Crisis Deepens In Nigerian Athletics As Two Factional Leaders Emerge

Two parallel elections were held in Kebbi
and Abuja on Monday to elect leaders
for the Athletics Federation of Nigeria
(AFN).

One of the elections produced Ibrahim
Gusau as president while the other
produced Tonobok Okowa as AFN
president.

Mr Gusau was re-elected as AFN
President at the 2021 Elective Congress
of his faction in Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi
State, on Monday, June 14.

According to a statement issued by the
Gusau-led AFN, he polled 20 votes while
Uche Muoma got just two votes from
the 22 delegates present at the venue.
For the position of 1st Vice President,
North West Zonal Representative
Sunday Adeleye got 15 votes to emerge
the winner ahead of Solomon Abari who
had four votes and Patrick Estate with
three votes.

For the position of 2nd Vice President,
Nneka Ikem polled 13 votes ahead of
Esther Mallim who scored eight votes
while Janet Wilson managed one vote.
Patrick Estate (South-east), Paul
Wakama (South-south), Solomon Abari
(North-east) and Vitalis Lashimi (North-
central) all emerged from their zones as
representatives.

Other members of the board include Olu
Sule who is a representative of the
Technical Officials and Coaches
alongside Moses Suleiman as Athletes
Representative.

In his acceptance speech, Mr Gusau
reportedly thanked the delegates for
their support in making his first-term a
success while counting on their
continued support for the next four
years.

Abuja Election

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In Abuja, Tonobok Okowa Of Delta State
also emerged as the AFN President at
the Elective Congress of the AFN faction
recognised by Nigeria’s sports ministry.
The congress took place at the
Moshood Abiola National Stadium Abuja
on Monday.

The congress was attended by 35 state
chairpersons of the AFN, who had
converged in Abuja since Saturday for
the congress and elections.

The election was held following the
sports ministry’s invocation of section
10.4 of the 2017 AFN Constitution
which led to the controversial
dissolution of the Gusau-led board
citing the expiration of its term.

According to a statement received from
the sports minister’s office, the
ministry’s representatives, the Nigeria
Olympics Committee (NOC) and
Nigeria’s Ambassador-designate to
South Africa amongst others were
observers at Monday’s election in
Abuja.

It is expected that the World Athletics
(WA) and the Confederation of African
Athletics (CAA) will, in the coming days,
make categorical statements on which
of the rival factions is legitimate.

Genesis of crisis

Though the AFN has had its fair share of
crisis in the past, this current crisis
began shortly after the Gusau-led board
was inaugurated in 2017 by former
sports minister, Solomon Dalung.

While Mr Gusau’s emergence as
president was in itself widely
challenged, the situation got worse with
some of his early decisions termed as
unpopular by his fellow board members.

Mr Gusau showed he was not
comfortable with Olamide George as
vice-president, and thus made his ally,
Sunday Adeleye, the unofficial vice-
president and technical director.

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Messrs Gusau and Adeleye were also
accused of diverting funds from a
sponsorship deal entered into with
PUMA. That allegation has not be
proven.

In the heat of the crisis, a board meeting
of AFN was called and Mr Gusau was
removed as president and Mr George
named the acting president. Since then,
athletics and athletes in Nigeria have
not known peace.

Mr Gusau went to court to challenge his
removal and he was pronounced as the
legal president but the sports ministry is
challenging that ruling at the Supreme
court.

After a series of interventions by the
World and Africa athletics governing
bodies (WA and CAA), it was agreed
that a fresh election that will unify the
warring factions be held on Monday,
June 14, in line with the 2017
constitution of the AFN to bring lasting
peace.

Rather than bringing peace to the
bleeding sports, Monday’s factional
elections appear to have opened
another round of crisis in the athletics
body.

Another twist

Interestingly, Mr George, who headed
the rival faction before now, appears to
have been schemed out and is now
realigning with the Gusau board.

Mr George complained about the
guidelines for the Abuja election;
alleging it was doctored to favour the
anointed candidate of the sports
ministry.

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According to the statement issued on
Monday, Mr George congratulated Mr
Gusau for his ‘re-election’
“I congratulate my brother and friend
Engr Ibrahim Shehu Gusau on his re-
election as President of the Athletics
Federation of Nigeria and also rejoice
with the newly elected board.

“I am happy that illegitimacy was not
allowed to marr the Kebbi Elections. I
promise to join hands with the Gusau
led Board to continue the development
of Athletics in Nigeria. I am with you all
the way,” Mr George was quoted as
saying in the statement by the Gusau-
led AFN.

Why the two rival factions are laying
claims to their legitimacy, the WA and
the CAA would have to make their
stance known in the days ahead.

Only the Court of Arbitration for Sports,
CAS, can take a legally binding stance
different to those taken by the two
bodies.

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