The recent eviction of the Abubakar Bukola Saraki (ABS) Football Club from its secretariat located inside the Kwara State stadium by the government has expectedly generated so much hullabaloo and ballyhoo in the state.
This is so because the football club is wholly owned and financed by the former Senate President and a two-term governor of the state, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki.
It is also said there is no love lost between him and the present Kwara state government.
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The eviction was contained in a notice, sent to the club by the State Sports Council, dated June 10 and titled “Request To Vacate Facility” signed by the council’s Secretary, A.J Adebisi.
The statement attributed the action of the sports council to the need to provide office accommodation for the incoming board chairman and members of the Sports Commission to enable them to start work as soon as possible.
However, considering the bitter political rivalry between the Sarakis and Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq which escalated after the latter defeated the scion of the Saraki dynasty to get to power, the eviction notice has been given political interpretations as the 2023 election is already generating interest among political gladiators.
While supporters and sympathisers of the Saraki family and ABS FC have continued to situate the development in the realm of politics, the Governor’s allies and other government officials have rubbished such a narrative insisting that the Governor shouldn’t be dragged into the eviction saga.
Findings by Trust Sports revealed that the real trouble between ABS FC and the stadium management started over money following the decision of the Kwara State Internal Revenue Service (KWI-RS) to beam its searchlight on the sporting edifice to improve the state’s IGR.
Towards this end, a series of meetings were held between KWI-RS and the stadium management regarding the occupation status of the ABC secretariat.
The revenue service, it was gathered, then directed the stadium management to discuss with the ABS management and other shop users within the stadium premises for an agreed term of payment.
However, the ABS FC and stadium authorities could not arrive at a common ground over the matter leading to an exchange of correspondences between them since 2019 some of which were sighted by our reporter.
While ABS insisted it officially applied for approval to use a portion of the stadium and approval was granted by the state government, some of the officials in the ministry of sports who spoke on the issue in confidence said the approval was only a verbal directive and nothing more.
But the ABS, it was gathered, in one of its recent letters to the stadium management, submitted an official letter which granted it the use of the facility under the previous government.
But a stadium official who craved anonymity said the authorities are still perusing that letter to establish its authenticity.
The official added that “If they know they had the letter granting them permission all along, why did they refuse to tender it all these while that we have been on the issue?.”
Speaking further on the matter, an official of the stadium said “The issue between ABS FC and the state government started in 2019. At first, they said the place was granted to them. Then they moved to the narrative that they cannot pay the N180,000 per annum the Kwara Revenue Service charged.
“They agreed they can only afford N150,000 which will be in instalments. But suddenly, their position now is that we should give them till December to vacate the place and relocate to a facility they can afford within the premises.
“We see their action as deliberate to ease themselves out of the place without paying a dime after occupying the place since 2012. That is over a decade. Even the KWI-RS before now had suspected the management of the stadium was shielding ABS FC because of some kind of dubious agreement between us and that was why we were foot-dragging.
“But our action was dictated by the need to settle the matter amicably. This is not about the issue of witch-hunting. If they come up with a strong commitment today, they can continue to use the place, forgetting about the issue of the Sports Commission.”
The official who exonerated the state governor from complicity in the eviction saga explained further that despite the quit notice, ABS have not been stopped from using some of the facilities in the stadium.
He said “We have not said they should vacate the stadium or stop them from playing their home matches here. They still pay N20,000 to use the training pitch and also the main bowl for their home matches. I can’t remember the exact amount for the latter now. They will still continue to use it as their home ground”, the official noted.
However, the response from ABS contradicted the position of the official as a statement from the club suggested witch-hunt and allegations of political vendetta.
The management denied the claim that the club was evicted from the Kwara state Stadium complex over non-payment of rent.
The Administrative Secretary of ABS, Mrs Fumilayo Owolabi said there were no prior discussions or any requests by the Kwara State Internal Revenue Service (KWIRS) for the club to pay for the facility.
She said the ABS FC Secretariat was formerly a non-permanent structure site office/store temporarily put in place by the engineering firm that upgraded the Kwara State Stadium Complex, Ilorin.
According to her, upon completion of the stadium upgrade and evacuation of materials from the office by the firm, the management of ABS FC applied to the Kwara State Ministry of Sports and Youth Development, through the Sports Council for the use of the facility as office accommodation cum store and the request was graciously granted.
She explained that ABS’ dealings with the KWIRS had been in the areas of tax payments, payment for the use of the stadium fields for their matches, in which they have continued to maintain their obligations.
However, she acknowledged that only recently, the management of the Kwara State Sports Council, through the Stadium Manager, Mr Wale Obalola, hinted at directives to recover the facility from ABS FC, and also discussed agreements on payment for the office.
Consequently, she said days after the meeting, the State Sports Council wrote to the club asking it to sign an agreement for a yearly rent payment of N180,000.00, to be paid in two instalments, subject to further negotiations
She said “We sent a reply to the Sports Council, requesting to pay the sum of N150,000.00 in three instalments, payable quarterly, and demanded the Bank Account to make payment to, for the first instalment.
“A few weeks after, it became clear to us that there were other unseen forces, teleguided utterances/reactions and political undertones bent on seeing ABS Ilorin FC out of the office, including stringent conditions that the letter of payment agreement dated 24th May 2021 was to take effect backwards from January 2021.
“We sorted for calm and reminded them that issues of sports and youth development of which the club stood for should not be joined with conventional politics of any kind.
“Almost immediately, we received a notice titled “Request To Vacate Facility” signed by the Council’s Secretary.”
In as much as the state sports council and the stadium, management have repeatedly argued that the quit notice handed Abubakar Bukola Saraki FC has nothing to do with the political rivalry between the financier of the club and the state governor, many are of the view that the decision against the NNL club cannot be completely divorced from the feud between the two political gladiators.
As at the time of filing this report, the Media Officer of ABS, Yinka Owolewa informed our reporter that the club had started packing out of the stadium complex to an undisclosed destination.