I remember in 2010 following a disastrous Super Eagles outing at the World Cup in South Africa, where they failed to qualify from their group, President Goodluck Jonathan was enraged and wanted to pull the country out of international football so we can get our football in order. So many Nigerians cried and wailed (as football is one sport that truly unites us when we do well in it), and there was also a temporary ban from all too powerful FIFA which eventually forced the government to reverse itself.
Looking back then, while our pulling out of international football might have been extreme, Jonathan was indeed right something had to be done about our football. I wrote an article last week, on the usual racket in the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) led by ousted President Aminu Maigari where Super Eagles players are kept in the dark about their World Cup appearance fees. When eventually paid by FIFA, the money is then shared by the NFF racketeers- which includes top football federation members, influential sports journalists and media personalities who help hush up the scam.
Its thus glad to see that Jonathan’s government does listen and has moved against these racketeers. The same speed should be applied in probing the racket in the NNPC and Petroleum Ministry, and in getting the Chibok girls released (If I may rightly digress a bit). Its the way its done in any sane society, as they do not wait till your hands are caught in the cookie jar before investigating you. The moment a credible allegation is made or information given about a possible criminal offence, it is investigated right away and those found guilty prosecuted. Thus there was absolutely nothing wrong in the Police or DSS officials picking up ousted NFF boss Maigari on his arrival from Brazil to give an account of the country’s expenses at the mundial. What the government should be asking him is quite simple. Of the N1.4 billion budgeted for the world cup by the NFF with over N880 million released, was any part of it budgeted for accommodation, feeding, transportation and logistics for the Super Eagles and its officials? If the answer is Yes, then Maigari and his NFF members are partially on their way to jail for double billing the government, this is so as FIFA pays for all above listed items for all participating teams and officials during their stay and then deducts it out of their guaranteed prize money. Another question to be asked Maigari is for whom and why did the NFF charter a 220 seater aircraft all through their stay in Brazil when FIFA had transportation plans in place for the team? Why did he waste our country’s resources and money at the World cup and yet could not agree to pay the main actors and raison d'etre to be in Brazil their World cup appearance fees?
It took needless and countless meetings by Assembly members led by Senate President David Mark, and President Jonathan reportedly having to quietly fly in $3.5 million to douse the rightful agitations of the Super Eagles and get them to play against France. All these shouldn’t have happened if the NFF had agreed months ahead with the players and officials what they would get as appearance fees and match bonuses, as the federation is well informed of what they stand to get as guaranteed prize money for each stage of the competition. Added to that is the fact that our football administration should have evolved beyond qualifying for competitions and then running cap in hand to government for money. What happened to all the monies they get from sponsors, prize money for winning the CAF Nations Cup in 2013, plus prize money for the World Cup which stands at $17 million? Less deductions from FIFA to cover the free feeding, accommodations, logistics of the team, the NFF should still be getting about $15 million (approx. N2.4 billion) from the Super Eagles participation at the mundial.
But what do you see on the sports pages of newspapers some months down the line - NFF Broke; Glass House Go Cap in Hand to Sports Ministry; Presidency Bails Out Super Eagles; NFF Beg Governor XYZ To Host Eagles Game etc. Its the same racket every year and you wonder where does all the money go? Thus I’m happy the NFF itself through an extraordinary congress got the Maigari board dismissed. The Sports Ministry should go further and explain to FIFA the whole issue and I’m sure they wouldn’t support corruption and bribery in our football. They should be made aware that by August 26th a new board would be in place as the present NFF’s tenure was ending then and thus the recent actions in our football should not be seen as interference. The relevant security agencies should also keep an eye on the media as some (not all) dubious sports journalists who benefit from the fraud in our football would be the ones feeding FIFA with wrong information including circulating fake documents to them. If anyone of them is found guilty of such they should be charged to court with the ousted NFF board.
In terms of cleaning up our football, the government should lay down the mark for the incoming administration of the NFF to tackle the issue of funding for our national teams by properly marketing the image and likeness of the Super Eagles; appropriately use FIFA’s prize money and yearly grants to modernise the FIFA Goal Project (the training facility of our national teams in Abuja). They could build a good hotel on it, sports medicine laboratory, fitness centre/gym, swimming pool etc. to make sure our national teams prepare well for competitions; sort out proper contracts for the coaches of the national teams; allocate yearly grants and sponsorship monies to the different State FA’s especially those who have grassroot football competitions (where zonal scouts would watch and discover new players); develop their own scouting network within and outside the country (recommending talents to Nigeria professional league clubs and national teams); employ fitness and sports science coaches; allocate monies for yearly training and development courses in the country for all national team coaches (while league coaches can pay to attend such courses) etc. They should also be informed to sort out the issue of players agent (FIFA licensed agents) in Nigeria. There are too many of them (both fake and genuine) and makes it difficult to transfer Nigerian players to top foreign clubs unlike other African countries. Players in their desperation to play abroad sign with more than one agent and the different agents register the same player as their client with the NFF (usually by bribing officials). The problem arises, when the player either through his performance for the national team or via one of the agents gets an offer, suddenly different agents show up and this has almost permanently put off a lot of top clubs from dealing with Nigerian agents and signing Nigerian players (Mikel Obi’s long running transfer saga in 2005 is an example). The list of what needs reforming is quite long but it can be done.
Meanwhile, the NFF congress also pardoned some former members like Taiwo Ogunjobi and Rumson Baribote who were atrociously banned by Maigari for up to 20 years. Pardoning them is not a problem, but they should not be allowed near the NFF again as they are part of its previous rackets. Ogunjobi despite being an administrator is also a players agent thereby leaving a conflict of interest if allowed into the NFF, he was also part of the Sani Lulu led fraudulent NFF board in 2010. Baribote came on the scene as a young chairman of Bayelsa United, but soon joined the rut by not paying players’ salaries and allowances for months and when they pestered him for it threatened them with thugs. Whatever happened to Felix Anyansi-Agu leading the NFF? I’m just saying. A man who led Enyimba FC successfully for many years and lifted for the country its first CAF Champions League trophy in 2003 after more than three decades of the nation’s clubs trying. I know over the course of his successful spell as Enyimba FC’s boss, he’s become friends with many of these people (NFF racketeers) including some racketeer journalists, but with proper supervision and clear vision from the government on what they want from him I believe he can deliver. But honestly its none of my business who the NFF elects on August 26th as its President but whoever it is, must according to Stephen Keshi be someone who means well for our football. Keshi said to Master Sports International: “If we had somebody in FIFA, there is no doubt that Nigeria will enjoy some privileges. Take the jersey issue with France, There was nobody to talk on our behalf. They (NFF officials) were all in Sao Paulo and a day to the match they come. They stay in their hotel wearing suits and reminding us why we need to win. I think the time has come for us to have the right people in the Federation. It is not all those who speak good English and you think they mean well for our football. Let us have those who have the game at heart and can be trusted to do the right things” . That for me is what I’m interested in and should be the way forward for the NFF. I support President Jonathan on this one, as I strongly believe he is on the right track provided the right changes are made this time.
P.S.: To those who have been reading me, I was going to write on the conclusion to my article on the Ife explosion last week but decided on this. The conclusion to that article would come soon.
Ola’ Idowu a Management Consultant and Researcher writes in from the UK.