Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Investigations (1): How Nigeria’s sports commission officials enriched self, cheated paralympians

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The athletes were paid less than 25 per cent of what ‘jamboree officials’ including guests got as estacodes.

When Folashade Oluwafemiayo was chosen as one of the 38 Paralympians to represent Nigeria at the London 2012 Paralympics, she was overjoyed.

Folashade, a power lifter, was well prepared for the global tournament and felt she could earn Nigeria a medal.

To ensure that Folashade and her colleagues performed very well at the games, particularly after Nigeria’s failure at the Olympics, the National Sports Commission decided to take adequate care of the athletes.

The power lifter and her colleagues were told that they would be paid $100 (N15 thousand) per day for  the 19 days they would be in London. They were actually paid that.

What Folashade and her colleagues did not know was that while they as athletes were paid a $100 per day, the least official of the ministry, including guests, got about 400 per cent what she got; with one getting about 900 per cent more.

As if that was not enough, some officials of the ministry also chose to make money from the athletes’ pay.

The Sports Commission “Estacode” bazaar

The National Sports Commission, NSC, went with 36 “other officials” and “guests” to the Paralympics, documents submitted by the Commission to the National Assembly and the Budget Office as its expenditure for the games, show.

These officials are separate from coaches, doctors, pharmacists, and other essential services needed for the games.

According to a top official of the commission, “The ‘jamboree officials’ were just there to flenjure (have fun) for a jamboree and collect free money.”

The least paid of these travellers, according to the commission, got $381 (57, 150), about 281 per cent more than was paid to the athletes, as estacodes per day. These least paid officials were described as “NSC guest.” The seven guests, paid these sum for 21 days, were not identified.

Even journalists, also not named, who  were described as “Media” by the Commission got 281 per cent more than the athletes as they were also paid $381 per day (N57, 150) as estacodes.

From then on, every other official got more than 300 per cent than the athletes. According to the commission, seven “NSC Staff” were paid $425 (N63, 750), per day for 21 days while five members of a “Federal Govt Delegation,” were paid $600 (N90 thousand)per day for 21 days, same as the ‘Chef de Mission’. The ‘Deputy Chef de Mission’ was paid $450 (67, 500) per day, also for 21 days.

Bolaji Abdullahi, the NSC Chairman, was paid 800 per cent more than the athletes as he got $900 (N130 thousand) daily for 21 days, the Commission stated.

Even Mr. Abdullahi’s aides, four of them, got over 300 per cent what the athletes got ($425 daily). It is not clear which of Mr. Abdullahi’s aides went for the Paralympics, as sources say none of the known ones went for the event, having gone for the Olympics.

These ‘jamboree officials’ were not responsible for any logistics of the event as some may believe, as five other officials described by the commission as “Advance Party and NOC” were in London for that. These advance party officials were paid $425 daily for 30 days, the commission stated.

As if under-paying the Paralympians was not enough, the Sports Commission decided to cheat them.

The Paralympics

The Paralympics was held for 12 days, from August 29 to September 9.Paralympics is a major sporting event to ensure that the physically challenged people also participate in as much sports as their able bodied colleagues.

The Nigerian Paralympians performed well above the Nigerian Olympic team. Prior to and after the competition, the paralympians pleaded with the sports commission to give them the same treatment being given to the able bodied athletes. They complained of not being taken care of adequately during preparations for the games. Even when they achieved a much better feat than their Olympics counterpart, winning 13 medals including six gold, compared to none by the 2012 Olympians, many of the paralympians simply demanded a fair treatment from sports administrators.

“We have never disappointed Nigeria in any of our outings. It is time government stopped paying lip service to the welfare of those with disabilities and treat us as equals with our able-bodied counterparts,’’ Gloria Anozie, a gold medal winner, at the 2012 Paralympics said.

Unknown to the paralympians, not only was the Sports Commission treating them unfairly, it was cheating them.

Esther Oyema of Nigeria prepares for a lift in the women's -48 kg Powerlifting on day 3 of the London 2012 Paralympic

Esther Oyema of Nigeria prepares for a lift in the women’s -48 kg Powerlifting on day 3 of the London 2012 Paralympic

Cheating the Paralympians

Folashade and her colleagues confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that they were paid the $100 for 19 days. However, when the commission would submit its expenditure to the lawmakers, it claimed it paid the athletes for 24 days.

By this falsification alone, each of the athlete has been denied $500 (N75 thousand) while an official, or collaborating officials of the Commission, have made a total of $19 thousand (N2.85 million) from the athletes.

The Paralympians said they had no knowledge they were to be paid for 24 days, but got for 19.

Cheating Nigeria

It is not only the Paralympians that were cheated by the Sports Commission, even the country was. The Commission claimed that all its “jamboree officials” spent a minimum of 21 days and were paid the estacodes for the 21 days.

Not only did the Paralympics not hold for 21 days, it held for 12.

