Football in Nigeria: A Conversation with Chief Segun Odegbami

For the past two years, we have been writing and debating the effects of over-aged players in continental and international competitions on Nigeria’s image and respect around the world.

In July 2009, Odegabmi and I discussed at length in Abuja, Lagos, and Abeokuta about how to address this problem, but we have to come up with a tangible and concrete plan. We have made several suggestions to the sports authorities but nothing came out of our recommendations. There seems to be cultural and political interference and this must be overcomed.

Also in July 2009, I spoke with Chief Adokie, expressing my disgust with the way we Nigerians are responding to important issues in sports development in Nigeria. I also commended him for his determination and commitment to raise awareness of sensitive and controversial football issues in Nigeria.

The Flying Eagles’ victory may be “tainted” and the handlers of the team may lacked the “credibility” needed to project effective leadership, honesty, discipline, and hard work to young athletes; the essential point is that we have allowed this issue to drag on for so long. In America, contracts will not be renewed and coaching certificates will be revoked. We have repeatedly said we desired effective leadership and good governance in Nigeria, but when given the opportunity to model good leadership, we fail.

The issue of age-cheats is generating more global interest than ever before, but what is the effect on our national consciousness? We do not need to wait for CAF or FIFA to instruct us to investigate claims and charges of over-aged players. There is something fundamentally wrong with this concept. We urgently need to put in place a mechanism to correct this perennial problem. It is the proper thing to do!

Since returning to America, I have called for the reevaluation of the charter that created the national sports federations in Nigeria. This should be the first step in the reform process. Within the reform plan, we can ensure that our youths are the products of our authentic grassroots sports development programmes. This is should be the new vision for sports development in Nigeria. The Under-17 and the AYC championships are prisms within which we measure our dignity and worth as a people and as a society.

We need to model appropriate behavior for effective leadership. Adokie, Odegbami, Abdullahi and others must fight for what is right for sports in Nigeria. Our generation has an obligation and a duty to all Nigerian youths. The Federal Government and President Jonathan must support this endeavor. Effective programs with dynamic individuals at the helm will produce opportunity for the reconciliation, peace, friendship, and unity amongst all Nigerians, particularly for Nigerian youths. I am encouraged that come May 29, President Jonathan, a good listener, will put people with integrity in his new cabinet to address the lingering issues and problems facing the growth of sports in Nigeria. What do you think?

Written by
Sadiq A. Abdullahi
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