Over 500 Nigerians in South Florida and from elsewhere attended the American 4th of July Independence Day Picnic yesterday to celebrate the American Nation that has made a difference in their lives. A group of Nigerians at the event decided to spend a considerable amount of time to discuss and analyze the implications of the decision made by President Goodluck Jonathan to withdraw Nigeria from all Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) related events in order to reposition Nigeria among the top 10 elite football nations in the world.
It was clear at the Edo Association of Florida, Inc (one of the most respected and well organized Nigerian ethnic organizations in South Florida) event that Nigerians are heavily divided on the issue of whether the president made the right decision or not. What was even clearer was that there is an urgent need to change the leadership of the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) particularly the Executive Board. The celebrants have defined the problem in NFF as a problem of mismanagement, misapplication of its statues, with a total disregard of the FIFA international standards, but question the federal government motive and the timing.
Some of the discussions and analyses focused on the long term political, social, cultural, educational, and economic implications? Some of the questions are: Is sports the instrument for good governance, good leadership and new accountability? Does the Super Eagles as a team pose a threat to national security and to economic growth? What is the role of the Federal Government in sports administration? What is the main function of NFF? What is the scope of the power of CAF and FIFA in Nigeria? Is this the beginning of a sports revolution in Nigeria? What is the role of the Presidential Task Force? There was not enough time and structure to explore the questions.
I have also framed my discussion in this essay around various commentaries in the Nigerian media to allow for direction and clarity. I used the letter written to the President and the Secretary-General of FIFA requesting an intervention in the internal affairs of the NFF as the framework for our discussion. The letter was written by Chief Segun Odegbami (MON), who is one of the members of Governor Chibunke Amaechi-led Presidential Task Force (PTF) to put this essay in historical context. In the letter, Odegbami made some serious allegations, and in the process raised some pertinent questions that are critical to understanding the motive and the urgency in the government decision. In the final analysis, the letter raised procedural and substantive questions, dealing with the interpretation and implementation of the NFF/FIFA statues. Specification, Odegbami drew our attention to the NFF inability to comply with international standards, suggesting that if NFF had follow-through with the August 22 election, nothing positive will come out of the process and our young democracy will be undermined.
The sample of the Nigerians in the Diaspora opinion supports the need for government to intervene. The National Sports Commission (NSC), is an agency of the Federal Government and has a statutory power to supervise the affairs of all the 33 sports federation, including the NFF.
Chief Odegbami writes that:
“A crisis erupted in Nigerian football between October and December 2005 concerning elections into the NFA Board at the time. It eventually required your [FIFA] intervention before the matter could be settled. If you recall, the matter was resolved by the Court of Arbitration that ordered fresh elections to be conducted in Nigeria. Following their decision a new electoral committee was set up by the Secretariat of the NFA, fresh guidelines for the elections were issued to all the affiliated members of the NFA, an Extra-ordinary General Assembly was convened specifically for the purpose of the elections, and the elections were held in Abuja on the 28th of August 2006 under the watch and supervision of the FIFA General-Secretary. That was how the present Executive Committee of the NFF came into office with a 4-year mandate that will effectively end on August 27, 2010.”
This appears to be issue. As we all know elections play a critical role in leveling the playing fields and in giving others the opportunity to be elected. Election, therefore, is a system designed to accomplished specific tasks and functions. Several of the functions include: providing access, maintaining equality of opportunity, promoting the rule of law, securing transparency and accountability, educating and communicating with the electorate, and preserving the democratic process. Elections in Nigeria have failed to meet these basic requirements. Elections should be a democratic process. The controversy surrounding the upcoming NFF has caused many to reflect on the implications for sports development in light of the woeful performance of the Green Eagles during the FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
Therefore, what is the role of government? Consider the following: In 2009, the NSC director-general, Chief (Dr) Patrick Ekeji, released specific benchmarks and targets to be accomplished by a specific time. Ekeji believed that by the end of 2009, NSC would have established a National Coaches Council (NCC) and repositioned all the 33 or so National Sports Federations in order to make them effective, efficient and functional. By 2010, Ekeji proposes that the Super Eagles will be in last four of the 2010 FIFA World Cup; Nigeria will emerge first among other African nations at the 2010 Commonwealth Games; NSC will ensure appropriate level accreditation of National Institute for Sports; NSC will ensure that the Sports Science Center is equipped and operational at a first-class level; and all Federal Government sports facilities will be renovated. Furthermore, Ekeji, believed that by 2011, Nigeria will emerge the overall winner of the 2011 All Africa Games in Zambia; NSC will develop 774 Sports Community Centers and will established “Talent Development Centers” in the six geographical zones. By 2012, Ekeji believed that Nigeria wouldhave reclaimed itspast glory and emerge as the best sporting nation in Africa. Finally, Ekeji believed that Nigeria will win four gold medals in the next Olympics Games in London and eight gold medals at the Paralympics. I might add, this plan was heavily endorsed my two my mentors, Chuka Momak and Ademola Adeniji-Adele, who are lovers of the racket sports (tennis and badminton).
The above declaration, in part, defines the role of the federal government of Nigeria in sports. NSC sets the national agenda. Sports federations and associations carry out the mandates. The National Assembly appropriates funds to NSC, and in rear cases, the Presidency supplements as the case with the PTF.
Odegbami concludes his letter by imploring FIFA president Sepp Blater to respond to his claims. He demanded the following:
1. FIFA should investigate the claims I have made by calling for all the documents I have referred to including the final draft of the 2010 NFF Statutes and the electoral code for an assessment and critical evaluation.
2. After FIFA’s appraisal and possible approval or amendments to the statutes the NFF should be directed to submit the approved document to the General Assembly of the NFF for ratification by the mandatory number of members before it can become operational for the running of football in Nigeria.
3 A proper process of elections should now be put in place based on the new statutes, and in accordance to the details and letters of the statutes.
4. The statutes must be clear on the delegates and their qualification to participate in the elections into the NFF Executive Committee.
5. The Electoral Committee must be appointed by the NFF with persons that reflect neutrality and whose interests do not clash with the interest of any of the contestants i
ncluding the incumbent President should he choose to run.
6. FIFA should advise the NFF to stop the present unclear electoral process until all the anomalies in the conflicting statutes and processes are resolved.
Finally, sports editors, particular the Chairman of the Vanguard Editorial Team, have written editorials to directly or indirectly support President Jonathan’s decision to suspend the international competitions for two years. Ultimately, a genuine and lasting commitment to basic sports developmental principles, strong leadership, good management, good governance, sustained funding may be some of the outcomes. The 11- members’ care-taker committee has been charged to manage the affairs of NFF until elections. The Federal Government remains solid on hits decision as FIFA announces its decision today. As the nation aspires to be the top sporting nation in Africa, the top 20 elite sporting nations, and the top 20 leading economies of the world, it is important for Nigerians in the Diaspora and elsewhere to acknowledge that President Jonathan has shown political will and courage. When all is said and done, and the system is refurbished, the ultimate questions are whether Nigerians have learned their lesson from 2010 World Cup and whether, indeed, Nigerian democracy can now truly take off amidst the other pressing national issues and problems. Time will tell.