“I am a Nigerian and that is all I will ever be”. These are the famous words of one of the greatest men to don the famous green Super Eagle’s jersey. Like many proud and patriotic Nigerians before him, he played the game of football with passion, patriotism and commendable professionalism. But can the same be said of the state of the game and its administrators in Nigeria? The answers to this question will form the crux of this essay.
Football is a source of pride and national honor in Africa despite the plethora of socio-economic ills that afflict this wonderful continent. Over the years, the sport has become a lucrative business cum source of livelihood for the continent’s teeming populace. It is with good reason that football is seen as the way out of poverty for many of Africa’s poor but talented youth. More so, it is the dream of African youths to don their national jersey and play for his national football team. Hence footballers and aspiring footballers alike aspire to play for their country and in the more lucrative leagues in Europe and America. This trend is no different in Nigeria.
However, events over the years have left the beautiful game in a sorry state especially in Nigeria. The crises can best be viewed by the state of affairs within Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), the governing body of Nigerian football. The federation and the game has endured one scandal after the other culminating in the recent FIFA ban. This is coming at the backdrop of the many court and counter court cases which have taken place over the last months allegedly perpetuated by selfish individuals and cabals with government backing. What is however certain is that the government has a role to play in the current crises in the game.
Objectively we as proud, patriotic pundits have been forced to ask pertinent questions on the state of affairs in the federation. What “is” the problem with Nigerian football? What ills plague this potentially lucrative facet of sport and national development? Why is the football federation a bevy of controversy and what can be done to curtail this embarrassing trend in our football and sports? When will the ills such as corruption, favoritism, tribalism and inefficiency become a past in the history of the game? The answers to these questions will be addressed in this discuss.
Akin to ministries and parastatals in Nigeria, the football federation is often viewed as a cash cow milked indiscriminately for easy money. This apt argot “cash cow” is the Achilles heel of the federation; which if run and managed efficiently will be self sufficient, accountable. As a result past leaders of the federation have been known in the past to embezzle and misappropriate huge funds from its un-audited accounts. These ruinous criminal acts are also allegedly carried out in collusion with individuals within the sports ministry who have been known to get kick backs from such deals. Corruption in the federation is not its finances but can also been seen in other sections of the football house.
A good example is in the issue of agent licenses or the right of an individual to be a players’ licensed agent. A football agent is responsible for arranging a professional club, negotiating financial/personal terms of a contract and all other legal matters for his client. As such agents are pivotal to the success of their clients whose interest they also vigorously market for personal profit and financial gain. Because the FIFA rules stipulate that football contract between players and clubs require the services of agents make them indispensably influential. The members of the federation on the other hand, make the decisions governing the game in the country including national team player selection, their salaries/wages, and all matters relating to their welfare. The importance of the complementary roles played by both football licensed agents and football federation officials cannot be overemphasized. It is therefore constitutes a conflict of interest to play both roles. However, it is on record that many individuals on the board of the federation and within the sports ministry are licensed players agents and managers. The situation is further complicated by the fact that agents and or managers are entitled to as much as 30 % of the player’s wagers/salaries. Furthermore, players are required to have 75 % national team appearances on other play for and qualify a work permit in the lucrative European football league. Hence these agents/managers who double as federation officials or employees “work hard” for their “employers” to be on the national team rooster. This sad occurrence is believed in some quarters to be behind the below par performance of the national teams in some tournaments due to poor selection.
The decay has also eaten deep into the once glorious Nigeria Football League (NFL); which many now sadly believe is a sham in many proportions. Once upon a time the “local league” (as it is now ashamedly depicted) used to be the source of proud national team players before its relegation to the doldrums of football history. These were the glory days of the Nigerian football league; when the likes of Segun Odegbami, Dimeji Lawal, Stephen Chukwu et all ruled and reigned supreme. But as they say, that is all in the past now. The now resplendent rot in the football league can be blamed on many factors such as corruption, maladministration and the general inability of the Nigeria people to take action. These factors have ensured that the football league, governed by the supposedly independent Nigeria Football League board, is a mere shadow of its 80’s glory days. The league is poorly run with no clear cut schedules and plans. The football clubs and their administrators simply bribe and collude with match officials and referees to vita bag points during the season. Little wonder the points difference between top and bottom table teams is often unimaginably low compared to other more competitive and well run leagues worldwide. The fans can be left out of football league demise in Nigeria. The fans have further fanned the flames of football’s failure in the country by bullying and intimidating their own team players, visiting teams, their travelling fans and match officials who for fear of their lives gift home teams with faulty calls and league points. There was even a case where the fans of a home team refused to allow a foreign TV company broadcast a league game on national TV citing frivolous reasons for this anomaly. This has led to establishment and enthronement of the excessive unwritten statute and slogan “the home always wins”. The coaches often under pressure from club chairmen aid corrupt practices within the team and the league alike. Coaches and other club officials alleged demand bribes and “off the record incentives” from players and their agents to be signed or “recommended” to national team selectors. Some coaches have also assumed the role of coaches; arranging overseas trials and contracts for players from their clubs. Others with so called “influence” often include only their “clients” or their associates in the national teams. Sadly, when issues like this arise, the football federation simply dismisses them as false and unfounded. In other cases the federation simply sweeps them under the carpet without proper investigation. On the other hand players who are the victims are often blacklisted or simply frustrated out of the game by their coaches and club officials.
To be continued!