The battle for the soul of Nigeria’s Athletics takes a new dimension this weekend as two different competitions will be hosted by the two different factions of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN), with one being held on Friday, February 14 in Ozoro, Delta State, while the other takes place in Akure on Saturday, February 15.
The competition in Ozoro is being organised by the self-declared ‘autonomous’ board of the AFN led by Ibrahim Shehu Gusau (North-West Representative) who emerged President after the highly controversial Sports Federations elections in 2017.
Other members in Gusau’s camp include Sunday Adeleye (who initially made it into the board as the Athletes’ Representative but was appointed Technical Director by Gusau without the approval of the board), Patrick Estate (South East Representative) as well as former AFN President Solomon Ogba, who was nominated into the board on the slot of Philanthropist.
On the other camp, which is currently being backed by the Sports Ministry, we have Olamide George (South-West Representative) who was initially elected as Vice-President but has now been confirmed President by majority of the board; Brown Ebewele (Technical Representative), Gabriel Okon (South-South Representative), Rosa Collins (NAWIS Representative), Tafida Gadzama (North-East Representative), and DIG Sani Muhammed Rtd. (Paramilitary Representative).
Following the embarrassing situation that unfolded at the 2019 World Championships in Doha where both Divine Oduduru and Blessing Okagbare were initially disqualified from the 200m because they Did Not Start the 100m after being registered for the event, Adeleye was recalled by the Minister of Youth and Sports Sunday Dare, from Doha.
Eventually, the ministry directed that Adeleye be asked to step down from the board after a committee set up by the Minister to look into Nigeria’s dismal outing in Doha, submitted its report.
As a result, Ogba stepped down from the board, citing interference by the ministry. The Gusau faction went on to have a congress which held in Awka where it declared its autonomy from the Ministry of Youth and Sports. Part of the communique from the Awka congress went thus:
“The congress declared its autonomy/independence from the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development in line with international best practices and in conformity with the statutes of the World Athletics and the Confederation of African Athletics.
“The congress approved the sponsorship deal with giant sports apparel manufacturers, Puma (2019-2022) as negotiated and executed by the president and secretary-general on behalf of the federation;
“The congress approved the relocation of the Federation’s Headquarters from the MKO Abiola National Stadium, Abuja to a befitting office in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory;
“The congress approved that the following erring members of the board of the federation be suspended for two calendar years with effect from December 4, 2019 for anti-federation activities, gross violation of the provisions of the Federation’s constitution: Olamide George, Brown Ebewele, Gabriel Okon, Rosa Collins, Sani Mohammed, and Mr Fidelis Gadzama.
“The congress considered the series of letters from the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development on the removal of Mr Sunday Omotayo Adeleye as the elected Athletes’ Representative on the Board of the Federation and the Technical Director of the Federation, and rejected them in their entirety as they contravene the provisions of the Constitution of the AFN, CAA and the WA.”
“The congress mandated the board of the AFN to immediately proceed with the process of registering the Federation with the relevant agencies.”
Meanwhile at a parallel board meeting in Abuja, the George faction suspended Gusau as the President of the federation following several allegations that bordered on gross misconduct, abuse of power and mismanagement of funds that were leveled against him. Also, Charles Himah was appointed to take over from Adeleye as Athletes’ Representative.
Speaking with reporters, George said: “Majority of board members have only asked the president to answer some questions that border on violation of the constitution of the federation, misappropriation and misapplication of funds, his penchant for taking unilateral decisions without the board’s approval and non-payment of athletes’ allowances in full or none at all in some cases.
“This is not a new case. In April or May (2019), the board met and suspended him for an investigative panel to look into some of these allegations, but the NOC President and the Permanent Secretary in the Sports Ministry stepped in and the investigation was suspended. Mr. Gusau did not fulfill the terms of the agreement and has gone on to commit more infractions, especially constitutional infractions.
“The AFN constitution gives a 60-day notice before a congress can be convened by the president. Article 6.1.4 of the constitution was unambiguous about this. It was for all congresses, as it did not specify whether it is annual or extraordinary. The notice of meeting sent to all state associations said Annual Congress but it was changed to Extraordinary Congress after it was pointed out to him that he had breached provisions of the constitution.
“Gusau should tell us the provisions of the constitution that made him bigger than the constitution. The suspended president also entered into an agreement with sportswear manufacturer, PUMA, without the knowledge and consent of the board. He also prepared budget for the various competitions the federation attended without the knowledge and consent of the board.”
This conflict has been brewing for almost a year now, and I doubt that World Athletics is interested in brokering peace between both factions, and instead, is expecting Nigeria to put her house in order. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be light at the end of this tunnel!