Fight for Soul of Netball: CSED, Stakeholders Raise Alarm over Illegal NNF Registration

  • Nzekwu, Aluko are interlopers, they cannot revive Netball – Ehimiaghe
  • CSED is an NGO, not a stakeholder in Nigeria’s Netball – Aluko

By Hillary Asemota

There is no doubt that the crisis of ‘ownership’ has been brewing among investors, stakeholders and by extension officials of the Ministry of Sports and Youth Development. If this is not well managed and keeps festering, the ‘cancer’ may eventually derail the take-off progress that has been achieved in the last couple of months by some interested stakeholders in the game of Netball.

Recall that in the last few weeks, Mr. Sunday Dare, in a holistic move has been ramping private sector efforts into Nigerian sports.

The Minister has therefore inaugurated a 10-Man National Sports Technical Committee on Business Policy to draw up and incentives the roadmap that will attract and spur investors, NGOs and stakeholders to develop sports on workable and achievable Business Model as is the traction globally.

According to Dare, President Muhammadu Buhari, was generous enough to approve the first ever national sports industry policy in November 22, 2022, adding that this was geared at reviving and turning the gamut of sports including Netball from recreation to business.

It is based on this premised that the Sport for Change Activist (SCA) who is a trustee of Community Sport and Educational Development (CSED) Mr. Cornelius Ehimiaghe and members of the Naija Netball Stakeholders, are leaning on even as they have expressed worry that the brazen actions of some interlopers (Dr. Esther Aluko and Dr. Henry Nzekwu) as they alleged in the game may eventually drive Netball into a halt. If this happens again, Ehimiaghe, averred that this may be the final on the coffin of Netball in the country.

According to him, this will not be allowed to happen again as the stakeholders are ready to stake whatever it will take to resuscitate and take over the soul of Netball which they say have been on steady reinvention and comeback.

Specifically, the CSED founder, has cried as foul the illegally registered the Nigeria Netball Federation (NNF) with the efforts of remote players in the ministry as unhealthy for the overall development of the game in Nigeria.

In a chat with EXTRAORDINAIRE.COM, the CSED trustee, said it is noteworthy to note that his initiative in recent years picked up the pieces of the game from where government officials left it to its present status of identification and growth has labelled ‘so-called President and General Secretary’ of NNF as an illegal action that violates the principles of justice and fair play.

In attempt to claim the soul of Netball in a further clarification chat, Dr. Esther Aluko, in a remark described CSED as an NGO. She asked: “Have you had of Netball stakeholders before now, and who or what made them Netball stakeholders? According to her, the roles of NGOs in the development of the game and that of a National Federation are entirely different, she explained in the SMS, she sent to this paper.

An aggrieved Ehimiaghe, who narrated the ugly development to some sections of the media stated that these two persons (Nzekwu and Aluko) have been imposed on the netball stakeholders by the top hierarchy of the sports ministry.

Ehimiaghe, also tongue-lashed Ministry officials who have no respect for lay down rules and its inability to play its cohesive role to reinvent the game, adding that they disappointed Nigerians in the supposedly recent conduct of the affairs of netball, in the past one decade.

Watchers of Netball have also sought to know why the game has been in coma in the last decades and why ministry officials have suddenly become interested in the game at this resurrection stage?

Still speaking, Mr. Collins Ehimiaghe, as acknowledged by stakeholders who spoke anonymity averred that CSED has put in resources, time and commitment to lift the game from hitherto comatose state and this was corroborated by the CSED trustee, saying: “Now that they have seen the hard work and progress of “PROJECT 2027” agenda: (CSED Initiative programme of making one million Nigerian school girls to be aware of netball), they are now trying to be a clog in the wheel of progress.”

“Naija Netball stakeholders according to him, see the recent move by Aluko and her backers as a desperate attempt to further their personal interest of being relevant in the sport sector in Nigeria, even adding that they do not have any major contribution they have made to the development of grassroots sports in Nigeria.

