Saturday, 10 July 2010

Super Eagles: Jonathan is missing the point (2)

By Joachim Ezeji
Events in the previous week have almost made the continuation of this title stale. However, I am keen to complete my story based on emerging issues. One of those is that the Alhaji Lulu led National Football Federation (NFF) has been dissolved by the NFF board. Members of the Alhaji Lulu led executive are also currently before the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to respond to related corruption charges. Also, the recent banning of the national teams from all international competitions by the Federal Government of Nigeria has been rescinded by the Federal Government while the Federation International Football Association (FIFA) has given its blessing to the current probe of the Lulu led executive.
At the eve of the first part of this article, FIFA had insisted through an ultimatum that the Nigerian government must rescind its decision or face a ban of immense proportion. When I learnt about that, I was of the view however, that FIFA should allow Nigeria to sort its corruption issues out. I am happy that FIFA has done just that by supporting the probe, and also that the Federal Government of Nigeria has rescinded its decision.
But it should be pointed out that as the later day theatre plays out, that the jamboree to South Africa, is yet another episode in the regime of heist unleashed on Nigerian athletes and the country's youths in general by sports administrators. Just a few months to the 2010 World Cup, the sum of $230,000 was discovered missing from the safe of the NFF in its secretariat in Abuja.

Nigeria has been involved in several international sporting events either as host or participant in the past, however, most ending in controversies bordered on abuse of budgeted funds. The most recent list included the FIFA Under-20 World Football Championship held in 1999; the 8th All Africa Games held in 2003, 2008; the 29th Olympiad in Beijing, China, and the FIFA Under-17 World Football Championship held in 2009.
For the 2003 8th All Africa Games, the Local Organising Committee (LOC) headed by Dr. Amos Adamu squandered $300million (N4.5 trillion) on infrastructure and event proper. Aside the public outcry, the World Bank was forced to raise concerns about the amount of money spent on the construction of the new National Stadium Complex for the 2003 All African Games, saying the amount was exorbitant and should have been used to address massive poverty and other social crises in the country.

As at today, seven clear years after the event , claims and counter claims persists that many of the contractors who did various jobs for the event are still being owed huge sums of money. In addition to that are persisting controversies on whether Nigeria really got value for the huge resources put into hosting the games.

The first FIFA event in Nigeria was the World Youth Championship held in 1999. With the desperation of the then military administration to shut the mouths of critics, nothing was spared in terms of the deployment of funds to make the tournament a success. Under the haze of military secrecy, it would be almost impossible to know how much was exactly spent on that tournament.

Accountability, honesty and prudence has always remained a difficult norm for Nigerian sports administrator. A vivid example is the FIFA Under-17 World Football Championship that was held in 2009. The budget submitted by the shameless Nigerian sports administrators had quoted a whooping sum of N35 billion. It was only public outcries against this outrageous budget that startled those concerned and instilled some measure of decency.

Eventually, the N35 billion budget was pruned to a mere N9 billion. This came after The Late President Umaru Yar’Adua, heeding to public outcries, communicated FIFA on Nigeria’s decision to withdraw from hosting the tournament based on outrageous budget implication – a product of the dishonesty of Nigerian sport administrators.

To cover their flanks, these thieving Nigerian sport administrators had claimed before a senate committee that the budget was huge because it also contained provisions for providing facilities for the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and the rehabilitation of Kaduna, Bauchi, Lagos, Enugu and Abuja stadia.They also claimed that aside this extra provisions that the actual budget for the tournament was N11billion. What a smart defence? But do they need to do that without making such provisions explicit in the budget. Hiding or veiling such capital budgetary provision is nothing but fraud. Sadly, that matter was allowed to rest without further probe, and Nigeria went ahead to host that jamboree.

Nigeria’s participation in the 29th Olympiad in Beijing, China in 2008 is another sour example. The result was akin to the event in South Africa – a mixture of poor preparation and official dishonesty and the placing of personal interests above national interest. Despite the huge budgetary allocation, the nation’s contingent to the game returned home with one silver medal in U-23 soccer, three bronze medals – one each in Taekwondo, women’s long jump and women’s 4x100m relay.

Late President Yar’Adua’s had implored the contingent prior to departure to win eight gold medals, but that was not to be. Yet, Nigeria’s sport administrators returned to heap the blame on the late release of funds. Regrettably, till date no account has been publicly rendered in this regards. The reasons for the lack-lustre outing included while the Federal Government was, the administrators have been accused of

Remarkably, the same set of persons had always been behind the idea of Nigeria playing host to or participating in international sporting events. "Through these avenues they readily position themselves to make a kill because as usual they come up with ridiculous budgets and even go as far as requesting for supplementary funds, and of course they succeed because the government is a willing accomplice," said a veteran sports journalist who sought for confidentiality.

Interestingly, proper investigation into the shady deals and scams that always emasculate Nigeria’s engagement in international competition either as host or participants is yet to be initiated or conducted. But now Jonathan has sneezed, all eyes are therefore on him and the EFCC to sanitize the NFF. But I am afraid that the EFCC is being overburdened. Their ability to do a good job in this regard is suspect, as is traditionally the case for the past 3 years.

On the trail of the NFF saga is the now nauseating development is the latest Federal Government’s approval of the sum of N197 million for sports as part of the country’s 50th independence celebration in October 2010. The money is to be spent staging a friendly international friendly football match in Abuja. What a rationale to expend public funds; in a country where unemployment is as high as 70% amongst its graduate population, and where 50% of rural women and girls still trek over 2km to get drinking water as well as lacking access to the dignity and convenience of an improved sanitation?

President Jonathan would be missing the ultimate point, if through his actions or inactions; he fails to kill the now habitual appetite for and looting of public funds through jamboree sport engagement.

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