By Joe Apu
More than one month after the women’s national team, D’Tigress, raised the alarm over unpaid allowances and bonuses owed them by the leadership of the Nigeria Basketball Federation Board, the flame is still raging.
The allegation has set in motion another round of battle for the soul of Nigeria basketball. Beyond the protest by the ladies, there are underlying issues dating back several years.
While it is important to look at the spark that started the fire, it will also be pertinent to take into perspective the reason for the uprising in an otherwise fast-rising profile of Nigeria basketball on the international scene in four years without a takeoff account in 2017 from the previous leadership of the NBBF headed by Tijjani Umar now Permanent Secretary in the Presidency.
The spark to the fire
The Nigeria women’s basketball team, D’Tigress took a stand as a team after they lamented the poor treatment being meted to them by NBBF officials.
In a video posted on social media, members of the team individually expressed their disappointment and anger, calling out the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF).
Taking a stand in protest against the ill-treatment, the team threatened to boycott future international call-ups by the Federation.
The 2022 FIBA World Cup qualifying tournament is the next major event for the women’s team, and it is billed to take place early next year.
In the video, D’Tigress players outlined the injustices allegedly perpetrated on them by the board of the NBBF, led by Engr. Musa Kida.
“First we want to thank the Nigerian Embassy in Cameroon for celebrating us. We appreciate you more than you know. Other than that, we do not feel appreciated or celebrated after achieving a historical feat,” stated Victoria Macaulay.
“We have defended our championship and brought back the Cup in 2017, 2019 and 2021. It’s historical but no invitation has been extended to the team to visit Aso Rock or a Presidential handshake, why?”
Also, another member of the team, Promise Amukamara, faulted the claims by the Kida-led NBBF that the team was not being owed any monies.
“Musa Kida said that the Federation does not owe players or officials allowances. This is far from the truth. The last time we checked, our allowances, bonuses, training grants and donations made by banks to players and officials and volunteers, still have not been paid,” she pointed out.
Ezinne Kalu also felt that D’Tigress are being marginalized and that all their demands have been left unattended ever since their former Team Manager resigned under cloudy circumstances.
“Ever since our general manager and team manager resigned, we feel like we have been marginalised. I have not seen leadership like that of the former president, this one never really showed up for camps or competitions, to boost our morale. And we have significant concerns and issues that need to be addressed, which he always gives vague answers as if our concerns are not important to him. Musa Kida was not in Cameroon but somehow he showed up in Abuja to take pictures and to raise the trophy again for political gain,” she said.
Ify Ibekwe opened up on the debt the players, officials and volunteers are being owed.
“We are being owed USD 73,180 by the NBBF, USD 24,000 by the Ministry of Sports for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics grant and USD100, 000 from donations from three banks in Nigeria,” Ibekwe stated.
Atonye Nyingifa added: “There are lots of things that can be done to increase our chances of success, starting with our travel, our flight, our team uniform, making sure they are standard. Two practices a day and not being able to access medical staff were some of the things we faced during the (Tokyo) Olympics.”
In response to the allegations, former Nigeria Basketball Federation media officer Oni Afolabi popularly known as ‘Oni Guarantor’ described the attacks on the Nigeria Basketball Federation (NBBF) as politically motivated as posted on his Facebook page.
“It broke my heart to see D’Tigress players embark on a sponsored protest which has continued to go viral. Their action is definitely politically motivated and worse things are to be expected in the coming days.
“People who were in the team before 2017 would tell you the difference between then and what they enjoyed after. I am all for the improvement of players’ welfare.
“But, let us study the crux of the matter. In as much as I am not the Financial Officer of the Federation, it may not be difficult for me to see beyond the smokescreen of the protest.
“The protest is definitely politically motivated just to rubbish the achievements of the Nigeria Basketball Federation under Musa Kida. The personal agenda behind this movement is what disgusts me the most while the naive players never bothered to source for information.
“I will not talk down on anybody because we all love to make money. That is why even players hold their respective clubs to ransom for improved pay. The issue of training grants and other related issues surrounding the Olympics is total hogwash.
“Grants or allowances at such events were handled by the Ministry of Sports and the Nigeria Olympics Committee. All federations are just pedestrians with the above-mentioned bodies fully in charge.
“According to my sources, the players and some banking rules are responsible for the difficulty in the disbursement of the donations from banks to the Men and Women’s teams. The disbursement is not just for the players who participated at the Olympics, but for all the players who took part in the run-up to the Olympic Games qualification.
“The money is not in the account of the NBBF, so the players’ anger is misguided. Can a promise become a debt? Maybe, depending on the side of the divide that you stand.
“In view of this, let us assume that players and Coaches are ‘owed’ money by the President. The debt owed was based on personal promises in 2018 and 2019 after the World Cup and Afrobasket respectively.
“So, for the players, it is a debt being owed while to the person (Federation) that promised them, it is not a debt, but a promise. We all have uncles and aunties or helpers who will promise to sort us out but life will eventually happen.
“They will either forget or have other pressing issues to attend to. Does that give us the right to start reporting to other family members about the promise now turned debt? It will shock you to note that the recent Afrobasket trip was personally sponsored by the President.
“Funny enough, this is not the first time such is being done to spare the nation of any form of international disgrace. Sarah Ogoke raised the issue of not being brought home after 2019 to either train or celebrate after their Afrobasket win which she found insulting.
“Yes, the players came home in 2017, 2019 before and after their Afrobasket wins and they were well celebrated. But since 2020 when COVID-19 hit the world, everything changed including how people move.
