Nigerian sports officials are either refusing to talk or passing blames after the country received overpayments from the global athletics body, spent the money illegally, and refused to pay back for over two years.
On Monday, the International Association of Athletics Federations said it had done everything possible to get the $130,000 it mistakenly paid to Nigeria but said the Athletic Federation of Nigeria had refused to pay up.
The association vowed to sanction the Nigerian federation if the money was not repaid within two weeks.
Reached on Thursday, Sports Minister Solomon Dalung refused to comment on the matter, claiming the IAAF letter was not sent to his office. He told PREMIUM TIMES he would not speak about a letter circulating on social media.
But some officials have told PREMIUM TIMES Mr. Dalung knew too well about the money, and was the person who authorised the funds be disbursed.
Asked to respond to that allegation, Mr. Dalung declined comments. The spokesperson for the AFN, Amanzi Marcus, also denied responsibility for the illegal spending of the IAAF money.
The controversy, which came to light this week, has angered sports analysts and anti-corruption activists who argue that the refusal of Nigeria to refund a credit it received in error was a dent on the nation’s image.
A former president of the Lagos Branch of Sports Writers Association of Nigeria, Fred Edoreh, described the present situation as a “national disgrace”.
He said Nigeria already has its fair share of bad publicity and adding this new episode was “disheartening”.
“This is a national disgrace; another level of 419 you may call it…,” Mr Edoreh said. “If the IAAF mistakenly paid the federation in Nigeria money it is only right that we return what does not belong to us. But despite even the promise from the minister, two years after we are still on the issue this is very sad.” he said.
How it began
The embarrassing episode started in 2017 when the IAAF was meant to pay a $20,000 grant to the AFN but said it overpaid Nigeria by $130,000.
As contained its letter on Monday, the IAAF detailed how it has been trying unsuccesfully for two years to get a refund.
The IAAF senior manager for governance, Jee Isram, noted in the letter: “You were informed on 18 March 2018 by our CEO of a payment made by the IAAF to the bank account of your federation on 17 May 2017. A sum of 150,000 US Dollars was transferred by the IAAF of which 130,000 US Dollars were wrongfully credited
“We promptly notified you of this over-payment and followed up several written correspondences as well as a meeting with you in November 2017, requesting that you reverse the bank transfer for the overpaid amount to no avail.
“On 28 June 2018, you informed us that the Ministry of sports was ready to refund 50 percent of that amount and despite several telephone conversations, the amount was still not paid. While we were in Asaba in August 2018 during the African Senior Championships we met with the minister of sports and his permanent secretary. We discussed about the return of the funds to the IAAF and until today we have not heard anything.”
While accusing fingers had been pointed at the former board of the AFN led by Solomon Ogba, one of the board members, Olukayode Thomas, vehemently denied the claim.
Mr. Thomas told PREMIUM TIMES that the Ogba-led board had left office before the money from IAAF came and also pointed out that approval to spend the money was given by the current Sports Minister, Mr Dalung.
“There is no need in maligning people and telling lies about them if you don’t have facts,” Mr Thomas said.
“The money they are talking about came a week or two after our board left office and then Amaechi Akawo was in charge of everything and when the money came, Amaechi contacted officials in the sports ministry that monies have been sent in from the IAAF and the director of FEADS informed the perm sec who contacted the minister and he gave them the go ahead to spend the money. From what I heard, they used the money for one championship or something .. not sure,” he added.
“When Gusau came in that was when the media got the wind of the story and it was reported and the government assured that they would refund the money but it was not (returned).
“There were series of letters between the IAAF and AFN , during the African Championships in Asaba, Sebastian Coe came with other big wigs of IAAF and the issue was raised again and promises were made that the money will be paid but they did not refund it.
“Last month at the African Youth Championships in Abidjan, the issue came up again still no headway. At the recent World Relays in Yokohama, it was raised yet again and that was when they decided that the person that has been promising to refund these monies will be leaving office in two weeks and chances are that they won’t get the money again.
“That is why they have threatened to ban Nigeria from all international meet, if that is done, they can even go further and ban our athletes from any meet. So in clear terms, this issue has nothing to do with our board,” the former AFN board member explained.
Contacted by PREMIUM TIMES, Mr. Dalung said, “I only saw the purported letter on the social media and government communication are not done on social media, I only react and work on letters brought to me in my official capacity.
“If IAAF had written a letter and it is purportedly said my office is mentioned in it , they would send me a copy, if they have not sent me a copy then I think they are only just trying to play politics because they know where my office is and if you are raising an issue that affects a person, you must also give him a copy of the letter. As I am talking to you, I have not seen any copy of the letter even though I have seen the purported letter on the social media but I will not react to a social media letter.”
The minister also queried the fears being raised by the IAAF that he would soon be leaving office hence they are not sure of getting their money back.
“How does an issue affecting the sports ministry affect the exit of Solomon Dalung? So IAAF is going to politics.
“If the IAAF are writing a letter raising an issue affecting my office, it is fair that they send a copy of that letter to me. All they did is go and post a letter on social media, does government communicate or run its business on social media?”
Mr. Thomas, the a former member of the AFN board, said those involved in the scandal should be brought to book as the country has been ridiculed by the action of some selfish individuals.
“Whoever did this must be punished, because if anybody sent money to you in error no matter the amount, as an honest person you are not even meant to spend it much more now talking of refund.
“The thing is already affecting Nigeria, the IAAF is already withholding other support it has been giving and prize monies due to our athletes may be seized.
“For me it is sad all these things are happening under Dalung who in the last four years has failed to develop sports. This is a big humiliation that a country of over 100m people that is being chased around to refund less than $150,000. This is painting us in bad light that we are not trustworthy, not honest. If when that money came it was returned back promptly that would have been the best.
“If Dalung is someone that thinks well before acting, he would have known that this is very dangerous and could backfire.
Attempts to get the minister to confirm or deny approving the spending of the IAAF monies were unsuccessful as he insisted he would not react to the frivolities
“What you are still discussing is from a letter that I saw on social media and like I said, I don’t’ react to what is not before me. If any board is saying anything, when it is brought before me, I will now take it up,” Mr. Dalung insisted.
“The account of the AFN is not controlled by the Ministry of Sports, we are not signatories to it,” he added.
With the scandal, the fate of Nigerian athletes hangs in the balance as they pray against a ban from IAAF.
The AFN spokesperson, Mr Marcus, told PREMIUM TIMES, the federation was “deeply pained” by the case, but denied the current board was responsible for it.
He said Nigerian athletes were already facing poor treatement because of the controversy.
“We are deeply pained by this issue. As you know, our board is not involved in all this; I will advise you speak to those in the ministry but sincerely we are the most affected by this issue,” he said.
“Our athletes just returned from Yokohama where we went for the World Relays from what I gathered they were not treated well and I hear it has to do with this issue on the ground.”