Politicians recruit Bayelsa athletes as bodyguards

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Simon Utebor, Yenagoa

In a desperate bid to survive following unpaid salaries, some Bayelsa State athletes have allegedly been forced to make a living as bodyguards.

Our correspondent learnt that the athletes, who are on the payroll of some politicians in the state, provide security for their principals during political meetings and at their private homes.

The state government is said to be owing some of its athletes six months’ salary arrears in 2016 and one month in 2017.

Athletes, who spoke to our correspondent, said they had been facing untold misery and hardship due to the failure of the state government to pay them their salaries.

They also complained about poor training conditions, alleging that since the Samson Siasia Sports Complex in Yenagoa started undergoing rehabilitation, they had not been having a proper training.

A weightlifter, who identified himself simply as Ebi, said the situation of the athletes had been pathetic.

He said, “It’s tough here. I cannot explain the magnitude of what we are passing through. Most of us here have become bodyguards (bouncers) to some politicians.

“Some work as bouncers at night clubs and in other places that their services are needed to keep body and soul together.”

Another weightlifter said for a long time, due to the ongoing rehabilitation of the stadium, they had hardly been training.

The source, who craved anonymity for fear of victimisation, corroborated Ebi’s position, claiming that due to unpaid months’ arrears for 2016, some weightlifters had engaged in other passive jobs such as bouncing for those who needed their services.

He said, ‘‘This stadium has not been in use for a long time. Most equipment for training have not been in top form. The situation coupled with salary backlogs have compelled athletes to think out of the box to survive. It is not surprising that some of us; particularly the weightlifters have systematically been operating as bouncers to some VIPs.

“We are appealing to the relevant authorities in sports administration in the state to look into our predicament. A hungry man cannot train well, moreso the training kits and equipment are having issues.

“We know that recession is affecting virtually all the states in the country. We appeal to the state government to put the stadium in good shape for proper training. We also urge the government to pay us our salary arrears to enable us to settle our huge debts.’’

A female swimmer, who gave her name only as Mary, claimed that the government was owing them six months arrears in 2016 and one month in 2017.

Mary, who said they were only owed for April this year, confessed that athletes had been surviving by the grace of God.

She said, “We are only surviving by the grace of God; it has not been easy with us. Most of us are suffering here. We can’t even train; apart from the fact that we cannot train on empty stomachs, the swimming pool has been in bad condition for years now .

“You can see the mainbowl of the stadium too. The contractors handling the project  has since left site because they have not been paid. It’s pathetic. Some of us have resorted to begging at times and doing menial jobs  to survive.’’

At the mainbowl of the Samson Siasia Sports Complex, undergoing repairs is under lock and key.

A security man at the gate said workstopped there a few weeks ago due to alleged non-payment of the contractors handling the project.

The  Olympic-sized swimming pool in the stadium is in a sorry state. Also, the volleyball court,  also under repairs, has been abandoned midway.

But  the state Commissioner for Sports, Mr. Perekiye Buruboyefe, lambasted the aggrieved athletes, saying they were economical with the truth.

Buruboyefe said, “Are they (athletes) not workers in this state? So, what do they mean that they are owing them backlog of salaries? If they are workers in this state, they know what is happening to workers in this state.

“How are they owing them? Every worker is paid the same way.

“Are they paid differently from others? You are aware that last year, we had problems with salaries and everybody was paid half salary. But from the whole of this year, in fact, from November, they have been paid full salaries. So, which is the salary they are owing them that they are complaining about.’’

 The commissioner added, “In that place (stadium), there are some persons that are not workers that go there to train and there are some persons that are placed on temporary employment when they were giving the council  overheads. If they are workers, nobody is owing them. I do not believe they are owing them. As far as I know, our council workers are not paid separately from other workers.’’

 Buruboyefe dismissed the allegation that some of the state athletes had  been engaged by politicians as bodyguards.

He said, “The only work a  civil servant is allowed to do, apart from the normal civil service work,  is farming. So, any other thing the person is doing as far as I am concerned is not my business.

“And if the person is caught doing what he is not supposed to do, the rules are there. I am not aware that our weightlifters are bouncers anywhere. To the best of my knowledge, our weightlifters are paid the same time other civil servants are paid. So, any other things they are doing outside the official hours is not to my knowledge. I am not a security guard to be following them about.

“So, no civil servant, no boxer, no weightlifter, etc. will say that it is because they have not been paid that is why they are doing that. Maybe that person is not our employee because I know that there are some persons that are not our workers  that come to use our facilities to practice.

 “Since they are not our staff, I do not know about them, our staff are paid the same time other workers are paid.

“So, there is no truth in that speculation that our weightlifters are not paid and that they are bouncers to politicians.’’

On stadium rehabilitation, the commissioner corrected the impression that work was abandoned because the government was owing the contractors.

He said that work temporarily stopped at the stadium because the contractor was expecting some equipment ordered for the rehabilitation from abroad to continue with the work.

Spokesman for the police in the state, Mr. Asinim Butswat, said, “Politicians or any other persons have the right to engage their personal aides. It only concerns the police when such aides bear arms or are engaged in criminal activities.”

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