Uneasy calm in Lagos sports, by Fred Edoreh
The inauguration of the Governing Board of the Lagos State Sports Commission on February 12 should close the curtain on the tortuous transition in its leadership and, hopefully, relieve the staff of months of uncertainty.
A press conference to herald the hugely successful 3rd edition of the Lagos City Marathon called a one-minute silence for its late chairman and former Special Adviser to the Governor on Sports, Mr Deji Tinubu. It was a week after his burial. He was at the head of the table at a similar gathering last year. This year, Dr Kweku Tandoh sat as the head. Tinubu had died reportedly of cardiac arrest while playing football at break time during a retreat of the state cabinet at Epe.
Close sources said he had been particularly restless for weeks, even months, and, about five days before he died, he had contemplated resigning from the service of the state but may have been encouraged to hang on by the Oba of Lagos, His Majesty, Rilwan Akiolu I, whom he took as a father. The sources confided that before he died that Thursday, he had had a threat from some colleagues, on Wednesday, that if he didn’t act on some matters by the following Monday, there would be consequences and he had made a frantic call to an unnamed “egbon” complaining that, “you people are just looking at me, this thing will consume me o.”
He had served the state as Chairman of the Sports Council during the administration of Sen Ahmed Tinubu after which, under Babatunde Fashola, he had sought to go into the Lagos State Football Association as Vice Chairman, supporting Barrister Seyi Akinwunmi as Chairman, but lost the election to Alhaji Tade Azeez, then Chairman of the state Referees CouncilThereafter, the state was said to have supported his election into the Executive Committee of the Nigeria Football Federation for which he was made head of the Marketing Committee. In his subsequent re-election bid, he had a challenge in Barrister Seyi Akinwunmi who edged him out of the South West slot on his emergence as the 1st Vice President of the NFF. He looked pitiably lonely and abandoned on the day, in what seemed a political conspiracy by the Lagos and South West crowd.
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode would later appoint him Special Adviser on Sports and Chairman of the newly formed sports commission, but there have been unsubstantiated whispers that, midway into his new role, he may have lost favour with the Governor. How true? Could he have been cited for incompetence? Did he suffer any gang up within the system? Did he feel defeated and humiliated possibly in a tussle for the control of the sports establishment following his redeployment to Commerce and Industry? What was it that he allegedly suggested might consume him? For instance, could there have been any pressures from some top functionaries on issues relating to Lagos Government involvement in some sports events like the Copa Lagos or AFCON Beach Soccer, the latter in which he co-chaired the state LOC?
There are no certain answers but a first sign that all wasn’t well showed during the celebration of Lagos at 50. While posters of various old and young politicians, academics, businessmen, musicians, movie stars and other socialites who contributed to the story of Lagos adorned the streets, sports people were conspicuously unrepresented. There were talks that Tinubu was working to bring Olympic legend, Usain Bolt, to anchor the sports segment of the celebration, to elicit global attention, and that Gov Ambode had bought into the plan, but it eventually didn’t happen.
Another sign was the absence of Lagos State, reportedly for reasons of non-release of funds, at the 2017 National Youth Games. Investigations indicate that the Director General, Adewunmi Ogunsanya, had prepared a budget which Tinubu was said to have scaled down. Sources at Alausa purported that Tinubu had opted to seek informal audience with the Governor to agree on the budget for the programme. It is unclear if he got through as the event opened in Ilorin while Tinubu was abroad on an assignment. A national paper reported the anger of Lagos parents at the government for denying their kids the exposure of competing with their peers from across the country. No one knows how the Governor may have felt about the situation but it wasn’t long before the DG the big stick.
Then, things began to happen fast. Notedly, the sports commission had been established with only the appointment of a chairman and DG, without the full compliment of a Governing Board. It is uncertain if Tinubu, knew about or participated, as SA and Chairman, in the selections to fill the board but our sources say it was quite a surprise last October when some gentlemen walked into the premises of the commission to inspect their new offices as members of board of the commission.
While Tinubu tried to grapple with that, the news headline, “Ambode sacks Tinubu”, popped up in November.
Tinubu confided that on that day, he had just returned from representing the Governor at the 10th anniversary of Chief Segun Odegbami’s Sports College at Wasimi and had just walked into his office after briefing the Governor at Alausa. Same day, the government, through the Commissioner for Information, Steve Ayorinde, quickly explained that Tinubu was not sacked but just relieved of the position of Chairman while he still remained the Special Adviser on Sports and member of the cabinet.
Dr Kweku Tandoh, former Director of Sports of the defunct Sports was announced as his replacement while Babatunde Bank-Anthony, former Executive Secretary of the state Sports Endowment Fund was appointed Director General.
Tandoh’s letter of appointment signed on 31 October, 2017, by Mrs Olabowale Ademola, Head of Service, and released on November 11, read that he is “Chairman of the Governing Board” of the commission. Interestingly, the law establishing the commission as assented to by Governor Ambode on February 1, 2017, provided in Article 5:2(a) that the chairman shall be the Chief Executive of the commission. In same breath, the law provides in Article 18:2 (b and d) that the Director General shall be the “Chief Accounting Officer…responsible for the day to day administration.”
