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Cleansing NFF Augean stables

By  Steve Alabi
A wind is blowing across the face of Nigeria carrying with its heat that is scorching and cleansing. It knows no ranks nor titles, not even the highest temple of justice nor its chief high priest. It is swift and sweeping, capable of bringing down obeche and iroko trees. For the wicked and wily, it is a season of fear and trepidation. For those whose hands are not clean, there is fire on the mountain.

As we noted recently, the fire has spread to the mountain of the Glass House. It is a fire which no fire brigade can put out. Only the insiders can put this fire out. Darts are flying from everywhere and there is no hiding place for the top brass in the house. Last Thursday, the chieftains of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF were reportedly grilled by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on the operations of the federation. Quite appropriately, no one is threatening fire and brimstone as is usual when the torch is beamed on the Nigerian game. Like we warned in this column, the scarecrows seem to have learnt that they cannot dangle the axe of FIFA they usually dangle in this case.

The allegations that some of our football governors have been helping themselves to our common funds just won’t go away despite profuse effusions by the persons concerned that nothing is amiss. Many swear by the Holy Books that the Glass House is truly a cesspit of unimaginable corruption. They dismiss the defences put up by the NFF chieftains with a wave of the hand as complete hogwash. Others argue that no matter the gravity of the allegations, they remain mere allegations until proven.

For the first time since allegations started flying against Amaju Pinnick, an insider has come out to join his voice to the matter. It is a voice we must attach some weight to; it is that of Otunba Dele Ajayi, who was elected along with Pinnick in the first term, and who held the important position of Chairman of the Finance and Appropriations Committee. His views can therefore not be viewed with levity.

In an interview on Orange 94.5 FM, Akure, Ajayi said, “There is a lot of mismanagement in the Nigeria Football Federation under Amaju Pinnick and I can tell you that for more than three years, there was no approval. The board members were not aware of all the funds flying about, you can only talk of three or four people who are aware of those funds, there is no transparency. There is nothing like executive in the books of the NFF. When you receive money, you take it to the board and the board must approve…When we were sworn-in, I was made the chairman of finance but when I don’t want them to do otherwise, they had to replace me but now I’m being vindicated.”

He questioned the NFF assertion that it enjoys financial integrity on account of a clean bill of health given by Pricewaterhouse Coopers, the same firm that audits FIFA.  “The audit firm will be rubbished one of these days because the world will soon know what they have done in Nigeria. They cook books for them because when you look at it, FIFA cannot tell us what we are doing here.”

Ajayi went into specifics. “When [Pinnick] collected 1.5billion naira from the government and was telling us he did not collect a dime, where did the money go to? [NFF] collected three million dollars from FIFA which did not reach the account of the NFF. They collected one million dollars from CAF without board members being aware of such money, even sponsorships. Even the Aiteo Cup, referees who officiated the tournament two years ago have not been paid and they collected billions from the sponsors, how can they be cleared?”

“The minister keeps saying it that a panel set up by the federal government has indicted somebody with mismanagement and misappropriation of funds. When the case gets to court you know what will happen with FIFA. There are different ways to deal with financial irregularities, if the NFF are receiving money alone from FIFA then they have the rights to spend it the way they want and explain to FIFA but when they collect money from the federal government and they don’t have any explanation to that, are we saying that the government has no right to ask for the appropriation because they are affiliated to FIFA?,” he questioned.

Ajayi is confident of proving his claims if called upon to do so. “We have various documents to prove this misappropriation. The truth will prevail, all of us will know the truth about these things one day whether the government have the right to probe them or not. You should listen to the minister of sports, he is the one releasing funds to them. How can we say we went to Russia, the senate through its president gave you 200 million naira, some state governments like Lagos, Rivers, Delta gave you 100 million naira each and they were not declared at all. Is the money personal to them or the organisation?”

These allegations are weighty but there is no smoke without fire. Constant scrutiny of funds from the public treasury is not out of place. It is not right to insinuate witchhunt when such scrutiny is being done. It can only amount to a witchhunt if it is maliciously done.

We have a responsibility to countenance the defence of the NFF chieftains but we have a higher duty to protect the national passion against graft and incompetence. When insiders spill the beans, there is truly fire on the mountain, and we do incalculable damage to the game if we sweep allegations made in this circumstance aground. These allegations must be thoroughly investigated. The national passion needs it.


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