committee, decided to challenge Umar and a week to the election had garnered the support of the delegates representing four out of six zones. With this zonal support, Kida needed the extra support of only two more delegates from the representatives of other stakeholders to win the six out of the 11 votes to be cast as mandated by the electoral guidelines.

With Umar most likely to lose the elections, the sports ministry removed the names of two delegates loyal to Kida to weaken his chances of winning the elections. 

After the election was conducted, one of the disqualified delegates, Col. Sam Amedu (rtd) filed a case against the conduct of the election before the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) in the court who ruled that the case was statute-barred.

Upon assumption of duties as sports minister in 2015, Solomon Dalung who was fingered in almost all the crises set up a sports reform committee to come up with a viable framework on how the sports federations in the country should be conducting their affairs, including elections as constitutions were guiding them. 

Ahead of the 2017 elections, Dalung, the reform committee recommended that all the 36 states of the federation and Abuja, instead of only 11 delegates, should be directly involved in voting in the federation’s elections which was adopted by the ministry. 

In January 2017, Umar the serving NBBF president, about three months to the end of his second and final term, secured a five-year $2.5 million annual sponsorship of our local basketball league amounting to a total of $12.5million by Kwese, a South African communications company.

According to contract and confirmation documents from Kwese, the first tranche of the sponsorship money amounting to $1.1million was paid directly to Umar and his league management board headed by Olumide Oyedeji in January 2017. Kwese released another $1.1million in July to Umar and the Oyedeji-led board, amounting to a total of $2.2million.

Amidst this Kwese sponsorship deal, Umar called an annual general meeting (AGM) to pass a draft constitution in which was included the life presidency clause which didn’t go down well with most of the stakeholders. 

After the meeting, aggrieved stakeholders petitioned the ministry of sports and FIBA over its conduct and both bodies called on the Umar-led NBBF to reconduct the AGM and allow all stakeholders to participate. Umar declined to heed the call and as a result, both FIBA and the ministry of sports declined to recognise the new constitution.

As the 2017 federations elections approached, the NBBF had no constitution recognised by the FIBA, as such, the ministry organised the NBBF election in Abuja under the supervision of FIBA and the NOC. Kida was returned unopposed as Umar held a parallel congress in Kano, ran for president for a third term using the unapproved constitution, and sent the outcome to FIBA. Given this conundrum, FIBA declined to endorse any of the elections until the issues were resolved but decided to deal with the Kida-led NBBF in the interim. Umar and Kwese, the new South African sponsor of the NBBF League, went to court to bar the Kida-led NBBF from organising any league games claiming that the league belonged to Kwese. This prevented the home based players from playing for almost four years.

FIBA in its wisdom held separate meetings with Umar, the Kida-led NBBF, the ministry of sports, and the NOC and after all said and done, recognised the Kida-led NBBF and included his name on its website.

As further validation, when the NOC held its elections in Yola, Adamawa state, FIBA impressed it on the NOC that the legitimate NBBF leadership is the one led by Kida. Subsequently, the NOC allowed the NBBF to participate in the election.

Going into the 2021 election and with FIBA’s recognition of Kida as the legitimate president, the NBBF went ahead to draft its constitution but omitted the life presidency clause which was recognized by FIBA. 

With the appointment of Sunday Dare as sports minister, Umar continued to condemn the leadership of the ministry of sports under Dalung and claimed that it “compromised the guidelines” of the 2017 elections. 

The ministry in a press statement dated September 30, 2021, held that “the NBBF has a constitution recognised by FIBA and this was confirmed again in a recent correspondence with the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) from FIBA. The ministry recognises this and abides by it”.

“This constitution will form the basis of the next elections and the resolution of any conflict that may emanate from it. The constitution cannot be amended by non-congress members.

“The FIBA approved constitution spells out the processes leading to an elective congress. This must be followed through as expected by FIBA.

“The NOC and the federal ministry of youth and sports development (FMYSD) can only supervise and not conduct the elections. The NOC and FMYSD will be observers. FIBA will also be invited as observers.

Based on these, and in line with the provisions of the NBBF constitution, the federation held an extraordinary congress in Abuja on October 9, 2021. The congress, set up an electoral and appeals committee and approved Benin City as the venue for the elective congress, also approved to take place on October 30, 2021.

To the shock of the NBBF and FIBA however, a press release from the ministry signed by the permanent secretary postponed the scheduled elective congress citing “leadership tussle” and as at the time of writing this piece, the ministry currently oversees the activities of the federation. 

Badminton Federation of Nigeria (BFN)

With the crisis in NBBF going on, the BFN also got its dose of crisis following the sack of a former president of the Badminton Federation of Nigeria, Francis Orbih as the chairman, caretaker committee of the federation by the federal high court sitting in Abuja.

­­ It will be recalled the court had barred the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development and electoral committee not to conduct an election for the executive office of the federation pending the hearing and determination of a substantive suit before it in September.

The order followed an application brought before the court by the plaintiff, Kenneth Azuine, seeking an interim order to restrain the Ministry of Youth and Sports from conducting the election for the executive positions of the BFN.

As a result of the order, the sports ministry appointed Orbih as the caretaker committee chairman pending the conclusion of the suit.

However, in a ruling given by Hon Justice I.E Ekwo as contained in a suit Orbih was “restrained from assuming office or continuing to function in such office or holding out themselves or identifying themselves or claiming to be elected or selected or nominated or appointed members of board or president or caretaker committee.”

The Federal High Court Abuja has however nullified the Caretaker Committee of the federation under Orbih, declaring it illegal.

In all these, the aims of these federations to develop sports has not been met fully. Like it is often said, “when two elephants are fighting, it is the grass that suffers” and this is apt in the lives of the athletes as their careers are negatively impacted upon.