Besides the Chairman and DG, other members of the commission include Olaposi Agunbiade (Executive Secretary), Seyi Akinwunmi, Gboyega Edu and six others.
Before their inauguration, things happened even faster obviating the existence of power tussle. The new leadership of the commission allegedly mounted pressure on Tinubu to vacate his office at the Teslim Balogun Stadium but he had resisted on grounds that he was still the SA Sports and a cabinet rank functionary.
Before this time, he had commissioned the restructuring of the Agege Stadium to meet CAF requirements for MFM FC of Lagos to compete n the Champions League. He set up a committee, headed by the Senior Special Assistant on Sports Facilities, to oversee the Agege project but, with work in progress, the new leadership of the commission soon took interest.
To resolve the conflict of roles, the Governor was said to have waded in to define duties between the commission and the office of the Special Adviser consequent upon which a memo was said to have been from the Head of Service on November 23, 2017, to define their mandates respective mandates.
Government House sources informed that the memo described the SA as “the member of the State Executive Council in charge of sports,,” to coordinate, monitor and supervise the activities of the Sports Commission and the State Sports Trust Fund, exercise responsibility for the development of stadia and community sports centres across the state; to, in conjunction with the SSA on Sports Facilities and other relevant agencies, bear responsibility for the monitoring and supervision of the construction of new sports facilities while ensuring regular maintenance of existing ones; and give directives to the sports commission on government policy and direction as it concerns sports in the state.
The memo was said to have concluded that the responsibility of the Chairman of the Governing Board would remain as provided in the law establishing the commission which provides that it shall be responsible for organising sports, training athletes and coaches, overseeing the associations and, per Article 3:1(j), “establish and maintain playing fields and premises for the practice of and holding of matches, competitions or contests by amateurs.”
While the memo allegedly said the SA remains “the cabinet member”, and to give “directives” and “direction” to the commission, Article 1, Paragraph 3 of the law of the commission states that the “Chairman of the Commission means the member of the State Executive Council for the time being charged with the responsibility for sports in the State”, and that the commission, per Article 2:1(a), shall be responsible to “formulate and implement sports policies in the state.”
Interestingly, on December 22, the new DG issued a stop work order on the contractors of the Agege project, Irenetai Nigeria Ltd, on the grounds that the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure expressed reservations on the appraisal and vetting of the bill of quantity, structural drawings and their involvement to perform statutory supervision. The commission also claimed that its Resident Procurement Officer informed it that the Lagos State Procurement Agency had rejected the project bid document for non revisal of the BOQ, engineering drawing and work plan.
Then events assumed higher drama. Perhaps relying on the authority of the memo of November 30, and for the fact that the Agege project was to meet requirements for professional club football, Tinubu, at about January 2, led a team to inspect works which continued at the facility. About a week after that inspection, on January 11, Tinubu was completely removed from Sports and redeployed still as SA to Commerce and Industry, in a cabinet reshuffle that also saw the movement of Steve Ayorinde from Information to Tourism, Rotimi Ogunleye from Commerce and Industry to Physical Planning and Urban Development amongst others.
Three days after the reshuffle, at about January 14, Kweku Tandoh and Bank-Anthony accompanied by Seyi Akinwunmi, chairman of the Lagos FA and members of his board, went for the nspection of the Agege project.
Tinubu died on January 25, two weeks after his redeployment and the commission gave him a befitting mourning with a candle light ceremony ceremony in which the chairman, the DG, and some of the board members including the Lagos FA Chair, Seyi Akinwunmi, paid glowing tributes to him, all describing him as a brother, friend and jolly good fellow.
Question remains if Gov Ambode will appoint another SA on sports. There are still questions on how the other sports offices, like the Senior Special Assistants on Sports, and on Sports Facilities, are to function vis-à-vis the commission. Would a definition of roles be also necessary?
The commission has however moved on. On February 7, it issued new terms of relationship to the FC Bescola Soccer School operating at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, demanding N2.4m and N3m annually, for their use of office space and the Main Bowl of the facility, respectively. A similar sum of N3m has also been charged on Dosu Joseph as annual fee for use of the RVTC sports ground at Isheri, Ojodu-Berger. These charges have thrown fear into the community of academy and grassroots sports development operators as to how to sustain talent hunting and nurturing in a city that is in serious deficit of community and schools sports centres.
An academy operator who pleaded anonymity cried that “this development officially brings denial effect on the sports development of kids. Academies and grassroots sports promoters will now have to pay more to train children and hold competitions on government grounds. N3m per annum is about N250,000 a month. How will this money come? Even if we charge parents higher to train the kids, its only the super rich that can afford that kind of charge. That invariably means sports is being removed from the poor and inner city kids.”