Apart from relying on the goodwill of their warped principals, in order to short-change the Nigerian taxpayers, at whose expense they have lived on throughout their more than 30 years of being involved in sport in Nigeria, he added.

“Members of Naija Netball stakeholders expressed their disappointment with the way some friends and associates of principal officers of the Ministry of Youths and Sports Development and the NOC have been allowed to hijack the development of grassroots sports in the country, to the detriment of the Nigerian athletes and taxpayers.

There is no denying the fact that that Aluko has been involved in Netball especially as she worked and retired as Deputy Director in the ministry.

To resolve the lingering impasse, she advised that there is need to go down history lane from the 60s and 70s to date. However, investigation on the trajectory of Netball especially at government intervention and gesture have dead on arrival. The question is, why has the game refused to grow in the last 2 decades before the intervention of CSED and others that have showed renewed interest and commitment to develop the game its 1 million girls initiative of the game.

Accusing of Ehimiaghe of lack of understanding in Netball chessboard, Aluko, said: “The man (CSED trustee) has a history of writing negatively even to the NGOs that were developing netball before him. 

“However, I would like you to discuss with the NNF President. He is in charge, and it will not be proper for me to speak if he has not spoken or directed.”

She added that CSED is an NGO. Have you had of Netball stakeholders before now, and who or what made them Netball stakeholders? Roles of NGOs and that of a National Federation are different.

As regarding the legality of the newly formed federation, Ehimiaghe, however countered Aluko, adding: “Recall that we the stakeholders sent a petition letter to the Minister of Youths and Sport on 26th January 2023, complaining about the illegality that has being perpetuated in Nigeria Netball in the past one decade.

“Instead of investigating our allegation, the next thing we heard was that Nzekwu, has suddenly overnight become the President of the Nigeria Netball Federation (NFF).

“More worrisome, is the fact that Aluko who since October 2021 fooled Nigerians to believe that she is the General Secretary of an unregistered NNF, is now calling the shot at the NNF (Nigeria Netball Federation).

“This is the same Aluko, who contested for the post of General Secretary of the NOC in December 2022, as a representative of Handball Federation of Nigeria (HNF).”

Ehimiaghe, further stated: “This is the same Dr Esther Aluko who lied to Nigerians that basketball stunted the growth and development of netball in Nigeria.

“But in December 2022, she used mercenaries from other sports to demonstrate Netball at the NSF in Asaba. This is the same Dr Aluko who lied during a television interview on 2 April 2022, by misleading sports journalists to believe that AFFAN built the first netball court in Nigeria. This woman is so desperate to be relevant in Nigerian sports that she would not mind selling her country (Nigeria) for a bowl of porridge.”

Ehimiaghe, also averred that that Aluko keep flaunting the fact that she played Netball in the 1960 and 70s, before she converted to handball. However, he added that if Netball was that important to her, what did she do to develop the game when she held as Director in the Ministry and as a civil servant; where she spent more than 30 years and rose to the position of Deputy Director, before she retired from service a few years ago? He stated:

“Funny enough, I was the person who brought the problem in Netball to Aluko, as the president of AFFAN. I did so in 2019. If I am lying, you can ask her to confirm or deny this.”

Regarding, Nzekwu, Ehimiaghe, also recalled that the current Sports Minister has given him roles to play in the past in Football and Basketball. Whether, Dr. Nzekwu, has delivered on these tasks are questions, Nzekwu, would have to answer himself.

There is no doubt that Dr. Nzekwu, has strings of connections in the ministry, whether this was what justified his current elevation to the position of President of NNF, is a poser waiting for answer.

However, Ehimiaghe, stressed that the Naija Netball Stakeholders are not going to accept this. Na only Nzekwu be the competent sports administrator wey dey Nigeria?” he asked rhetorically.

The one-million-dollar question that Naija Netball Stakeholders want to ask is who are: “The principals and powers of Nigerian sport is, is the role of sports developers at the national level only reserved for former Sports Ministry/NOC staff.

