IM Odion Aikhoje is embroiled in a row with the Nigerian Chess Federation over the rights to his gold medal he won in the 1998 Chess Olympiad in Elista, Russia. The issue has dragged on for nearly a decade, but the situation has recently become acute after Kunle Elegbede has ramped up the pressure by deferring to government officials. The details of this saga are recounted in a very detailed essay at the Nigerian Chess blog run by Elegbede. What it boils down to is an official holding the medal from the Sports Ministry as a leverage for reimbursement money he was owed. The Ministry was to formally present the medal to Aikhoje, but it was intercepted by the one, Theophilus Caifus. The question remains as to why Aikhoje is being pushed in the middle of a battle between Caifus and the Sports Ministry.
IM Odion Aikhoje
Here is Aikhoje’s appeal:
21 January 2008
The Honorable Minister/Chairman
National Sports Commission
My name is Odion Aikhoje and I am a representative of the Nigerian National Chess Team. I have been playing Chess for the country at various international events since 1997 and I am currently employed as a coach at the Delta State Sports Council, Asaba, Delta State.
Sir, I would like to ask for your assistance in the resolution of a matter that has dragged on for the past 10 years between the Nigeria Chess Federation and my humble self.
The accompanying document which contains a write up by Mr. Kunle Elegbede who is the Nigerian International Coordinator for Chess explains the whole situation.
I hope and pray that you will be able to right the wrong that I feel has been done to me and all the Chess players in Nigeria who desire nothing but to serve their proud nation and acquit themselves honorably in the international sporting arena. I hope that my Olympic Gold Medal winning performance will be properly recorded in the sporting history book of the Nation.
Thank you for your kind assistance.
FIDE International Master of Chess
Nigerian National Chess Champion
Nine years after winning a gold medal for Nigeria, at the 1998 World Chess Olympiad, Odion Aikhoje has not officially received his gold medal even though the World Chess Federation (FIDE) handed it over to the Nigerian Chess officials. Here is the unbelievable story below:
At the 1998 Chess Olympiad which held in Elista Russia, we all know Odion won a gold medal, on board 2, for Nigeria. Mr. Emmanuel Omuku, the former Executive Director of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), a Nigerian, received the gold medal on behalf of Odion, who could not wait in Elista to receive his medal due to conflict with his travel arrangements. Mr. Omuku then sent the medal with a letter to the then Honorable Minster of Sports in Nigeria. This was done with the hope that it would be properly presented to Odion who had done the country proud and also to use the medal to promote the game of chess in Nigeria. With the medal on its way to the Sports Minister’s office, Mr. Theophilus Caifas, the Chairman of the Nigerian Chess Federation (NCF) at the time, intercepted this medal and the letter with a promise to deliver it personally to the Honorable Minster of Sports.
Since then, it has been an unbelievable nightmare for Odion and the Nigerian Chess players, that we wish was just a dream. We were told that when Mr. Caifas got to the Sports Ministry, there was a dispute between Mr. Caifas and the Nigerian Sports Ministry officials over the sponsorship money for the Nigerian delegation to the Olympiad. Mr. Caifas then refused to hand over the medal to the Sports Ministry, or to Odion for that matter. As far as we know, he has had the medal in his possession since 1998.
At this point, almost five Olympiads later – 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006 with the 2008 Chess Olympiad around the corner, the gold medal that an individual won at the 1998 Olympiad is still being kept as a surety by a former official of NCF, in lieu of money allegedly owed him by the National Sports Commission (NSC) for sponsoring the team to the chess Olympiad.
Based on our own investigation, it is true that Mr. Caifas used some of his own money to sponsor some chess players to the Olympiad with a promise to get reimbursed by the Sports Ministry upon his return from the Olympiad. However, Odion Aikhoje is not one of those Chess players. Our investigation further reveals that in 1998, the Oyo State Government of Nigeria sponsored three Nigerian Chess players including Odion to the same Olympiad with 400,000 Naira (a sum between $4,000.00-$5,000.00 at the time). The money from the Oyo State Sports Council was personally handed over to Mr. Caifas by two individuals: Mr Lekan Adeyemi, an affiliate of the Oyo State Sports Council and the current Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Chess Federation along with Mr. Odion Aikhoje. Odion was therefore not sponsored to the 1998 Chess Olympiad by Mr. Caifas but by the Oyo State Government of Nigeria.
