Erasmus Kwaw: The author of this piece is former Project Officer of the GOC and a current Executive Board member of the Ghana Athletics Association
“In Japan a corrupt person kills himself. In China, they will kill him. In Europe they jail him. In Africa, he will present himself for election,” a viral social media post recently claimed. One wonders if this statement fits all cases or some cases. Well, while some may contest this statement and question whether Africa is the only continent that does not punish corruption or corrupt officials, one cannot help agree with the statement that generally Africa does not take corruption as seriously as elsewhere in Europe or Asia.
A classic case in point is the infamous 2018 Australia Commonwealth Games saga in Ghana where some top government officials and officials of the Ghana Olympic Committee (GOC) were implicated for their various roles as hundreds of Ghanaians were detained and deported for attempting to enter Australia by false pretense.
Many of those Ghanaians had legally acquired media accreditation tags from the GOC but Australian Immigration officials found out they did not carry any journalistic tools, neither could they even speak English-the official language of Ghana. Till date, no official from the government, GOC, journalists or other people whose names were mentioned by the deportees as having facilitated their travel have been prosecuted.
It can be recalled that the Justice Amadu Tanko led three-member GOC disciplinary, grievances and resolution committee gave a damning verdict after its investigations into the infamous visa racketeering scandal which resulted in the detention and deportation of hundreds of Ghanaians at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games held in Australia. “The Committee finds that visa racketeering through fraudulent representation for either financial gain or nepotistic motives is endemic, condoned and facilitated at the highest level of the GOC and the NSA,” the Committee stated in its report. Justice Tanko subsequently ascended to the high office of the Supreme Court of Ghana.
Fast-forward two years later, the Ghana Olympic Committee’s (GOC) has scheduled its elective congress for Monday, 15th March, 2021. Guess what? The very individuals who were implicated in the report are lining up for reelection while others are confirmed as delegates at the same congress. Indeed, the viral post was right after all!!
Profile officials implicated in 2018 Australia CWG Visa
Those implicated in the scandal included the GOC’s First Vice President Paul Atchoe whose biological sons somewhat ‘mysteriously’ found their names in Ghana’s list for Gold Coast 2018. Although the Committee expressly concluded that Paul’s position was no longer “tenable,” he is standing for reelection at congress. Paul, who doubles as President of Ghana Volleyball Association, admitted guilt at a GOC Congress held on 29th July, 2019 and was subsequently stripped off his role as chef de mission for Tokyo 2020. He however survived a vote by Congress on his continual stay or not at the helm. Curiously, the GOC constitution requires 2/3 of congress to vote yes to expel a member from the body.
The Deputy GOC Treasurer Theophilus Edzie was not too lucky as he was voted out. As a result, he is not standing for reelection this time. Edzie had also admitted facilitating travels for 14 people to travel to the Games including his brother Alexander Edzie for “no financial gain.” Edzie was initially suspended by his mother federation the Ghana Swimming Association but has in recent times being reinstated to his position. Again, the viral post is right! In documents made available to members of congress, Edzie claimed he took the action to include his brother’s name on the list with permission from the chef de mission Mohammed Sahnoon.
Mohammed Sahnoon stands for SG again
In addition, the leader of Ghana’s delegation to the Gold Coast 2018 Games, Mohammed Sahnoon is also standing again for the position of Secretary General having failed to secure the position at the last congress where he lost to the incumbent Richard Akpokavie. This comes despite his many documented failings as chef de mission. Sahnoon, who is a lawyer by profession and a former chef de mission for Ghana’s team at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, claimed he only got wind of the illegal registrations after receiving an email from the Games organisers on 16th March 2018 announcing the entry of some ‘fake beach volleyball players’ into Australia. But in a letter to the investigative Committee, Chris Essilfie, who was also Ghana’s chef de mission for the Rio 2016 Olympics, said it is impossible for anyone to enter any name in the software before, during or after without the ultimate knowledge of the CDM (Mohammed Sahnoon). Perhaps, this explains why the GOC President is quoted as having said the accreditation officers claimed they had added 12 names as guests to Ghana’s list through the then Deputy Minister (Pius Enam Hadzide) with the permission of the CDM (Mohamed Sahnoon)- Minutes of a GOC Board meeting on 23rd April, 2018. Apparently, Sahnoon and the President of the GOC had ultimate oversight of the accreditation registration process for the Games. Both had prior experience of the system having served as chef de missions in some previous games.
