As the Sports Federations elections draw near, my special focus is on what happens in the Nigeria Basketball Federation.
It is no longer news that the house of basketball is seriously polarized because of the style of leadership of the Tijani Umar led federation.
Apart from the ban on players, referees, coaches and technical officials without trial, many stakeholders have embarked on self-exile because of the Umar draconian style of leadership.
Despite the absence of an officials correspondence of their suspension and a fair hearing, the trio of Musa Ah Kida (South South), Osita OC Nwachukwu (South East) and Babs Ogunade (South West) were suspended from the board.
With the indefinite suspension of these key members of the federation, the present board has been bereft of balance and ideas.
Weeks to the elections, many are wondering what is really wrong with the Nigeria Basketball Federation.
The fortune of the federation which used to be the envy of other federations is now a subject of derision.
Gone were the days when league venues were filled to capacity and Nigerian league players competed favorably with their foreign based counterparts for National team shirts.
Things got to a breaking point in the 2016 league season when only 5 teams participated in the Atlantic conference as against the traditional 8 teams.
Traditional teams with rich history such as Dodan Warriors, Lagos Islanders and Union Bank Basketball all of Lagos were all expelled because of their participation in the African Basketball League (a league which in no direct way threatened the NBBF– organized domestic league).
The drastic drop of standard of play coupled with the sporting environment became not too conducive for players and Television broadcasting.
The league sponsor, DStv, through their affiliate in Nigeria, SuperSport found it impossible to record any game or transmit any game live.
It was a huge loss for DSTV who decided to sponsor the Men’s Premier Basketball League for developmental purposes and their desire to get local sports content for their channel.
With the aim of their partnership with NBBF defeated in 2016, DSTV decided to opt out of their deal with NBBF.
In that same season, despite the clamour for more games which formerly was 14 games, teams in the Atlantic conference played lesser games in the regular season.
For the underage competition in the country, it was a case of no joy as the federation for 8 years found it impossible to cater for the next generation of basketball players at the grassroots.
It was during the Tijani Umar tenure that Nigeria got banned from participating in FIBA Africa-organized underage competitions because of the fraud committed by the federation.
Nigeria was caught fielding overage players and banned when the leadership of the federation decided not to put its house in order, thinking that threatening FIBA Africa about the importance of Nigeria will change the story.
In the women’s league, the NBBF have so far been unsuccessful in attracting additional sponsorship to complement the existing sponsor.
It is on record that Zenith Bank which is the current sponsor of the league was inherited from the last NBBF board led by J. Bubar before the election of Umar.
They have not been able to improve on what they inherited, which has in no small way affected the Women’s league in Nigeria.
The women’s league now has turned to a two-horse race between First Bank Women‘s basketball club and Dolphins basketball club while other clubs have been rendered comatose because of the poor level of funding and support from the federation.
Before now, TJ Umar and his cronies were fond of regaling Nigerians with tales of how D’Tigers qualified for the Olympics for the 1st time in 2012 in London under their watch and made a return to the Olympics in Rio 4 years after as the defending champions of Africa.
They were fond of telling sweet stories of how the basketball federation was the only team sports to represent Nigeria at the games in 2012 when football failed to qualify.
Unfortunately, they will not tell us that despite our exploits on the international scene, the achievements have not been felt back home.
There is a huge disconnect between basketball fans back home and the foreign legions representing Nigeria at the international scene.
With the poor organization and standard of the Men’s league in Nigeria, homegrown talents are only good for exhibition games, Afrobasket qualifiers and probably as training materials for other international competitions.
In the men’s league, players are enslaved by clubs because of the “I don’t care” attitude of the federation.
More than 70% of the players in the league are without valid contracts which is admissible in the court of law.
No wonder most clubs in the league are indebted to their players without any form of intervention from the federation.
Players’ life and career are now at risk because of the absence of any insurance plan for those playing in the NBBF organized league.
In 2014, the captain of Lagos Islanders, Seun Akinwale suffered a broken hand during a league game, but he had to personally shoulder the medical bill.[ a
rejoinder has been published concerning this claim with the player pointing out the club paid all the bills during his recovery and rehabilitation.]
Sadly, in 2016, he had to retire unceremoniously from professional basketball due to the effect of the injury on his overall playing ability until of recent when he came out of retirement to play for Customs.
In 2016, Adebayo Adeniyi of Kano Pillars suffered a career threatening injury to his right hand when he was involved in an auto crash on his way from Kano to Lagos.
Due to the absence of an insurance plan for players in the league, he had to foot his own bill as he was abandoned by his team and the federation.
More than 10 months after the injury, the affected player has lost control of 3 of his fingers on his right hand.
With a corrective surgery on the books to allow him return to the game he passionately loves, he is depending on charitable Nigerians to raise money having spent all his savings to cater for his health.
These are the daily hazards players in the Nigerian league are exposed to.
Tijani who is the Chairman of the Bauchi State Basketball Association is currently facing the fiercest battle of his life from his state and his zone as they continuously challenge his contribution to his state and the zone.
