Last week I reflected on how football increasingly mirrors the ills that plague Nigeria. The same Wednesday (June 30) the column was published, the President received the report of the “Presidential Task Force” (PTF) on the 2010 World Cup and announced a withdrawal of Nigeria from all FIFA-organised competitions for two years.
My diagnosis may overlap in some areas with that of the Presidency and the PTF, but I suspect the cure proposed was rather brash and perhaps not well thought-through! The presidential action, which risks a FIFA ban on Nigerian football would be acceptable if it was clear there was no alternative strategy to achieve our objectives of cleaning up and reforming our football. On the contrary I believe the Presidency is not so powerless (in spite of any FIFA or NFF statutes) to subtly influence the removal of Sani Lulu and his gang without an explicit ban or dissolution by the Government.
The removal of Sani Lulu, Amanze Uchegbulam and Taiwo Ogunjobi by the NFF Board and public apology confirms that government now understands that “a tiger does not need to proclaim its tigritude”. It can merely act as one! The Sani Lulu team may in fact be particularly vulnerable to an investigation by the ICPC, EFCC or Police such that its capacity to defy the Presidency is severely limited. Surely FIFA cannot protect the NFF from the policing and judicial system? Indeed government must now mount a full scale investigation into the affairs and finances of the NFF, Nigerian Premier League (NPL) under Oyuiki Obaseki and even the Sports Ministry in the last few years to confirm if indeed public funds have been misappropriated. Certainly FIFA (which admittedly often behaves as if it is above the law) cannot prevent Nigeria from investigating and prosecuting allegations of corruption.
The draconian presidential ban can be faulted on a more fundamental ground. It neither addresses nor guarantees that the real issues with the administration of our football will be addressed. The issue cannot be reduced simply to a power struggle between the NFF and PTF! The dissolution of NFF and their replacement by those favoured by government or the PTF will not, without more, change the fortunes of our football just like zoning the Presidency to the North-West or South-South will not automatically solve the problems of the Nigerian nation-football mirrors national character remember! The problems with football as I argued last week are no different from the nation’s-corruption; state capture and hijacking of public resources by private or group interests who then seek to hold on to their prize in perpetuity; fraud and deceit in the conduct of public affairs (in the case of football essentially through age cheating); refusal to put people with requisite qualifications, experience and passion for service in positions of authority. Merely dissolving the NFF and replacing the current clique with a new one will not remove these problems. Moreover some of those who may have instigated the action taken by government may be aiming merely to supplant the present NFF and are justifying the action on wrong grounds-the argument that government funds sports in Nigeria and therefore should be entitled to hire and fire the NFF.
I believe instead that we need a sports industry controlled by private capital and management and it is the corruption of the government-appointed or influenced football administrators that has prevented private sector funds from coming into sports.
We need for instance a new football policy which discourages and indeed punishes age cheating. Perhaps we need a law that categorises age cheating in sports (as well as in public service and employment generally) as a corrupt and criminal act and imposes stringent fines and imprisonment for contravention. The law should designate the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) as enforcing agency for such a law and should hold coaches, administrators, parents as well as the concerned individual liable for breaches. We must ensure that only secondary school children take part in under-17 football competitions and then scrupulously ensure that only persons within the required age groups partake in under-20 and under-23 competitions. Anyone proven to have altered his or her age must be banned for life from representing Nigeria in any sports competitions and in our national teams and we must investigate and ascertain the real ages of people beyond their own declarations and make a public example of infractions.
Concerning the failed Super Eagles team, we must immediately retire the old guard-Kanu Nwankwo, Joseph Yobo, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, John Utaka, Danny Shittu, Yusuf Ayila etc and create a new team around John Mikel Obi as captain.
Just like the nation needs to enthrone meritocracy rather than mediocrity, our football must do the same.
Imagine a team with tired players like Kanu, Yobo and even Aiyegbeni wearing the captain’s band while our only current world class player, Mikel is accorded only grudging acceptance. Finally we must ensure that credible, ethical and committed administrators are put in control of our sports. There is one individual I would personally like to see as NFF Chairman-Adokiye Amiesimaka!!! He is an experienced sports administrator, ex-international, former solicitor-general and permanent secretary and most importantly one of the few persons of integrity around our sports. Amiesimaka it was who exposed our last “under-17” captain Fortune Chukwudi as aged anywhere between 25 and 28 years old!!!