What appears a major division among top hierarchy of the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) may be playing out, if declarations by President of the federation, Solomon Ogba, and its spokesman, Olukayode Thomas, concerning a recent comment by former Sports Minister, Bolaji Abdullahi, are anything to go by.
Abdullahi, who administered Nigerian sports for two years and three months under former President Goodluck Jonathan, claimed shortly after Team Nigeria returned from the Rio Olympic Games that the present AFN board, led by Ogba, was responsible for the decline of the sport.
In particular, Abdullahi called for Ogba’s sack for what he described as ‘non-performance.’
However, Ogba has fired back at Abdullahi, saying that the Kwara State-born politician is the architect of the problems haunting Nigerian sports, and athletics in particular.
Speaking from the United States of America at the weekend, Ogba described Abdullahi’s comments as uncalled for, saying that the man never meant well for Nigerian sports.
“We should be the ones accusing Abdullahi of killing the sports system during his time,” Ogba said. “It is on record that Abdullahi as sports minster starved the various sports federations of funds. He stopped giving them the usual monthly subventions, and he also withheld the funds approved for some of the federations to attend local and international competitions. Some of us kept quiet thinking that as a young man, he would see reason in investing on Nigerian youths, who are the future of our sports but he refused to turn a new leaf before he was sacked.”
Ogba revealed that Abdullahi deliberately withheld the money approved by the federal government for Nigeria’s participation in the 8th IAAF World Youth Championship in Donetsk, Ukraine, and the African Junior Championship in Mauritius in 2013.
“Our belief in the AFN is building the young athletes for tomorrow. We presented a budget to Abdullahi for those two competitions. He gave us the nod to source for money and that the ministry would reimburse us as soon as money was released. Till he left office, we made several efforts to get our money, but he bluntly refused to pay back despite receiving the money from the federal government. If we had not taken those athletes to Ukraine and Mauritius in 2013, tell me where we could have discovered the likes of Divine Oduduru, Ese Brume, Fabian Edoki, Ifeanyi Atuma, Bashiru Ibrahim, Akerele Omeiza, Abimbola Junaid, Esther Oluwatobilola, Daisy Akpofa, and Judith Aniefuna, among others. A staff of the sports ministry even told me that Abdullahi said that the team we took to Donetsk and Mauritius in 2013 was a ‘Bendel and Ibo team’, and that was why he refused to refund our money. Was that supposed to come from a sports minister who is the father of all Nigerian athletes? He crippled the operations of the various federations by starving them of funds. Abdullahi did so many things that were counter-productive to our sports. I want the present administration to investigate what Bolaji did with the huge amount of money President Jonathan released for the High Performance Centre in Abuja. He requested for N3 billion for the project but an initial N1.5 billion was released. Some money was released again for the project before the end of Jonathan’s administration. What happened to that money?”
Speaking further, Ogba accused Abdullahi of employing a rookie as coach for the High Performance Centre, which was supposed to handle elite athletes for international competitions.
“Abdullahi employed a coach who had never been to the Olympics. He brought in Eric Campbell as one of the coaches in charge of athletics and paid him huge amount of dollars. It’s wrong to employ such a man for such a high-caliber centre. The same Abdullahi is now turning around to accuse AFN of not winning a medal in Rio. How many medals did Team Nigeria win under his supervision at London 2012 Olympics despite the huge amount of money given to him by the federal government?
“Before we left for Rio, I told everyone that Team Nigeria would not win anything based on the preparations of our athletes. I said it categorically that we were not prepared well enough for medals. But let us put the records straight. Despite all the odds, athletics was the only sport that was able to qualify for the semifinals in seven events in Rio. We even made two finals, Ese Brume in the long jump and our women’s 4x100m relay team. No other sports other than football achieved what we attained in Rio, and I expect the likes of Bolaji Abdullahi to show AFN some respects,” Ogba said.
Efforts to speak with Abdullahi yesterday were unsuccessful, but his Special Assistant, Julius Ogunro, said yesterday that he was not aware of N1.5 billion released to Abdullahi for the High Performance Centre as claimed by Ogba.
“I worked in the sports ministry for three years and there was no truth in what Ogba has said about Bolaji Abdullahi. I have documents, and if Ogba should continue this way, he has a lot to lose,” Ogunro said.
Also, the spokesman of AFN, Olukayode Thomas, says the issues raised by former sports minister, Bolaji Abdullahi, and the non-performance tag on the Solomon Ogba-led AFN are not far from the truth.
“What Abdullahi said about the current board of the AFN is the true picture because I am an insider,” Thomas said yesterday. “We are only paying lip service to athletics in this country and the truth must be said. It was not during Bolaji Abdullahi’s tenure as sports minister that monthly subventions for the various sports federation were stopped. It had been so before he (Abdullahi) was appointed. Anybody making such claim is only looking for a way to rubbish the good work he did for our sports. I worked with him and it was Abdullahi who even forced me to support Ogba in his second election,” Thomas said.
On allegation of fraudulent recruitment of some American athletes by the AFN to run for Nigeria in international competitions, Thomas said: “I have pointed it out times without number that the manner in which our officials go about recruiting all manner of athletes for our country is wrong. They are not bringing in quality athletes who can compete for shirt with the likes of Blessing Okagbare. What they bring for us are athletes who are not even among the top 20 in various sports in their countries, and it is killing our sports. In any case, I have not received any complain from athletes saying that he or she was forced to join Team Nigeria.”