“So, rather than unduly exposing the players to unnecessary risks, why not minimize that with a more compact camping arrangement? Mactabene Amachree who is the former General Manager of the team is fighting tooth and nail in conjunction with some political opponents to drag Kida in the mud.
“She sees the position as her birthright and felt offended that she was sacked. The only mistake was that she was given free hands like others to operate. No wonder she seized the social media handles of the team which she is now using to fight the federation.
“Haba, this threepeat is becoming a source of worry. It is sad that after the numerous personal sacrifices to make Nigeria look good, he is being rewarded this way just because of politics.
“Lest we forget, politics will come and go, but the hurts will never. If any party has a reasonable reason to believe that funds were misappropriated, why not file a petition with the agencies empowered to handle this rather than resorting to media trial?”
The struggle for power
Besides the above allegations and response, it is pertinent to note that the behind the scene factor to all of this is that power must not reside with Musa Kida.
In 2017 when the then Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Solomon Dalung decided that the era of having government nominees on the board of federations would no longer be, it did not go down well in many quarters.
The battle for the soul of Nigeria Basketball goes back to several years but recall that in 2013 some aggrieved members of the board had petitioned the Nigeria Olympic Committee (NOC) and then Minister of Sports, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi.
Four out of the six members elected from the zones namely Musa Kida (South-South), Babs Ogunade (South-West), Igoche Mark (North-Central) and Osita Nwachukwu (South-East) at the weekend petitioned the NOC to protest the process of selecting the stakeholders and the elections of both the president and vice president of the NBBF for the 2013-2017 term of office.
When the response from the NOC was unsatisfactory, the four members walked out on the board and took their case to court. The case remained in court until Col. Ahmedu was requested to withdraw it in 2016 at the behest of FIBA.
Till the end of the term of Tijjani Umar as President of the NBBF, the four members stayed out and when in 2017 election was scheduled for Abuja, Tijjani Umar and a group of his followers decided to hold a parallel election a day earlier in Kano where Umar was returned as President but it was in the absence of the Ministry of Youth and Sports as well as the Nigeria Olympic Committee.
At an election which had the Sports Ministry, the Nigeria Olympic Committee as well as representative from FIBA, Musa Kida was elected and FIBA took notice. But several protests came up with Tijjani Umar insisting that he is the authentic President of the NBBF.
The basketball ruling body FIBA set up a visitation panel to unravel the true position of things after several correspondences with the Nigeria Olympic Committee and took a stand.
FIBA gave recognition to the Kida-led board but that decision failed to assuage the Umar faction that even went ahead to accuse them of complicity.
KWESE LEAGUE SPONSORSHIP OF $2.2m
When it was obvious that Tijani Umar and his camp had lost out, he decided to hold onto the sponsorship fee of $2.2m paid for the Kwese Premier Basketball League. Also withheld was the Peak sponsorship agreement entered into by the Tijjani Umar-led board before the 2017 election.
To further stall the efforts of Kida, the Tijjani Umar group took the NBBF to court barring it from holding the Premier Basketball League.
In 2017, the Nigeria Olympic Committee directed all sports federations to conclude matters of reviews and approval of their respective constitutions and statutes, in line with their international federation rules and guidelines.
In a seven-point communique issued after its 2017 Annual General Meeting in Lagos, the NOC directed that the reviews must be concluded on or before 30th June, 2018 with ratified copies submitted to the Nigeria Olympic Committee.
In the communique, the NOC pointed out that “Nigerians aspiring for positions in International Federation and Confederation boards should be encouraged by all means as they play very important roles in the delivery of results by athletes in the sports field.” The communique was signed by the then Secretary-General of the NOC, Tunde Popoola.
The election that followed brought in the Musa Kida-led board but it was not without protests.
The Tijjani Umar-led faction faulted claims by the Secretary-General of the Nigeria Olympic Committee, NOC Mr. Tunde Popoola that he was not aware of the Federation’s election held in Kano on Monday, June 12, 2017.
Tijjani noted that Mr. Popoola was not sincere about the Kano election because “the NOC is in the custody of the NBBF ratified Constitution and the election rules and regulation which (it) made input into for the conduct of the election.”
For the 2021 elections into the boards of national federations, the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development in keeping with its commitment of holding the National Sports Federations election in September 2021 affirmed that elections into the National Sports Federations will hold on September 30, 2021 but noted that six (6) National Sports Federations that have their Constitutions ratified by their International sports bodies and the Nigeria Olympic Committee will conduct their elections based on their respective Constitutions.
The sports Federations that were so cleared include Nigeria Aquatics Federation, Nigeria Basketball Federation, Nigeria Boxing Federation, Cycling Federation of Nigeria, Nigeria Shooting Federation as well as Nigeria Table Tennis Federation.
However, while the other five federations held their elections without hitches but that of basketball got stalled following several protests from a section of the basketball family that there are areas in the constitution that needs to be sorted out first before the elective congress.
While the impasse continues, there have been concerns raised for the management of basketball. While the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development took steps and paid D’Tigress their $100, 000 meant for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games from the NBBF Central Bank account, Nigeria’s participation on the international scene is threatened.
With the FIBA World Cup Africa Qualifiers slated for November 26-28 in the Angolan city of Benguela around the corner and FIBA letter of November 11 insisting that the status quo should be maintained, the Nigeria Olympic Committee is of the opinion that issues regarding the constitution be resolved before the election is conducted.
The Ministry of Youth and Sports Development in an attempt to safeguard Nigeria’s slot for the 2022 Basketball African League went ahead to conduct the Final 8 phase of the Nigeria Premier League.
If Nigeria fails to resolve its issues, the basketball world governing body may be forced to replace Nigeria on the international calendar citing government interference as the reason.