The Minister of Sports and Youth Development, Sunday Dare recently stirred the hornets’ nest when he dissolved 31 sports federations and later restored the Athletics Federation leaving the number of dissolved federations at 30.
It will be recalled that on Friday, April 30, the Minister represented by the director, federation elites and athletes department, Dr Simon Ebohjaiye said the tenure of the National Olympic Sports Federations have come to an end and there was the urgent need for a transition from the old boards to new ones.
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How ministry used 1971 Decree to dissolve sports federations
The decision came to many as a surprise considering that most of the dissolved sports federations were finalising preparations for the Tokyo Olympics which is about two months away.
Following condemnations in some quarters, the sports Ministry explained that since the tenure of the federations had indeed ended and they were not ready to self-dissolve, the responsibility to dissolve them lies squarely with the supervisory Ministry.
Consequently, the Minister invoked section 16(1) of the law setting up the associations which stipulates that “The Ministry may set up national associations for each kind of sports and may appoint chairman and other members thereof. Accordingly, all matters relating to the constitution, affiliation, recognition of officers of national sports Association to International Federation shall be submitted for approval.”
Sub-section 2 of the same law states that “Subject to the approval of the Commissioner (in this case, the Minister), it shall be the duty of the Commission to supervise and, where in the opinion of the commission it is necessary to do so, take over and manage for such a period as the Commission may think fit the affairs of any of national sports association.”
Thus, even as agitations continued to mount against his decision, the Minister stuck to his guns, insisting that he only acted within the powers conferred on him by the law as quoted above.
However, the law being talked about here is Decree No 34 of 1971 setting up the now defunct National Sports Commission. It is this military Decree promulgated during the administration of General Yakubu Gowon (rtd) when he was Nigeria’s Head of State that has been invoked to dissolve some of the sports federations.
The decision to adopt what many may consider to be an obsolete law to administer sports in the 21st century is being viewed negatively, especially by those affected by the dissolution of the boards of the federations.
However, the sports Ministry has in turn heaped the blame on some of the federations that have failed to domesticate their own constitutions already approved by the international sports federations.
The Technical Assistant to the Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Sports, Olumide Bamiduro said “The constitutions that they were talking about, about six of them have got approval from their international federations but they (constitutions) are yet to be domesticated within the National Assembly and until that is done, that is not a law.
“We are being guided by law and we cannot fold our hands on illegality and that is where the exercise of the dissolution of the federations has come from.”
In addition, despite the explanations given by the Sports Ministry, there have been concerns that the dissolution of the federations is ill-timed and might impact negatively on Team Nigeria’s performance at the Tokyo Olympics.
However, this seems to be addressed by the Minister who has re-appointed most presidents of the dissolved federations as Chairmen of the recently inaugurated Care-taker committees.
According to the Ministry, dissolution of the federations and subsequent inauguration of Care-taker committees is “to enhance Nigeria’s medals prospects at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.”
The decision to retain most of the former presidents is said to be a masterstroke by the Minister which has emasculated some of the aggrieved members who had declared their intention to fight for justice.
Resultantly, even after a group that claimed to be representing other concerned stakeholders addressed a press conference and gave the Minister 48-hours to reverse his decision, some of the Care-taker Committee Chairmen disassociated and distanced themselves from the group.
It will also be observed that two weeks after the dissolution of the sports federations, it is only Rugby Africa that announced the suspension of the Nigeria Rugby Football Federation.
And after some rugby stakeholders staged a peaceful protest at the MKO Abiola national stadium in Abuja to ask the Minister to reverse the dissolution of the NRFF, nothing has been heard again.
Since the action of the Minister appears to have gone unchallenged, the Ministry is already planning how to conduct credible elections into the different sports federations at the end of the Olympics.
Even as the action by the Sports Ministry may be sailing safely to the harbour, divergent views from major stakeholders have continued to trail it.
As earlier stated, some are shocked that a Decree enacted as far back as 1971 is not only seen to be still relevant but is used in dissolving sports federations.
A member of one of the dissolved sports federations who spoke on condition of anonymity said “It is not everything that is law. There are certain interventions that law should not be the only consideration. There are some decisions that must not be based on law but common sense.
“What the minister has done is not well timed and may create more problems for the sports sector in future. It is against this background that I implore the relevant authorities to cooperate with the National Assembly to come up enabling laws for sports administration.
“I am sure many will be surprised to hear that we are using a Decree promulgated in 1971 in 2021.”
However, a former member of the House of Representatives from Plateau State, Hon. Lumumba Dah Adeh has said as long as the Decree is not amended or abrogated, the Minister has done nothing wrong.
“What I can say is that if there was a Decree, whether in 1900, as long as it has not been abrogated, or amended before democracy came in the First Republic, it has become an Act of the National Assembly and therefore, a subsisting law.
“Unless there is an amendment or it has been repealed, it remains valid. It depends on the provision of the law the Minister is citing. If nobody contradicts him to the effect that it has been abrogated or repealed or amended, then the Minister is right to have used the Decree,” said Lumumba.
On his part, a former Director of Sports in Katsina State, Alhaji Aliyu Kofar-Soro said since the National Sports Commission is no longer in existence, there is no basis for anyone to say he used the Decree that set up the commission to dissolve the sports federations.
“I think the Minister was wrongly advised. How can he say he used the Decree of 1971 that set up the now defunct National Sports Commission to dissolve the sports federations?. Where is the National Sports Commission itself?.
“These federations were duly elected and have tenure of four years each. As long as their tenures haven’t elapsed, nobody can dissolve them unilaterally. Moreover, the timing is not right. It is too close to the Olympics.
“Let’s hope the international federations which these federations are affiliated to do not come out to stop Nigeria from taking part in the Olympics,” he said.