Why is the House of Reps dancing in the mud of sports politics?

*House Committee on Sports and Sports Federations’ Elections

From Godwin Kienka

In 1990, more than 25 years ago, I published a book titled “Sports Administration in Nigeria” which was generously launched by the inimitable Pillar of Sports of blessed memory, Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola. In the prologue, after enumerating some of the outstanding achievements of individuals and teams at that time including the first Under 17 Soccer World Cup, I wrote: “However, the ‘gold medal’ performances of Nigerian sports men and women in international competitions belie the deplorable state in which sports administration, organisation and general facilities are in the country.

“When Nigeria a country of over 80 million people (at that time) celebrated a silver and a bronze medal won at the Los Angeles Olympics – through Peter Konyegwachie (boxing) and the 4 x 400m relay quartet – many of us thought it ridiculous. We found it difficult to believe that a country of over 80 million people, after more than 20 years of organised sport could celebrate a silver and a bronze medal when one individual (Carl Lewis) was carting away four gold medals. As far as we were concerned it showed the limited scope and ambition of sports administration in the country”

Solomon Dalung's reforms variously affect these Presidents out: Yusuf Dauda, Habu Gumel, Tijanni Umar, Sani Ndanusa, Enitan Oshodi, Solomon Ogba
Solomon Dalung’s reforms variously affect these Presidents out: Yusuf Dauda, Habu Gumel, Tijanni Umar, Sani Ndanusa, Enitan Oshodi, Solomon Ogba

The Sports cabal: That was 1990 and this is 2017. Yet, nothing has changed until “one unknown quantity” called Solomon Dalung came along. We have had a recurring set of sports administrators who have vandalised and feasted on Nigerian sports and become a cabal of sorts with tentacles and cohorts in the presidency, the National Assembly, the media and in the Ministry of Youth and Sports itself.

Dalung is working to reposition sports in Nigeria with a reform agenda that has the potential of enabling the over 30 million youths in Nigeria use their God-given sports talents to create wealth for themselves, their families and the nation in this era of pervasive global unemployment.

It is therefore very disturbing that the House of Representatives Sports Committee would wade into the matter of the Sports Federations’ election guidelines blindfolded – without studying and understanding the issues.

It is interestingly ironical that the House of Representatives Sports Committee will rail against a minister who is “interfering” to eliminate interference by the Ministry of Youth and Sports by making the process open and transparent. The only reason this can happen is because the committee has ensnared itself by hunting with the hunters and at the same time running with the antelopes. In other words, they have unspeakable vested interest in the matter. But first things first.

The major issues they raised were that:

  • the Minister had no right to issue guidelines because the Federations are supposed to be independent bodies;
  • that the guidelines did not conform to international best practices, International Federations statutes and the Olympic Charter;
  • that the minister has no right to stipulate term limits – according to them, two terms of four years each and,
  • that the Federations ought to conduct their elections based on their constitutions.
Solomon Dalung Minister of Sports...Nigerians queue behind him for once and again on the sports reform
Solomon Dalung Minister of Sports…Nigerians queue behind him for once and again on the sports reform

The sports cabal that was trying to mislead and misinform the House Committee obviously did not tell them that they were at the stakeholders meeting where these major issues were debated and put to vote with the majority opinion reflected in the guidelines. However, this point is even less important when we look at the antecedents.

Up to this new dispensation, the Ministry always had ministerial nominees which had automatic places on the board and earmarked for the presidency of the Federations. The present guidelines do not have that and made the contest for the position of President and Vice President open to all comers.

2017 electoral process: Hitherto, an electoral college of nine to 11 persons made of six zonal representatives and a contrived and manipulated list of institutional representatives elected the President and Vice President to the exclusion of State chairmen of the various Associations who make up the Sports Federations.

Now, the chairmen of State Associations including a few institutional representatives elect their Presidents.

How can anyone say that State Associations which make up the Federations should not elect their President while at the international level each nation has a vote?

It is therefore mind boggling to many that the first time we have guidelines that actually conform to ‘international best practice” (whatever that means) the sports cabal are pulling all cords in the presidency, in the National Assembly and running from pillar to post to upturn what is in the best interest of sports development in the nation.

