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How club officials, agents, refs defraud Nigerian footballers

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How club officials, agents, refs defraud Nigerian footballers

 

Investigations  by  ’TANA AIYEJINA have exposed how corruption has eaten deep into various levels of Nigerian football, leaving the footballers to suffer

Sports minister Solomon Dalung’s first experience of the massive corruption in the Nigerian sports sector dates back 14 years ago.

Then, as a member of the country’s government delegation to the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations in Mali, Dalung, who some also questioned his inclusion on the list, having virtually nothing to do with sports at the time, was shortchanged by fraudulent ministry officials, who didn’t give him the complete money he was entitled to.

“I was once a victim of corruption in the sports industry. I was one of those on the Federal Government delegation to the 2002 AFCON and I was entitled to $7000 but I ended up collecting only $400,” he stated.

On assumption of office, Dalung was alarmed at how much money there was in football. “There’s more money there than in the oil industry,” he said, adding that it was the cause of the leadership crisis that had bedevilled the Nigeria Football Federation in the past two years.

“There’s more cash in football than in the oil sector and there is so much selfish interests and as a result we have this crisis,” Dalung added.

But it will shock the Plateau-born sports administrator to know how much more corruption has eaten deep into the country’s football, not just at the top but at club level.

In a letter titled “Looted football funds- over N50bn diverted into private pockets of officials of state government owned football clubs” and dated April 4, 2016, the National Association of Nigerian Footballers invited anti-graft agencies to “thoroughly” investigate the fraudulent practices of corrupt football officials.

 “There are strong indications that funds accruing to football at all levels from the Nigeria Football Federation to the Nigeria Professional Football League and the clubs are being diverted into private pockets,” the statement signed by acting NANF president, Larry Kubeinje, stated.

Majority of clubs in the Nigerian domestic league are owned by state governments, who often use these clubs more as tools to score cheap political points, rather than as professional and money-making ventures. Thus fraudulent club officials have cashed in to rip government off revenue that should have accrued to the clubs, while the players groan over months and sometimes even years of unpaid salaries, sign-on fees, allowances and match bonuses.

According to NANF, funds appropriated to the following government-owned clubs: Lobi Stars, 3SC, Warri Wolves, Enugu Rangers, Wikki Tourists, Sharks (defunct), Dolphins (defunct), Bayelsa United, Kano Pillars, Plateau United, Heartland, Enyimba, Akwa United, Sunshine Stars, El Kanemi Warriors, Taraba United, Jigawa Stars, Nasarawa United and Kwara United, particularly those in the elite division of the NPFL, is about N500m annually, but it could be more if the clubs qualify to play in the CAF club competitions, the players body stated.

The statement further read, “These clubs are also entitled to title sponsorship and broadcast rights fees from the League Management Company.

“But from 2006 till date, none of the above-mentioned clubs spend up to N250m from the state governments appropriated funds to run these clubs. The bulk of these funds are diverted into private pockets of top officials of these clubs. Since 2006, unpaid contract fees, sign-on fees, salaries and allowances of Nigerian players dead or alive is over N2bn from each of these clubs.

“It is in the light of the above that NANF invites the EFCC to thoroughly investigate this matter and recover over N25bn looted by these clubs officials from 2006 till date and prosecute those found culpable.”

Wolves N70m crisis

Relegated Warri Wolves have been in dire financial crisis over the years, despite being one of the best funded in the country. Two seasons ago, the club received money from the LMC for their second-place finish, as well as N300m from the government but still couldn’t pay the players. The situation heightened when the players threatened a strike before they were paid only two months of their salaries in September, but not without some drama and controversies.

In August, a former official of Wolves Timi Ebikagboro on his Facebook page revealed that the club received N70m from the state government and the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, but was surprised that the players were still owed.

He added that the government money (N50m) was shared by officials, while the N20m from DESOPADEC was paid into a private account, rather than the club’s account.

Oftentimes in the Nigerian league, officials pay the clubs’ money into private accounts for it to yield interests, before paying the players, who are left to groan in poverty over unpaid wages during the period.

Wolves’ chairman, Moses Etu, however denied that the money was paid into a private account.

