INVESTIGATION: How ‘Pinnick era’ of funds misuse, zero transparency is killing Nigerian football
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By Kolapo OLAPOJU
AS the wind of discontent blows from North to South, it’s easy to conclude that Nigerian football has seen better days. From the national teams to the various leagues, the state of affairs fails to inspire confidence in fans and stakeholders. Allegations of corruption, lack of transparency and accountability have dogged Nigeria’s football industry – particularly in recent years. And it is prevalent in various government parastatals and football management across the country. Since the beginning of Amaju Pinnick era in 2014, financial discrepancies, misappropriation and series of anomalies have been the order of the day in the operations of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF so much so that stakeholders and even members of the football body have written several petitions to FIFA. But these actions have failed to change much in the system. KOLAPO OLAPOJU takes a deep dive into the reckless use of funds and wanton disregard for due process that have tainted the NFF.
Misuse of FIFA Development Funds
In 2015, FIFA released a $2.5m grant to Nigeria as part of its FIFA Assistance Programme. The money was to be dedicated to football development programmes in the country.
The use of the grant, which was disbursed in five tranches between May and October 2015, raised eyebrows at FIFA. The football governing body expressed concerns over a lack of transparency, noting that the NFF leadership was unable to prove that the funds were not fraudulently expended.
FIFA also bemoaned the fact that the funds were not used for the approved programmes.
Consequently, PwC carried out a review and presented its findings to FIFA in October 2016.
In its findings, PwC said it “detected circumstances which may indicate or lead to a misuse of funds” and also noted that in several cases, the use of FIFA development funds could not be traced to supporting documentation or failed to align with FIFA prescribed purposes.
“We detected a misuse of funds or other non-compliance with FIFA regulations. These findings require immediate action,” the report added.
According to the report, the NFF made disbursements in cash, and as such, it could not be determined if the final recipient actually received the funds. Furthermore, the report noted that “nine cases totalling $801, 929 were identified where there was no supporting documentation to substantiate the subsequent disbursements”.
In conclusion, PwC stated that as a result of the lack of transparency, the FIFA development funds may have been misused or misappropriated. It also noted that the NFF management was unable to demonstrate that there was no fraudulent use of the funds.
BDC over CBN
Days later, the NFF issued an official response to the report through a letter addressed to the FIFA secretary-general by Sanusi Mohammed, NFF general secretary.
In a bid to defend the cash withdrawals, Sanusi wrongly informed FIFA that because Nigerian banks transactions are not denominated in dollars, the NFF had no choice but to “make cash withdrawals and exchange to naira to make payments”.
Sanusi went on to note that cash disbursements were rampant because FIFA sent the funds in dollars and since payments are made in naira to person/entities who maintain naira accounts, the NFF “needs to withdraw cash in dollars, exchange it into naira for onward payments to their various beneficiaries”.
But contrary to that argument, Nigerian banks are known to provide the option of paying an account holder in naira, even if the money received is in a foreign currency.
Another point made by Sanusi to justify the cash withdrawal is that the NFF chose to exchange the dollars paid by FIFA at the parallel market – popularly known as Bureau De Change – so as to get a higher rate than the official rate of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
This course of action is however frowned upon by the CBN, with the governor of the apex bank, Godwin Emefiele, recently describing the practice as illegal.
According to Emefiele, “the parallel market is a tainted market in Nigeria where people who desire to deal in illegal foreign exchange transactions” operate. So, it begs the question as to why a government agency would be carrying out forex transactions in the parallel market.
When contacted over the issue, Demola Olajire, NFF spokesman, noted that “FIFA Development Funds are not paid to NFF”.
Curious cash payments
In May 2018, Harrison Jalla, former president of National Association of Nigerian Footballers, petitioned the ethics committee of FIFA to investigate Sanusi, secretary-general of the NFF, on allegations of unethical and corrupt practices which he claimed violated the FIFA code of ethics.