Amorphous Olympic Charter: The matter of conforming to the Olympic charter is even more laughable. Where in the current, revised Olympic charter of 110 pages which came into force on the 2nd August, 2016 does it say NOCs control their National Federations or supervise their elections? Does the IOC supervise or conduct elections for any International Federation?

The major responsibility of the NOCs which are supposed to be independent “not for profit” organisations is to prepare and take athletes to the Olympic Games and other regional games run by ANOCS. They are also to assist in the development of coaches and athletes and to cooperate with government and non-governmental organisations to promote sports and the Olympic ideals. In Nigeria, the NOC glues itself to the apron strings of government when it comes to money matters and claim independence when it suits them.

Term limits for federations: The IOC also stipulates a four-yearly circle for elections and has put in place an electoral commission to revise the rules of engagement of executives including term limitations. Many International Federations have now established term limits and are very happy with what is going on in Nigeria because they ‘know’ our sports administrators.

Federations have largely been dissolved before elections and most of those who are screaming ‘blue murder’ have been Ministers and/or Presidents and done the same thing under their watch or gone through the same process time and time again. You cannot be a President of a Federation for 16 years and be oblivious of the process that brought you back there every four years.

House of Representatives playing in pig stye: Happily, all this mess in the sports arena is rubbing off on the House Committee because some of them chose to join “the naughty children to play in the mud.” As the saying goes, “he who comes to equity must come with clean hands.”  How can the House Committee on Sports look Nigerians in the face and say they are not biased or have no clear vested interest in the matter?

The deputy chairman of the House Committee on Sports, Hon Mohammed Nur Sheriff, is the chairman of the Nigeria Cycling Federation (NCF) which is said (because I did not see the draft budget) to have been directly allocated about  N300 million in the 2016 budget when the Federation had not had a competition for as long as my memory can stretch and does not have one serviceable bicycle in their store, if they have one.

Another member, Suleiman Yahaya Kwande, is also on the finance committee of the NFF. How can you have oversight functions and also be the “sighted”? How can you be the ‘sighter’ and the ‘sightee’, the hunter and the animal at the same time?

Hon. Abubukar Nuhu Danburram who also sits on the Committee has his hands deep in the League Management Company (LMC).

Mrs Hauwa Kulu-Akinyemi Director Federations and Elite Athletes Department (FEAD)...judge, prosecutor in her own case
Mrs Hauwa Kulu-Akinyemi Director Federations and Elite Athletes Department (FEAD)…judge, prosecutor in her own case

Dealers in the Ministry of Sports: The same situation was in operation at the Ministry of Youth & Sports where directors and high ranking officials made their way into boards of Federations. How can the director in charge of Federations, for instance, also want to be on the board of a Federation? What goes on in these Federations that can lead to such bizarre absurdities? We cannot do much about the legislators but the Head of Service ought to investigate these recalcitrant and greedy ‘civil masters’ and post them to Federal Colleges of Education to go and teach and still have enough time to do ‘sports business”. These are the ones that end up becoming ‘grasscutters and car dealers’.

Methuselah Presidents of federations: On a lighter note, many of the former Presidents say they use their money to sustain the Federations and that they are under fire all the time. They are now asked to go and they are huffing and puffing and kicking. There must be some basin of ice blocks under that seat that makes it very attractive for them to bear the heat. This, of course, must be at the expense of the many young men and women whose talents are being stifled by these hangers-on.

Why is one so passionate about this? Nigeria, as I indicated in my opening paragraph, is a far cry from reaching its sports potential. The global sports industry is a $1.5 trillion industry and the Nigerian sports industry with our population can easily be doing $100 billion if business savvy, selfless individuals are allowed into the industry.

Secondly, at a time of massive global unemployment, sports, which is the second largest employer of labour in the world after ICT, should be used in Nigeria as a veritable tool for empowering and engaging our youth. However, we need the right hands and minds to take charge and help our teeming youth create wealth for themselves, their families and the nation.

If there is one institution which should strive to be on the right side of history, that institution should be the National Assembly which the House Committee on Sports is a part of.

Kienka contributed this piece from Lagos. He was the Chairman of the National Sports Reform Committee.

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