Special case of Ben Nunoo Mensah
More importantly, the GOC President Ben Nunoo Mensah is also confident of retaining his position despite opposition from his Secretary General Richard Akpokavie who is also contesting for the Presidency this time. Mensah is a rather special case as he is the one who appointed the people who were directly implicated in the visa scandal by the Committee but strangely denies any involvement in the scam. A former chef de mission for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, Ben Nunoo Mensah appointed his right hand man Mohammed Sahnoon as chef de mission for the Gold Coast 2018 Games; he then appointed Hussein Addy, his then Secretary General at the Ghana Weightlifting Association (GWA) and his then personal assistant Christiana Ashley as Accreditation Liaison Officers; while a Deputy General Secretary of the GWA Ken Adade was also appointed as Press Attaché. Hussein Addy and Christiana Ashley later fell out with the GOC Capo when the scandal broke in March, 2018. In a rather strange twist of fate, the duo then accused the GOC boss of being the mastermind behind the illegal registrations which resulted in the detention and deportation of some accredited Ghanaians “journalists” who tried to enter Australia by false pretense.
Furthermore, the Justice Amadu Tanko Committee stated the GOC boss had attempted to influence its work through acts of “intimidation, threats and fabrications.” Is Ben really capable of using violence to get his way? Well, the 159-page report revealed the GOC boss disrupted the work of the committee on at least two occasions as he attempted to “whip the Committee to tow a particular line.” Among other things, a federation head Kamal Sulley accused Mensah of directly contributing names to Ghana’s list for the Games, an accusation Ben denied. But there is no disputing the fact the GWA, whose President then interestingly was Ben Nunoo Mensah, illegally registered four names as part of its list, according to exhibits in the Committee’s report.
From controversy to controversy
It has been one controversy after another as far as Ben Nunoo Mensah’s GOC administration is concerned for the last four years. It includes a story about how the GOC lost 6.5million Euros from its sponsorship deal with Africa Tiger (Cocoa from Ghana) due to the negligence of the GOC administration; the whereabouts of the McDan vehicle donated to the GOC; and the controversy surrounding his last 4-year term as the Ghana Weightlifting Association boss. He was initially elected for a 4 year term in 2013 after the then incumbent Nii Lantey Vanderpuye left the position. But the GWA only recently held its elective congress which means Ben Nunoo Mensah had illegally held unto power for the last 4 years as GWA boss. Hussein Addy, a former General Secretary of the GWA, highlighted this fact in his statement to the Justice Amadu Tanko Committee.
Ben appears to be a man of many contradictions. His works are the direct opposite of the very manifesto be presented to the GOC Congress 4 years ago dubbed “The Renaissance.” In that document, he promised a transparent and accountable GOC, credible boards, funding, the completion of the Amasaman Olympic African project, among others.
Meanwhile, a source revealed to me the GOC initially sent a projected team size of 300 people to the Tokyo Olympic Games organising committee. Mind you, only 4 athletes have qualified for the Olympic Games. Could Tokyo be the next big scandal? We wait to see.
But the GOC boss was surely not working alone. This leads me to do a discussion about the Chief Executive of the GOC, Richard Akpokavie and the GOC’s Board.
Richard Akpokavie: An officer detached from the center
From the off, we need to establish that the congress of 15th March 2017 resulted in a ‘government of unity’ or convenience somewhat. Two main parties contested the election: the incumbent Prof. Francis Dodoo and the former GOC Treasurer Ben Nunoo Mensah. Whereas Nunoo Mensah won the contest for the Presidency, Richard Akpokavie beat Mohammed Sahnoon who was in the former’s camp. It was a marriage of convenience from the beginning.