“I will not want to speak of the government publicly; DESOPADEC money was not paid into a private account. With what we had, we were able to play a two-legged CAF Champions League match here and in Sudan, pay three months’ salaries, pay last season’s bonuses to present and players who have left (the club), play 30 matches home and away, pay not less than 12 match bonuses this season and logistics, then we deserve kudos,” he stated.

But Super Eagles forward and ex-Wolves player IkechukwuIbenegbu refuted Etu’s claims, saying he and other former players were still owed a sizeable sum of money by the Warri club.

Ibenegbu said, “Etu only paid us(ex-Wolves players) six match bonuses of the past (2014/15) season; we are still waiting for our 100 per cent accumulated wages to be paid.

“The players held a meeting with Tony Okowa (Delta State Sports Commission boss). Tony told the players that he would only pay them 25 per cent out of the 100 per cent of the accumulated wages, that we should forfeit the rest. But up till now, we have not received a dime out of our accumulated wages.”

In the midst of the drama, another spectacle played out on September 9, when Wolves officials GordonsOgbe, AzukaOgosi and Azuka Ralph were allegedly robbed while on their way from the bank. The trio were said to have withdrawn N6m to pay the players and officials’ part of the money owed them.

Also, Wolves got virtually nothing from the sale of their high-profile players AzubuikeEgwueke, OghenekaroEtebo and others.

“There are so many shady deals in the club. When I got to Wolves as GM, I was angry that players’ contracts were not properly certified. In normal climes, you see clubs renewing contracts of players before a season ends. Etebo and Egwueke’s contracts ended on January 10, 2016; Wolves tried to contest it but it was clear and the club got nothing from their transfers,” former Wolves general manager Edema Fuludu said.

The 1994 AFCON winner added, “This is what you get when dishonest people are given positions but they don’t care because it’s government funds.”

Fraudulent transfer deals

In November, Nasir Jubril, Manager, Transfer Matching System of the NFF, said the country’s football clubs raked in a whopping N5bn in the first 10 months of 2016, from the sales of players locally and internationally.

“Between January and October this year, a cash inflow of about N5bn has accrued to the clubs in Nigeria from the transfer of players. For instance, if a player is bought for say two or three million pounds, when you multiply that with the exchange rate you can imagine what we are talking about.”

Jubril however, didn’t provide details on what each club earned from the players sales but it raised a pertinent question on what the clubs did with the money, since they still went cap-in-hand to government for sponsorship.

Secretary of the Association of Professional Footballers of Nigeria, Austin Popo, said the money realised from these transfers, were mostly diverted for private use by the officials.

 “A lot of players are transferred abroad but where is their transfer money since majority of the clubs still rely solely on government funding? We must monitor these transfers; majority of them enter private pockets. Corruption thrives in Nigerian football. All the focus is on the NFF but nobody talks about happenings inside the clubs. This has to stop and we are ready to fight until they adhere to global standards and protect the players,” Popo said.

Former Eagles midfielder Garba Lawal was alarmed to discover that Kaduna United players had no personal bank accounts and were owed salaries for as much as seven months, when he was appointed chairman of the club in 2014. United also didn’t have a club house, team office and good buses, according to the 1996 Olympic gold medallist, who said the club received about N51m as yearly subvention from government during this time.

A major problem that however stared Lawal in the face was the controversial transfer of the club’s defender Efe Ambrose to Israeli side MS Ashdod in 2010.

Ashdod had refused to pay United the US$70,000 agreed for the move, which led to FIFA’s dispute resolution committee imposing a 15,000 Swiss franc fine on the club, in violation of article 64 of its disciplinary code.

However, Lawal discovered that United’s erstwhile officials had given the Israelis a personal account, rather than that of the club, which prompted the Europeans to renege on paying the amount.

“Ashdod paid the money when I was chairman of the club but it was when I came in that I started making the contact. The Israelis wanted a club account, not a private account, and they didn’t agree to pay because they wanted proof that the account they were going to pay into belonged to the club.

“So, I opened an account in Kaduna United’s name and Ashdod paid the money in batches within a short period of time.

“United didn’t have an account before I joined them. They did table payment; the sports ministry gave the club raw cash and they spent days paying players and officials inside a hotel. I couldn’t waste my time doing that, so I opened accounts for all the players in Sterling Bank,” Lawal said.