Officials told PREMIUM TIMES that virtually none of the officials got the money for the 21 days with most spending a lot less than 21 days in London.“If the athletes themselves got money for 19 days, how do you think those officials would have spent more (days) than the athletes themselves,” a top NSC official, who did not want his name mentioned for fear of victimisation, said.

Coaches, Doctors, others, cheated

The Sports Commission paid allowances to 39 officials whose work were directly related to the athletes. These include coaches(8), Helpers and Loaders (11), Physiotherapist and Masseur (5), and doctors (2).

Just like the athletes, these relevant officials were paid well below the ‘jamboree officials.’ Each of them was paid $150 daily (N22, 500). Also, just like for the athletes, the commission claimed that it paid these officials this sum for 24 days. These team officials who would not want to be mentioned for fear of victimisation said they only got payment for 19 days.

“Do you think a coach will be paid money for more days than the athlete he took to the championship,” one of the officials said.

The reasons

Multiple and reliable sources at the commission told PREMIUM TIMES that this apparent scam was not caused by Mr. Abdullahi.

One source, an official of the ministry who has been at the commission for a while, said it had always been that way even in previous championships.

“It is not about Bolaji Abdullahi. Go and see the previous retirement figures of the commission for previous games including the Commonwealth games, you’d see that it (the Paralympics figures) is even better.”

Another source explained that as has become the tradition in the sports ministry, all manners of politicians, including federal lawmakers, see tournaments as a jamboree and struggle to get themselves or their wards included among official delegation. All these people have to be  accommodated in the commission’s budget, the source said.

Also, officials in the sports ministry explained to PREMIUM TIMES that the money paid to the ‘jamboree officials’ is actually as approved in civil service rules. An official explained that the civil service approvals meant that minister’s aide’s for example were treated as Assistant Directors and so were officially permitted to get daily estacodes of $425.Another official explained that the problem was systemic as the civil service rules had made it possible for officials, even unnecessary ones, who travel for sports competitions, to earn way beyond the athletes.

This claim was, however, countered by another official who said: “ Did the rules also put a number that must travel? So if the rule says pay people so much sums of money compared to athletes, why not take just very few, say less than 10 of such people, why 36?”

However, the seeming tradition of waste in the sports ministry is causing a dysfunction and huge drain to Nigeria’s purse.

The Waste

Even by the claim of payments submitted to the lawmakers and the budget office, less than 40 per cent of the money paid as allowances or estacodes, was paid to the 77 athletes and team officials (coaches, medical personnel, etc). The 77 athletics personnel were altogether paid $231, 600 as allowances (38 Paralympians got $91, 200, while 39 team officials got $140, 400).

The remaining 60 per cent direct payment was paid to the 36 “jamboree officials,” many of whom had no major task to do at the competition. These category of officials, including the seven NSC guest, got $361, 887 (N54 million).The “jamboree officials” whom the sports commission described as “other officials” in its reports also cost the nation another N19.4 million in flight ticket.

Eight of them, including Mr. Abdullahi and the five members of the federal government delegation, apparently flew first class to and fro London from Abuja. According to the commission, their flight ticket cost N922 thousand each compared to N350 thousand the commission said it paid for tickets for the others.

This uneven ratio of expenditure between athletes and “other officials” is also reflected in the total spending made by the commission for the event. Less than 30 per cent of the total N223 million that the NSC said it spent on the entire Paralympics and post competition events was spent on the athletes.

Officials won’t comment

All efforts to get Mr. Abdullahi to react to our questions were unsuccessful. His media assistant, Julius Ogunro, said he would not respond to questions either on phone or those sent him by e-mail. When PREMIUM TIMES asked to come meet him at the office, he said he was not available and was busy with other assignments.

The spokesperson for the National Sports Commission, Paul Amangele,  also refused to comment on our story. When Mr. Amangele was called on a Friday, he promised to respond to PREMIUM TIMES enquiries the next Monday by 11.00a.m. Subsequent efforts to reach him as agreed, failed as his phone was either switched off or he refused to pick our call.

Other officials at the sports commission refused to comment, on record, saying they were not authorised to do so. Many, however, confirmed that the 2012 Paralympics jamboree was a tradition in the sports ministry.

“See, nobody can stop it, not even Bolaji Abdullahi. The forces involved are too powerful. It will always continue,” an official said.

The Jonathan gift

Perhaps sensing that the Nigerian Paralympians were poorly treated by the sports commission, President Goodluck Jonathan honoured the athletes with cash prices.

Folashade, a silver award winner at the games, got N3 million, same as the four other silver winners. Gold medalists got N5 million, while bronze medalists got N2 million. Other non-medal winning athletes got N500 thousand.

Folashade, the powerlifter, said she is happy and does not bother about what the “other officials” got from the 2012 Paralympics.

“I don’t know what they got. How can I know?” she said.

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