This fact was illustrated by the investigative Committee which found that Richard Akpokavie had been completely sidelined during the GOC’s preparations for the Gold Coast 2018:
“The Committee found that he (Richard Akpokavie) appeared to be an officer detached from the center,” it stated, adding, “The Committee is of the view that the Secretary General lacked the support of the other principal officers in his co-ordination role as the Chief Executive of the GOC.”
It was also not lost on the Committee the lack of coordination between the President and the Secretary General. “The Committee finds that his (Richard Akpokavie) office lacks the needed support due to the absence of synergy between his office and that of the President,” the report stressed.”
The Committee expressed its displeasure at the GOC SG’s lack of support for its(Committee’s) work, describing him as “passive.” Well, the Richie, as we affectionately call him, is not passive. He is a respected lawyer, the first Ghanaian to be appointed as an arbitrator on the International Council of Arbitration for Sport (ICAS) and a former national hockey team captain.
When men adopt the mantra, “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” I think we are likely to have problems going forward. There is no absolute record of Richie’s direct or indirect involvement in the Gold Coast visa scandal. But as SG of the GOC, he cannot escape scrutiny. For instance, he was at the GOC board meeting of 23rd April, 2018 when some officers confessed their direct involvement in the scam while others revealed fine details about the processes leading to the fraud. But strangely the GOC refused to make that information available to the public afterwards.
Therefore any member of the current Executive Board standing for a position in the upcoming elections will not escape public scrutiny including Richie. It is noteworthy that the President of the Ghana Rugby Association President Herbert Mensah, a member of the outgoing GOC Executive, failed to contest for any position this time around. Conversely, if Richie were to win the upcoming elections, he would need to do better and show strong leadership as required of one in his position.
GOC Third Vice President: Evans Yeboah
The Committee also rebuked the Third Vice President of the GOC Evans Yeboah for registering names of the Accountant of the National Sports Authority and the Secretary of the then Director General NSA into the accreditation system without recourse to the GOC. The Committee deemed his action as a very serious infraction but stopped short of declaring his position untenable. But later information made available through some players of his mother federation the Ghana Badminton Association and the international badminton federation, BWF, shows behaviour similar to the visa racketeering scandal at Australia.
There is empirical evidence which suggests Evans Yeboah has facilitated travels for some individuals, outside the badminton family in Ghana, to competitions in Europe in the last years. All of those individuals, in all cases failed to show up for the competitions they were initially registered to take part in. They were not badminton players. When contacted, Yeboah did not deny the allegations but tried to justify his action saying, those individuals required assistance to take part in those competitions on their travels. A BWF official who spoke to me on condition of anonymity, poured scorn on Evans Yeboah’s explanations and rather sought more information on Mr. Yeboah’s activities in the 2018 Australia CWG scam.
Meanwhile, two badminton players Grace Atipaka and Daniel Sam each accuse their federation boss of taking their scholarship monies for preparations towards the Rio 2016 Olympics and the 2018 Commonwealth Games respectively. In the case of Grace Atipaka, Evans Yeboah said he had used the money to defray costs associated with the player’s participation in some international badminton competitions, some of which occurred even before the award of the scholarship by the GOC.
To conclude, the 2021 GOC elective congress is not going to be an ordinary gathering of people but a battle for the soul of Ghana sports. Many will be observing with keen interest both from within Ghana and outside our shores including from the international Olympic family. Mind you, they all know about the complexity of our officials in the various visa racketeering scams that has bedeviled our sport for decades.
May we come out stronger and with a better image!
Disclaimer: Not every member of congress or individual standing for a position can described as having soiled their image in visa racketeering. There are some new players on the scene who appear more honourable than their colleagues from the outgoing Executive Board.