In an interview with sports website sl10.ng in 2014, ex-Kaduna United chairman Sabo Babayaro admitted that they presented a private account to the Israeli club.

“We had an initial agreement for the fee to be paid to our board financial secretary’s account, Musa Mohammed Maliki, they (Ashdod) refused and insisted on paying into our club account in care of the agent who brokered the deal,” Babayaro was quoted by sl10.ng as saying.

But the Kaduna United issue doesn’t come as a surprise to Kubeinje. “It is the same situation in all the clubs year-in-year-out in areas of internally-generated revenue through the sales of players to foreign clubs. The clubs’ domiciliary accounts in this respect have become personal property of the club chairmen and top officials, where huge foreign exchange is diverted into private pockets,” he stated.

But that was not the only fraud Lawal discovered. One season, Kaduna United had no player, after they sold all their players and then loaned them back from the clubs they were sold to. Yet, these players were allegedly paid despite not being on the club’s rooster any longer, Lawal said.

“I came in to discover that players were sold to other clubs but these same players were loaned back to United. I played at two World Cups, two Olympics, four AFCONs and in Europe, I never saw a thing like that,” he said.

Sports commissioners/agents/academies

Another major problem plaguing Nigerian football is the involvement of people in the hierarchy of the game in the sales of footballers. Also, academy owners are very influential in player sales. These academies usually serve as laundry channels for government funds, and only exist in names with no offices or grounds.

Popo said the state sports commissioners play a major role in defrauding the clubs.

“Two years ago, there was a transfer of a player to Europe for €100,000 and the money was paid into the personal account of the club’s general manager. Funny enough, these club officials don’t do it alone; they connive with the sports commissioners,” Popo stated.

A former Super Eagles star, who was once General Manager of 3SC, told our correspondent how the Oyo State Sports Commissioner during his time at the club, virtually forced him to pay him N500,000 monthly from the club’s allocation from government.

The ex-3SC boss, who pleaded anonymity, said, “The man insisted that I must pay him N1m monthly but I refused. The money was barely enough to take care of the team. But some top people intervened and there was nothing I could do, so we arrived at him collecting N500,000 monthly.”

An academy official, who also pleaded anonymity, told our correspondent how the sports commissioners and top clubs officials defraud government owned clubs through their academies.

“These people use club funds from government to buy players for their private academies and make the world believe that the players are owned by the clubs. But in the players’ contracts, they belong to their academies. They then loan these players back to the clubs. When such a player seals a move abroad, the money from his transfer goes to the academy and nothing is remitted to the club account and government loses,” our source said.

Last year, former Dolphins striker Emem Eduok was engulfed in a transfer imbroglio after Norwegian side Sarpsborg insisted that they had acquired the Nigerian international from A & B Academy on a four-year deal reportedly worth $150,000.

Former league top scorer Eduok joined Dolphins, now defunct, on loan from Akwa United in the 2010/11 season before the club acquired him on a permanent basis.

But Dolphins ignored Sarpsborg and instead sold Eduok to Tunisia’s Esperance. However, Sarpsborg Sporting Director, Thomas Bernstein, insisted that the player was presented as an A & B player by Bright Ogude, CEO A & B Academy.

“Eduok confirmed to us in oral and wrote to us that he belongs to A & B Academy, we did our investigations and we found out it’s true,” Bern stein said.

Sarpsborg ‘s loss was Dolphins and Esperance gain, as the forward was eventually sold to the North African club.

Dolphins had an option to take legal action against Ogude and A & B Academy but our findings showed that A & B Academy and Sports Club is a part of A & B Group of Companies, named after two influential former sports commissioners in Rivers State.

“On Eduok, the agent, Bright, wanted to play a fast one on Dolphins but the striker reported the issue to the club.  But A & B Academy doesn’t belong to the commissioners. To show his loyalty to both men, Bright used the first letters of their first names as appellation of the academy. He even named his first son after one of them,” a former Dolphins official said.

Rangers

For Enugu Rangers fans, the euphoria of winning the league after 32 years in the doldrums is still in the air. But there seems to be a time bomb waiting to explode when the celebration drums cease to beat.

