ON March 14, 2017, the Permanent Secretary (PS) in charge of President Muhammadu Buhari’s State House, Tijjani Umar, allegedly signed a $12 million controversial licensing agreement on behalf of the Nigeria Basket Ball Federation (NBBF), and allegedly helped himself with over 18 per cent of the money.
This was barely three months to his tenure expiration as former head of the NBBF.
Umar has been accused of stealing $2.2 million from the money by members of the federation.
Documents obtained showed Umar signed an agreement that consisted of not fewer than 16 terms and conditions, some of which stated the NBBF obligations.
The deal was first reported in January 2017.
A month after, on 2 February 2017, the former NBBF president also announced the deal at a live television broadcast on ChannelsTV.
He described the feat as “the biggest sponsorship deal that has ever been brought to the table of the NBBF” but did not provide further details.
Umar appended his signature as the NBBF representative while Mike Mootlen, an Alternate Director to Gaetan Lan, signed on behalf of Econet Media Limited’s partner.
The firm is an international organisation with its main registered office at Standard Chartered Tower, Ebene in Mauritius. It is part of the Econet Group with 60, 000 employees in Africa and offices in Nigeria and South Africa.
Nevertheless, the multimillion-dollar licensing deal outrightly gave Econet the exclusive coverage and broadcasting right to air the Nigerian basketball games across any channel owned or operated by it or its subsidiaries in the Econet Group.
It involved broadcasting 160 games in the Men Premier Leagues and 164 games per season for the Zenith Bank League (Women). But, it excludes games by the national basketball team.
With the deal, the NBBF offset the exclusive right of the local basketball games to Econet through the Kwese TV Programme Purchase Agreement.
Kwesé is a brand of Econet Media Limited, a media arm of Econet, one of Africa’s leading Telecoms, Media and Technology groups.
$12 million payments in tranches
According to the document, the payment terms revealed the license fee would be paid in 10 installments.
First, $1.1 million is payable within 14 days after the contract comes into effect. It was agreed the outstanding would be spread across nine tranches up to 15 July 2021.
The agreed payment plan to the NBBF is listed as follows:
- $1,100,000 within 14 days of the execution of this agreement.
- $1,100,000 on July 15, 2017
- $1,150,000 on January 15, 2018
- $1,150,000 on July 15, 2018
- $1,200,000 on January 15, 2019
- $1,200,000 on July 15, 2019
- $1,250,000 on January 15, 2020
- $1,250,000 on July 15, 2020
- $1,300,000 on January 15, 2021
- $1,300,000 on July 2021.
More so, Umar’s full name and personal email address, including the official address of the NBBF located at the Indoor Sports Hall, Package B, of the National Stadium, Abuja, was reflected in the signed document.
But it is not clear the exact total amount paid from the tranches. Still, the entire sum was not ultimately paid, except for the first two tranches alleged against Umar.
Independent findings revealed the Econet Group later scrapped Econet Media Limited. It went insolvent on 5 August 2019.
“Econet Group regrets to confirm that Econet Media Limited has ceased operations with effect from 5 August 2019. It is a difficult decision that we cannot postpone. Over the last four years, we sought to disrupt Africa’s media landscape and enable Africa to tell its own stories using various technologies, including satellite broadcast, video streaming, and free-to-air TV.
“The Econet Group invested heavily into Econet Media and supported the business over the period it operated without any third-party funding. Unfortunately, market conditions and content price inflation got in the way of us completing our mission,” the group stated in a release issued on 5 August 2019.
“We deeply regret the impact that this decision has had on our staff, contractors, customers, regulators, and content providers. We will engage with each of our valued stakeholders transparently and will seek to meet our obligations to each of them as provided under the law.”
The firm still emphasised each company within the group remained a separate legal entity with their respective managements. Hence, the group exonerated itself from whatever agreement had transpired between its sister firm and the Umar-led NBBF.
Besides, the NBBF had grappled with over a decade-long leadership battle among political influences. This is notable from the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development and the PS, who declared absolute interest in the next NBBF election.
New Board trails Umar’s deal with Econet Media Limited
On 3 August 2017, about a month after the new leadership assumed office in July 2017, the Kida-led board wrote to Econet media limited through its former Secretary-General, Chemizie Asiegbu, to seek information on the controversial deal. The letter was referenced NBBF/KW/10/2017/1.
In response to the inquiry, Econet claimed ignorance of the new board. It assumed even if there was, the Umar-led NBBF board would have informed the new leadership.
“We are not privy to all the developments concerning the change of board within the NBBF and would appreciate further background.”
Econet General Counsel Philip Leavesley signed the letter dated 11 August 2017.
He expressed worry the new board was ignorant of the deal revealing the programme purchase agreement had been in operation since 1 January 2017.
“We are particularly concerned that the current board of the NBBF would not be aware of the current programme purchase agreement/deal memo concluded between NBBF and Econet Media limited, which agreement has been in operation for some time (since 1 January 2017).”
“We confirm that we have undertaken the production and broadcast of the matches hosted by NBBF and made substantial payments of license fees in consideration for the grant of broadcast and sponsorship rights as set out in the agreement.”
This raises other pertinent questions about what account the payments were made, how much of the tranches were paid, and other issues surrounding the transparency of the deal and the fund disbursements.
Umar accused of stealing $2.2 billion, depleted NBBF account before tenure completion
In the course of these findings, several allegations were raised against Umar.
