Chairman, Mark Mentors basketball club, Mark Igoche, a presidential aspirant in the forthcoming Nigeria Basketball Federation election, talks on the crisis that has rocked the body in recent years, in this interview with ’TANA AIYEJINA of the PUNCH
World body FIBA has fixed the NBBF election for January 31 but there are so many unresolved issues among stakeholders. How do you view recent events that have played out in the last couple of years in the basketball sector?
I am very disappointed because the issues have not been resolved. I don’t know why the election that should have held last October was postponed to a later date. And the issues still persist, nothing has been done about it and now they’ve just fixed another date and they expect us to comply. If something was bad last year, this year won’t make it any better. The (sports) ministry has done nothing, and if you ask me, it looks as if they’re even working together to try to hand the seat back to Musa Ahmadu-Kida (erstwhile NBBF president).
The ministry writing to FIBA and addressing him (Ahmadu-Kida) as the (NBBF) president, to me, is like they’ve already appointed him as president and everything they’re doing now is just to formalise what has already been taken care of behind closed doors. The main problems are still there. The problem we have with the NBBF is that document they call the constitution, that document that Ahmadu-Kida singlehandedly amended without the vote of the board members and took it to FIBA. We don’t know which FIBA, because you can’t tell me that FIBA will rectify that kind of document. And he is claiming it to be the constitution guiding the Nigeria Basketball Federation and its sacrosanct and must be followed. For us, the constitution is supposed to govern the body and when those it’s supposed to govern say no, you don’t force it on them. His style of leadership is not just okay for us at all, so the problem for me is far from being over, that’s the truth.
Do you see January 31 as a feasible date for the election as FIBA insisted?
For me, the question is, what is FIBA’s interest? Is it that there is someone they want to impose on us to lead the NBBF? Are they interested in developing basketball in Nigeria? It baffled me the moment they started hammering on this election and on Ahmadu-Kida being the president and not even bothering themselves about the lingering issues because whether we like it or not, FIBA has contributed to this issue tremendously. If it’s the real FIBA, we don’t know. Players of the female team (D’Tigress) that had been doing very well came out with a video that they were owed some money. Up till now, that money has not been paid. So, nothing has been done to correct many of these issues that have been lingering. The girls came out to make a statement that they were not going to play, so if we’re not trying to solve these issues and rushing to go for the elections, if that’s the case, the ban will be inevitable. And like I said, where was FIBA when the (sports) minister dissolved the board of the federation last May? Where was FIBA when the minister constituted a caretaker committee to handle the affairs of the NBBF? That committee took the team to the Olympics last year. So, personally, I want to know FIBA’s interest in Nigerian basketball.
Basketball activities have been crippled in the last few years in the country due to the lingering crisis. Where do you see the sport in the next four years, if a new board is elected in Benin City, Edo State on Monday? Do you foresee boom or doom for Nigerian basketball?
Honestly, I see doom. I don’t see any progress at all because even in the last two years, the only progress I have seen are individually organised tournaments, championships and competitions. Otherwise, nothing is going on. The ball literally deflated long time ago, it’s not bouncing anymore and if we continue this way, how will the ball bounce? The players came out last year to air their views through a protest, the same players again went back to the ministry and the minister has refused to see them or pay attention to what they’re saying. And these are the main stakeholders of this game. If the players are not there, who is the board going to govern?
You were one of the supporters of Musa Ahmadu-Kida, where did things go wrong?
Before he came on board, and when we were moving together, our plan was grassroots basketball development. Our plan was to raise the standard of Nigerian basketball, we planned to create a platform for the young boys and girls at home to showcase their talents and to help achieve their basketball dreams. But when he (Ahmadu-Kida) got there, everything changed and I told him this wasn’t our plan because how won’t we, for a whole year, organise one proper league? The NBA plays 82 games in a regular season, but in the last four years, I think the most we have done is play about six games in a year in an abridged league format. How can anyone improve that way? That is the reason why we don’t have home-based players in the national team anymore because there is no league. So, he deviated from the plan. I am fully into basketball development and I stand with the players in terms of their welfare, give them what they deserve. For you to owe players until they start crying out is not okay at all.
You talked about the constitution earlier, is it not the same constitution that states that the outgoing president should organise an elective congress to decide the next elections? So, as an ex-president, don’t you think Ahmadu-Kida still has a role to play in the coming elections?
Firstly, the process of the amendment of the constitution that came into the country in 2019 is flawed because this current document surrounds one person. The current document favours Ahmadu-Kida. In his constitution, the only person that can call the congress is the president of the federation. Ahmadu-Kida called the last congress around October 9, 2021 and said they’ve fixed the election date and venue. The congress he called, he tagged some of the board members that worked with him as ex-board members and as such, were not allowed to speak or air their opinion. So, he chaired that congress as the technical chairman without the board and that was against his own constitution. So, even if we want to use the constitution, we will also challenge the legality of that congress that decided that the election should go to Edo State, so that’s the main problem.
You’ve been propagating grassroots basketball for years, organising competitions and tournaments. Will you contest for the position of the president of the federation?
A lot of basketball stakeholders have approached me and put me under a lot of pressure and I said for me, I want to come on board for service, so I applied.
Will you boycott the forthcoming elections if it still holds in Benin City?
Obviously, I’m not going to Benin because I don’t believe it and it doesn’t tally with me.
What is the solution to the problems because at the end of the day, it’s the players that suffer?
I was thinking the sports ministry would try and solve the problems in the NBBF by stepping in and putting aside that constitution, conducting the federation’s elective congress by using the ministry’s guidelines, so that when the new board is appointed, they can amend the constitution he (Ahmadu-Kida) hurriedly amended behind closed doors. I think that is the solution.
Don’t you think FIBA will take that as interference on the part of the ministry?
There is a crisis and FIBA itself is contributing to it. They are not trying to find solutions but are talking about interference, I don’t think so. Alternatively, the ministry should appoint basketball stakeholders to look into that constitution to review the constitution, make amendments and then go ahead with the elective congress.
What are you bringing to the table if elected?
Firstly, I will try and unite the basketball family, secondly, I will try and improve the standard of our local league. I will focus on grassroots basketball development. We can’t develop basketball without the infrastructure, they go hand-in-hand, it’s not like football that can be played anywhere, it needs equipment and that’s what we don’t have right now. At the moment, we don’t have an arena to host international championships, what we have and we’re still managing is not even okay. The infrastructure are bad and that’s something I will look into. I will also look into the players welfare. These players, who are the real stakeholders of this game, have been left out for so long and are not even considered but when elected, I want to make them my priority because this game belongs to them. Everything we are doing is about them and not us.
Do you have any structure on ground to improve the finances of the federation, if elected?
If you come in with a good blueprint and clean intentions, sponsors will come. A few companies out there and individuals still believe there is hope for Nigerian basketball and with the level of talents we have here, if we begin to talk to the right people, I believe they will be willing to come in to help improve and put basketball where it belongs and where it ought to be in the world map.