Providing documentary evidence, Jalla accused Sanusi of misappropriating funds, embezzlement and abuse of position. He alleged that Sanusi colluded with Pinnick, NFF president, and Shehu Dikko, NFF second VP, to perpetrate these acts.
Citing the $8,400,000 World Cup participation fee paid to NFF by FIFA in 2014, Jalla said there was “massive misappropriation”, “embezzlement”, and “diversion” of the money for personal gains by the aforementioned trio. He alleged that “imaginary items of financial transactions” were listed in the retirement of funds and statement of expenditure.
In the NFF statement of expenditure released to defend the disbursement of the World Cup fund, a constant red flag is the repeated listing of “cash payments” even in the cases of high amounts.
Between December 2014 and July 2015, $167,503 was disbursed as cash payments for “various office expenses” but Jalla claimed that this is misleading, owing to the fact that the ministry of youth and sports provides monthly allocations to the NFF for the running cost of the office.
The NFF’s statement of expenditure also listed that the sums of $100,000, $240,000 and $310,000 were spent to facilitate an international friendly match between the Super Eagles of Nigeria and Bolivia in 2015. However, no such match ever took place and there has thus far been no account of how the sums were expended.
Super Eagles 2015 friendlies
Nigeria vs Ivory Coast
Venue: ZSC Stadium
Nigeria vs Uganda
Venue: Godswill Akpabio Stadium
South Africa vs Nigeria
Venue: Mbombela Stadium
Nigeria vs Niger
Venue: Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium
Nigeria vs Congo
Venue: Stade de la Cite de l’Oie
Nigeria vs Cameroon
Venue: Edmond Machtens-Stadion
Similarly, the NFF said it spent a total of $541, 373 as payment for the 2015 CAF Congress in Egypt, despite the fact that the African football body has said it makes provision for accomodation, transportation and logistics to every participant of the event.
Untraceable Nike contract money
In the past six years, there has been no transparency in how sponsorship monies received from companies, individuals and government agencies are spent.
Since Pinnick came on board, the practice has always been, in most cases, to use Financial Derivatives to receive payment from sponsors, with no record of the transactions made available nor the accounts where the funds are lodged made known. This is in spite of the fact that the NFF has an account with the CBN. Insiders at NFF allege that the sole purpose of this arrangement is to bypass the Treasury Single Account policy of the federal government.
While some NFF sponsors pay money into the account of Financial Derivatives, a few others, case in point; Emzor, NIKE and Nigerian Breweries make payment into the NFF account.
The payment made by NIKE appears to be shrouded in secrecy, going by the missing records in the statement of account issued by Salihu Cheku Mohammed, director of finance and administration of the NFF to the ministry of youth and sports in 2018. Till date, the total amount received by the NFF from its contract with NIKE remains unclear, seeing as there are no records of receipt. The first NIKE deal is believed to be worth $4.7 million with a duration of three years – April 2015 to 2018.
According to that first contract signed in April 2015, NIKE is also expected to pay NFF a royalty of 8% on net sales of licensed products that NIKE sells during each contract year.
Prior to the last World Cup in 2018, NFF was reported as saying that NIKE received three million pre-orders for the jerseys priced at $90 at the time.
The jersey was in high demand and it sold out shortly after it became available. If you do the maths of what was sold that day in June 2018, it will amount to $270 million and if NFF received 8% of this figure, that will amount to approximately $21.6 million.
NIKE is also expected to pay performance bonuses for the participation of the national teams in major tournaments – $250,000 for qualifying for the World Cup, $80,000 for entering Round of 16 and $40,000 for coming third in the African Cup Of Nations (AFCON).
When contacted for clarification, Tina Salminen, Nike’s Regional Sports Marketing Director for Africa, refused to divulge any information on the agreement with NFF or payment made.
To ascertain the true state of things, the following questions were put across to her;
1. Since the start of the sponsorship of Nigeria’s kits, what has been the yearly net sales of the licensed product – Nigeria’s kits?
