Solomon Dalung versus Federation Presidents!

Categories: Featured, Football, Sports Development
Written By: Olusegun Odegbami

Elections into the board of national sports federations are just around the corner. They have generated a lot of controversy within the sports family these past few weeks.

Different groups are contesting for the power to control the different national sports federations and the sports ministry is at the heart of the rofo rofo fight.

This development is not new in Nigerian sports. The in-fighting and jostling for positions take place every 4 years and this year is not an exception notwithstanding the determination of the Minister of Sports, Solomon Dalung, to introduce major reforms that will, hopefully, positively alter the trajectory of sports development going forward and change the face of Nigerian sports.

Although his background is not steep in sports as he has publicly demonstrated several times since he mounted the saddle of leadership of the sector, his intentions were always clear to all that he is a part and parcel of the present government with a mandate to clear the stable of all the vestiges of the ugly past of sports administration – corruption, non-accountability for public funds disbursed to the federation, manipulation of the electoral process, complete dependence on government for all funding, perpetuation of stay in office by some federation presidents, imposition of special candidates by some powerful officials in the sports ministry, not allowing passionate, competent and relevant people and constituencies from participating, and not allowing for a level playing field for everyone.

These are very good issues to tackle and remove from the polity. Fortunately, for him, inadvertently, he has the backing of the present federal government to carry out his reforms in Nigerian sports. The government will even notice what he is doing with the sector not being on the front burner of government’s priorities for now.

So, Dalung has the power and freedom to do and to undo whatever he chooses. Unless, for example, in the course of pursuing these reforms, the whole thing turns ugly and the country is suspended by an international body from participating in an international event earning the country some bad publicity and a dent on it’s international image.

But in that same power also lies the problem he will surely face down the line.

In implementing several of the recommendations of the Sports Reform Committee that he set up to advise him on the actions to take, he has been blunt and brazen. He has stepped on the toes of several people who also came into sports through government. They, therefore, also have some residual power and means (particularly the statutes of international federations) to protect them should they seek the intervention of the international bodies to which they belong.

So, some of them will and may already be fighting back. That’s what is playing out now – a real power play!

It is obvious to me that the Sports Minister did not get the right advise from those conversant with the intrigues and local politics of previous elections to navigate him successfully through the challenges that his open intervention would create.

The federal government may have awesome powers, but as we have seen in the case of the Nigeria Football Association during Ibrahim Galadima’s time as President of the federation, against the threat of a country’s suspension from participating in international events, the federal government becomes an ‘enemy’ of the sports-crazy Nigerian people, and becomes toothless and powerless.

Ibrahim Galadima, in 2004, fought the federal government to a standstill in his struggle to make the NFA independent, and to enforce compliance with the non-interference-of-government rule in the statutes of the FIFA. He did all these things because he legitimately wanted to return as president against the design of some persons in the sports ministry that wanted him out, their own person in, and were manipulating the strings of government power.

His election crisis has become a reference point and a reminder of what could lie ahead of any form of third party interference (as in this present case) in the affairs of federations.

That’s why today, the sports ministry has excluded the NFF from the decisions it has taken on the current matter of elections. Were the NFF to be involved in the current show down, the minister would never have dared to publicly organize election guidelines for national federations and to dissolve the current boards.

In the case of Galadima, his victory was pyrrhic because, although he won the elections that his faction of the board organised in Kano, and gave the NFA the relative independence it enjoys today, he was eventually starved of funds and barred from the use of the government facilities and property in Abuja that the federation was using as secretariat of the NFA. It became, also, a matter of time before he would be shown the way out by the remnants of the NFA board members that had government support and backing.

That is what happened in 2004/2005. Galadima won his personal fight briefly, but never had the freedom and time to enjoy it. The government used the electorates by coercing them to remove him in a ‘concocted’ election he could not even take part in.

That is where the power of government really lies – subtle, remote control of the system, particularly the electorate that is mostly government appointees from the States!

That’s what Solomon Dalung should have done. He should have stayed away from the eye of the storm, influenced amendment of the guidelines as he has successfully done to an extent now, and used the power of his office to influence who the electorates elect as President in an open and transparent election.

He would have succeeded, without raising any dust or rancor, to remove those he did not want, alter the rules in the statutes offensive to his good intentions, and helped those he wanted as members and presidents of the new boards.

Dalung will get away with his present clear defiance of the international rules of non-interference now only if none of the affected out-going presidents challenges him by reporting the ministry’s actions to the international body to which they are affiliated.

Everything now stands in danger of been thwarted as a result of the continuous public display of the sports ministry’s hand in the on-going electoral process.

It will be interesting to see how it all ends up. Who will remain standing? Who will stand up and challenge Dalung in the court of international confederations? Who will dare to try to stop the process the sports ministry has started and is supervising publicly?

The next few weeks will surely be interesting in the political landscape of Nigerian sports.

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