While we sympathize with Mr. Caifas in his dispute with the NSC, we strongly feel that if he feels wronged, he should seek redress through the proper channels, which may include the law courts or Sports arbitration bodies. By holding a medal that was duly won by an individual as a guarantee for his payment makes him open to all sorts of liabilities. The medal was on its way to the Honorable Minister of Sports and that is where it should have been sent. To hold on to any property that does not belong to him, for any reason whatsoever, can be considered theft.
Shortly before the 2006 Chess Olympiad which was held in Italy, I received a letter from Odion who had once again been called upon to be a member of the Nigeria team to the 2006 Olympiad. He asked me to help him to recover his medal and that was when I first knew of this problem. Yes, we all knew Odion won a gold medal in 1998 but I did not know that he had not received his medal; it was a shock to me. I sent a letter to Mr. Caifas asking him to return the medal to the rightful owner. In the letter, I suggested 3 noble ways by which he could do this and still come out looking good despite the obvious injustice which surrounds this issue, but I did not receive any response from Mr. Caifas before we went to the Olympiad.
At the 2006 Olympiad, the issue of Odion’s gold medal came up again. This time it took a new life of its own as political opponents in the World Chess Federation presidency election were considering points to use again each other. The Odion gold medal issue was briefly considered among key points of the failure of the present FIDE administration. Mr. Omuku, Jackie Ngubeni of South Africa, the Chairman of the Nigerian Chess Federation, Sanni Mohammed, Mr. Kunle Elegbede and Mr. Odion Aikhoje had a meeting on this issue. The Chairman of the Nigerian Chess Federation promised to take up this issue as soon as he gets back to Nigeria from Italy and this write-up is part of that long overdue effort.
I also came to understand that efforts have been ongoing since 1998 to resolve this case, without any positive moves on the part of Mr. Caifas. At both the 2002 and the 2004 National Sports Festivals which were held in Edo State and Abuja respectively, the full council of the Nigeria Chess Federation (which comprises all the chairmen of all the State Chess Associations, their Secretaries and the board members of the Nigerian Chess Federation) ordered Mr. Caifas to give the gold medal to Odion. On both occasions, Mr. Caifas refused to obey this well respected body and still kept the medal in his possession
As far as we know, as of January 2008, the gold medal has not been given to Odion and he is still very upset by this. It is therefore our opinion that this matter which has gone on now for more than 9 years, should now be handed over to the appropriate authorities in Nigeria for their consideration and action. This is an international embarrassment of the highest order and, as far as we know, the first in the history of sports where an individual representative of a country is being punished over a monetary dispute that has nothing to do with him personally.
At this time, we also call on the Nigerian Sports Ministry to come out to clarify the status of Odion’s gold medal and to confirm whether the 1998 trip to Elista Olympiad where Odion won this Gold medal was authorized or not. Any dispute between the former Nigerian Chess official (notably Theophilus Caifas who has the medal in his possession) and the Sports ministry over this matter should be put to rest once and for all. This is an issue, which has no doubt brought the image of Nigeria into disrepute, and as such it should not be taken lightly any longer.
As a first step, before any further discussion on this matter is entertained, we are recommending the following:
1. Mr. Theopilus Caifas should hand over Odion’s gold medal to the Minister of Sports or to the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mike Mbama Okiro who will be expecting it, immediately (and not to Odion Aikhoje). Failure to do so promptly can result in severe consequences.
2. Secondly, the matter should be thoroughly investigated and a solution needs to be reached quickly. We cannot and should not attend the 2008 Olympiad in German, in November, while one important member of the Nigeria delegation remains disenfranchised after several years.
3. Thirdly, the Minster of Sports should then present the gold medal to Odion in a public ceremony with a handsome compensation, as this is now the only acceptable and honorable way to undo the wrong that has been done to one of our own. Any other solution will not be satisfactory.
Odion is a worthy sports representative of our country with high character. Since 1998, Nigeria has asked Odion to represent the country at chess events, and he has done so dutifully, despite the shoddy treatment that he has received at the hands of those entrusted with the country’s chess affairs. He is clearly upset by all this and has made numerous appeals to several people to help him obtain his medal but he has faithfully represented his country regardless. He is the unsung hero in all this. Any other person would have long ago brought a law suit against person(s) denying him what is rightfully his. This is the reason we all have to do something about this madness now.
International Coordinator, Nigeria Chess Federation.