ALSO known as the “Unity Games”, the Abuja 2003 extravaganza provided so many frills and thrills. It created upsets and threw up more challenges to the 53 nations that participated. Fourteen years after the institution of an audit panel that looked into the scandals that engulfed the sporting spectacle, nothing has been heard again—and that may well be the end of that administrative recklessness and financial rascality—just like past similar corruption bazaars!
Before the competition, controversies had dogged the construction of the National Stadium, Abuja, venue of the fiesta. While the Federal Government allegedly spent more than N50 billion to build the complex, the World Bank insisted that half of that same amount would have done the job. The insinuation is that officials who benefited from the deal inflated the cost of the project. Beyond the outlay, most Nigerians wondered at the economic relevance and timing of the construction when the masses were ravaged by poverty and hunger. In its characteristic tepid defence, the government explained that the project had been embarked upon even before the advent of the Olusegun Obasanjo administration and that to discontinue it would result in the country’s embarrassment and humiliation. Apart from this commitment, the government was of the conviction that the benefits derivable from the stadium far outweigh any disadvantages that might arise. So, it was based on these warped rationalizations and the multiplier effect of the structure that the Obasanjo government defiantly went ahead with its resolve to complete the complex.
As the saying goes, God loves Nigerians. If not, how can we explain our excellent performance at the Games? The preparations were unsurprisingly shoddy. This was worsened by the uncertainties that underpinned our role as hosts until the last minute; nobody seemed to be sure of the competition being held in Abuja. Even former President Obasanjo at a reception for the athletes and officials declared that he was pressurized to cancel the unity celebration because of mounting domestic opposition that did not guarantee prospects for a successful outing. In fact, there were security reports that the event would have been disrupted by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in protest against a new regime of prices for petroleum products.
The NLC had threatened to go on strike in December 2003 just before the commencement of the Games if the government did not backpedal on the exorbitant prices which were already exposing the average Nigerian to hardship and unmitigated suffering that bordered on suffocation, The potentially disruptive strike did not hold as the 8th All-Africa Games took place with Nigeria coming tops having clinched 85 gold, 90 silver and 56 bronze medals. On the second and third positions on the placement table were Egypt (18 gold, 66 sliver and 71 bronze medals) and South Africa (63 gold, 59 sliver and 52 bronze medals). I remember it all as if it were yesterday. The aspect of the Games I still find confounding was the jeering of Obasanjo at the colourful opening ceremonies. Reports had it that it was a demonstration of the people’s reservations over his unpopular policies and corruption in high places. Every day, newspapers and magazines were inundated with facts of corruption and nobody in the corridors of power said anything!
There is no doubt that Nigeria creditably played host to the 8th All–Africa Games in spite of the numerous hiccups that dogged the event right from the preparatory stage. Indeed, the country’s athletes were so lowly rated that most people thought that we wouldn’t make any impact. The point to note here is that with zeal and commitment, Nigerians can conquer even the world—not just Africa.
It was good that the country won the competition as a reward, at least, for our huge outlay as host. So after Abuja 2003, how much was the overall expenditure? What happened following the stories of graft that rocked the event? Why did the private sector not participate actively? Apart from Globacom and luxury bus transporter, Chisco, who made substantial contributions, why did other corporate bodies not participate significantly?
It is obvious that officials of the organizing committee of the Games took a lot of things for granted. The drive for private-sector involvement was very weak. They depended mostly on government funding. Elsewhere, the organized private sector and individuals take the burden off government by actively participating. This way, the exposure to scams is foreclosed. This is so because the moment it is regarded as a public affair, the tendency is for the executive arm of government and public servants associated with the exercise to help themselves with some of the financial and non-financial resources. This accounts for the misappropriation stories that hallmarked the Games, no longer the victory song and the passable administration of the sporting carnival. Even at that, most people still believe that too many things went wrong with the hosting of the Games. From transport to medical facilities, COJA’s occasional illiquidity, dank swimming pool to faulty automated gadgetry, there were plausible reservations.
Ordinary management of shuttle buses between the airport and the Abuja stadium was so bungled that the general manager charged with this responsibility had to be relieved of his appointment midway into the competition.
With the intensive capital injection by government into Abuja 2003, it was pleasant to know that Obasanjo directed the Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of COJA Dr. Amos Adamu to account for the funds disbursed to his committee, including the ones generated externally. For reasons that perhaps bordered on the Nigerian factor, most people, going by post-COJA revelations and submissions, believed that a lot of money went down the drain and into some private pockets.
Expectedly, COJA debunked such allegations. But the predictable avowals have not changed the perceptions. It is certain that some people are waiting in the wings anytime to pick holes in whatever account COJA renders, if ever. Until the Abuja 2003 books are properly and independently audited, this aspect of the Games would never be laid to rest—even if it takes the next two decades because of the whopping outlay. And the earlier this is done the better for everybody. This issue is not one of those that could easily be lost to time and forgotten. For some of us who were scandalized by the looting that took place in Abuja 2003, this matter can never be swept under the rug (or is it the collapsed velodrome that raised on its own a lot of unanswered questions)?
Whether Adamu admits it or not, the unceremonious removal of the former Director-General of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) Mr. (now Senator) Ben Murray–Bruce could not be unconnected with contract differences between the former DG and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who headed the Presidential Committee on the All–Africa Games (PCAAG). The sore point arose over issues of procurement of broadcast equipment of the Games and the due process fad amid unequal power play and unconfirmed salacious yarns. Was Adamu expecting government to announce that it removed the beloved former NTA boss because he overstepped his bounds by challenging the number two citizen on contract details? The COJA CEO should have avoided self–delusion on these critical matters that bordered on accountability, transparency and integrity. Issuance of advertorials from a fool’s paradisal platform or legal intimidation by erstwhile vice presidential aides could not substitute for an independent and professional audit.
What is still at stake 14 years after is the establishment of whether the various sources of money received were judiciously accounted for. Donations poured in from different quarters to the extent that no outsider could put a figure to them! This excluded other forms of contributions.
It is not late for Prof. Osinbajo and the EFCC to revisit this unparalleled sport fraud.