INSIDE STORY: How NFF sold ‘N120m worth ticketing’ right at N5m for Nigeria–Ghana return match

ON Tuesday, March 29, 2022, Nigeria’s Super Eagles played the Black Stars of Ghana in the return leg of the final play-off for the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier at the Moshood Abiola Stadium, Abuja.

The 60,000-capacity stadium was filled to the brim in the game which ended in favour of the Ghanaian team.

The Black Stars had played goalless in the first leg in Kumasi, Ghana, but drew 1-1 with the Eagles in Abuja.

The Abuja match was so well attended that scores of other football fans who could not access the main bowl to cheer the Eagles crowded outside the stadium.

The match ticket for regular sold for N2,000 while the VIPs were sold for N10,000. The ICIR learnt there was a VVIP ticket category which sold for N20,000. This category was confirmed by the president’s special assistant on social media, Bashir Ahmed, via his verified social media handle. However, he did not state the cost.

The NFF denied claims that there was a VVIP category and also that there was a ticket for N20,000.


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Independent findings by The ICIR revealed that about 1,000 white seats were set aside for executives at two varying ticket types identified as Fanfest and Fanfestplus.

This newspaper could not establish the exact sum allotted to those ticket types, but they were valued higher than the regular.

Notwithstanding, by simple estimate,  if all the 60,000 spectators procured regular tickets for N2,000, that would mean they have ultimately paid N120 million. This is based on the estimated value of the stadium’s total capacity.

This includes the ‘over 20, 000 free tickets’ jointly bought for fans by the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports and the NFF.

The ICIR would later find out that the NFF and the sports ministry were yet to pay the ticket fee, contrary to the claim widely publicised in the media.

Twenty four hours to the match, Ahmed had announced the early closure of public offices to encourage civil servants to watch the game.

This was part of the strategies to drum support for the national team which may not be unconnected to the large turnout at the stadium.

“The Office of the Head of Service of the Federation has directed that all offices be closed at 1.00 pm tomorrow to enable public servants to be at the MKO Abiola Stadium to support and cheer up our Super Eagles as they go against the Black Stars of Ghana. #GoEagles

— Bashir Ahmad (@BashirAhmaad) March 28, 2022.”

Despite the crowd that watched the game, the NFF could only account for N5 million as proceeds from the ticketing.

This sum was confirmed to The ICIR by the NFF Head of Corporate Communications, Ademola Olajire, when the reporter visited his office about a week after the match.

How NFF, Daar Communications signed controversial ticketing deal

On March 11, 2022, the NFF announced Daar Communications Plc, owners of the Africa Independent Television (AIT), as the sole right ticket holder for the international match.

At the media briefing, the NFF General Secretary, Mohammed Sanusi, applauded the firm for its consistency in supporting the sports industry. Sanusi said the support informed the decision to award the media company the ticketing right.

“Since the inception of its operations, Daar Communications has consistently shown remarkable love and support for the growth and development of Nigeria football.

“The ticketing rights awarded to Daar Communications PLC today reflect our confidence in the organisation to raise the profile of the game and fill the stadium to the capacity approved by FIFA with passionate fans who will cheer the Super Eagles to victory and on to Qatar 2022,” Sanusi said.

It is not clear if the bid was made open for other interested entities to partake before the final selection.

No part of the ticketing agreement was made public, not even on the NFF’s official handle.

Attempts to get a copy of the deal were unsuccessful, even when The ICIR approached Daar Communications through its head of sport, Calistus Ebare, who reportedly facilitated the agreement.

There have been concerns about the sum the NFF received for the ticketing right. The critics raised eyebrows over the lack of transparency surrounding the contract agreement.

“NFF used to selling the ticket itself, but we do not know what happened this time around,” a source in the stadium said.

Another source familiar with the activities in the sector said an organisation could take all proceeds after securing the ‘broadcast right’ of a match. Still, this source could not tell if it applied to ticketing rights.

Yet, the source maintained the amount paid for the exclusive ticketing right was too little compared to the crowd.

“I wasn’t involved in the nitty-gritty of the deal… I’m sure that figure may be too small. I’m sure AIT would have paid more than that for that deal. That’s not the right figure.

“Probably they may feel we may not be able to market, and the reason they gave it out that cheap, I wouldn’t know,” the source added.

According to the media organisation’s chairman, Raymond Dokpesi (Jnr), Daar Communications’ job was to raise the game’s profile and fill the stadium to capacity as approved by the world football body, FIFA.

Dokpesi spoke alongside the firm’s Group Managing Director (GMD), Tony Akiotu.

Meanwhile, many issues bordering on corrupt practices have been raised generally in Nigeria’s sports management. An instance was a corruption allegation of a $2.2 million basketball deal exposed by The ICIR. These concerns are more pronounced in football management.

In July 2020, FIFA offered the NFF $1 million as a COVID-19 palliative to support Nigerian football. In October 2020, the NFF president, Amaju Pinnick, confirmed the payment and applauded the world football body.

A breakdown of the spending was reported here, but not much has been heard on the fund’s utilisation of the 2.0 projects in Birnin-Kebbi and Ugborodo.