2. Has NIKE always paid NFF the stipulated 8% on net sales of licensed products?
3. How much has NIKE paid in match bonuses since 2015?
In response, Salminen said: “Unfortunately all [the questions] are contract related so I am not able to reveal any such details.”
The NFF has a current deal with Nike till 2022 with an option to extend for another four years. It is probably the biggest partnership deal in the history of the NFF, yet a lot of the finer details remain unknown, thereby eliminating the chances of holding anyone accountable.
The NFF under Pinnick has been accused of applying for and receiving money from multiple sources for the same purpose. Tunde Aderibigbe, in a 2018 petition to EFCC, described international friendly matches as “conduit pipes” for stealing money from the NFF with “recklessness and impunity”.
Aderibigbe, former head of protocol at NFF, said between 2014 and 2018, there were no records of the contractual agreement entered into for the 16 friendly matches played. He added that “there is absolutely no traceable record on general revenues pertaining to sponsorship/advertisement/broadcast rights and ticket sales” of the games.
Speaking in the same vein as several sports journalists and industry insiders, he alleged that the NFF is in the habit of collecting funds from the federal government, host state government, FIFA, CAF for the same event.
According to the petition, all the sums listed by NFF as match payments for international friendlies are dubious – because “Super Eagles friendlies are sponsored by the NFF match agent” who is meant to promote the games.
Donations unaccounted for
The Pinnick-led NFF has also faced multiple allegations of collecting monies from state governments, companies and individuals – and failing to declare them to the executive committee of the NFF or the ministry of sports.
Ahead of the 2018 World Cup, not less than N730 million was received by the NFF from various state governments, agencies and even a former senate president. The monies, which varied in figures, were categorized as ‘donations’.
While there are records of some of the aforementioned sums getting into the account of the Financial Derivatives, it is not clear how they were spent. Following the World Cup, the ministry of youth and sports responded to the allegations of corruption and embezzlement by setting up a committee to investigate the leadership of the NFF. The committee was set up as a result of a petition written by James Peter, former technical director of the NFF, to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
During its sittings, the committee invited Pinnick, Dikko, Sanusi and Seyi Akinwunmi but none of them heeded the invitation. In its findings, the committee noted that contrary to the federal government regulations, the NFF executive committee made use of the account of a private company,
Financial Derivatives, to keep funds accruing to the NFF, particularly the aforementioned sponsorship monies.
The committee said it failed to find any record of the sponsorship contracts entered with the likes of Nigeria Breweries, Payporte, Guinness Nigeria Limited, Rivers state govt, Akwa Ibom govt, Lagos govt, NDDC, Coca-Cola, Wamco Peak Milk, Supersports, Simba Group, Brila Sports and Globacom.
It also noted that most of the income generated from the sponsorship deals were not treated as revenue and were paid into independent accounts belonging to private companies rather than into the TSA or NFF’s account with the CBN.
In July 2018, Salihu Mohammed, NFF director of finance and administration, wrote to former minister of sports, Solomon Dalung, about the sources of sponsorship funds received by NFF. In the letter, Mohammed said when he was posted to the NFF, he wrote a memo requesting that the funds in the custody of Financial Derivatives should be transferred back to the federation’s account “since such funds are public funds and kept with the federation in trust”.
More violations, and abuse of office
In its observations, the committee pointed out several anomalies and infractions in the operations of the NFF.
The committee said it was not allowed access to the books of accounts of the NFF, despite official requests. It also failed to find any evidence of the NFF executive committee’s approval for the appointment of Mediterranean Sports Limited as sponsorship agent or any records that could authenticate the genuiness of a valid contract between the two parties.
The committee also noted that “contrary to the provision of financial regulations and other extant rules of the government guiding the operations of government parastatals, NFF does not seek the approval of the accountant general of the federation regarding any financial matters on which the statutes are silent” while adding that the “NFF does not comply with FR 3210 that requires the submission of both annual audited accounts and management reports to the auditor general of the federation”.
