By Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (September 6th 2014)
Same Old Problem
This must be the worst period in the history of Nigerian football. I cannot recall a time quite like this: domestic football has grounded to a halt; the Super-Eagles are in tatters, losing scandalously by 3-1 at home to Congo in an AFCON 2015 qualifier – the first such defeat in a competitive match in living memory. The national team coach, Stephen Keshi, has been in a running battle with his employers over a contract that may now never materialize following the manner of the Congo defeat and a serious crisis has engulfed the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) following disputed elections to the Executive Committee. The problems are pouring!
The tragedy is that no one appears to fully understand what to do in order to ride the raging storm of the chaos everywhere. As a result, there is panic and confusion everywhere, fuelled by the threat of an international ban by FIFA. Yes, FIFA again!
They appear every 4 years, invited by warring federation officials during what should ordinarily be a simple act, a straightforward electoral process into the board of the NFF that degenerates into a convoluted, incomprehensible conundrum. The elections have become a dangerous political power tussle to control the lucrative position of President of the Nigerian Football Federation.
In the past 10 years a ‘game’ has been mastered by successive incumbent presidents intending to perpetuate themselves in office, FIFA-style. The ‘game’ effectively sidelines the real owners of clubs, disenfranchises the public, bars the law courts or ignominiously disregards their decisions, handicaps security agencies and ensures that government’s involvement is anathema.
Unfortunately, the government fights back every time to stop them because it claims that ‘he who pays the piper dictates the tune’. The incumbent runs to FIFA claiming interference in its affairs and FIFA threatens the country with an international ban should the government not back off. But in Africa, no one fights governments and wins. So, crisis!
Having tasted an international ban once in the past and seen its devastating effect on the people, the entire country of some 180 million Black and proud Africans now catch cold every time FIFA ‘sneeze’. FIFA have put the fear of God in all Nigerians. Nigerians are quivering in submission to the threat hanging menacingly around their neck like the fabled Albatross.
Every 4 years they keep repeating the same question: how has an election into the board of an agency of government, established and funded almost entirely by government and run by a handful of ordinary Nigerians hand-picked by government, become such a convoluted, confusing process that brings the entire country to its knees at election time? Some things obviously do not add up. Something is wrong with the system and the process.
In the past 10 years elections into the board have become disruptive, an international humiliation and detrimental to the progress of Nigerian football. In 2014 we are about to tread that path again. We already can see the devastating effect of the present crisis in the disastrous outing of the Super Eagles on Saturday and the grounding of domestic football in the country.
Football is a team game where every department of the game has to contribute to the maximum for the team to perform well and to win. So far, in the absence of administrators that can provide the physical and psychological incentives and motivation for the players to win, the Eagles played one of the worst games by any national team in Nigeria’s history. This must stop.
As the national team prepares to confront Bafana Bafana next week another disaster looms. FIFA must ease off its pressure on Nigeria and not stampede the country into another badly organized election that would do more harm than good to the country. FIFA know that the NFF has always been an agency of the federal government. It knows that the NFA Act 101 exists. They know that Government funds the secretariat of the Federation and all competitions.
In almost 60 years of knowing this they have not suspended Nigeria for this ‘breach’ because that is how things are in this part of the world. So, why would FIFA be interested in the local elections into the NFF board? Why should Nigerians be reduced to a bungling bunch of school children as a result of FIFA’s seeming interference?
At the moment the whole country is frozen in dread. FIFA, the ‘monster’, is lurking in wait to clamp down on Nigeria because of a faulty electoral process that can be fixed internally without the menacing threat of a sanction by FIFA. Instead, FIFA must help the country to look into its peculiar situation and challenges, and advise on a way out, not put an axe to their head and watch the country’s football go to ruins!