“If not, can any other citizen of Nigeria, aspire to play a role in developing grassroots sports in Nigeria, without being the bosom friend, girlfriend, and boot lickers of the principal staff of the sport ministry and NOC?”

He stressed that it would be recalled that CSED Initiative have being in the forefront of trying to revive netball in Nigeria. Since 2019, they challenged the authority of the former General Secretary of the unregistered NNF, Hellen Manufor, who dribbled the NOC and Sport Ministry staff to believe that the NNF was a registered Federation.

While the principal officers of the Sports Ministry and NOC were in their deep slumber, it was one Cornelius Ehimiaghe, that brought the deceit of Hellen Manufor to the attention of the former Nigeria Sports Minister, Barrister Solomon Dalung, to the misdeeds of Hellen Manufor.

To save the situation and the correct the wrong, Dalung, ordered the NOC to investigate the grievances of CSED Initiative in respect of how netball was being run in Nigeria. Instead of doing so, the then General Secretary of NOC only wrote a wishy-washy email to CSED Initiative.

But behind the scenes, two members of staff of the Sport Ministry and NOC were rewarded with a place in the illegal NNF Board that was handpicked by her royal majesty (Hellen Manufor) in May 2019, Ehimiaghe stated:

“It is only in Nigeria that people are appointed into the Board of a Sports Federation that is not even registered with the regulatory corporate affairs regulator.” Ehimiaghe stated that since nobody seem to care about the development of Netball in Nigeria, CSED initiative took the bull by the horn and in February 2020, built the first netball court in Nigeria this millennium, at IDPs Camp Uhoghua, (Edo State).

As part pf CSED’s achievements, in March 2020, CSED initiative went further by training 24 Nigerians to be certified as Netball Africa Coaches. The first time this has happened in the history of Nigeria. Till date, CSED Initiative has trained an additional 216 Nigerian P.E. Teachers/youths to become Netball Coaches. “These training were conducted in Utoka (Edo State), Mosogar (Delta State), Uyo (Akwa Ibom State), Enugu (Enugu State). Yenogoa (Bayelsa State) and Jalingo (Taraba State).” Ehimiaghe, further stated that CSED Initiative does not only train teachers in netball, but they have also

embedded safeguarding in their training of these coaches. Ehimiaghe, however lamented that the NOC/Sports Ministry in Nigeria do not even have a safeguarding protocol, not to talk of implementing one for Nigerian athletes.

Furthermore, Ehimiaghe stated: “at the end of our two days basic netball training, CSED initiative usually provide free netball starter packs (netball balls, finger-held whistles, two sets of netball training bibs and two netball rims/nets) to participants of their training events. The attendees of these free training are also provided with a decent lunch. One of the Naija Netball Stakeholders (Edward Edema) stated.

“I’m aware that CSED initiative delivered equipment for the training of 30 P.E. Teachers in FCT (Abuja) to Aluko, but were allegedly diverted to pursue personal/AFFAN interest, with a view of curry favouring of her principal in NOC (Engr Habib Gumel).”

This is a typical example of how the personal interest of an individual is greater than that of an entire community. It is an open secret that even with their access to public funds, the Ministry of Sports and the NOC have not trained one Netball Africa certified Coach.

More laughable is Aluko’s recent claim that the target of the NNF is to participate in the 2024 All Africa Games in Accra, he explained.

Does she and her illegal president of the NNF think that other countries who have been playing netball regularly in the past few decades are just going to go into hiding, because they are going to play Nigeria in future?” Ehimiaghe, advised Aluko and the NNF that they should learn how to crawl before they think of walking or even taking part in a race, he stated.

“Even with Aluko and Nzekwu known to be highly connected in the Sports Ministry/NOC because of their being former staff, there is no guarantee that they are going to remain in their current position anyway.

This is because CSED Initiative and Naija Netball stakeholders are currently consulting with their members and solicitors with a view of taking this matter to Court. “You cannot build something on nothing.” The CSED boss, said.

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