Popular concerns have been on promoting and establishing more transparency in the nation’s sports sector. Some even attributed the football failure to mismanagement, favouritism, and lack of proper coordination.

The NFF is aware of these issues that it highlighted 10 of its ‘Essential Anti-Corruption Norms.’

The norms, positioned at the entrance of the federation’s office, just by the reception, include warning against the bribery of referees and match-fixing of football matches, age cheating in football, corrupt offers and seven others.

Still, relevant questions begging for answers are the rationale for selling ticketing right with a potential of N120 million for N5 million? What was the number of tickets sold for the match, and how much of the proceeds went to the NFF? How much would be allotted for the management of the sports facilities? Is the deal a one-off or does it cover more years, to mention but a few?

Aside from the ticketing, NFF had support from donors and sponsors.

The ICIR identified at least 15 sponsors, including Aiteo, MTN, Stanbic IBTC, GAC Motors, and Air Peace.

NFF’s Secrecy, unanswered questions raise more doubts    

The ICIR visited the NFF office at the adjoining complex of the Moshood Abiola Stadium at about 2.30pm on Monday, March 4, 2022 to seek answers to these compelling questions.

The visit was to establish ticketing proceeds from the international match and other highlighted issues despite Nigeria’s loss to Ghana.

But Olajire was not on his seat at the time of the visit. He was said to be in a meeting with the NFF Secretary-General.

About 30 minutes later, The ICIR made a second attempt only to be told he was heading out for another meeting.

He rescheduled the appointment for the next day, Tuesday, March 5, at 10 a.m.

The ICIR met Olajire at the appointed time on the following day, but he immediately referred this reporter to the NFF Marketing Manager, Mr Alizor Chuks.

“Meet the marketing department,” he said briefly.

Eventually, at about 10:56am, the same day, this reporter met Chuks, who gave a warm welcome but refused to speak on the ticketing deal. Instead, he referred this journalist back to Olajire.

“I am not a media man. The person you should see is the head of communications. So, go back to him and tell him I don’t grant an interview,” he said.

Chuks would later accompany this reporter to Olajire, insisting he was not speaking on the issue except Olajire did. This was after this reporter explained he had earlier met Olajire and was directed to him (Chuks).

He said, “In my 21 years in this office, I have never spoken on anything ticket or no ticket. You are aware the ticketing rights was sold to Daar Communications.”

But The ICIR insisted Nigerians deserved to know the amount realised from the international game, among other issues.

At this moment, Olajire disclosed he assumed that Daar Communications would have reverted to the federation through the marketing manager. In another instance, he denied knowledge of the entire agreement.

Olajire subsequently referred The ICIR to approach Daar Communications.

“He (Chuks) said he doesn’t have the details. I don’t have anything to do with it. Perhaps, AIT would have details,” he said.

NFF acknowledges receipt of N5m from Ghana-Nigeria ticketing proceed

After a back and forth conversation, The ICIR queried if it implied the NFF would not get any money from the ticketing, aside from the initial payment.

This followed a long silence from Olajire.

Instead, he maintained his position of not having any information about it, maintaining, “You need to talk to AIT on all these. The NFF publicly announced they were giving the ticketing right to AIT after those paid N5 million.”

Olajire could not answer if the NFF was still expecting more funds beyond the initial N5 million paid as ticketing rights and if the sum was much lower.

“Am I the one who sold the rights,” he queried angrily when this reporter pushed further.

This followed a dead silence of about two minutes.

At that point, the reporter was doing the math right in his presence, murmuring that, at least, 60,000 spectators would be paying the sum of N2 000 and each would amount to…

Olajire cut in, “We will be talking about that if NFF managed the ticket, but they already sold it to AIT before the match, so all the details, whether they are paying more money, whether AIT is paying more money to NFF given the capacity holding is for AIT to let you know. I don’t have the details.”

This, however, presented two assumptions: the NFF director was either feigning ignorance, or there was never an agreement in the first place.

As for the sponsors, Olajire said the corporate organisations would usually pay rights fees annually but not per match.  Again, he could not provide the amount expected by the NFF by the end of 2022.

Justifying why the ticketing was outsourced, a source claimed it is always difficult for the NFF to fill the stadium to capacity during previous matches.

We sold 39,000 tickets, not 60,000 due to FIFA guideline

Contrary to the initial claim that Daar Communications bid for the ticketing rights, new findings showed the communication firm proposed the idea to the NFF a few weeks before the game.

There was never a public competitive bidding process.

The ICIR can confirm the rights ticketing holder had written to the NFF and put out an offer of N5 million. That was on February 7, 2022. And shortly after, the offer was accepted by the federation, on February 26, 2022. There was no formal agreement, according to the findings.

Later, both parties held a meeting validating the arrangements to ensure that spectators occupy the stadium.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) also approved a 60,000 total capacity for the Moshood Abiola Stadium, since it had given the same approval at the Kumasi Stadium during the first leg of the play-off in Ghana.