The North East zone is becoming increasingly restive over the third term ambition of Umar.
According to them, Tijani Umar has spent 8 years as president of Nigeria basketball federation but has not impacted on the game and its players in the North East.
They complained that their zonal representative has never deemed it fit to visit and condole with the basketball family or render any form of support to victims of the insurgency in the zone where more than fifty basketball courts were destroyed, some basketball players killed and many rendered homeless.
Umar, as a representative of North East in Nigeria basketball federation has never organized a basketball competition or clinic for kids or youths in his zone, yet he is laying claims to being a stakeholder.
In line with global trends and Federal Government’s resolve to ensure a public-private partnership in sports, stakeholders are saying enough is enough to an NBBF president who is a civil servant.
Many are desperate to have a president who is from the private sector with the financial muscle and clout to attract investors to drive the game to the next level.
Over the years, Umar has proved beyond doubt that he is just a smooth talker without the necessary political and financial muscle to drive the game of basketball.
Year in, year out, stakeholders have been bamboozled with sweet stories about plans to attract more sponsors to the federation.
At every stakeholders’ meeting held at the beginning of every year, the federation will tell stakeholders of plans to have more competitions ranging from the President’s cup to the federations cup to give home based players more games.
At the end of the year, the NBBF is always quick to give about a million reasons why their plan to introduce additional competition was not feasible.
Nigerians seem to be tired with all these ‘tales by moonlight’ by the NBBF as they are desperate for a change.
According to Patrick Omo-Osagie, a US based Nigerian and a former assistant coach to the women’s national team under head coach Ayodele Bakare, “Tijani Umar has a style of leadership that is very shaded.
He barely puts out any policy proposals and he seems not to talk much to stakeholders and it eventually looks like my way or the highway.”
Osagie who revealed that he was fired for asking too many questions said the current President’s biggest flaw is his over reliance on surrogates.
“In his first term, it was all Ayo Bakare and now it is all about Olumide Oyedeji because of TJ’s inability to raise funds and his lack of policy ideas”
Apart from the ‘secret-cult style’ of leadership of Umar as explained by Omo-Osagie, a former confidant and supporter of this present board, Ayodele Bakare also has some reservations about the current leadership which has grounded the sport in Nigeria.
Many people are still amazed over the refusal of the federation to make public its audit report in the last 8 years.
They are wondering why the NBBF kept the same marketer for the past 8 years in spite of the fact that this marketer clearly failed to generate fresh sponsorship aside from the ones inherited from the previous Buba-led board.
Bakare said the federation decided to keep the same marketer because the NBBF cabal needs a vehicle to ‘legitimately’ siphon a sizable chunk of sponsorship funds, by designating such deductions as fees payable to the marketer for ‘brokering the sponsorship’.
In the words of the first coach to ever qualify the nation for the Olympics, “Various attempts have been made by the NBBF cabal in the past to set up similar vehicles to siphon money from the Federation.
There was the ill-fated ‘Team 17’ agreement which was hurriedly conceived in collusion with one ex-international and one security guard in the USA (names withheld), which attempted to hand over the management of our National teams and huge chunks of already existing local sponsorship in the name of management fees, to the ‘Team 17’ vehicle.”
Bakare who is currently being owed up to the tune of 80million naira by the federation said the infamous 20-year agreement with IMG was another big scam where the basketball community was misled to believe that IMG was gifting a windfall of money over 20 years to Nigerian basketball.
“But in reality, the arrangement was for IMG to leverage on the NBBF and Federal Government to raise funds, out of which a significant portion of those funds would be allocated as commissions to be shared by the collaborators, which included a former Minister (name withheld).”
With few weeks to the end of their tenure, after 8 years of comatose and the sudden frantic effort to sign new agreements and entering into new financial commitments notably with Zenith Bank Plc and Kwesesports, many are worried about the future implications.
Bakare said, “Incoming money means fresh agency commission. The more new agreements and new financial commitments that the NBBF cabal can consummate in the expiring days of their administration, the more agency commissions they can clean up and hide away (to finance their election bid, or to keep as a nest-egg in the event that they lose the elections).
Hence, the mad frenzy to sign all those agreements, start every possible leagues and program, enter into every possible financial commitment, and rake in all available money in a time frame that would still technically be considered as falling within the tenure of this current NBBF Board.”
He concluded that since ignorance is bliss, the NBBF has made it a point of duty to keep all sponsorship documents to itself.
He reasoned that if those documents were released to the public, it would quickly become clear to stakeholders that the picture painted is grossly different from the reality of what is contained in the agreements.
With many stakeholders disenchanted with the federation, the South South zonal representative, Musa Ahmadu-Kida has declared his interest in vying for the soon to be vacant post of the NBBF president.
Written By Afolabi Oni
Note: The Article does not represent our views and the ‘issues, facts and suggestions’ stated there in are entirely those of the writer.