In April, our correspondent came across a petition written by the supporters club of the Flying Antelopes to the EFCC calling on the anti-graft agency to investigate the fraudulent activities of the club management in the sale of their players to clubs abroad.

Chairman of the supporters club IbuchukwuNwodo, who is among those that signed the petition, said one of such transfers involved winger Ejike Uzoenyi, who joined South African side Mamelodi Sundowns on a four-year deal in 2014.

Uzoenyi joined Rangers from Enyimba in the 2009/10 season in an exchange deal that had Bishop Onyeudo joining the People’s Elephants.

Nwodo stated, “Our biggest star Uzoenyi was sold but Rangers didn’t receive even five per cent of the transfer money. They said the player was on loan (from Enyimba). It’s a lie. We had an exchange deal with Enyimba; they were given Onyeudo.

“Nobody can tell us Uzoenyi wasn’t a Rangers player but his transfer to Sundowns became a different ball game entirely. They shared the money amongst themselves, including Uzoenyi. It was a terrible thing.”

Players suffer

The case of Taraba United was widely celebrated in December last year, after the players staged a protest in front of Taraba Government House, Jalingo, over 11 months unpaid salaries. The melee that ensued saw the players beaten up by soldiers and teargassed by policemen but they were undeterred as they camped in front of the government house for nine days.

Defender Linus Adams lost his new-born daughter during the commotion that ensued but couldn’t raise funds to travel from Jalingo to Kaduna to see the body of his dead child and comfort his wife.

A year later, things have gone from bad to worse, with the players now owed 21 months salaries alongside sister club Taraba Queens.

On Monday, players of both clubs blocked the main entrance into the Taraba Government House in protest over the non-payment of their salaries.

“We are sad over what the Taraba government is doing to us. We have not been paid for 21 months now, they owed us 10 months in 2015 and in 2016, 11 months have gone without any payment,” Michael Uzih, Taraba United captain, said.

Most clubs in Nigeria travel to match venues by road in order to save costs, leaving the players at the mercy of the country’s bad roads and dare-devil men of the underworld, while the top officials travel by air for the same games.

Sometimes, some of the players are killed or left with career-ending injuries either from auto crashes or from gunshots.

On January 18, two-time African champions Enyimba had one of their buses ambushed by heavily armed men in Okene, Kogi State, on their way to Kaduna to participate in the Super-4 tournament. The players were made to pass through harrowing experiences.

“Honestly, we thought we were going to be shot because they were shooting in the air. They hit our heads with guns. We thought they were going to kill us. But they only collected our money, phones, iPads and other valuables,” Daniel Etor, Enyimba’s 22-year-old midfielder, said.

In March last year, the bus carrying an 18-man squad of Kano Pillars to their opening fixture of the 2014/15 NPFL against Heartland in Owerri was attacked by armed men in Kogi, shooting five players — Gambo Muhammed, Eneji Otekpa, Reuben Ogbonnaya,Ubong Ekpai and Adamu Murtala.

Gambo returned to football two months later after a successful surgery while a bullet was removed from the head of Ogbonnaya a month after the attack. The defender had left the bullet in his head for that period in order to assist Pillars in their quest to qualify for the second round of the 2015 CAF Champions League.

Referees indicted

In 2010 veteran league reporter Emma Jemegha reported how board members of a South West club allocated loans to themselves from the club’s money and also inflated the money for the maintenance of their pitch.

Jemegha says club officials would prefer to “settle” referees, rather than taking care of the welfare of players and coaches.

He stated, “No club in the NPFL gets less than N300m annually but most of the top officials prefer to take care of frivolities and settling referees, instead of paying the players.

“Between 2003 and 2004, a prominent team in the South East won the league but their coach got sacked. When people raised eyebrows, some board members of the club said, ‘we knew how we won the league.”

Former Secretary-General of the NFF, Bolaji Ojo-Oba, corroborated Jemegha’s claims, describing Nigerian football as “cash and carry.”

Ojo-Oba said in Lagos at a seminar on December 6, “Teams want to win, the managers know that if they don’t win, they are gone; the coach knows that if he doesn’t do well he is gone too.