Some questioned the rationale why the former NBBF president was still parading himself more like a lifetime decision-maker in the federation.
Others accused him of being behind the crisis in the federation, even though the battle is between two factions in the NBBF. The Umar faction and Musa Kida-led faction, the immediate past president of the NBBF.
Independent findings by The ICIR revealed Umar was a two-term NBBF president – 2009 to 2013 and 2013 to 2017. He is a strong force in the basketball federation because of his influence and federal might.
He appeared much interested in the affairs of the federation and has remained resolute in his mission. Still, his interference, having been appointed as a public official (federal civil service) is believed to be in conflict with the FIBA guideline, the global body for basketball.
As of the time, he managed affairs of the federation, he strived to put in place needed structures even though the NBBF lacked strong constitution binding. A draft constitution was put in place but he was accused to have embedded a clause of lifetime presidency – a decision that met stiff condemnation from some stakeholders.
Reports say some of the aggrieved delegates such as stakeholders from Benue, Lagos, and a few eastern states at the federation’s 2017 congress were denied access into the meeting.
“NBBF accepted to have a constitution but the process also failed because they went for the congress to endorse the constitution and Tijani Umar used Airforce officers and police to send members of the federation from entering…,” former Minister of Sports Solomon Dalung stated while accusing the PS in a report by Channels TV on 9 January 2018.
“My representative as a minister appealed to him to allow them to enter as a minister, he refused. If we were to intervene, he has held the monies of the federation since he left office. Could it have been that we don’t know what to do?”
But Umar decided not to react to the minister’s comment. “…the facts are well documented. They are in the public domain. It is not within my power to respond to any allegations against me or my faction of the Nigerian basketball federation…,” he said.
FIBA eventually recognised Kida as the NBBF president after a long battle. But checking on contact details found on the FIBA website throws up more confusion. The email contact reads email@example.com, the phone numbers traced on Truecaller reads Mrs. Bisi NBBF and Tijjani Umar.
Immediate calls to Umar to seek clarifications on the deal were not answered. He later asked the reporter to send a text message. Still, he didn’t respond to the text.
An email was sent to his address found in the contract document. The email bounced back.
As of the time of this report, Umar has not responded to the text message and calls to his line.
Aside from our findings, on 13 November, a member of the immediate-past board of the NBBF, Abbakaka Abdulkadir, appeared on a popular sports programme (Sports File) on the African Independent Television (AIT). He was a guest with Toyin Ibitoye, media adviser to the sports minister.
The discussion centred on the lingering crisis within the basketball federation in Nigeria. While analysing the contending issues, Abdulkadir mentioned the controversial Econet deal through the Kwese licensing pact.
While documents obtained showed a $12 million deal, he put the figure at $12.5 million. The footage was archived here and was seen by hundreds of people.
He said on national television that $2.2 million allegedly paid by Econet was missing in the NBBF account. Hence, argued the fund was paid into the PS’s personal account.
“The genesis of this crisis started in 2017.”
“The former president of the NBBF, Tijani Umar, in 2017 had a contract – Kwese contract which I have copies here, of $12.5 million signed with a South African company. They have already paid $2.2 million to his personal account, not to the account of the NBBF.”
“…even when Kida was the president in July 2017, Tijani Umar still collected $1.1 million, so we want the House of Representative Committee on Sport who have requested for the document to probe the money.”
To ascertain the claim, emails sent to Econet via their official email address v firstname.lastname@example.org, bounced back. Another email was sent, but it failed.
The phone numbers, +230 404 6000, +27 11 996 5500, +44 (0) 20 7101 6100 and +44 (0) 20 7101 6102 found on the website were contacted. But they were unreachable.
NBBF risks ban over leadership tussle, infighting
Still, the major bone of contention among warring parties remains the NBBF constitution. Until the constitution is harmoniously amended and agreed upon by both factions of the federation and election for a new board constituted in the shortest possible time, Nigeria may be blacklisted by the world basketball body.
Meanwhile, FIBA, in a letter dated 10 November, issued 30 November as the deadline for the NBBF to hold an elective congress and produce new leadership.
foremost sports analyst, Segun Odegbami, reacting to the crisis, attributed the main problem to the NBBF constitution. The federation, he said, had usurped responsibilities of the sports ministry, for instance.
He emphasised government cannot be excluded from the NBBF activities, as they come in handy in terms of subventions or funding supports during critical moments. On the contrary, the Ministry should also stay clear from domestic issues within the sports associations as this is often seen as interference.
However, Odegbami advised the current constitution be discarded for a new one developed by a neutral body’ with inputs from relevant stakeholders.
One of the crucial pieces of advice was pegging board members’ tenure to a single term of four years, and not eight years or two terms while government representatives are assigned, automatic vice-chairmen.
His words: “Every board must have equal representation by its members, including government.
“The membership of the board shall elect its Chairman.
“Elections should not be moved to State capitals but must be conducted in the headquarters of the sports federations.
“Tenure of boards should be reduced to a single term only, like several professional bodies.
“Government representatives on boards will not contest for Chairmanship but will be automatic Vice-Chairmen because of their strategic role in every association.
“That will make the whole process simple, inexpensive, easy to manage, less prone to manipulation, and devoid of external influence and corruption. There will also be no Ghana-Must-Go bags full of illicit money, no clandestine, nocturnal meetings in hotel rooms, and no public campaigns with posters and hired lobbyists.”