But things took a twist when FIFA allegedly restricted the NFF from having a total stadium capacity. Part of the reason was to adhere to Nigeria’s COVID-19 guidelines. The decision, it was gathered, raised a few eyebrows with the arguments that Nigeria had got CAF’s approval for a full capacity stadium, and that such COVID-19 protocol was never activated in the match in Ghana.

But FIFA had insisted it was ‘FIFA’s match, and not CAF’s’, hence the match would admit only 39,000 spectators at the Abuja stadium.

The ICIR made efforts to reach out to FIFA’s Communication Division via its telephone, but it failed. An email sent to its official email through [email protected] has not been replied to since filing this report.

On April 15, 2022, The ICIR contacted the Chairman of Daar Communications to validate the content of the supposed contractual agreement with the NFF.

It was an opportunity for the exclusive ticket rights holder to beam light on the concerned grey areas of public interest.

Dokpesi said only N5 million was paid to the NFF as the ticketing rights, and no part of the profit would go to the nation’s football federation.

This sum confirmed NFF’s position, except that the federation could not establish if they expected further cash from the game.

As for Daar communication, Dokpesi maintained there was no formal agreement stating the firm would share any proceed with the NFF.

We instead made losses …

Dokpesi notes that the organisation made losses. He said aside from the ticketing, his firm also promoted the match.

He argued that some of the tickets sold through agents have not been claimed due to fans’ “forced entry” into the stadium.

He listed FIFA’s restriction prohibiting the firm from selling tickets at the stadium, a cut in the number of spectators and other logistic issues, including telecommunication restrictions due to high-profile dignitaries who visited to see the match, as the contentious issues.

Dokpesi described the belief that the game raked in about N120 million as “a mistaken perspective.”

He said, “Anyone who probably saw the game, either live or on the television, is the one who can come to such a conclusion. Those at the stadium would know there was a sort of commotion at the stadium’s gates, which later led to the gates being thrown open.

“Everybody was allowed in, unrestricted, which led to even an over-capacity of the stadium, close to 70,000 people.

“But that does not mean we sold 70,000 tickets. The number of tickets we had the approval to sell was 39,000 tickets. This was following a meeting with the FIFA Security Commissioner who countered publications by CAF, which stated there was an approval for 100 per cent capacity subject to compliance with our local COVID-19 protocol.”

He told The ICIR the firm had to comply 100 per cent with FIFA’s directive, though about 43,000 tickets were already printed when the order came.

He said the spare tickets, aside from the allowed 39,000, were withdrawn from circulation.

“In any case, there was no opportunity to have even sold that number of tickets – 43,000 – because FIFA already restricted our ability to sell tickets at the venue, which was our primary strategy,” he said.

He stressed that the tickets sold for that match were those for sale via the internet and physical tickets sold through retail agents. Instead, he put the sum received at N45 million and the cumulative publicity for the match at N120 million.

Dokpesi expressed optimism he was still expecting some ticketing proceeds from other external vendors.

But he was quick to add that the vendors gave excuses they might not pay back the company as some of those who procured tickets returned for a refund. They reportedly claimed they got no value for money due to intrusion caused by forced entry at the stadium.

He said, “We were supposed to do a reconciliation of the tickets after the match, but having gone back to the retail agents, they told us some of their customers had come to fight with them for a refund.

“They have refused to give us the fund after selling the tickets, but they said they have refunded the people. So, how are we supposed to tell who paid, who did not, who refunded and who did not, who used a ticket to gain access into the stadium and who just entered the stadium when the gates were thrown open?”

He concluded by describing the situation as unfortunate yet a learning process for the private sector and the entire stakeholders.

He responded he was yet to receive a payment alert when asked about the 20, 000 tickets reportedly purchased by the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports and the NFF.

The media aide to the Minister of Youth and Sports, Toyin Ibitoye, could not validate if payment was made by the ministry even though the minister made the announcement.

He referred The ICIR to NFF’s Second Vice President, Shehu Dikko. “He will provide answers to your enquires,” he said

But when The ICIR called  Dikko, he did not respond to calls, and neither did he respond to text a message and messages sent via WhatsApp.

Nigeria’s football potential great earner, a contributor to GDP

Unlike the situation in western nations, Nigeria’s football has contributed less to the nation’s economy.

For instance, in 2019–2020, the Premier League in the United Kingdom contributed about $10 billion to the UK economy. This included about 94,000 jobs, among other benefits.

The Executive Director,  GTI Asset Management and Trust,  Nelson Ine, advised stakeholders to treat football as a business.

Speaking on Arise Arise Television recently, he called for more attention to financial discipline and suitable structures to ensure the proper management of sports infrastructure.

    “There are countries where the premier league contributes three to four per cent to the GDP. It creates jobs and other opportunities,” he said.

    Ine also urged the sports managers in Nigeria to promote sports in line with international best practices.

    “Look at our football pitches. They need to be properly cared for,” he added.

    Update: Paragraph 5 was edited to reflect Bashir’s tweet confirmed there was a VVIP ticket category but not the cost.

    Olugbenga heads the Investigations Desk at The ICIR. Do you have a scoop? Shoot him an email at [email protected]. Twitter Handle: @OluAdanikin

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