“That is why most clubs can’t pay the wages of their players but they have money to service the referees. It’s happening in all the clubs. I’m from Ibadan but I don’t watch games there because they say I don’t allow them carry out their plans.

“So, what is happening now (in Nigerian football) is cash and carry. And it is due to the level of poverty among referees, because most of them don’t have any other means of livelihood.”

NFF also involved

Incidentally, Ojo-Oba alongside former NFF president Sani Lulu, Amanze Uchegbulam, a former NFF first vice president; Taiwo  Ogunjobi, ex-NFF secretary-general; is being prosecuted by the EFCC for offences bordering on conspiracy and breach of due process.

The four accused persons are alleged to have misappropriated over N1.5bn released by the FG to the NFF during the South Africa 2010 World Cup. They are accused of siphoning about $125,000 through shoddy hotel bookings in South Africa during the World Cup, $250,000 lost as a result of booking the wrong airline for the trip, $400,000 allegedly expended on the Nigeria/Colombia friendly match and $236,000, which vanished from the coffers of the Glass House (office of the NFF) in 2009.

They are also accused of flouting due process in the purchase of two Marcopolo buses for the national team, and sharing N185m amongst state FA chairmen in their bid to frustrate their ouster from the federation.

The EFCC, in a statement signed by its Head, Media and Publicity, Wilson Uwujaren said, “Since their trial began in September 2010, they have deployed various legal tactics to frustrate their trial.”

In October, former NFF marketing director, Idris Adama, said claims by Pinnick Amaju, NFF boss, that the football body didn’t have funds to prosecute the 2018 World Cup qualifier against Zambia in Ndola, were untrue.

Amaju had told the Senate that the national team might miss the game if the FG didn’t assist the team with finance, but Adama raised questions over the whereabouts of the federation’s funds.

“I generated for them (NFF) N1.4bn, in addition to €780,000.00 and $1m annually. But my reward was to be sent out unceremoniously. But ask them, Enzor Pharmaceutical has paid N35m, Supersport has paid $1m and Globacom is owing — which was due on July 7, 2016 — N382,500,000.00. Where is the money? They are just being wicked to the society that engaged them to deliver positive results to the growth of our football. They will never like me because I am blunt.”

Global image smeared

The corrupt practices of Nigerian officials have also caught the attention of the international football community.

On Sunday, sports minister Dalung disclosed at the 2016 Annual General Assembly of the NFF in Lagos that world football body FIFA had withdrawn its developmental funds from the NFF, after its officials failed to properly account for how it made use of the money.

“I received a report from the NFF intimating me of FIFA’s Audit Report, which raised questions on the management of FIFA’s $1.1m developmental grant to the NFF. According to the report, FIFA  has withheld all developmental funds to the NFF for lack of proper documentation of $802,000 out of the funds released to NFF,” Dalung stated.

In 2010, a video on the Sunday Times website showed Nigeria’s Amos Adamu, then a FIFA executive committee member, allegedly telling an undercover reporter posing as a lobbyist working on behalf of the US World Cup bid that he wanted to build four football fields for $200,000 each (in Nigeria) and that the money could be paid to him “directly.”

When the reporter asked whether the payment would help Adamu make his decision in favour of the US, he responded, “Obviously it will have an effect. Of course it will have an effect because certainly if you are to invest in that, that means you also want the vote.”

Adamu denied any wrongdoing but he was banned for three years and fined 10,000 Swiss franc after an investigation by the FIFA Ethics Committee found him guilty of breaching bribery rules.

Dalung lamented the alarming rate of corruption in football, saying it could cause the nation another international embarrassment. He then ordered officials of the football body to give proper account of how the FIFA money was spent.

He stated, “This is a very serious issue that must be given urgent attention to avoid another international embarrassment, more so that the present administration under the leadership of PresidentMuhammaduBuhari has zero tolerance for any act of misappropriation, misapplication, embezzlement or fraud in any guise.

 “The NFF is directed to immediately provide my office with detailed information of receipt, disbursement and application of the FIFA developmental grant accordingly. In addition, a reputable audit firm should be appointed urgently to check the account books of the federation to ensure that funds are judiciously expended. The audit report must be made public so as to promote transparency, build credibility and enhance your market value.”

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