Consequently, the committee recommended that its report should be forwarded to the EFCC or ICPC with a directive to probe the activities of the NFF from 2014 when Pinnick assumed office.
The committee noted that the oversight roles of the ministry of youth and sports development should be strengthened to curb the impunity “that seems pervasive in the federation’s financial dealings”.
The committee said the NFF should be made to comply with the federal government directive that all revenues be paid into the TSA, such as grants and sponsorship funds.
The rules and regulations guiding the appointment of external auditors, sports marketers, fund managers and other third party associates should be clearly spelt out so as to reduce discretionary and subjective executive decisions, it added.
The committee also called for the termination of the engagement of PwC as an external auditor, saying it was not in consonance with the provision of the federal government’s financial regulations on guidelines for the appointment of external auditors.
According to section 3210 (I & II) of the financial regulations, in the event that a parastatal is choosing an external auditor, it shall be the duty of the auditor-general to provide a list of external auditors qualified to be appointed and guidelines on the level of fees to be paid.
Reacting to the committee’s findings, Olajire said he is “not aware of any report by any investigative committee of the Ministry of Youth and Sports that the NFF has not provided a robust response to”.
AGF office, FIFA, Pinnick, Dikko keep mum
In the past two years, there have been multiple court actions bordering on funds misappropriation against the NFF trio: Pinnick, Sanusi and Dikko but so far, none has managed to stick.
The Special Presidential Panel On Recovery Of Public Property (SPIP) once charged them with corruption, including embezzlement of millions of dollars but when the panel was dissolved by President Muhammadu Buhari, the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation took over the case and it was subsequently dismissed by a federal high court in Abuja.
Similarly, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) sought to join Pinnick and Sanusi in the case against three NFF accounts department staff – director of finance, Christopher Andekin; head of finance and accounts Jafaru Mamza and Rajan Zaka, a cashier.
According to reliable sources in the EFCC, the application to amend the charge was shut down by the judge, citing “double jeopardy,” owing to the fact that they had already been charged for the same issue in another court and the case was dismissed.
The AGF office was not forthcoming when asked to offer clarification on why the SPIP case was withdrawn. Spokesman of the AGF Umaru Gwandu declined to comment further when the questions were put to him.
An insider privy to the developments said the trio were not arraigned, noting that “they never took their plea… the judge compromised the issue by discharging and acquitting them”.
The insider disclosed that the NFF leadership was able to successfully instill the fear of ‘FIFA sanction’ into government officials, hence the decision to withdraw the case and steer clear of NFF business.
The insider said FIFA’s stance on government interference in football, many believe, is why the NFF leadership has been able to get away with lack of transparency, accountability and misappropriation of funds. But in spite of the fact that some of their actions breach its code of ethics, FIFA has thus far failed to take action against the NFF top brass.
Recently, Ahmad Ahmad, president of CAF, was banned for five years for breaking several ethics codes between 2017 and 2019. One of his offences was employing Tactical Steel, a gym manufacturer, to supply sportswear to CAF. The owner of the company, Romuald Seillier, is said to be a friend of Ahmad’s former attache.
Another infraction was misuse of funds; using CAf funds to pay for 15 Muslim presidents of African football to travel with him to Mecca.
Neither Pinnick nor Dikko responded to attempts to get possible clarifications from them regarding misuse of funds, lack of transparency and allegations of corruption. Both NFF leaders failed to respond to messages sent to them and questions asked of them.
Similarly, Fatma Samoura, FIFA secretary-general, failed to respond to enquiries as to why no action has been taken against Pinnick, Sanusi and Dikko despite being found guilty of similar breaches of its codes of ethics.
“There is conspiracy between (Gianni) Inafantino and the NFF,” Harrison Jalla alleged, adding that he has since petitioned the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Interpol over the matter.
“FIFA is fuelling corruption in Nigeria. Ahmad Ahmad was found guilty of the same offence for which we petitioned FIFA.”
You can also read the second and third parts of this series: