20170312

N244M Rich Yesterday, Homeless Today

The NFLL office has been taken over by a bank after its officials failed to offset a N128m loan for the building from the N244m TV money it received last November.

As reported by Punch's ’Tana Aiyejina.

"It’s a big shame. I felt very bad because it rubbished the good I’m supposed to have done. How many chairmen buy their own offices despite all the money they are given? How many think of buying a property for the company? Instead they want to be paying rent and making money. But I was not cut out for that; I was out to give a home to the league, somewhere we could call our own. And we started by acquiring the property. But I feel very bad right now, knowing that the place has been taken over by a bank.”

The above statement was made by ex-Nigeria Football League Limited chairman, Jackson Oyuki-Obaseki, after the headquarters of the NFLL was taken over by Sterling Bank on January 24.

The NFLL under Oyuki-Obaseki had bought the property on 31 Karaye Street, Garki II, Abuja, in 2009 with a loan from Equitorial Trust Bank (now Sterling Bank). However, the league body has been unable to pay the remaining N128m balance of the loan, leading to the seizure of the property by the bank.

The Benin chief said he initiated the idea of buying the building, after the financial burden of paying rents in Abuja took its toll on the NFLL.

“We discussed at our board meeting that we should have a property of our own because the rent was getting too exorbitant. I set up a committee and they got this building. When I went to look at it, I was very happy. There were two buildings but I got an architect who did the marriage of both and we paid for it,” he stated.

In sourcing for funds to buy the property, Oyuki-Obaseki had approached the then title rights sponsor of the league, a major player in the telecoms sector as well as in the defunct Equitorial Trust Bank.

And it was through the auspices of that connection that Equitorial Trust Bank granted NFLL the loan, our correspondent learnt.

However, things reportedly went sour between the NFLL and the major telecoms firm as the latter allegedly didn’t meet its financial obligations to the league for two seasons under Obaseki.

The case thus ended in court, with the NFLL asking for its sponsorship payment from the telecoms company. In Suit No: LD/451/2010, a judgment debt of N1.2bn was awarded to the football league. However, there was an inexplicable twist thereafter when Tunji Babalola, then NFLL acting secretary and the late Shehu Gusau, then NFLL acting chairman, signed a compromise of judgment agreement with the telecoms firm on April 6, 2011, accepting only N350m from the judgment debt of N1.2bn.

Babalola and Gusau in signing the agreement, thus compromised N850m, and also did not include the remaining N128m loan used for the purchase of the NFLL building granted by Equitorial Trust Bank, which had same ownership roots as the major telecoms firm.

Equitorial Trust Bank later metamorphosed into Sterling Bank, which seized the building in January.

Babalola however refused to comment on his role in the compromise judgment agreement when our correspondent called him on Friday.

“I don’t want to make any comment concerning that issue right now. The matter is before an agency right now,” Babalola said.

Ever since collecting the loan for the acquisition of the building eight years ago, the league body under various leaderships – Davidson Owumi and Rumson Baribote – as well as an interim League Management Committee and the Sam Sam Jaja board instituted by the Chris Giwa faction of the Nigeria Football Federation has been unable to pay a part or all of the N128m, thus leading to the action of the bank, which got a court ruling, in taking over the place.

However, what has baffled stakeholders is that in November 2016, the NFLL received N244m television broadcast money from the rights holder Total Promotions, but its officials failed to use some of the money to service loan used in acquiring the property.

The National Association of Nigerian Footballers had petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission seeking the release of the money by broadcast rights holder Total Promotions. And on the directive of the ant-graft agency, Total Promotions lodged the N244m, which was part of the money for three league seasons, with the Lagos division of the EFCC on June 23, 2016.

Investigations showed that after the money was transferred from the NFLL Zenith Bank account to the Club Owners Association of Nigeria account by Babalola (ex-NFLL secretary and account signatory A) and Esther Adesuyi (ex-NFLL clerk and account signatory B), no consideration was given to paying back some or all of the loan collected to acquire the property.

It’s interesting to note that the transfer of the money to the club owners, an unrecognised group in the NFLL Articles and Memorandum, has also been bedeviled with controversy. Our investigations show that the transfer of the money from the NFLL Zenith Bank account to that of the club owners may have been aided by a forged utility bill from the Federal Capital Territory Water Board Authority.

An NFLL staff, who pleaded anonymity, narrated the ordeal he and other workers of the company passed through, when the bank took over the property on January 24.

Our source said, “About two dozen policemen came in with a man who brought a court bailiff. The man said they had come to take over the building on the orders of the court. He showed us the papers.

“Officials of Sterling Bank then came in and we pleaded with them to allow us call our lawyer. But they said they were not there to negotiate with us but to execute the court judgment.

“We also pleaded with them that we were not aware of the judgment. The previous boards didn’t notify us of such judgment. One of them started kicking the doors and breaking them, like a scene from a movie.

“They brought in people to help them move the company’s property outside; they packed TVs, computers and chairs outside. Thank God it wasn’t raining season. They locked the place and put their own security operatives on duty ever since.”

Speaking further, our source said one of the men, who had come to take possession of the building, expressed displeasure over the NFLL’s failure to pay a part of the debt from the N244m.

“It was while all these was happening that one of them said ‘NFLL got money, shared it amongst themselves, didn’t bother to pay us for the building and they want us to keep quiet.’ They said we paid others and ignored them. It was touching,” he added.

How the money was shared by the club owners without consideration for the Karaye property has also been an issue of contention by stakeholders in recent weeks.

Danladi Isaac, chairman of the club owners, who played a major role in the sharing of the money, insisted that they applied due process in sharing the money, adding that they were giving the NFLL property “legal attention” after it was sealed by the bank.

Danladi stated, “In whatever we did, we applied due process; it’s just that nobody can force us to publicise what we did. You don’t run government on the streets.

“People are saying we should have used the TV rights money to pay for the building but the clubs wouldn’t have forgiven us. You cannot rob Peter to pay Paul. We are giving the Karaye building issue legal attention. Even EFCC is on the matter right now. There was a time a compromise agreement was signed to liquidate the bill but EFCC says no, every kobo must be returned.

“Again, the same people who say club owners are not known to the statutes are the ones saying we should go and pay for the property. Is that not ironical? If they say we are unknown to the NFLL statutes, why are they now accusing us of not taking over our property?”

For writing the petition against Total Promotions, NANF received N24m (10 per cent of the money) from the club owners. But it brought another dimension to the story as Harrison Jalla, president of the players union, disclaimed Larry Kubeinje, who received the cheque for the money from Danladi in the presence of Jalla at the EFCC office in Lagos.

NANF in a statement signed by Jalla, titled ‘Re: Crisis rocks Nigerian football over N244m TV money’ and dated February 20, 2017, lamented how the club owners disbursed the money in “secrecy”, saying one of the major reasons the petition was written was to service the bank loan and also maintain the secretariat of the league body.

The statement read, “As we speak, the disbursement of the N244m has been shrouded in secrecy; even the percentage to NANF was diverted to an illegal account. That matter is currently under police investigation.

“The idea behind NANF’s petition was to recover several millions of naira of football money to ensure the outstanding salaries, allowances and contract fees of players, coaches, and managers were paid; the Sterling Bank loan of N128m to the Nigeria Football League was serviced, outstanding debts of NFL paid and running cost of the Nigeria Football League secretariat set aside. None of the above initiative was achieved; the N244m was frittered away by frivolous claims.”

Speaking further, Jalla insisted that NANF would ensure that they retained the property back from the bank.

He said, “Sterling Bank as far as we are concerned is part of the telecoms company, who owe the league over N1bn. But some people went behind the scene, took some money and said they had compromised the judgment. Those issues are before the EFCC.

“We are exploiting all avenues to ensure that the decision of that court is appealed. We can’t lose that building, it’s not possible because the current value of the property is over N700m and is sited in Garki.”

Our correspondent, who visited the NFLL office in Abuja before it was taken over by Sterling Bank, noted that a major part of the property was in ruins and abandonment.

Kasali Obanoyen, who was installed last year by Giwa’s NFF as the NFLL executive secretary, said the building was virtually inhabitable when he assumed office.

“It was in total dilapidation and not habitable by any standard. There were cockroaches, rats and even snakes in the building. The roof was licking, the walls were peeling and there was water everywhere; the building was in a total state of decadence and decay,” he stated. “Nobody thought the place was habitable again until Giwa pumped in some money and that’s why we’ve been able to sustain and have the place fairly habitable leading to January 24, when it was sealed.

“It took a unit of the policemen attached to the building to kill some snakes when we were trying to remove the branches of trees and weeds in the compound. The building was almost at the state of despair completely.

“When they kept asking me what my interest in the N244m was, I told them that I had no interest other than the building. Let us put in some money from the N244m so that the building is not sealed the way it was done in January.”

NFLL signatory B, Esther Adesuyi, a key player in the N244m saga, said they were hoping to pay off the loan collected from the bank when Total Promotions paid the remaining N100m, the balance of the broadcast rights money.

She stated, “We still owe some people, especially this (NFLL) house. They said by the time Total Promotions pay the balance (of N100m), they will use it to pay for the house.”

Meanwhile, football stakeholders have insisted that the root of the “smelling fraud” must urgently be exposed to save the NFLL building and the country’s football from ruins.

Jalla added, “We are in the process and we’ve given the club owners a time frame, so that Nigerians should know how those funds were spent. What is most important for us is to save the building in Garki. Those involved in the fraud would be brought to book.

“They will have to account for the money they spent, so we have to explore those areas possible to ensure they are brought to book any moment from now.

“Once the ultimatum we gave them expires, we will take appropriate steps; there were lots of issues like how the funds were transferred and how much the clubs got. What happened to the balance? So, we need to know those entitled to what and what they did to get what they got.

“That Karaye property belongs to Nigerian football and we will ensure that we don’t lose it, that I can assure you. We’ve made a representation to the EFCC on that.

“They also collected N350m to compromise over N1bn. It’s unacceptable and we urge the EFCC to arraign those concerned and recover the funds for football.”

With the league officials locked out of their own building, it would be interesting to watch how the scenario plays out in the coming weeks, after these same officials failed to keep a roof over the league’s head despite having a whopping N244m at their disposal just few months back.