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The Nigeria Taekwondo Federation has been thrown into crisis after Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung’s controversial inauguration of the NTF board, reports ’TANA AIYEJINA

The taekwondo polls seemed destined for a controversial end even before it was conducted. There had been a silent line of discord, with members allegedly pledging allegiance to former president George Ashiru and Margaret Binga, who was controversially inaugurated as the new NTF president on August 23 by Sports Minister, Solomon Dalung.

Ashiru, who was vying for a second term in office, got to the venue of the polls on June 13 to discover that his name had disappeared from the list without reasons given.

He alongside 176 other candidates — out of the 396 that applied to contest ­— on the various federations’  boards, were disqualified just few minutes to the commencement of the elections in mysterious circumstances.

The Grand Master, who came into the board via the ex-officio slot, protested the decision and the Abdulrazak Salau-led Appeals Committee nullified the polls and ordered a re-run, after it was discovered that Ashiru’s name was on the sports ministry’s original list.

“I have contested in more than five elections in Nigeria and this will be the first time that such discrepancies will occur. They were glaring mistakes. But with the decision of the Appeals Committee to conduct fresh elections, I have been vindicated and I believe that the true people’s choice will emerge,” a delighted Ashiru told our correspondent in Abuja after the Appeals Committee decision, which was also upheld by the Harmonisation Committee headed by Dalung.

But that decision opened a new chapter of controversy, crisis and upheaval in the taekwondo family, after the NTF board members, who were directed to report to Abuja for a re-run election on July 20, were stunned as a 14-man board with Binga as president, was sworn in on August 23, despite the re-run not conducted.

The others on the board are vice president, Abdullahi Saidu (North West), Ashiru (Ex-Officio), Jonathan Nnaji (International), Anthony Anafulu (North Central), Abubakar Ago (North East), Obumneme Arum (South East), Charity Igbendion (South South), Tayo Popoola (South West), Dr. Pat Anyanwu (Nigeria Association for Physical, Health Education, Recreation, Sport and Dance), Adewale Adebiyi (Institutional), Sani Lawal (Technical) and Calistus Ebare (Media). Taiwo Oriss is the secretary.

A top sports ministry official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Dalung’s inauguration ceremony took them by surprise.

“The day that the TFN board members were called for inauguration, we were all surprised because there should have been a re-run. We really don’t know what happened . We learnt the decision was taken because they said the issue concerned just one person and it wasn’t enough to stop the election of every other person on the board,” our source said.

Ironically, the re-run of the South West election, which also had issues, was successfully conducted.

“The decision was passed to the international body (World Taekwondo Federation) that there would be a re-run election with the date. We came to Abuja July 20 preparing for it, there was a re-run for one of the disputed zonal elections, the same principle applied to the presidential election and then they said there was no (presidential) election,” Ashiru said.

After the re-run election was severally shifted, some board members of the NTF told our correspondent that they were notified via WhatsApp messages at short notice of the inauguration.

“We were a little bit surprised when we heard that people were being called to Abuja for an inauguration and we thought it was a hoax. There was no documentation, no publication and it was the federation secretary that sent WhatsApp messages, SMS and phone calls,” Ashiru said.

“Some of us felt it was not enough documentation for an official issue on ground. The last we were told on July 21 was that the election was postponed for two weeks. We waited and a month later, we got a call giving us an 18-hour notice. Naturally, many people couldn’t attend the inauguration.”

International referee Ferguson Oluigbo said he, some major stakeholders and board members ignored the message for the NTF’s inauguration ceremony.

Oluigbo, a delegate from Imo State at the June polls, stated, “I categorically stand on the premise that there’s no taekwondo federation board right now because we’ve gone to Abuja on several occasions for the election spending so much money but it didn’t hold. The last time, they told us to come back in two weeks’ time for the election. But while we were waiting for an official notification to come back, we saw a message at night that some people should turn up in Abuja for an inauguration. We all rejected the move because that was not the message sent to us earlier. They had told us to be on standby for the election.”

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He described Dalung’s inauguration, where only five members of the federation were allegedly present, as “a kind of coup.”

“The minister took some people to his office and planned a kind of coup. Out of 14 board members, only five were there. They had only one zonal representative out of six. The vice president wasn’t there and you went ahead to inaugurate the president and some candidates? And they expect us to line up behind them? No. Every right thinking person knows that this undemocratic. This is a martial sport and we won’t allow that.”

It was alleged that the board’s vice president, Abdullahi Saidu, was absent at the inauguration because according to a delegate, “he vowed he wasn’t going to work with an appointed president.”

But Margaret Binga insisted that the most important thing was that the board was inaugurated despite several members shunning the exercise.

“Does it matter whether all the board members were present or not? There was an inauguration that took place on August 23. I don’t know why they are trying to make issues out of this. I know that I went for the election (on June 13) and I was declared winner unopposed because I was the only person standing; he (Ashiru) had an issue,” the former taekwondo athlete said.

“Everybody was invited for the inauguration but the vice president said he couldn’t come because he was sitting for an exam. I don’t know why they (others) didn’t come but as far as I’m concerned, we were there and the inauguration went on.”

The Customs officer, however, admitted that she was sworn-in without the re-run polls being conducted.

She argued that the decision to swear her in was taken after it was discovered that the June 13 election was free and fair.

