Outgone sports minister, Solomon Dalung, may have left us with the disgraceful indebtedness of $130,000 to the IAAF.
The world athletics body, on May 17, 2017, erroneously credited the Athletics Federation of Nigeria with $150,000 instead of $20,000 it clearly promised on March 3, to support Nigeria with to host the CAA Golden League. On realizing the error, it wrote on July 20, to ask for a refund of the overpayment, but the money had disappeared. This was at a time the AFN board had been dissolved and was under the supervision of the ministry, awaiting elections and inauguration of a new board.
On assumption of office in July 2017, the new AFN President, Ibrahim Gusau, wrote the minister on three occasions, from November 30, 2017, March 16, 2018, and May 15, 2019, to plead the importance of the refund for the good image of Nigeria, but to no avail.
The IAAF wrote several demand letters from 2017 to 2019, including its President, Sebastian Coe, meeting with Minister Dalung along with the Permanent Secretary in August 2018, at which Minister Dalung reportedly pledged to refund the money in instalments, but it didn’t happen. Rather he ostensibly set up a committee to investigate the whereabouts of the money, despite the fact that the signatories to the account, the Secretary and Treasurer, are his ministry staff.
On realizing that Dalung was leaving as Minister, the IAAF in another letter of May 13, 2019, threatened sanctions on Nigeria if the money was not refunded by end of May.
Dalung has left. The money has not been refunded. Beyond his evasiveness, there is no clarity on what the money was spent on, who authorised the withdrawal, why they spent it in spite of the requests by the IAAF and, in weeks to come, we may be hearing more from the IAAF on this legacy of Dalung which challenges our integrity as a nation and as a government.
The ignoble impression created with world athletics reflects the same experience with FIFA following Daling’s sustained machinations to disrupt the operations of the Nigeria Football Federation for the long that he held sway.
His parting shot was the orchestration with Okoi Obono Obla’s Special Presidential Investigation Panel, under mystifying circumstances, to trump charges of corruption, to tarnish the image and misrepresent the noble efforts of the NFF leadership.
The emptiness of his verbosities was underscored by the fact that his ministerial investigation committee found no wrong in the financial conducts of the Amaju Pinnick leadership. Notwithstanding, he remained so intent on dragging them down, such that, when the EFCC and ICPC rebuffed attempts to call them into connivance, he personally petitioned the Presidency against their non-cooperation.
He subsequently found collaboration with the SPIP and they proceeded through an ICPC counsel hitherto seconded to the SPIP to press the charges. The ICPC promptly disowned the plot, clarifying that it did not mandate such prosecution and that the prosecutor had long been withdrawn from the SPIP.
Their latest move was to try to drag Pinnick and his colleagues to court on the eve of the inauguration of the new administration, to hang an albatross on them before Dalung left. This also failed as the Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation, in a letter on May 22, reminded the SPIP that it had no powers to prosecute, as has been established by a Court of Appeal ruling, par Tijani Tumsa vs FRN (2018).
The accusations of corruption adds to the series of Dalung’s pernicious attacks on Pinnick which started with the sinister exhumation, in 2016, of the dead claims of the Chris Giwa group to the leadership of the NFF from the 2014 elections, a matter which they had earlier withdrawn from the courts and had also lost at all the adjudicatory organs of world football, including the Court of Arbitration for Sports in Lausanne.
Matters came to a head when he authorized the group to take over the NFF secretariat, after the 2018 World Cup, based on surreptitiously obtained exparte order which had been appealed. He even challenged the competence of the Attorney General of the Federation who cautioned him against effecting one-sided court orders.
FIFA reacted against the usurpation and it took the intervention of the Presidency, declaring its alignment with FIFA statutes, to ward off the threatened ban. Even at that, Dalung, referring to a non-existent Supreme Court judgement, sanctimoniously contested the integrity of Vice President Osinbajo to resolve the matter the way he did.
He insisted that his Elders Committee was better knowledgeable to resolve the matter but when he failed to sell the contraption to both FIFA and the government, he resorted to disparaging the world body and calling for our pull out of the treaty, not minding the implications for the thousands of youths our football engages.
He followed with a failed attempt to stop the conduct of the 2018 NFF elections, but it held in Katsina, President Muhammadu Buhari’s home state, with the supervision of FIFA and CAF, where Pinnick, unprecedentedly, was returned. That was after his earlier attempt to constrain Pinnick from contesting into the Executive Committee of CAF which also failed as Pinnick not only won and was subsequently appointed the continent’s 1st Vice President but has emerged a cornerstone in the new order of African and world football by which he has pulled up a number of other Nigerians too.
Try as he did to generate the disaffection of the public and the government to frustrate the leadership of the NFF, including starving them of funds to prosecute national team assignments, he did not understand that President Buhari, even though faithful to his party men, is no fool to lend his authority against the innocent to satisfy malevolence.
It is especially as the government appreciates the efforts of the NFF in mobilising corporate sponsorships from organisations like Aiteo and others to grow the self-funding capacity of the Glass House which has brought about relative stability and reduced cash calls on government.
While all these happened, many other sports ached from the distortions occasioned by Dalung’s bad management of the elections into the boards of federations even as he offered no solutions to the progressively rotting national stadiums in Abuja and Lagos, sports infrastructure deficit in schools and grassroots communities, poor investment in sports education to enhance better training and elite high performance, strategic creation of institutional relations with the organised private sector to elicit greater investments in sports, and the energizing of Para Sports to increase social integration for persons with disability.
Nigerians know that those are the critical needs for the development of our sports rather than witch-hunting the NFF. They have wondered why Dalung was kept so long and they are praying and hoping never again to experience such nightmare of a head that never fitted its beret.
Fred Edoreh writes from Lagos. He is a Former Chairman, Sports Writers Association of Nigeria (SWAN) Lagos chapter.
Opinion contained in this article is strictly the writer’s and not Aledeh’s.