Binga said, “We had election on June 13, two of us came out for the presidential position. When the names were called, it was discovered my opponent’s name (Ashiru) was not on the list. We were all accredited to vote but he wasn’t. He didn’t even vote for the vice presidential position. Since there was no other contestant, I was declared unopposed. After then, they wrote a petition and they said there was going to be a re-run election.”

Speaking further, she added, “We went back for the re-run and we were ready for election. The South-West re-run was held but as we were waiting for the presidential re-run, a press release came from the sports minister’s office at around 9pm, that the first election (which had been annulled) was upheld. The press release is there for everyone to see.

“We were told to get ready for inauguration. If you listened to the minister’s speech on the day of inauguration, he said the committee was set up and they looked into the issues before the first election was upheld. That was how I was inaugurated as the President of the Nigeria Taekwondo Federation.”

But a delegate from Ogun State at the June polls, Tayo Adewalure, maintained that the taekwondo community won’t accept Binga as their president.

Adewalure stated, “The general public of taekwondo practitioners doesn’t accept the president imposed on them; yes, they imposed somebody on them.

“Nobody voted. They said since Ashiru’s name was not on the list, therefore the second person was the unanimous winner. Who voted her? No election was concluded. After the minister said he would invite us in the next weeks, we heard they had inaugurated someone who was not voted for. That’s unacceptable.”

The Nigeria Olympic Committee, the body saddled with the responsibility of monitoring the federations’ elections and sending reports of proceedings to the International Olympic Committee and world bodies has been accused of unfairness in the confusion.

NOC boss Habu Gumel was at the inauguration ceremony and some angry stakeholders say he shouldn’t have attended when he was aware that a re-run was not conducted.

But NOC secretary-general, TundePopoola, seems to be in the dark over the events that transpired leading to the inauguration.

He said, “I had information that was supposed to be another election. I understand that the first election was not properly concluded in the sense that there was no election for the federation’s president. A panel met and they said there was going to be a re-run someday, which was published.

“But somehow, an inauguration took place; I don’t know what happened in-between. But I know there was an inauguration.”

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Already, the crisis and division in the taekwondo board has had adverse effects on the sport.

Last month, the 15th PANAMAI West Africa Open Taekwondo Championships scheduled for the National Stadium, Lagos, from August 24 to August 26, was postponed indefinitely because of the crisis.

“The championships was shifted indefinitely until the election is conducted by the sports ministry and inauguration held, then we will reschedule a date,” Oluigbo stated.

It was also learnt that aggrieved stakeholders boycotted the 2017 National Youth Games as the rift continued.

“They were calling some of our members to attend the event in Ilorin but they declined. The referees in Ilorin were substandard refs. None of the real refs who should have officiated showed up,” Adewalure added.

But Binga said the officials who were at Ilorin gave a good account of themselves despite the boycott.

She said, “That’s a blatant lie. I just came back from the National Youth Games in Ilorin on Thursday. We had four international referees and four national referees at the Youth Games.

“It’s not as if those complaining were sidelined, they were invited for the Youth Games but they refused to come. And they gave different reasons. If they are saying they didn’t attend because they are not happy, all good and fair. The international referees at the Youth Games are even more current than those claiming to be the seniors. They were at Ilorin, they officiated and we had the best performances cut across all the geo-political zones.”

No board meeting has been held since the inauguration, an indication that the sport might continue to suffer.

“I’ve been with presidents, Nnaji was there, we worked closely, when Ashiru came in, we worked together, we were all happy. How come this group hasn’t called a stakeholders’ meeting? It’s because they know they are illegal. If they are legal, they should come out boldly,” Oluigbo said.

Ashiru also confirmed that he hasn’t been invited for any meeting.

“I’m not aware of any meeting; I haven’t been called by the appropriate people who can call meetings. The secretary has that right. If there’s a meeting, then it’s not formal, maybe an informal meeting by some members.”

Meanwhile, the controversial inauguration may attract sanctions from World Taekwondo Federation, stakeholders fear.

Our correspondent’s research showed that Nigeria’s page on the WTF website, which should have contained basic information about the NTF like key officers and secretariat, has been left blank by the world body. It is seen as an indication that the WTF might not be satisfied with the proceedings of the election.

Ashiru said Nigeria has been placed on “technical suspension” due to the lingering in-fighting.

“What they (WTF) did was to put Nigeria under suspension for not having the re-run on July 20 as the secretary informed them; they gave him July 21 to give a report. By 24th, when they didn’t get a report on the re-run, they put Nigeria under technical suspension, which means ‘you don’t have a federation.’

“They requested that the Nigeria Olympic Committee brief them on who are the leaders of the NTF and from that point, they blocked our access to all the benefits of membership. It’s the first time that is happening to us in 30 years of the federation.”

But Binga insisted, “There’s no ban from the international body.”

Popoola is hopeful the crisis would be resolved before the world federation’s hammer falls on Nigeria

“I’m not sure yet if the international body is aware of the issue but I think the matter should be resolved amicably. There are shades of opinion on what happened; we are yet to receive any letter from anybody, we just see what’s happening on the pages of newspapers.

“After the elections, normally, we send letters to the international federations on who has won the elections, that’s the only part we haven’t done but it doesn’t mean that’s the final issue. There’s an issue to be resolved,” he stated.

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